Published: | By: Matt Pearsall Topics: About Us, Curriculum, Middle School, Social-Emotional Learning Meet the Makers of Our New Middle School Program—Part 1 of 2 Matt Pearsall, Program Developer Part 1: Flexible Lessons An exciting part of the early design work we did on our new Second Step Middle School Program was traveling around the country speaking to educators about what they needed from us. One thing we learned is there is tremendous diversity in the students we’re reaching, tremendous diversity in how the program is delivered, and that whatever we create needs to be flexible enough to work in many different situations. We also heard that teachers are incredibly busy, and we need to respect their time and not expect them to revise and customize our lessons themselves. Easy, right? Well no, but over the course of our development process, three guiding principles emerged which have helped us create a program that is flexible enough to work effectively for almost everyone, almost everywhere. Keep things simple (but leave room to expand): The more complicated a lesson is, the more potential barriers come up that can make teaching it difficult. To make the Second Step Program as accessible as possible, we designed every lesson to be teachable in 25 minutes with just a projector, Internet access, paper, and pencils. No printing or other preparation is required. However, we didn’t want this simplicity to become stifling, so we made optional lesson plans with extension ideas, optional student handouts with writing prompts, and we incorporated optional art, writing, and role-play opportunities throughout the curriculum. Trust the students: Engaging students is critical to the success of the Second Step Program, but how can a single lesson be flexible enough to engage all the students who will experience it? The answer is to put the focus on the students themselves. The focus of each lesson is on the students’ own discussion and analysis of the social-emotional learning (SEL) concepts they’re learning. Not only does this give students the ability to frame what their learning in a way that’s personally relevant, but the higher order thinking they’re asked to do makes the lessons more engaging. Trust the teachers: No one knows Second Step students like their teachers. Just as students have an important role in shaping each lesson, so do their teachers. The focus on student discussion and analysis allows teachers to actively participate as coaches and guides for their classes, helping students focus on the issues most relevant to their needs and recognize the value of their own experiences and prior knowledge. Creating a lesson that’s flexible enough to be taught anywhere, to anybody, without much preparation, is difficult. Creating a lesson that does all this and is still effective is even tougher. Trying to do all of this ourselves from our offices way off in Seattle, WA, would be impossible. We didn’t need to do it alone, though. Following these three principles, we’ve enlisted the help of every student and every teacher in every Second Step classroom to help us, and with that level of help, we’ve managed to build a truly flexible curriculum. Want to see more? Click here to see part two.