The power of believing that you can improve

From Principal Shauna Colnan

At the heart of the value system of every great teacher is the deeply held belief that each student in the class can improve.

But that’s not the whole story.

The best teachers see it as their particular responsibility to create a clear vision of success for each student and then to set out the road map for the student to achieve that vision so that they can grow as a learner and then go beyond even their own aspirations.

This going beyond is where the magic happens.

If you haven’t had the chance to look at the works of Professors John Hattie and Carol Dweck, please do. They’re as relevant to parents as they are to teachers as we share this quest to build hardy, resilient, confident children and young adults.

Hattie and Dweck are influential educational theorists whose research continues to shape the work of teachers around the world and our work here at IGS.

One of Hattie’s preoccupations is that collective teacher efficacy matters. Hattie asserts the simple but powerful idea that together, teachers can achieve more, especially if they collectively believe that they can do so. This is where high quality professional development and high levels of staff morale and support are crucial.

I’m pleased that at IGS the sense of collective teacher efficacy is strong and our ongoing commitment to professional learning and collaboration for teachers across and beyond the campus strengthens that collective belief that together we can achieve so much for our students as they progress through each stage of learning.

Carol Dweck is most closely associated with the notion that a growth mindset should infuse our work with children and young people. For decades she has written a substantial body of scholarly work that sends a message to teachers about the power and importance of believing that students can improve and that it’s a basic human right for all children to attend schools that are positive places where they can grow.

When students believe that they can improve, when teachers and parents believe it too, and when all agree that effort is what creates momentum towards success, then a virtuous cycle is established.

And it’s never too late. As an HSC teacher, I am always delighted and energised by the astonishing growth of students’ academic performance, especially between the Trials and the HSC. Those who work very hard can perform beyond their wildest dreams and beyond all expectations. I told Year 12 in assembly today that when they step up their efforts this term they will then go into their HSC exams next term and write more and better than they’ve ever written before.

Have you noticed that academic development tends to occur in fits and starts? And that persistence ensures that the starts surprise us all as the years go by, and even surprise the students themselves as they grow and the world opens up to them? This is what gets teachers up in the morning and inspires them to work as selflessly as they do for their students day in and day out. Our water cooler conversations tend to be all about how this student or that student has just achieved a breakthrough in their learning.

The importance of developing grit as a character strength in all of our students is why we have decided to put a stronger, whole-school focus on effort.

You will have received your child’s Semester 1 academic report with the new effort grades. Last term, teachers across the school made on-balance judgements about their students’ efforts in class. Grade 1 signals outstanding effort, 2: good, 3: satisfactory and 4: unsatisfactory.

We were thrilled with the outcome. Most students in Primary School were awarded ones and twos. With so many subjects in Year 7, it’s more difficult to achieve a Grade 1 across the board. In fact it was achieved by one student only, Jack Scott-Hickie. There were 32 students in the High School who received straight Grade 1s and each received a Principal’s Award for Outstanding Effort at the final assembly of last term. These new awards are designed to praise not just students’ intelligence and talent, but their processes, their strategies and their persistence in line with our strategic area of action to grow tenacious and confident individuals. It’s also inclusive, because all students can try.

We hope that more students will aspire to increase their efforts in the classroom, that all teachers will catch students trying hard and acknowledge their diligence, and that over time we will be able to track a student’s efforts throughout their time at the School. This data will tell a powerful story about academic achievement at IGS because we know that effort and academic achievement ultimately go hand in hand.

Thank you to all the High School parents who gave us feedback about the new reports and the effort grades. I hope you found them a helpful way-in to discuss with your child their academic progress and achievement in semester one. We will be asking for feedback from Primary School parents at the end of this semester as we continue to improve our reporting framework.

In the meantime, I wish you all a wonderful term ahead!

Shauna Colnan