I take it personally when students don’t learn

I take it personally when students at our school don’t learn at high levels.

As I reflect back on this school year that is starting to quickly dwindle away, there are many things that make me feel very proud.  There have been students who have accomplished amazing things, teachers who have found great success because they weren’t afraid to take a risk, and teams of educators who found the power in becoming a true professional learning community. But to be honest, I haven’t been thinking about any of those things this weekend.

I’ve been thinking about the students for which we haven’t found the answer.

I don’t do this because I am an overly negative person, want to beat myself up, or because the things I mentioned above aren’t truly worth celebrating.  I think about them because I know  that for us to improve as  educators, we need to look in the mirror and face the simple fact that for a handful of students this year, our best wasn’t good enough.  We didn’t get it done.

I realize of course that there are several factors that are outside of our control that greatly impact students’ learning.  Some students come to school without their basic physical or emotional needs met.  Some students’ parents will not or can not read at home with them or help them with their homework.  Some students simply don’t like school and resist our best efforts to engage them and ignite their passion for learning.  Some students have disabilities that make learning at the same rate as their peers incredibly difficult.  In spite of all these things, it is still our job to ensure every student learns to their highest potential.  It is our job to knock down whatever obstacle stands in the way of students’ success.

This simple attitude is the key that separates the great educators from the good or the mediocre ones.  Great educators focus on what they can do to ensure students are successful.  If a student fails, their first thought is how they can change their instruction to better meet that student’s needs.  Others focus on lack of parental support, students’ lack of motivation, or other obstacles that stand in the way.  They spend their time “admiring the problem.”  The great ones take responsibility and then take action.

I remember hearing as a young college student training to be a teacher about how important it was  to give students the best opportunity possible to learn.  Now, I know that we must simply do whatever it takes to ensure  that every student learns and learns at high levels.  Giving them “opportunities” isn’t enough.

I do not judge our school year or any individual educator as a failure because of the students who have failed any more than I judge a hospital a failure because people die there.  But ask yourself the question; do you want to be admitted to a hospital where doctors and nurses come to work with the attitude that a certain number of people are going to die today regardless of what we do?  Or, do you want to be admitted to a hospital where staff is committed to doing whatever it takes to ensure  that each patient is restored to health?  It is an easy answer.

Although not much time remains in this school year, I’ve got a fire in the pit of my stomach for that student who is still in need of an answer.  The cost of failure for that student’s life is far too high.  I take it personally when students in our school don’t learn at high levels.

You should too.

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