I just came back from a presentation by Dr. Anthony Muhammad, a Professional Learning Community consultant, and WOW!
I’ve been through PLC presentations before, and think it’s a fantastic model. I’ve even seen the DuFours themselves, twice, and find them to be engaging and motivating speakers. Dr. Muhammad is a DuFour disciple and presents many of the same concepts, but specifically from a middle school point of view, and is just as engaging and motivating as his mentors.
The reason for the title of this post, though, is the concept of the developmental stage of middle schoolers that he presented.
(In fairness, he did not present this as his own work, but I don’t remember the researcher he credited with it. My apologies for the sloppy scholarship, but it was a very compelling piece of information and I focused more on the concept than the name of who came up with it. Sue me!) The gist of it is this:
When children are born, they are defenseless and totally dependent on others for their basic needs. At the age of 1 or so, they become what we call Toddlers, and begin to explore their world by walking, touching, grabbing, etc, and being talking. During this process, they are trying to find out what their socially-appropriate limits are in terms of their behavior, and take their cues for what is and is not appropriate from the adults around them. For example, a 2-year-old may tell his or her mother “NO!” when directed to stop playing with a particular toy, and in doing so is not being defiant, but is trying to find out what he/she is able to get away with. They test the limits we impose on them physically- ever see a toddler shaking a gate at the top of a staircase? After a few years, toddlers develop into children, and we send them off to school where they continue to learn the limits society has imposed on them, and generally, they accept them.
At the onset of puberty, kids effectively revert to toddler-hood; they are once again searching for their place in society and testing their limits, only at this point, we define that “NO!” as defiant behavior and refer them to the office. We don’t put up gates at the top of staircases, we tell them, “You should probably stay away from that.” Try that approach with a 2-year-old, and you can expect a visit from Child Protective Services. Yet, at 12 or 13, we turn kids out of our classrooms with an admonition to “behave” themselves, but don’t supervise them as they move from class to class, and then wonder why we have problems with behavior.
I am not coming close to the succinct way in which Dr. Muhammad presented this concept, but I hope you get the idea; middle school kids, like toddlers, need adults to guide them, to put up appropriate boundaries to protect their safety, while allowing them the opportunity to explore their world and develop their independence.
I don’t think this is all that revolutionary a concept, but I think too many of us at the middle school level have forgotten that the students we deal with are, in effect, just tall, potty-trained toddlers.
I repeat, “WOW!”


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