I am fortunate to work in an amazing school district. It is a district where the community has established values for educating our students in ways that prepare them for the 21st Century. The primary focus is on understanding learning standards and valuing others and their diversity. Nope, I didn’t mention test scores. Amazing, right?
Don’t get me wrong. We want our students to achieve proficiency on their tests. We just know that if we are educating our students in meaningful ways that include involving our community, integration of the meaningful use of technology, engaging students with choice, flexible seating, and collaboration they are more likely to learn. If we teach at high levels, students will be able to transfer these skills to a test, but more importantly to LIFE!
As a part of this amazing district, we are also a part of an amazing group of districts called the North Texas Regional Consortium. These districts have banded together to proclaim higher standards for our students than skills encapsulated on a test. They organize dates that allow campuses to visit each other and discuss the types of practices we value.
My campus always participates, whether it is as a host or someone who sends others out to visit. Last year, during one of the times that we had visitors, a teacher approached me and said, “So you’re a ‘No Excuses University School.'” I’m sure the look on my face was showing my lack of understanding as I said “Huh?” She repeated herself, and I replied, “I have no idea what you mean.” She said, “But you have to be. You’re doing all the things.” I said, “I’m not sure what you mean.”
If nothing else, she peeked my curiosity. Long story short, I looked NEU up on the web. I saw that we were doing most of the concepts they valued: Creating a “Universal Culture of Achievement,” Engaging in Collaboration, Using Standards to Drive Instruction, Using Assessment to be informed, Being Data-Driven, Having Effective Systems to Manage Data, and Implementing Effective Interventions. The focus was working with high poverty schools. Yes, this sounded like something my campus needed to be a part.
I took a group of teachers to one of their institutes last Spring. The most powerful thing I heard was about how often it is the adults making the excuses for why students cannot achieve. We say we believe all students cannot learn, yet we pigeon-hole students into a path that will never allow them access to higher education. The group of teachers and I that attended knew immediately these were “our people” and within three months we had applied and become and No Excuses University School!
I don’t think it matters if you are a high poverty school or not. The truth is; all students need teachers as advocates who prepare them to attend college so that they are ready if they choose. A college degree is a statistical game-changer when it comes to financial success and avoiding adult poverty. I don’t think educators make excuses because we are lazy or don’t care about kids. Teachers make excuses because our hearts break for some of the difficult things students have already endured in their lives or because we have tried everything we know to do and just don’t know what else to try in helping our students.
A “no excuses” mindset is not easy. It’s something we have to practice. We began our year writing down our past excuses and throwing them in the trash. We then wrote new pledges that said what we would do instead of using the old excuse. Colleagues hold each other accountable for this daily. At my campus, we tell our students and parents that every student will be proficient or advanced in Reading, Writing, and Math, and we have challenged ourselves to look at any students who are not growing whether they are currently at the top, middle or bottom of our achievement continuum. . It has been amazing to see our teachers and students rise to the new expectation.
I believe if you want to get results, you first have to have to get rid of all the reasons why you can’t and start believing that you can!