Part of my job for many years now has been to go out to other schools and support them in one way or another. Usually in developing Teaching and Learning. I rock up with my pad, pen and my high expectations and observe people and give feedback to senior leaders on what needs to happen to move forward.
One occasion sticks in my mind the most. The reason being it made me do a 360 turn on the value of target grades for students. I understand schools feel the pressure to generate targets from entry scores and I understand why teachers insist on targets being on the front of exercise books. What I don't understand is why we cap our students mindset.
This one occasion I was observing a lesson. The teacher was trying really hard to show progress, to try and show me, as a stranger in the room, she was a good teacher. She was. However there was a girl in the corner of the room. Feisty, bubbly and honest. I liked her she reminded me of me when I was at school. I went to talk to her. The teacher had put resources on a table and told students to pick one. I asked the girl why she picked the one she did. Her response was "Miss I'm a C grade so I picked this one." My heart sank. I sat beside her and said "You don't know me but if you ever listen to one thing listen to me now. YOU are not a C grade. A C grade is a target you have been given by your school. YOU are a bright, intelligent young women who can do anything you want too. I want you to go back and pick up the resources you think are for the highest grade." She laughed a little and looked at me like I was crazy but she got out of her seat and brought back the "A*" material. She struggled. She had her head in her hands and stared at the worksheet. I watched thinking I hadn't done the right thing until that moment she picked up her pen and she started to write. She was absolutely focussed and silent and she started to write. When I left the room she had made so much more progress in her learning and she smiled a smile I will never forget. I spoke to the teacher afterwards who asked what I had said to the girl to make her work.
This interaction stayed with me. On the train home I started to think about my own classes and how we cap students with target grades. From that day forward I decided every student in all of my classes would be told their target was an A*. That I would always tell them that learning is unlimited and grades do not define them as people. Rightly or wrongly that is what I do and for me it works.