10 Rules for Student Success
Every teacher wants their students to succeed. Every parent wants their child to love school and value learning. Every student wants learning to be challenging and fun. What if students were motivated to do their very best day in and day out? What if students were engaged and excited about their learning? What if teachers could guarantee student success, year after year? The “10 Rules for Student Success” is based on lessons I learned about student success during my 24 years as a classroom teacher.
Rule #1 Changing the Rules of the Game
By the time students entered my high school classroom they had learned the rules of the game. They knew which courses were required to graduate, and they knew how many credits they needed for the diploma. They knew also that a grade of at least a 60% (D) would get them a credit for the class, while at the same time I knew that a student who received a “D” for the class would not be prepared to go on to the next level. I knew students who got credit for a class even though their grades were very low were likely to become discouraged and might even drop out of school. What would happen if we changed the rules of the game? What if students needed to earn at least a “B” in the class to receive their credit? What changes would we need to make to ensure that all students would be prepared for the next level? How could all students be successful? By implementing the following 9 rules, we changed the rules of the game. We guaranteed student success. The mantra became “A B Ready!”
Rule #2 Clear Expectations
If teachers are going to change the rules of the game, everyone involved must be clear about the new set of rules. The most challenging rule change is the way students receive credit for a class. Under the old rule, credit was based on “seat time,” the amount of time a student sat in a class. If a student sat in a class for 180 hours and earned at least a “D,” the student received one credit. Those were the expectations. The new rules require students to earn at least a “B” in the class to receive a credit so the higher the stakes, the clearer the expectations. Students must know exactly what they need to do in the class to get a credit.
Rule #3 Teacher Efficacy
Teachers who have a high sense of efficacy believe that all their students are capable of meeting high expectations, and they communicate those expectations to their students. High efficacy teachers believe they have a positive impact on student learning. High efficacy teachers take responsibility for whether their students are learning and if students are failing, these teachers examine their classroom practices to see how they can change to improve student learning.
Rule #4 Building a Community of Learners
We know that a strong sense of community is a hallmark of high performing schools. When members of a school community share a set of common goals, the goals become the purpose of the school. Under the new rules of the game, student success becomes the shared goal of the school. Students have the support of the entire school community as they change from “just getting by” to achieving success at high levels.
Rule #5 Teacher Collaboration
Students in high-performing schools benefit from a culture of teacher collaboration. When teachers form strong collegial relationships to accomplish the goals of the school, the school becomes a place which supports innovation. Teachers who work together can try out new teachings methods, share materials, and hone their instructional skills.
Rule #6 Tapping into Student Motivation
During my years as a classroom teacher I asked literally hundreds of my students a simple question: Why are you taking my class? Almost without exception my students replied with candor, as most high school students will, that they were in my class to get a credit toward graduation. What motivated my students was the credit. It was then that I realized I was giving credit to many students who had not learned enough to be prepared for the next level of learning. Students who earned at least a “D” in the class got one credit. The rules for getting a credit were not motivating my students to work hard. The rules allowed students to do the minimum and still graduate from high school. What if we tied credit to performance? What if students only received credit when they met a certain performance level, one that would guarantee their success as they continued their studies? Now if students want a credit for the class, they must work hard to meet the performance standards. Getting the credit still motivates our students, but now the credit means our students have succeeded and will continue to succeed.
Rule #7 Every Student Can
The underlying premise of credit for performance is the belief that every student can achieve high standards, that every student can be successful in school. When student success becomes the goal of the school, every facet of school life supports the goal. Wherever you go in the school; classrooms, media center, guidance offices, administrative offices, gym, and playing fields, student success is the mantra. By changing the focus of the school to student success, new habits start to flourish. More and more students start believing they can succeed, even in difficult courses. They start doing homework, asking for extra help, keeping track of their grades, and becoming more engaged in their learning. As innovations become more routine students take greater responsibility for their learning. Teachers become more collaborative, learning from each other, creating engaging, meaningful lessons, becoming active in professional organizations, and assuming leadership roles. Credit for performance and a belief that all students can succeed are the new rules of the game.
Rule #8 The Holographic School
Under the old paradigm, a school is like a photo which is made up of bits and pieces. This school is a place of individual classrooms where teachers have little interaction with colleagues, where administrators and teachers rarely talk to each other and where students are just passing through. There is no shared goal which permeates through the entire school. As long as the photo is in one piece, the picture remains. However, if you cut the photograph into tiny pieces, the picture is destroyed. A high-performing school is more like a hologram. The word “hologram” literally means “whole message.” If a hologram is cut into tiny pieces, each piece contains the whole picture. The hologram is a perfect metaphor for a high-performing school. No matter where you are in the school, each location reflects the values of the school. Each classroom, each teacher, each administrator, and each student tells the whole story.
Rule #9 Reaching the Standards
Once the standards for student success are in place, the next step is to determine what students will do to achieve the standards. What will students learn? How will they learn? Who will decide if students have met the standards? What will students do to show they have met the standards? The answers to these questions become the on-going work of the school. Teachers are constantly improving their lessons to guarantee that all students are successful. Students continually monitor their learning by keeping track of their progress. Students in the 21st century will learn in many different locations, from the traditional school setting to the larger school community and beyond to locations world-wide. Students, teachers, parents, and community will determine when students have met the standards. Because student learning will focus on what students can to do with the knowledge they have learned, students will showcase their learning by demonstrating what they can do to an audience of teachers, parents, and the larger community.
Rule #10 Celebrating Student Success
It is opening day at Rosemont High School. Excitement builds as students, teachers, parents and administrators crowd into the school auditorium. The high school band is belting out the school theme song. A huge banner emblazoned with the words “Student Success” stretches across the stage of the auditorium. As the music dies down, all eyes focus on large screens which project videos of students who are showcasing their accomplishments. In this school everyone celebrates student success.