In the Middle Newsletter
Webinar Series

December 2020: Student Panel

In the first session of the In the Middle With You Webinar Series, MASSP is joined by middle school & junior high students who formed a panel to share experiences, input and needs related to learning in the 2020-21 school year.

January 2021: Hot Topics in 2021

In this webinar, middle-level leaders from across the state discuss and share on hot topics impacting the second half of the 2020-21 school year.


February 2021: Connecting with Disconnected Students

Last week's MASSP In the Middle With You webinar tackled the topics of connecting with connected students and families in both in-person and virtual learning environments. This month we were fortunate to have the following leaders share successful efforts at their schools.

Key takeaways from the webinar: 

  • It takes every adult in the school to ensure student success. Every student has a mentor; a teacher, administrator, a senior classmate, a secretary, a para pr-, and a custodian. These people reach out once a week to connect with students and families via text, email, or phone (mode of communication is determined by the family) 
  • Teacher teams identify the "Top 25" students they will mentor. Students come on and off the list as they progress. Data is collected and conversations are documented.
  • Know your community and go to them. Play baseball, kickball, and read books to targeted areas in the community. Students are invited out and encouraged to bring their parents out in an effort to build community and build relationships--dispelling many perceptions.
  • Remeber the fun and involve students in the planning process. Students are encouraged to reach out to one another to promote engagement
Collaborative Sharing Doc

March 2021: Hot Topics in 2021

Middle-level leaders from around the state of Michigan come together to discuss monthly hot topics. This session was recorded on March 9th, 2021 by MASSP.

Survey Results

Surveys Only for Middle Level Principals

MASSP is offering the opportunity to survey members on topics of interest, just for Middle-Level Principals. Please send us your survey questions and ideas (add email)! We are looking forward to providing an opportunity for people to gather information they need. Click on the links below to see previous survey results.

August 2019 Survey Results

October 2019 Survey Results

January 2020 Survey Results


September 2021

Pandemic to Progress: Let’s Move Forward

Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, we have incorporated new vocabulary to become the norm such as mitigate, contact trace, social distancing, masking, and quarantine. We worked from home, from school, on a computer, and through zoom. We lost loved ones, canceled events, and coped with grief. Finally, as an educational system, progress was made. 

EdCon22: What’s in it for Middle School Principals?


MASSP’s premier event of the year is called EdCon. For those who have not attended this event, it spans June 27pm- June 29am and it draws hundreds of assistant principals and principals from all over the State of Michigan. We bring in the best keynote speakers, provide time for practitioner led breakout sessions and opportunities for professional networking. This year we are trying a slightly different format to allow for more role/level collaboration. We will run three concurrent keynotes- Dr. Penny Bishop, will be the keynote for Middle School Principal attendees.

April 2021

Avoid Summer Learning Loss: Use GEERS Funds on Virtual Middle School Programming

Michigan Virtual’s summer programming can combat the “summer slide” and prepare your students for the upcoming school year. Summer learning loss has always been a concern among administrators, and now more than ever, offering students skill-building opportunities before the 2021–2022 school year is imperative.

MISTEM Network

The MISTEM Network has great opportunities available for educators.  Below is information regarding a recent grant announcement as well as information about the Professional Learning Series.  Many more opportunities exist within the 16 regions across the state.  Be sure to connect with your MiSTEM Region on opportunities that exist locally.

Summer Student Leadership

With summer quickly approaching we know building leaders and students alike will be looking for extended opportunities for student engagement and skill development.

Summer Learning Opportunities

It is hard to believe that the end of the school year is right around the corner and summer will be here before we know it. When we thought of summer, we decided to ask eight members some questions regarding summer programing for Middle School, if they are planning to hold in-person programming, what the program is going to look like, and resources they have available to share. Check out what our eight members shared! 

January 2021

What if Students Have Not Learned How to Learn?

How many middle school educators have heard, “The middle school’s job is to get you ready for high school!”  As a middle school principal, I can understand and appreciate that perspective.  In fact, we have shared an added responsibility to our Lake Fenton Middle School team.  Our job is not to focus on the preparation of our students for the first day of ninth grade, but rather ensuring their success while reflecting on their last day of ninth grade.

Planning Forward Now: Bringing Hope and New Ideas

It’s winter, the daylight hours are short, the weather keeps us often indoors, and we are still in the midst of a pandemic. A pandemic that has required herculean efforts from every teacher, principal, and superintendent in the world.  There are so many reasons to feel blue, overburdened, and deeply mired in the present reality. This is exactly why I believe now is the time to cast our thinking forward.

Clarity Before Accountability

In the world of teaching and leading there are many ideas, strategies, and approaches that one might explore when trying to accelerate student achievement.   Often times this leads to educator and student burn-out, frustration, and isolated application, When determining what collaborative teams might focus on, we first want to ensure the strategies have a high effect size (greater than 0.40–Hattie).

October 2020

One Person, Two Places: Creativity, Consistency, and Grace

Take a walk with Shawna through her Q & A session with Wendy Zdeb, MASSP Executive Director. Learn about Shawna’s experience as she transitioned from middle school principal to becoming the principal for both middle and high school in St. Charles. 

Read about her transitional challenges she faced becoming the 6-12 principal, how she approaches students, what it's like to be face-to-face 5 days a week, students responses and more!

Building a Hybrid Schedule in a Pandemic

Sitting at lunch today, a student asked me about her sandwich.  It was made from potato bread, and she wanted to know if there were actual potatoes in the bread.  I couldn’t answer her, so naturally I pulled out the phone and Googled it.  If you were wondering, potato bread is made with real potatoes. 

After we solved the mystery, I reflected back on our experience of the last several months.  When we started planning for our return to school here in Hamilton, we couldn’t Google the answers we were looking for.  And “Pandemic Planning 101” wasn’t in the grad school course catalog.  

Fully embracing this challenge of the unknown, and working alongside a dedicated team of educators, parents, community members, and our Board of Education, we built and implemented a hybrid schedule to best meet the needs of all our learners. 

A Quick Glance at the Response to COVID-19 at Carter Middle School in Warren Consolidated Schools

Executive Order 2020-4: The first executive order was the Declaration of a State of Emergency which was issued by Governor Whitmer on March 10, 2020 after two cases of coronavirus were confirmed in Michigan. On March 12, Carter Middle School (CMS) received notice from the Warren Consolidated Schools (WCS) superintendent that school would be closed indefinitely. It was on this day our lives changed; students cleaned out their lockers, said goodbye to friends and began an unfamiliar journey of what would officially be our first National pandemic since the Spanish flu in 1918. COVID-19 had arrived in Michigan and was ominously here to stay.  

The district’s immediate priority was to establish a system/protocol to meet the needs of our 13,500 families which included servicing a 52 percent free and reduced lunch population. The weekend of March 13, 2020 the middle school principals focused on providing basic needs to our community. We collaborated, planned, and implemented a food distribution system that would deliver over 36,000 meals a week; since March, delivery has reached 63,000 meals a week. As the need for food increased during the pandemic, WCS partnered with Gleaners Community Food Bank and began hosting multiple emergency mobile units in our middle school parking lots, increasing meal delivery by the thousands.

New Law Extends MMC Flex for Current 8th Graders

SB 171, a Michigan Merit Curriculum change that will definitely be of interest to middle level Principals, has been signed into law and is in effect for the upcoming scheduling season. For the last several years, students were given the flexibility to substitute an additional arts credit or CTE coursework for the second required credit of world language. That flexibility was set to expire with the current eighth grade class, but SB 171 extended it indefinitely. This will not only affect 8th graders as they schedule their freshman year courses this spring, but will also mean that, moving forward, students who complete the equivalent of one credit of high school level world language at the middle level may not need to take further world language after the middle level.

March 2020

How to Make a PAW-sitive Difference in Your School

I know it is a cheesy title; however, I hope it caught your attention. It was a catchy title that caught my attention: “Star Pup-ils: Brighton Plans to Place Therapy Dog in Every School.” Fourteen months after reading the article about therapy dogs in the Brighton School District, a new staff member joined the E.F. Rittmueller Middle School Team, a therapy dog named Frank. 

Teacher Growth, The Whole Child, Relationships: Connecting The Dots 

I frequently find myself telling people, “you either love middle school or you don’t.” It takes special leadership attributes to thrive at the middle school level. Kids will fist bump, high five, mess up your tie, ask for a hug, cry, laugh with you (and at you), share a joke, ask you to Dab, Floss, Make a Tic Tok and ignore you, all in the same day! Middle school is a time of rapid growth cognitively, socially and emotionally. Middle school is the land of adult mentorship and relationship building opportunities. The center of this role, are the teachers in the classroom with 30 kids each hour. Over the past few years, in an effort to support the whole child, we have made it a priority at Linden Middle School to get a positive return out of our professional development investments. 

Middle School Mingle

Every year, excitement builds as elementary students get ready to make the leap to middle school. Many middle schools have gone above and beyond to help welcome these prospective students and help get to know the new building, staff and understand how the schedules work. This is an extremely helpful process for students and even parents. Often times, this experience takes place towards the end of the school year or even in August as the new school year is starting up. But as many educators know, these are both busy times of the year for families and schools and attendance to special events like these can be low. 

Meetings that Matter: Value Based Leadership 

As leaders in education, we envision ourselves as people who can make an impact on students, staff and the educational world. It is with our knowledge base, experience, hard work and dedication that we feel equipped to be successful. As I entered the administrative world as an assistant principal, I feared that my leadership might be dulled by management and discipline throughout the day. I am blessed that at Anchor Bay Middle School South, the principal, Phil Latona, and I have similar visions on how we want to lead and impact our students, staff and school. We decided to use some of the principles from books and podcasts on leadership he had shared with me, and we had read and studied together. We were inspired to be better, and we wanted to model these ideas to inspire our staff to grow with us. 

BJR: Blue Jay Renaissance

Middle school students are an enigma; They range from innocent and curious about everything to testing those around them just to see how far they can push before someone provides some structure. They are filled with energy and emotions, they love instant gratification and they are an organizational mess. This is why we love them. We realized a couple of years ago that our students at Shepherd Middle School needed a reminder that their real reason for coming to school each day was to open their minds and their eyes to the power of education. To help prepare them by valuing quality work in the classroom, encouraging good attendance, and helping them make positive behavior choices. Our answer was implementing a program created by Josten’s called Renaissance. Blue Jay Renaissance (BJR) is a program that celebrates the three A’s: Academics, Attitude and Attendance.

January 2020

Why Middle School Matters

You asked and Phyllis answered! Read more to find out how Phyllis Fagell answered the following questions:

  • What drew you to counsel middle school students, and how has your background helped you work with this age group?
  • What do you see as the biggest challenges for middle level students both academically and socially?
  • Do you have any suggestions for administrators when it comes to approaching discipline issues with middle level students? In many cases, there are teachable moments that can come with poor decision-making. How can administrators keep the relationship positive and help students learn from their mistakes?
  • In Chapter 1 you talk about the ten key skills.  Are there ways the school can be working in partnership with parents to help students acquire these skills?  Are there any you view as more critical than others?

Building Culture and Leading Learning

As a middle level administrator, you know that early adolescence is pivotal to developing each individual’s potential and opportunity. You know that school climate and culture have a significant impact on student performance and the health and happiness of the entire school community. You strive to build culture and lead learning.

Reward Your Kids. Change Your Culture. 

I had the privilege of being the assistant principal at Grayling High School for seven years. I had a front row seat in watching the dramatic shift in culture and school spirit. I was a teacher when Grayling Viking Renaissance (GVR) was introduced to our school. The assistant principal at the time, Donna Boughner, was able to get our staff to buy into this unique concept at the time. When she became Grayling High School’s principal, I was handed the keys and did my best to keep the momentum rolling. 

Word of the Month

Though I consider myself reflective and goal-driven, I had not set any New Year’s resolutions for a few years now. My thinking was that I did enough to try to promote my personal and professional growth without the stress (and inevitable guilt) of a resolution that I was going to struggle to keep. Do you need more stress in your life? Or guilt? I sure didn’t!

9th Grade Academy - The Academies at Romeo High School: Transforming the High School Experience 

A successful high school experience draws influence from a wide spectrum of variables and supports.  The Academies at Romeo High School, with guidance from Ford Next Generation Learning (Ford NGL) and Macomb County Planning and Economic Development, have strategically targeted some of the more critical variables and set structures in place to assist students in making the most of their 9th grade year and beyond. The 9th Grade Academy is considered the foundation for this model.

October 2019

Why Middle School Matters

In the future, I'll use this space to answer questions about “Middle School Matters," my roadmap to the phase for educators and parents. But first, I want to share my philosophy and approach to an age group that too often is misunderstood and maligned. As an exasperated colleague once told me, middle school is the Jan Brady of education. Rather than neglect these years, we should use them to build students' character and confidence.

I have a unique perspective on middle school because I wear multiple hats. I’m a middle school counselor, a therapist working in private practice with tweens and their caregivers, and the parent of a sixth grader. (My older two children are now middle school graduates.) I also write about tweens for The Washington Post and other national publications. My goal is to bring research to life and give it practicality.

Beginning to Infuse Social and Emotional Competencies into an MTSS Framework at the Middle Level

One thing I love about our profession is the fresh start we get each year. Every year is a new beginning, and August is the time to prepare for the next adventure. It is a time of excitement, preparation and a little stress for the Principal. As you prepare for the 2019-20 school year, here are a few tips to build the excitement, help with the preparation and hopefully alleviate some of the stress.

Home Visits: One of the Best "Deposits" You Can Make into Your School Community

We have been conducting home visits at L’Anse Creuse Middle School – East for over 5 years now.  It is, by far, the best initiative I have been involved in as an administrator. To expand on our success of home visits, our counselor approached me last year about writing a grant to expand our current home visits to every incoming 6th grade student!  We are very excited to be able to visit every single 6th grade student this year before school begins!

Making Connections: Lighting a Fire in Your Staff and Students

I am not a camper, so I am in no way an expert on building a fire, but I do know (thanks to my high school science classes) that in order for fire to ignite, it needs three elements: heat, fuel and oxygen. However, being a school leader is something I do know, and culture is something that is talked about all over leadership blogs, articles, books, and tweets. Culture is way more than just a buzzword. Culture is the heart of a school, and the determining factor between success and failure.

Learner Engagement in the Middle School Classroom

To be in education, today, individuals and teams must be flexible, vulnerable, and have the ability to think critically about how their words and actions are impacting the thinking of the larger team. For this to take root within the culture, both individuals and teams must have the beliefs, values, and shared identity that embrace true collaboration—for both themselves and their learners. It has been proven that when a team has a shared vision for success coupled with team efficacy and vulnerability, success is the result. Moving beyond compliance to true accountability to the task (the “what"), the process (the “how”), and group development (the “who”) takes both time and intention. 

August 2019

MASSP is in the Middle with YOU!

MASSP recognizes that the middle level has unique challenges and perspectives. We also notice that middle level administrators tend not to want to leave their buildings for professional development. With this in mind, we have developed this new quarterly publication specifically designed just for middle level building to support your work, keep you connected and help you lead forward.

Your PSAT 8 Data is MUCH Better than MSTEP Data

This spring was the first year PSAT 8 was administered as the state assessment for eighth graders. This new test represents a shift in content, item types and an entry point on the scale of determining college readiness. For many who are not familiar with the College Board suite of assessments the fact that PSAT 8 is a pre-SAT test and provides a predictive SAT score might not even be known. Unlike the MSTEP the PSAT 8 results come with access to the College Board reporting portal for students, parents and educators.

New Beginnings

One thing I love about our profession is the fresh start we get each year. Every year is a new beginning, and August is the time to prepare for the next adventure. It is a time of excitement, preparation and a little stress for the Principal. As you prepare for the 2019-20 school year, here are a few tips to build the excitement, help with the preparation and hopefully alleviate some of the stress.

Holly Middle School to use a Restorative Practices Facilitator during the 19-20 School Year

In the Fall of 2017, we attended MASSP’s Restorative Practices Foundations professional development offering. While many of us in attendance were there to learn about Michigan’s newly passed legislation requiring schools to consider restorative practices as it applied to the “7 Factors,” we walked away with so much more. Little did we know that our paths were going to cross with Roy Burton, the director of the Michigan Restorative Practices Trainers and Consultants. Roy captivated and inspired us to approach our job with a restorative mindset and we returned to Holly Middle School committed to learning more about, and applying, restorative practices.

Welcome Back Celebration

The beginning of the school year brings about mixed emotions for all students (and staff). As Labor Day weekend looms, the excitement of the upcoming school year builds – as does the anxiety of most students. Sure, school is something that students are familiar with, but the start of a new school year brings about many questions: