Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Defining the "best" (or, we all need some tasty carrots)

I think I have something against the words "the best".  In my last school in the first parent meeting I attended I was told the school had just received the best MYP scores ever,  a couple of years later the results were even better and again we were told we were "the best".   Somehow this just irritates me!  The best is never defined - clearly some people think it 's to do with "collecting" exam results, others seem to see it as having our sports teams beat all the others in tournaments, still others measure it by what percentage of graduates get into Ivy League schools and/or Oxford and Cambridge.   I don't think a school can be judged as an excellent school based on the results of the top 10% of the students in it - perhaps a better way would be to look at what is happening with the bottom 10% and how much progress is being made by the students who don't find learning easy.  I think that what I would like to see is another way of defining "the best" that is more inclusive to the achievements of all the students, regardless of whether or not they are academic or sporty or artistic or whatever.  What I would like to see more of is a focus on learning and measuring how good we are as a school by whether we are making a difference to the lives of all students in the school.

How can we move forward as a school to look at another way of defining excellence in education?  Clearly some people are already very satisfied with exam results and perhaps don't see the need for changing this focus - yet to change a school, to bring about real improvements for all the students, requires a commitment from everyone in the school - and this commitment will only be forthcoming if individuals are nurtured, appreciated and engaged in planning the changes they are expected to carry out, and if the achievements of all the students are celebrated.

Some time ago I was involved in a meeting where there was a discussion about professional development and how to make teachers move forward.  The term used was that many teachers' skills were "obsolete".  This idea of moving forward was to get a stick and "make people accountable".  I tried to point out that "carrots", incentives, would be more effective.  Later I was reading about "hug power" which is the power derived from shared vision, values and beliefs - and how hug power is the most effective way of moving people forward.  It's really important for administrators to value the efforts their staff are making, especially as sustainable change can only come about through these people who are shaping the culture of the school.

A few months ago I was at Munich International School for a workshop.  There the talk was very much of moving people forward one conversation at a time.  What I would like to see is our school taking this one stage further - that the leadership team should engage teachers in ongoing dialogue about moving the school forward (instead of telling us we are already one of the best) and initiating conversations and discussions about new ideas that could improve the school.  Above all what is needed is the celebration of successful change and the efforts teachers are making to bring this about (we all need some tasty carrots).

Photo Credit:  Carrots by Matt Biddulph

1 comment:

  1. The problem with "the best" is that it is narrowly defined. What is the best for one students (achievement wise) may not be the best for another student. A better look at a school would be to determine if the school is the best at helping every student realize their personal best.