Want high school student success and less stress? It’s time to take the blinkers off

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As a student moves from primary through to secondary schooling the number of teachers they will have contact with increases. By the time a student gets into the final few years of school they can have 8 or more different teachers on their schedule. Student learning also becomes more and more compartmentalised, with an increased number of specialist subjects available for study.

While teachers in secondary education have quite a good grasp of the content and skills that students require in their individual subjects in order to progress from one year to the next, few teachers in my experience get to look enough beyond their subject area in terms of the whole educational experience that a student is receiving and their role in it. I remember a former colleague of mine once saying, “when students come to my class, I tell them to focus on Chemistry and only Chemistry.” This short-sighted approach presents huge problems for both the student and all teachers involved in their education.

To put it bluntly, when a teacher only thinks about ‘their’ class, they often fail to see how their actions can effect the student in other classes. For example, if all teachers in the high school have agreed to a deadlines calendar for assessment submission and one teacher decides to extend a deadline for their class because they think it will help both them and their students in getting better marks, they overlook the consequences that can bring to the student in other classes. Colleagues can become frustrated by such actions but can often be reluctant to speak out in how the actions of others impacts upon them.

More importantly, the language of teachers needs to change from ‘my students’ to ‘our students’. We need to take the ‘blinkers’ off and see things through the student’s eyes, not just our own. Only when we teachers make decisions by looking at the whole picture of a child and what the child is seeing each day, will the right decisions be made.

So, what can we do in our high schools to address this problem?

  1. Time needs to be made for teachers of High School teachers to come together and discuss key student issues that they may be seeing – attendance, the assessment draft process, assessment calendars, literacy and numeracy development (this is not just the domain of Math and English teachers). Meetings should look at general patterns rather than focus on specific students. Individual students concerns should be addressed in separate meetings with the relevant teachers present.
  2. Develop essential agreements to work in the best interests of the students and devise ways to measure if the teaching staff is successful in providing better support for students that enhances learning and achievement
  3. Create approaches to supporting students with key high school survival skills. Core survival skills for success in High School need to be addressed by the teaching staff as a whole not in isolation – common approaches work best. Assisting students with time management, prioritisation of tasks, use of personal organisers, maintaining well-being and coping with pressure. On occasion, I have heard some teachers say that they do not have time to teach these skills or they are not qualified to do so – we need to provide the necessary structures and support, so that this cannot be used as an excuse.
  4. Take time to shadow a student and see how school looks through their eyes. If a student sits in six different classes in a day, what are the similarities and differences between the classes beyond the fact that they may different subjects? Does every class teacher set homework and when is it due? Is what is being asked of students by teachers reasonable?
  5. Discuss strategies to support students with meeting deadlines and completing assessments in a timely manner. This is often the biggest cause of student stress in High Schools. Can your teachers agree on ‘no Homework weeks’ or ‘no testing weeks’? This may help with pressure and give students breathing space. Can more interim and draft deadlines be put in place to break up long-term assignments that demand a high level of time management?

To begin to take the blinkers off and change habits to better support students require strong and passionate leadership, a willingness to challenge current practices, supported by data if possible. Crucially, from the teacher perspective, there must be a fundamental shift from ‘I’ to ‘we’ with a willingness to share a collective responsibility to each other but most importantly the students that we care about.

photo credit: 2014 Sleigh and Cutter Festival – Horse Head and Bridle via photopin (license)

Connect with me @richard_bruford

Originally posted at http://richardbruford.com



  1. Steve said:

    Great ideas here! How to make the issues you discuss a priority within a school system is another task altogether. Use of an educational consultant might help teachers with ideas regarding how best to help students develop the planning-organization-follow-through skills they need to be successful, in ways that are realistic to the student’s daily experiences.

    April 24, 2015
    • Hi Steve, how we do this depends upon how much we make it a priority. Schools where teachers focus on High School only have a better chance than those school where teachers are spread across both High and Middle Schools. Meetings that involve all teachers of a program or grade level have to be factored into the calendar and the time then used to focus on one issue at a time over a period of time to ensure that the necessary support structures for students are implemented properly. Consultants can help but they need to be associated with the school for a considerable length of time in order to understand the culture and context.
      Thanks for contributing.

      May 5, 2015
  2. Ken Darvall said:

    Simply put, Primary teachers tend to be student-centred, while Secondary teachers are subject-centred. You can experience this difference at parent/teacher interviews.

    However, with a tendency of down-skilling primary teachers by increasing the number of specialist teachers with the Primary School, the above suggestions are important to implement across Primary and Secondary Schools.

    Thank you for sharing.

    April 25, 2015
    • Hi Ken, I agree with your point about primary teachers, the have a better focus on the development of the whole child. I would like to see primary teachers, who work really well in horizontal teams, work together better vertically, which is where secondary teachers do much better.
      Thanks for contributing.

      May 5, 2015
  3. Great points – especially #4. I think sitting on the other side of the desk could be revealing for any age of student, but especially in high school when teachers’ perspectives are inevitably more narrow.

    I’d add a #6 – use digital portfolios or another tool to give teachers better visibility into what is happening for their students in other classes. This doesn’t replace actual conversation with other teachers, but it can do a great job of supplementing it.

    April 28, 2015
    • Hi Tricia, thanks for contributing. Digital portfolios are great ways for sharing the commonalities and differences between subject areas in high schools and can give us great insights into many of the tasks that students are faced with. Thanks for sharing.

      May 5, 2015

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