The Quest for “Normal”

Last weekend, CSD hosted our third annual Fresh Take Conference. As in years past, it proved to be a wonderful event filled with sharing, learning, reflecting, and dreaming. It is very powerful and affirming to be surrounded by educators from other walks of education, yet being tied together by a passion for kids and learning! While I had many “aha” moments during the conference, one of my most meaningful realizations occurred during Michelle Icard’s keynote speech. For those of you who don’t know Icard’s work (also known as “Michelle in the Middle”), she is a wealth of information on the topic of pre-adolescent development during the formative middle school years. Her book, Middle School Makeover is a wonderful resource for parents. I highly recommend it!   Back to my “aha”…. Michelle refers to this stage of development as the “Middle School Construction Project” wherein middle school students are building the following three things:

  • a mature brain
  • a grown-up body
  • a unique identity

These are the three things they will use to become the adult version of themselves. Now as if those three things aren’t hard enough to build, imagine trying to build them on the constantly shifting “sands” of the social world of middle school! Michelle refers to middle school as “the buffet of life” – which is GREAT and highly encouraged – but what that also means is that there can be little stability and high uncertainty during this time of life. During her keynote, Michelle shared that the number one fear of adults is public speaking. For middle school kids, the number one fear is……drum roll…….being “normal.” They are constantly scanning their environment and evaluating themselves to see where they fit into the mix, and then adjusting/adapting their approach based on their surroundings. Can you imagine how exhausting this is? And as parents, guess who typically gets to see their worst side? Yep. You. They hold it together all day long (for the most part) for their peers and their teachers, and then when they get home to the safety and predictability of their parents’ love, they can sometimes become unraveled. As parents, it’s so easy to jump on the emotional rollercoaster and ride the wave of emotions with them. These are our babies, and we love them dearly! We are hardwired to protect them. But it is so important for us to remember that they are “under construction” and are preoccupied with being “normal.”   I think this is also very important for us to remember as we walk the halls of our middle school. It is very tempting sometimes to sit back and judge other kids for their behavior. Yes, they can be loud. Yes, they sometimes make poor choices. Yes, they can be impulsive and can come across as rude. All of these things are true. But as adults, it is imperative for us to recognize these kids as “construction projects” in motion and give them the tools and support they need in order to build healthy brains, bodies, and identities.

I will continue to touch upon other ideas presented in Icard’s book in subsequent newsletters, but in the meantime, I hope I’ve given you enough information to pique your interest. I highly recommend this book and strongly encourage each parent to purchase his/her own copy. It truly is a great resource! Middle School Makeover: Improving the Way You and Your Child Experience the Middle School Years by Michelle Icard

Thank you for entrusting us with your precious children as they undergo their “construction project.” We are honored to be a part of their lives and want to do all in our power to create a safe, inclusive place of learning and growth for these very special young people.



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