Remaking Middle School Design Lab
The Design Lab Experience
The RMS Design Lab launched in 2021-22. We have captured the experience of four schools that participated in the Design Lab in a report with four case studies. The full report includes an overview of the RMS experience and associated outcomes for each of the schools. Each case study provides real examples of middle schools engaged in developmentally focused redesign efforts. While redesign work is complex and requires schoolwide support and committed leadership, efforts of this sort have the potential to significantly improve student and educator experiences in schools.
These case studies are designed to support reflection, planning, and engagement in design efforts within your own educational communities and settings.
The first case study explores teaming dynamics that foster redesign work. Key takeaways from this case study include:
- The school redesign team members should be diverse, committed, and have the capacity to regularly engage in the redesign work; and
- It is important for teams to have 1) a strong leader; 2) a democratic process for decision making; and 3) a culture of collaboration, communication, and innovation.
The second case study discusses the importance of specific key practices in facilitating redesign work. These key practices include both school- and partner-related practices such as:
- Content-focused Learning sessions and a Summer Accelerator which helped schools to develop a knowledge of middle-level adolescent development and equity practices;
- Coaching sessions provided a space for school educators to reflect and share ideas; and
- Site visits and empathy work that shifted the thinking of educators and allowed them to better understand the experiences and perspectives of students.
The third case study in the report discusses the challenges that the redesign teams faced as they worked to reimagine their educational environments. These challenges include but are not limited to:
- Difficulties with time and scheduling RMS efforts given the already intense demands of the school day;
- Difficulties with cultivating school-wide buy-in of redesign efforts; and
- Challenges with balancing student voice and agency with pre-existing educator mindsets and established school structures.
Finally, the last case study addresses sustainability efforts. In this case study, we discuss key strategies to support the sustainability of redesign efforts, such as
- Ensuring strong leadership with a clear vision for moving the work forward;
- Building accountability structures that hold design team members accountable to reflection and forward progress; and
- Fostering an open-minded school climate/culture that promotes changes for the betterment of students.
Design Lab News
While remaking middle school may sound like a gargantuan task, four schools working closely with the UVA team that launched the initiative found success one accomplishment at a time.