Tuesday, March 6, 2018

"Lessons Learned"

Liam had always been a decent student. He never had the very highest grades, but he put in the work that was needed to succeed at school, and although he rarely made the honour roll, his parents were content. He liked science, especially geography. He disliked writing, but not enough to dread it.

Things were working out fine for Liam, and like his parents, he was content.

Just before March Break, Liam’s regular teacher announced that she would be on maternity leave when they returned from the holiday. Although her departure didn’t take anyone by surprise, her class was a little apprehensive about who their new teacher would be when they got back.

 They had a lot of theories. Some hoped that their new teacher would be like Miss Frizzle of Magic School Bus fame, all full of adventure and creativity; others feared someone more like Professor Snape from the Harry Potter series, whose personality is brooding, mysterious and cruel. None of them really had any idea of what was coming, and they had a whole week to worry and wait. They did so in small groups, meeting up in the neighbourhood park to discuss the possibilities while dangling from the jungle gym, or swinging on the swings.

When the bell rang on Monday and Liam’s class filed in to take their seats, they were met at the door by a person that not even one of them recognized.

“Good morning, friends!” announced their new teacher. “My name is Mr. Brady. I’ve had a long talk with your previous teacher, so I know where you ought to be in your studies, but I think it’s important to get a sense of your skills for myself before we carry on learning from here. After announcements and the anthem has been sung, I’ve devised a bit of a test for you. We’ll begin our day with that.”

Groans and whines escaped from the unsettled students. “Snape,” Essence whispered to Liam.

But the test was hardly what they’d expected. Instead of papers and pencils and quiet head-down work at their desks, Mr. Brady had them walking all over the room, looking up answers in their books, chatting problems through with a partner and even playing a game for some of it. For each correct question, they were awarded a certain number of points. At the end of the session, instead of having a percentage grade that emphasized how much they got wrong, everyone had a positive score in varying amounts. Mr. Brady added up everybody’s scores together and wrote the final number on the chalkboard at the front of the room. It looked rather impressive.

“This is our new baseline score,” explained Mr. Brady, after the class had settled down again. “It’s a measure of how we are doing as a whole group. Success this year will mean that each of you will need to grow and learn individually, but I want this number to be our focus.”

Liam smiled to himself as they moved on to their History lesson. That test had been a masterstroke of team building. Mr. Brady was shaping up like a very good teacher indeed. “Frizzle,” said Liam, aloud. Essence had to agree.

After a few weeks in Mr. Brady’s classroom, Liam noticed something beginning to change inside his own head. Mr. Brady was attentive and intelligent, careful and kind. He wasn’t just a very good teacher -- he was an excellent teacher -- and his excellence made Liam want to excel, too. If you have ever had the privilege of studying under a fabulous teacher or working with an incredible coach, then you will know what a joy it can be to make them proud. Excellent leaders inspire others to work hard. When the people around them are finding success, great leaders shine all the brighter.

Mr. Brady repeated his unconventional test once a month, and the class watched as their collective score climbed.

“Every single one of you has been producing truly excellent work this term,” said a very happy Mr. Brady. “I’m very proud of you! I hope you’re proud of yourselves.” And the students in his class did indeed beam with pride at their collaborative achievements.

Liam’s parents noticed the change in their son’s attitude towards school long before his final report card came home. He had gone from being a decent student to an excellent one in less than a year, still not at the very top of his class, but easily making honour roll. He leaned into his homework assignments and toiled diligently on every project. His parents had been content with his academic performance; now they were ecstatic.

School was out for the summer holiday now, and Liam’s daily interactions with Mr. Brady were over. But excellent teachers hover in the minds of their students, edging them forward and growing them up long after the classroom doors are closed for good. The very best teachers leave a permanent mark on their pupils, and some of their lessons -- learned so long ago -- last for a lifetime.

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