Middle School Matters

Ms Amy Woodgate | Head of Junior and Middle Schools

Middle School is a time of incredible growth and change – physically, intellectually, morally, socially and emotionally.  It is a time of shifting friendships, increased expectations and broadening perspectives, with a healthy dose of hormones thrown into the mix.  The academic demands increase, as do the new students and teachers encountered on a daily basis.  It is a time where our young people want to explore their world, learn about different perspectives and challenge ideas, whilst still knowing they have a soft place to fall and boundaries in place that they can occasionally push against.  Our early adolescents want to both fit in and stand out.  They want to be forthright in their opinions but still need reassurance that they belong in their seemingly more complex social world.  In amongst all of this, they can amaze us with what they are capable of and let us catch a glimpse of the young men and women they are becoming.

That’s not to say, this time of transition is not without its frustrations.  On one hand, a 13-year-old may be able to share with you their insights relating to a contemporary social issue or surprise you with a kind gesture.  The same 13-year-old may then test your nerves by losing their hat for the third time in a month or have a locker full of books but turn up to their Maths lesson without a pencil. (I tend to find myself giving out pencils quite often!)  It is fair to say that these Middle School years can be messy, dramatic and confusing… for both the students and the adults in their lives.

In her book, ‘Middle School Matters’, American researcher and counsellor Phyllis L. Fagell, shares what she believes are the ten key skills our children need to thrive in Middle School and beyond.

These are:

  1. Making good friend choicesknowing how to build strong relationships built on trust that provide a sense of belonging
  2. Negotiating conflictlearning how to cope with increasingly complex social interactions and collaborate well with others
  3. Managing a student-teacher mismatchlearning how to work with and build a relationship with someone they find challenging
  4. Creating homework and organisation systems developing the skills to take ownership for their learning, manage disappointment and take responsibility for their work
  5. Considering others’ perspectivesbeing able to accept their own uniqueness and embrace the differences of others
  6. Being a self-advocatehaving the skills to ask for help or seek clarification or support
  7. Self-regulating emotionsknowing how to label their emotions and make connections between their thoughts, feelings and behaviours
  8. Cultivating passions and recognising limitationsdeveloping a passion for something and having the confidence to follow through and finding out how to deal with struggle
  9. Making responsible, healthy and ethical choicesknowing how to respect and take care of their bodies and make safe decisions that don’t put themselves or others at risk
  10. Creating and innovating being imaginative and divergent thinkers who think outside the box

Fagell encourages those of us working with young people, be it parents, carers or educators, to trial different approaches and ‘tinker’ with what works for each child.  She suggests adopting an ‘innovators mindset’, adapting and changing strategies and approaches, which also models to the young person how we can make mistakes, take a risk, demonstrate curiosity, creativity and compassion.  There are definitely highs and lows, and quite often the young person is unable to truly articulate what they need when they are navigating these shifting sands.  As Fagell states, ‘your child wants and needs you now more than ever – even when they say they don’t.’

Fagell also seeks to reassure parents and students that the Middle School years don’t have to be ‘the worst years of anyone’s life’ but although sometimes difficult or baffling for the child or adult, they can lead to our boys and girls emerging as confident, accepting and tenacious young people ready to enter the world to become whoever they want to be.

In saying all of that, if you are ‘in’ the Middle School years or approaching them, it is probably safe to say that there will be a few more lost hats you will need to help your child find, car rides to school in silence for no apparent reason and questionable fashion choices for you to support as they learn about who they are and where they fit in.  There will also be moments of immense pride when you watch them do something that stretches them out of their comfort zone or times of laughter when they tell a joke or share a story about something they’ve done with their friends.  And as someone who has the privilege of working closely with our young people, I can honestly say they never cease to amaze with what they are capable of during these early adolescent years.  Middle School certainly matters.



Fagell, P. L. (2019). Middle School Matters : The 10 Key Skills Kids Need to Thrive in Middle School and Beyond – and How Parents Can Help. Hachette Book Group: New York.