"The nature of relationships among the adults within a school has a greater influence on the character and quality of that school and on student accomplishment than anything else."
Because the Middle School years are "Becoming" years for children, they need to have a combination of structure and flexibility or as we say "Forms and Freedom."
We know that an environment that is only structure will stifle them and too often create antagonistic environments where students feel the main task of teachers is to tell them what they cannot do. In this type of environment, children will either rebel against the authority or they will comply externally but potentially be building up resentment inside. A healthy environment will give them the opportunities to try on different roles and work toward keeping the communication flowing between students and teachers.
There's also a danger of not providing enough structure and setting students free to do whatever they might choose. At this age, they lack the maturity to always make careful and thoughtful decisions. Too much freedom could allow them to take things too far and end up creating an environment that is bad for them and for others.
Our Middle School staff spends lots of time working on finding the right balance. Their years of experience working with children during the Middle School years has equipped them to navigate these waters with great skill, thoughtfulness, and grace. Our small class sizes mean that the teachers can allow freedoms while keeping a close eye on the students. We allow break times but always have faculty members watching carefully. Teachers are also constantly collaborating with each other, sharing their observations as they watch the dynamics of the classes and grades.