Whitney PetersonChicago, ILSeptember 15, 2017
Students entering into middle school are facing new personal challenges: their bodies and brains are changing and their emotions can sometimes feel like a rollercoaster. On top of these internal changes, 6th graders are experiencing rapid changes at school as well. While elementary school provided students with one teacher for the school year, 6th graders are now encountering multiple teachers throughout the day-- all with varied teaching styles and attitudes. Middle school also means a changing social structure and new social opportunities, which can feel intimidating and overwhelming.
But what are the top challenges facing students? And as teachers and administrators, how can you help support students during this difficult time?
We conducted a focus group of middle school administrators and teachers from across the United States, asking them to identify the top issues they see facing incoming 6th graders as they make the transition from elementary to middle school. Here are the top 10 issues, plus some ideas to help students manage all of these new experiences!
1. Managing Peer Pressure: 6th graders throughout time have faced new peer groups in middle school, but the dangers of social status changes and bullying have only been compounded in the age of social media.
How you can help: Support students by creating ample opportunity to build positive relationships based on common interests and healthy peer connections.
2. Taking Initiative: Students who are overwhelmed by new structures at school may rely too much on adults to guide them through times of adversity.
How you can help: Encourage students to be the leader in their own lives by providing safe and low-risk opportunities for them to manage and organize their tasks and plans.
3. Motivation and Growth Mindset: With new academic and social opportunities, successes and failures are bound to happen.
How you can help: Set an example by letting students know when you face challenges, and let students know it's okay to fail as long as they try!
4. Regulating Emotion: Rapid brain growth in adolescents can lead to risky behaviors and mental health concerns.
How you can help: Help students recognize that their brain is changing, and provide them with safe and accessible supports for growing emotional and academic demands.
5. Time Management: 6th graders may find that dealing with new classes, social groups, and extracurriculars can be overwhelming.
How you can help: Support students in learning how to make choices, prioritize actions, and strike a healthy balance throughout their lives.
6. Agency and Self-Image: As students are just beginning to get to know themselves, they face insecurity and self-esteem issues.
How you can help: Teach students to capitalize on their passions and use their autonomy to help them find relevance on their road to success!
7. Self-Awareness and Social Skills: Middle school is a time to develop the "soft skills" needed to successfully interact in person with peers and adults.
How you can help: Provide students with opportunities to assert their needs and take responsibility for their actions.
8. Perseverance: Students will inevitably face hardships and struggles in school, extracurriculars, and throughout their lives. When this happens, it's easy to feel like giving up.
How you can help: Provide students with specific grit-building strategies to keep them going, even in the face of adversity!
9. Self-Advocacy: In times of challenge, students won't be able to handle everything themselves. And while some students over-rely on adults for assistance, others need to learn how to be their own advocate and ask for help when they need it.
How you can help: Establish specific times for students to practice low-stakes self-advocacy and freedom of choice.
10. Setting Goals: All students have aspirations, but they may not know how to attain those dreams and fulfill their desires.
How you can help: Teach students how to set specific, attainable, and measurable goals to help support them on their journey forward!
Final food for thought: To support students in a structured, meaningful way, implement an asset-based program that prepares students for challenges while celebrating the unique experiences of middle school. Our Turbo Leader course does just that, helping students excel and grow as they learn the critical SEL skills to succeed. To learn more about Turbo Leader, click here.