COLUMNIST: March is 'Middle Level Education Month'
By Scott Bjerke, principal
Prairie Wind Middle School
So you want to be a Middle School Principal?
Well, sorry you can't have my job---because I LOVE IT!!
Let me share with you a few reasons why. First, a brief history lesson on how Prairie Wind Middle School came to be:
In the early part of the 1990's the Perham-Dent School District was experiencing a significant growth in student population. Discussions were being held as to the addition of another building. Talks centered on whether students would benefit from a junior high school or a middle school configuration. After considerable discussion and study it was determined a middle school and its incumbent philosophy would best meet the unique intellectual, social and emotional needs of these learners. Thus ISD 549 embarked upon a journey that has successfully served students over these past 14 years.
Perham is fortunate to be one of the few districts in this area to have a middle school.
Today there are upwards to 20 million rapidly changing pre-adolescents enrolled in middle level schools across the U.S., where they are busy formulating attitudes, values and habits that will direct their behaviors as adults.
Middle schoolers: Constantly evolving creatures
Why do I love being the middle school principal?
First, being a middle school principal is like no other leadership position I have ever experienced.
Middle schoolers evolve each day...nothing is ever the same in middle school and I've learned you have to expect the unexpected.
Each day brings new excitement, changes and dilemmas to solve. Understanding and appreciating the challenges young people are going through to discover themselves is perhaps the most important aspect of my job as principal. Having fun and not getting frustrated with their mistakes and misjudgments while they change, I have learned is critical. There is no question, building relationships is at the crux of being a successful leader. That is the most rewarding part of my job-------taking the time to interact with students while making them feel like they really, truly matter!
Second, students are at their most unique stage during this period of their lives. One day they want you to give them a hug and treat them like their "elementary" selves. The next day, they insist on being treated as a young adult to satisfy their "teenage" selves.
Simply stated, I have to be able to read their moods and do both. Conversely, I have the unique opportunity to support the Middle School staff as they try to do the same with these very unique kids.
For instance, can I convince a middle school teacher that he or she CAN reach a group of middle school students who appear not to see their newly found hormones? I must because those same students need that teacher to challenge them academically.
Principal is support person for parents, too
I also get the chance to be the shoulder that parents need to "cry" on, as well as the sounding board for the barrage of frustrations they feel at having these "alien like creatures" in their homes.
It rests on me to encourage and remind them their precious sons/daughters will outgrow this crazy phase. I know this firsthand having a "middle schooler" at home. But, while this is undoubtedly the most challenging time in a child's life, it is also one of the most wondrous. I have the absolute privilege of helping students navigate these turbulent waters - and it doesn't get much better than that.
Finally, I am fortunate to work alongside a staff of teachers, paraprofessionals, cooks, secretaries and custodians who share these same beliefs.
Middle school staff has shared vision
The development of trust and empowerment of this leading team are key characteristics for our middle school. It is my job to unify a shared vision among this team which I believe is a critical component in creating an atmosphere for quality instruction and relationships between adults and students that work in concert with high expectations and achievement for all.
Observing the work this Middle School Team puts forth on a daily basis is truly a highlight of each and every one of my days.
Principal's visibility important to students, staff
Yes, there are large amounts of "paperwork" that come with this job. However, I have found the best time to take care of paperwork is at night or on weekends. During the day I prefer to get out of my office and be visible. I am then able to take care of "issues" that arise (some big, some small), work on trying to develop teachers and monitor support staff.
Being visible is a part of the job I truly enjoy. I have learned firsthand the middle school needs a full time leader, and to do the job right it's so much more than safety and discipline.
I have spent most of my career in education working with high school students as a teacher, coach and dean of students. I have nothing but fond memories and life-long relationships to remember those years by.
However, having had the chance to work closely with middle level students has been just as rewarding if not more so.
So NO, you can't have my job------because I LOVE IT!!