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One Surprising Reason High School Students Score Higher

I was reading a number of studies recently about what enables students to perform better in school. I stumbled upon a finding that intuitively makes sense—but I had never considered its impact.

Teachers often bemoan the fact that students’ writing and communication skills are poor. Perhaps it’s due to our current world of instant messaging and social media. It seems that our grammar, sentence structure and ability to form a clear argument are all gradually diminishing. That’s no surprise. Employers commonly beg for young professionals who are able to write and communicate well upon graduation. School administrators are constantly looking for ways to improve this skill, but too often fail to provide the ingredient for their faculty that will achieve the goal.

Here is the connection.

A study out of the University of California Irvine has discovered a correlation between teacher professional development and improvements in academic writing, in middle school and high school students.

According to a report from U.C. Irvine News, “Students of teachers who participated in the Pathway Project—46 hours of training in the ‘cognitive strategies’ instructional approach—scored higher on an academic writing assessment and had higher pass rates on the California High School Exit Exam than students whose teachers did not receive the training.”

These results may sound less than groundbreaking. In fact, you might say they seem predictable and obvious. But perhaps they’re an illustration of a larger truth. I don’t want us to miss one clear and simple take away.

When we grow, our students tend to grow.

photo credit: ccarlstead Writing Exams via photopin (license)

Bakers, Fuel Tanks and Mirrors

It should not surprise us that when we, (the teachers and trainers), are learning ourselves, it positively impacts our students. We’re experiencing new thoughts and ideas, new pathos for our work in the classroom, and an excitement to connect with our students and accomplish the outcomes in front of us. Our current learning affects their current learning. Our growth influences their growth.

Too often, we forget this truth. So, allow me to remind you of three of our Habitudes® that speak to the topic. (Habitudes are images that form leadership habits and attitudes). These images should be front and center in our minds as instructors.

The Starving Baker

We are frequently like the baker who spends so much time baking bread for others he forgets to eat—and starves himself. As educators, we are often burning the candle at both ends, working off of lesson plans or material we developed years ago, rather than seeking out fresh discoveries. We may not even recognize how stale or weary we’ve become. Without an intentional plan, we will neglect to take time to feed ourselves before we feed our students.

Emotional Fuel

Just like cars run on gasoline—and don’t get very far if the fuel tank is low, so leaders and teachers run on emotional fuel. This fuel is the intentional relationships we establish in our lives to replenish us emotionally, intellectually and spiritually. I meet regularly with heroes, role models, mentors and accountability partners who ensure I am continuing to grow toward my goals and maintain perspective. They fill my tank.

The Mirror Effect

I believe students are a reflection of their teachers. Not in every way, of course, but the passion, the focus and the energy you provide often comes back to haunt you or bless you. Students are mirrors of their leaders. We should allow their engagement to be our report card. Someone once said, “If you want to know the temperature of a classroom, put a thermometer in the teacher’s mouth.”

  • If your students are not nourished—how can a starving baker feed them?
  • If your students are lacking energy—we can’t fill them from an empty tank.
  • If your students are not engaged and growing—try looking in the mirror.

As the late Dr. Howard Hendricks used to ask, “Teachers—are you a flowing river or a stagnant pond?” Are new ideas consistently moving through your mind or are you merely a data bank of yesteryear’s information?


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  • Develop habits of self-discipline and initiative to achieve their goals
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  • Create an ongoing plan for personal growth outside the classroom
  • Identify their unique strengths and passions for a healthy self-image.

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1 Comment

  1. Marg Online on February 8, 2017 at 4:29 am

    Thank you for posting and sharing such great information.

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One Surprising Reason High School Students Score Higher