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To achieve or not to achieve? That is NOT the question.

David Smith, Divisional Principal of Technology – Achieve – Synonyms of achieve include: realize, accomplish, reach, do, succeed, complete and triumph. Triumph, I love that word! Rather than telling students they achieved a mastery level on a concept, teachers could say, “you triumphed with mastery on that concept!” The words we use matter and how we use the language combined with a relationship is crucial.

In education, we tend to get hung up on language. However, I have found when in conversation the words combined with actions, implications and tone all work towards meaning. When educators say "achieve", they are focusing on the desired outcome for the child. Look at Oxford's definition of achieving, “successfully bring about or reach (a desired objective, level or result) by effort, skill or courage.” (Oxford Dictionaries, Oxford University Press, 2018).

The desired outcome for the student who is learning varies based on student readiness. Our subject/course outcomes do not vary, but the desired result for the child does. For instance, in music, the curricular outcome is to “recognize being in tune or out of tune when playing or singing with other instruments or voices” (General Music 10-20-30 Program of Study, Education Alberta Program of Studies). The outcome is clear, for each child; however, the ability to recognize tuning may take time. I have seen students playing for years without having the ability to know if they are in tune. It was not for lack of desire or training, they just needed time.

The achievement scale on outcomes is going to vary for each learner, and so it should. So, then the questions are, if a student cannot “achieve” each outcome we have set before them, have we failed? Have they failed? Should we move the bar or remove it altogether? No. Let’s go back to our definition, “successfully bring about or reach (a desired objective, level or result) by effort, skill or courage.” I have found the last three descriptors have a lot to do with how we understand success.

Some students lack the skill but have an abundance of effort and courage. For a student, and myself, if they show great effort and courage, but their skill has not met mastery, they still are successful. I don’t write this lightly. When a student steps out and shows courage, they feel good about their result, even if it is not mastery.

Now, what if the student has skill and effort, but no courage to action them? Since they did not have the courage to act, some may not see this as achieving, but to the individual, they feel as though they have. Lastly, what if the student shows courage and skill, but no effort? We may see success, but it is limited because the teacher, and most likely the student, would recognize they have not met their potential. Back to our example, the student who is desperately trying to stay in tune does have success in part, but not for every note or every time. This is the journey of achievement we celebrate with our students.

At RVS we truly value achievement because we understand what it means in the context of learning. It is so much more than the assignment, project or test, it is about effort, skill and courage, and dare I say it, relationship.

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