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Meeting Students in the Middle: How to Engage Adolescent Learners

It’s no secret — middle school can be painful, both for educators and students.

Middle-level educators are tasked with unique challenges: keeping nurturing adolescent learners engaged in the classroom, and helping them develop the essential skills that will set them up for success them well into adulthood.

This white paper serves as a guidepost for middle-level educators seeking expert advice on how to improve the middle school experience. Written by three veteran middle school leaders who have cracked the code to middle school reform, this comprehensive guide contains vetted research that charts a course for how educators can get the most out of students in the troubling middle school years.

Transforming middle level education requires a fundamental change in perspective, attitudes, practices, and policies. We must view our students through a holistic lens. It is essential to educate the whole child and know and understand students’ developmental needs relative to learning.

The learning experiences must reflect the demands of society and provide students the opportunity to practice the skills under conditions similar to those they will experience in college and beyond. These learning experiences and conditions are integral components of a framework that integrates essential 21st-century skills with instructional practices that meet the unique developmental needs of the adolescent learner and actively engage them in their education.”

Read the full white paper to learn:

  • The state of middle-level education nationwide
  • 16 professional learning actions to foster 21st-century skills
  • Techniques to support students’ moral, intellectual, and social-emotional development


About the Authors


Monifa serves as Director for Secondary Leadership Development Programs in Montgomery County Public Schools. She also currently serves as a Campus Principal Ambassador Fellow for the United States Department of Education. Dr. McKnight was honored as the 2015 Maryland Middle School Principal of the Year by the Maryland Association of Secondary School Principals and as the 2015 Maryland State Principal of the Year by the National Association of Secondary School Principals. In the 2016-2017 school year, she served as a Principal Ambassador at the U.S> Department of Education. She holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Elementary Education from South Carolina State University, a Master of Science in Educational Leadership from Bowie State University, and a Doctorate of Education in Educational Leadership and Policy from the University of Maryland, College Park.


Linda has proudly served children in the public schools for over 38 years. She is a retired educator whose experiences include Deputy Chief of Teaching and Learning in the District of Columbia Public Schools; Director of Middle School Instruction and Achievement, Director of School Performance, Assistant Principal, Instructional Specialist, and Special Educator in Montgomery County Public Schools in Maryland. She is a proud alumnus of Howard University and Trinity Washington University, where she earned a Bachelor of Science in Speech & Language Pathology and Master of Arts in Teaching, respectively.


Tiffany is an experienced educator and leader with over 20 years of experience in public K – 12 education and currently serves as a school-based administrator and doctoral adjunct instructor. She began her career as a science and mathematics teacher for middle-level education at various districts, and served in a professional learning capacity to support teachers on school improvement efforts at the middle school level. She has published articles in educational journals focused on the refinement of teaching and learning to improve educational outcomes for all students. Dr. Awkard received her Bachelor of Science in Education with a focus on mathematics and science from Old Dominion University, a Master of Education in Elementary Education from Marymount University, and a Doctorate of Education in Educational Leadership from the University of San Diego.

Discovery Education Techbook is a series of comprehensive digital textbooks. Techbook is standards-based, with content that is relevant, dynamic and carefully vetted to provide quality instruction for math, science and social studies educators.