There are no hard and fast rules for making students succeed, argues guest writer Michael Embley, Executive Principal, of Nord Anglia International School. "It is not a recipe that if followed to the letter will produce the same results."
Raising and educating children has one key element which will always make the final result unpredictable, the human element.
So what can you do to help students to succeed?
1. Encourage Inquiry
All children are born with an inquisitive approach to life. They study the faces peering at them from birth and learn to read the expressions and the tones of voice. They test their parents by wanting to put their fingers in danger, put dirty things in their mouth and climb on things that are high!
Adults recognise the dangers inherent in such inquiry but also value the spirit with which such inquiry promotes learning. Inquiry is a key element of a child’s learner profile and at the heart of all learning. Creating a learning environment in which students feel confident to explore, grow and challenge themselves is what all good schools should set out to do.
2. Making the most out of early years
Professor of Psychology and Cognitive Science at Yale, Professor Bloom, argued that 50% of learning takes place before the age of 4 and another 30% of learning takes place between 4 and 8 years old.
Children learn through their five senses, of sight, hearing, touch, taste and smell and the sixth step of what we do physically. Each moment is a learning experience. They love to touch things, find out how they work;, explore space and their environment and they love to imitate adults.
All of these learning activities create pathways in the brain, either new if it is the first time or building on existing pathways.
Children learn to talk by talking; they learn to crawl by crawling; and, they learn to walk by walking.
Giving students the opportunity to learn by using all their senses, and especially by doing, is another key element to fostering success. All the best sports people learn by doing. Roger Federer did not perfect his serve by reading about it; Tiger Woods does not improve his short game by watching videos of others chipping; David Beckham certainly did not learn to cross a ball by listening to others discuss it.
The best way to learn is to do it. Success is aided by giving students the opportunity and confidence to learn by doing, reflecting on their progress and doing it again.
3. Making the most of the world around us
Our homes, our beaches, our parks, our forests, our streets, our cities are all great places to learn as long as children are encouraged to explore them safely, through all their senses. Taking a walk around a wood provides endless opportunities for learning about nature, science and the world around us. Finding your way around a complex Metro station is a real world numeracy lesson in the waiting. My son has guided us around stations by reading the numbers on signs since he first started being able to do so. This links perfectly to educational research, which tells us to link learning to real world experiences in order to create deeper learning and meaning for students.
4. Encourage Positivity
We all know how we feel after positive comments and how we feel after negative comments. Accelerated learning pioneer Colin Rose said: “It is true that throughout life if you think you are a poor learner then you probably are a poor learner.” American research shows that young people are likely to hear six times more negative comments than positive ones. Comments like: “Don’t do that. Don’t touch that. Don’t play with that.”
The power of positive thought is well documented. Whole industries are being built around positive thought and vision. Muhammad Ali, arguably the world’s greatest boxer, made 19 predictions about the round that he would win a fight in his career. He was right, to the round, in 17 out of 19 fights, which he puts down to visualising success.
To create an atmosphere of positivity is to create an atmosphere of learning.
5. Develop the communication between the parent, child and school
The world is based on good communication. Schools, parents and students all play equal parts in ensuring that there is good communication. Create, foster and develop good communication between these three elements and you open dialogues that will help guide each component through the journey, through the changes and towards success for the students, parents and school.
6. Eat, drink and sleep well
Your brain needs energy from food to work: “As an adult, the brain weighs 2% of your total weight but uses 20% of all energy you develop.” (The Learning Revolution, 2004, Dryden and Vos).
The most important meal of the day is often cited as breakfast. Not only does it kick-start the metabolism and awaken our bodies to work effectively, it also provides the energy our brain needs to begin working well.
We would not try and exercise our leg muscles by going for a run without making sure we had taken on board the food to provide the energy required. Athletes use carbohydrates as these release energy slowly and enable longer training periods.
Our brain, like all other organs, requires food to make it work. The right type of food is important. Lots of junk food, crisps and chocolate do not have a sustained energy input. Fresh fruit (bananas are good because of their high potassium levels and also fruit with high Vitamin C like oranges) and vegetables are good because they are high in glucose, which is what the brain requires for energy.
Staying hydrated is also very important. 5% dehydration = 20% loss in concentration.
Drinking water is the best way to stay hydrated. Studies show that people should drink between 1 and 2 litres of water a day to remain effectively hydrated. Tea and coffee do not count as hydration. Energy drinks like Red Bull are very high in caffeine and will give a short term hit of energy but this is not sustained and will leave you feeling worse within about 20–30 minutes. Likewise, drinks high in sugar will give a short energy hit but not sustain or hydrate you.
Always have a bottle of water with you when studying. Sleep is important for refreshing the brain and the body. A shortage of sleep will affect performance and the lower energy levels will affect concentration. A student should aim for 8 hours of sleep minimum.
7. Past, Present - and Future
As adults (teachers and parents) we need to develop our skills to support learners.
Educationalists Maccoby and Martin (1983) established four main types of parenting behaviour; authoritative, where high standards are explained and reasons for controls are given; permissive, where parents emphasise freedom of expression with few controls; uninvolved, where parents neglect the emotional needs of the child; and authoritarian, where parents engage in high levels of control and lower levels of affection.
They believed that while these are used by different people to varying degrees at different times.
Generally punishment has to be balanced with praise; leniency has to be balanced with rules and controls; authority has to be backed with reason.
In the same way as authoritative leaders create effective schools, so we find that authoritative adults are best placed to support learners. The key to a child’s success is providing boundaries, explaining reasons for the limitations placed on them and providing a warm, supportive environment without over-indulgence. No one ever said that it was easy to be a parent or a teacher.
However, when we establish the right balance for the needs of the individual child, success is guaranteed for the healthy, happy development of the child.
Michael Embley graduated first in his class from the University of Leeds. He has led some of the most prestigious and successful international schools across the globe. He has worked in the UK, Taiwan, Venezuela, Norway and mainland China. In addition he has also worked with governments, assisting them in curriculum design and implementation. A clear focus on the whole student, from academic achievement to sporting and musical success and, vitally, the health and social wellbeing of every student, have been hallmarks of the schools he has led. As a father of five he is always aware that student really means “someone’s child” and it is perhaps this fact, above all, that informs his approach to school leadership. He has a keen interest in music and is a world class swordsman... but rarely finds the need to use this talent with his students!