Dialogue: Good principals and staff part of culture of success

ALISON WHITBURN* says that good teachers can be as important to a child's academic success as motivated parents.

Top schools, top pupils, top teachers, top parents are all part of the mix that make high academic achievement possible.

So it seems unfair of Shelley Bridgeman, in her Dialogue article, to say that it was the individual pupils who gained the marks without attributing anything to their teachers. She also attributes a lot of these pupils' success to their parents' ambitions and to the fact that many have "professional parents."

Such parents do play an enormous part in motivating their children toward academic success, so they are empowered to get into courses they want for their careers. However, there are just as many parents who are not so motivated.

Many parents at these so-called "top schools" want their children to get a good education. They believe that by sending their children to these schools, the children will succeed with little input from them.

Some parents send their children to these schools because they went there or because all their friends send their children there.

And so often their children do succeed. It is not because the parents have pushed it, or that their children are motivated. It is because the culture of success is inherent in those schools and teachers and support staff are very much part of that.

Perhaps success should not be measured so much by the number of scholarships - often those are awarded to very clever pupils who are highly motivated. It is the dearth of D and E "passes," failures to everyone but education officials, that should be the standard by which we judge schools and their teachers.

A school with a culture of success and a "you can do it" attitude succeeds. They make it into a "we can do it."

Schools with high sporting prowess are given regular publicity. The Herald prints a selection of school sporting achievements every Tuesday and people are easily able to judge which school is best at which sports.

It is totally acceptable in New Zealand's culture to trumpet all sporting successes and to make these successful people our heroes.

It is totally unacceptable to trumpet academic successes and few are paraded before us as heroes.

The coaches, trainers and baggage handlers of our leading sports teams are well-known names. We attribute the success of their teams to them every bit as much as to the players.

We never mention the mothers and fathers who got up at dawn to take their children to practices, stood on the sideline in pouring rain, and washed muddy clothes to prepare their children for a good future in sport.

So how come, when it comes to the world of academe, we are supposed to ignore the trainers and coaches?

The teachers at these top schools go that extra mile; they are available for questions and extra coaching at no cost; for extra classes after school or at lunchtime. Like their pupils, a 40-hour week does not exist because their rewards are in their pupils' successes, not in having more time at home to watch television.

Because the working environment is good, these schools are able to get top teachers - or those whose expertise is teaching motivated children. That is not to say that such teachers are the best. Some of the best teachers are people who like the challenge of the most difficult pupils and take pleasure in giving those children a future to be proud of.

A school which parades its academic successes in regular assemblies is going to get across to its pupils that such achievements are as valuable in the school as sporting ones.

Good careers advisers at schools can also help to motivate pupils. They can point out amazing jobs to the students and underline that such careers are available only after hard work at school produces the necessary grades.

A look at the school certificate and bursary lists in the Herald shows a large number of successful schools - often in areas least expected. Surely, this proves that the schools there are doing a good job and have competent teachers.

Any person who has taught knows the exhilaration when a student gets a mark beyond his or her marks at the beginning of the year. This is often when a 30 becomes a 50 - more satisfying than when a 95 becoming 97.

Enabling mediocre students to have a good future, inspiring pupils to achieve better marks, helping them to choose a good career and encouraging them to pursue the best options for that future come from good schools with good principals and good staff.

* Alison Whitburn is a former secondary-school teacher.

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