It was a pleasure to see so many of you at last night’s Parent-Teacher evening, especially the day after our Welcome Back BBQ. Multiple evening commitments are not the norm at school, so thank you for making the effort to join our teachers. When parents and teachers begin the year on the same page, the year’s story is often a great read!
In addition to learning about the classroom routines and expectations, we highlighted our mutual task on behalf of all students – the need to appreciate and understand the complexity of educating a human being. Our main goal is always the development of solid academic skills, along with the attitudes and behaviours that ensure our children will thrive in high school and beyond. As shared by Mrs. McKay yesterday, last year’s CAT-4 (Canadian Achievement Test) results clearly show that our students are performing above national norms across important core competencies as they progress through our school. This is great news. However, while achievement, competence, and mastery are all priorities, it is their development that often requires a more nuanced understanding.
Teaching and learning are more art than science and marks alone never tell the whole story. In schools, a mythology can sometimes develop regarding the academic standards of the “good ole days” when teachers – faced with student errors or mistakes – tore pages out of notebooks and wielded the dehumanizing cudgel of remarks such as, “Jones, that’s garbage! Do it again!” Can you imagine a child (or adult, for that matter) being motivated by that?!
When it comes to school, we need to remember that error is normal and making mistakes is a necessary part of learning. In Teach Like a Champion, Doug Lemov’s brilliant distillation of 49 techniques for teachers to use to improve student performance, he writes that teachers should normalize error and avoid chastening students for getting it wrong.
According to Lemov, “you get it wrong and then you get it right”. If getting it wrong and then getting it right is normal, teachers should normalize error and respond to both parts of this sequence as if they were totally and completely normal. In fact, if all students are getting all questions right, the work we’re giving them isn’t challenging enough.
How we respond when students get the answer right is also important. Making a fuss and acting like the student is a prodigy can also create problems. We should be focused on effort, perseverance, attitude, and confidence. Ego is a creature best left under fed, even among the very young. According to Lemov, champion teachers show their students they expect both right and wrong to happen by not making too big a deal of either. Of course praise is a necessary motivator, but it must be sprinkled with insight, experience, and wisdom, so as not to dilute it by over-use.
In our quest for strong academics, we must strive to help children avoid the kind of perfectionism that often leads to anxiety. A belief that making mistakes is a sign of academic weakness is simply anti-intellectual and, in the end, damaging for children. Most children are painfully aware of their own short-comings and most are willing to work to overcome them; however, if the adults in their lives are not careful, children can sometimes interpret comments about their mistakes as subtle messages about their inherent value, worth or potential (i.e. of not “measuring up”).
Perfectionism makes us overly critical of ourselves and others and, in the end, it can make us unhappy and anxious about trying new things. And chronically perfectionistic and critical people are generally not very fun to be around!
As we strive for good grades, achievement and progress this year, let’s make sure that every child also knows that, like Albert Einstein, we believe that “a person who never makes a mistake never tries anything new!”
Ric Anderson, Head of School