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Demystifying Middle School—The Perfect Time for Meaningful Learning

By Debbie Hanney, Lincoln Middle School Director

There is little doubt that Middle School is a particularly challenging time for girls, but what’s long been viewed as a troublesome age is a transformative one at Lincoln School.

I recently read, “Why Identity and Emotion are Central to Motivating the Teen Brain,” by researcher Ronald Dahl, professor of community health and human development at the University of California, Berkeley. His research reinforces what we’ve long believed at Lincoln School: that as educators it is our job to dismantle Middle School myths and instead view the physical and emotional changes of adolescence as an outstanding opportunity to connect with students on a level that truly matters to them.

Dahl posits that though researchers have long thought that ages 0-3 are when the brain is developing the fastest, evidence now shows that formative neural development continues into puberty and through the teenage years. In fact, the chaos of puberty coincides with the brain opening up an entirely new set of elastic neural systems that fundamentally changes how young people process the world around them.

“Within the tumult of pre-teens or teens is an opportunity to enhance their desire and interest to learn. [Adolescence is] a particularly opportune time to fall in love with learning itself, to love that feeling of exploring,” Dahl said. “There’s a new window to create that ‘Yes!’ feeling.”

Our faculty love Middle School girls—our students are funny, smart, compassionate, collaborative, competitive, and curious. Across disciplines, our engaged teachers know that our girls learn better with strong, trusting connections that infuse them with the courage and motivation to try new things. Through this building of trust, motivation, and fun, students take risks, work hard, and push the envelope.

Despite being a complicated developmental period, our Middle School is full of iterative thinking, teachers and students working together, and academic experimentation and exploration. Girls are supported in their quest to discover who they are as learners, a process of metacognitive self-knowledge that will serve them throughout life.

Yes, Middle School is a challenging time, but together we use that opportunity to meaningfully connect and uncover all the extraordinary things of which our girls are capable.