“It makes a huge difference to have teachers who are passionate about the subjects they are teaching in every class. It makes you more excited to learn! –Sophie, BASIS Independent McLean
BASIS Independent Schools raises the standards of student learning to the highest international levels through our advanced, globally benchmarked curriculum. However, our schools are only able to achieve such incredible outcomes thanks to our passionate expert teachers—not just because they teach with expertise, but because each one inspires students to truly love learning. Good luck asking any of our students who their favorite teacher or class is; they will usually answer, “all of them!”
When our students enter the Middle School Program in grade 5 at BASIS Independent Schools, they leave behind the two-teacher model that defines grades 1–4 and are solely led by Subject Expert Teachers (SETs). Focused on high-level mastery, SETs are the shepherds of academic content; they have real-life experience in the discipline they teach, and often even hold advanced degrees in the field.
These expert educators are crucial in the middle school years: their enthusiasm, depth of knowledge, and extensive expertise brings content to life. This deep connection to the subject matter is invaluable in middle school as students face new curricular challenges and learn to better understand the practical application of knowledge.
Read on to learn more about how the BASIS Curriculum utilizes Subject Expert Teachers as a key driver in student success during the formative years in middle school:
Subject Expertise + Passion
The spark of a masterful teacher who loves their material makes all the difference in BASIS Independent classrooms. Particularly in middle school, subject expertise combined with the passion our teachers feel for their discipline creates a unique and joyful culture for applying high-level content in a way that connects with and interests our students on a much deeper level than in other learning environments.
Educators at BASIS Independent Schools are true subject experts in their chosen discipline, be it Calculus, Latin, musical theatre, literature, or physics. With different SETs for each subject, middle school students grow under the mentorship and expertise of real mathematicians, chemists, musicians, writers, engineers, and more.
“My professional experience provides instant credibility to my assignments,” says Mr. Lentz, History Subject Expert Teacher. “I had a job as a lawyer at a big firm. . . Thus, when I explain to students how learning about the Articles of Confederation can increase their understanding of the modern world (think: NATO-funding disputes), they are more likely to buy into that lesson. Explaining the real-world application of lessons prevents history from getting stuck in the past. My background also makes a difference in the skills on which I focus. For example, it shapes the skills I emphasize in my class: intense focus on persuasive writing and critical thinking.”
This emphasis on subject expertise is especially important in middle school when students begin to face much more detailed, abstract content matter. For instance, when Intro to Science becomes biology, chemistry, and physics (taken separately and simultaneously) in grade 6, middle school students get to learn from a teacher who understands that branch of science thoroughly.
According to Mr. Winter, Physics Subject Expert Teacher, “All too often, teachers, especially teachers of middle school science, are asked to teach subjects that they don't like or don't know deeply. The typical middle school science class is a mix of chemistry, physics, and biology with one teacher expected to teach a bit of all of it. Inevitably, there will be some subject that that teacher just doesn't find interesting. At BASIS Independent Schools, middle school science teachers focus on one subject that they love. For me, that's physics. I am able to demonstrate my passion for that subject in every single lesson. When students ask questions that go beyond the level of the day's lesson, I am able to answer them with enthusiasm. This ability to focus deeply on a subject that the teacher loves is invaluable and translates to a better experience for students in all of their classes.”
Biology Subject Expert Teacher Ms. May agrees, adding that “This concept of expertise is really important in middle school, when students have a tendency to be wrapped up in their own world and drama. If a teacher is able to get them to step out of that mindset, even if only for a lesson, it will help those students mature and become a well-rounded individual in the future.”
Our teaching philosophy is rooted in trust. BASIS Independent Schools gives teachers the autonomy and flexibility to do what they do best: teach!
In the classroom, we empower our teachers to provide instruction and assess learning in the ways that fit their passions and their students’ needs. By allowing this flexibility, teachers are able to explore different applications of knowledge and can better foster creativity.
“The BASIS Curriculum allows me to be flexible and create lessons every day that target the different strengths of the individuals in my class,” says Ms. May. “I create engagement by putting students in scenarios that spark curiosity and encourage innovation, dedication, and collaboration. I rely on games, labs, case studies, challenges, and creation projects to make this happen.”
In middle school, subjects have gained momentum and students require deeper connections to the concepts they are learning. Allowing teachers to use the BASIS Curriculum to construct their own learning environment helps them to better assess what lessons require further support or review and how to best provide it.
Math and Science Subject Expert Teacher Mr. Calhoun emphasizes that this approach helps him to adapt to the specific students and questions of the class. “If students need more help with a given content, I can devote a certain amount of class to that content and help students learn in the way that is most advantageous to them . . . As an educational expert, I am trusted by the network to make that distinction and be able to teach to the students in front of me. It gives a personality to the students and views them as actual people rather than objects designed to receive information.”
Student Support—Straight from the Experts
In the Middle School Program, students are managing a full schedule, including extracurriculars. Therefore, ongoing student support is a priority at all BASIS Independent Schools during these years, and we work to implement strategies for not only ensuring students get the extra support they need to tackle their day-to-day workload as it increases by year, but also to help them grow the tools to take charge of their education and assess their individual needs.
This means helping students, from the moment they come to class, become comfortable asking questions. Ms. May says the key is “Putting students in scenarios that spark curiosity and encourage innovation, dedication, and collaboration.” Engagement fostered in the classroom by our expert faculty lends itself to critical inquiry, prompting students to seek further clarification and understanding.
At BASIS Independent Schools, we want students to know there is no shame in needing help, or even in failing and trying again. All of the teachers in our program offer office hours, available to students who want to check in on progress, review content or homework, hone certain skills, and more.
Mr. Calhoun offers insight into how he organizes these hours for his students, as well as how he connects with their questions or challenges: “For student hours, I set a tone of wanting to learn more or engage with the material. I remind the whole class that this is a chance to work more on the content and a place to work with an instructor (if needed). I also get peer tutors who are excited about the subject. This allows students to see that other students can help, are supportive, and that struggling is ok and not something to be embarrassed by. Lastly, I share my experiences with my students about struggling. I tell them areas that I have weaknesses and the strength that comes from acknowledging those weaknesses. The more errors are normalized and acknowledgement of struggles is celebrated the more students feel comfortable asking for help and acknowledging when they made a mistake.”
Preview: Student Autonomy
Thank you for following along with the blog series so far! Stay tuned for our third and final blog post that will highlight how the Middle School Program at BASIS Independent Schools focuses on growing student autonomy and self-advocacy skills through a number of tools that will help students most effectively tackle challenges in high school and beyond.