We mostly think of school as a place to learn subjects like math, history, and chemistry. But in truth, those aren’t the only things that children can and should be learning when they head off to class.
Rachel Tomlinson, a head teacher at Barrowford Primary School in England, recently sent her students home with a letter regarding the class’s test scores on a recent KS2 state exam. Some of the students hadn’t done very well. That was when she came up with a novel idea…
In many countries, standardized testing has long been a normal part of a child’s education. After all, governments see it as a useful way to gauge how schools, teachers, and students are performing.
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Whether or not they believe standardized tests are positive or necessary, it’s easy for people of all ages to see why the practice can be so nerve-wracking. What kid would ever want to feel evaluated like that?
Worse yet, disappointing results can hurt a student’s self-esteem and affect their placement in future classes and schools. It’s also difficult for them to see, at that age, that low test scores don’t necessarily mean they aren’t smart.
This was particularly concerning to Rachel Tomlinson, head teacher at Barrowford Primary School, in Lancashire, England. Though the school had about 350 students, Rachel cared about all of them dearly.
In 2014, Rachel’s students were preparing to take the KS2 state exam. But before the students found out about their results, she wanted to ensure that they knew their scores were not necessarily reflective of who they were as individuals.
Rachel strongly believed that there was much more to a child—and to that child’s education—than simply receiving high marks on tests, especially those administered by officials who’d never met them.
To Rachel, there were many different things that could make a child special that had nothing to do with their school performance, such as their kindness or special talents, like sports and art.
So instead of simply giving the students their scores, she passed out envelopes for her students that included a special letter from Rachel herself. “We are very proud of you,” the letter read. “The people who create these tests and score them do not know each of you the way your teachers do.”
“The scores you get will tell you something, but they will not tell you everything,” Rachel wrote. “So enjoy your results and be proud of these but remember there are many ways of being smart.” After the letters went out, the students weren’t the only ones to take notice.
Many parents of these young students were touched by what their children’s teacher had to say to their little ones as well. It was a good feeling to know their kids were in good hands when they weren’t at home…
The letter also helped in another way. For the parents of the students who may have scored poorly, it could’ve helped them begin potentially challenging conversations with their kids about the results.
Not only did the parents appreciate Rachel’s kind and inspiring message, but they wanted to show others how special of a teacher she was, too. They knew that her note could mean something to other parents as well.
Rachel’s letter was soon shared on social media by one of the students’ parents. As more and more people around the world felt similarly touched by the inspiring words, it quickly went viral.
In the midst of all the attention she was receiving, Rachel elaborated on her message in her own blog. “There are many more ways to be smart than what many schools are currently allowing,” she said.
She was right. There are all sorts of different forms of intelligence, and not all of them can necessarily be quantified in one test. For example, a student with high emotional intelligence and creativity may struggle with mathematics, and vice versa.
Rachel also believed that the kind of anxiety she observed her students experiencing was part of a larger societal problem. “The current testing culture personally drives me crazy,” she wrote. “It does not tell students that they matter.”
She also emphasized that the special relationship she had with the students wasn’t comparable to the way the state evaluated them. “The people who create these tests and score them do not know each student the way I do, the way I hope to, and certainly not the way the families do,” she continued.
Not everybody was thrilled about what Rachel was doing. Evidently, the overall scores that Barrowford Primary School received were considered disappointing, and some felt she was emphasizing students’ emotions over academics.
These complaints did not extend only to Rachel alone. “Staff expectations of what pupils can achieve are not high enough,” read one report from inspectors. “Some staff do not give enough attention to teaching the basic skills of reading, writing and mathematics.”
However, while Rachel’s competence as an educator may have been called into question, one thing seemed sure: her letters to those students may have forever changed the way they think about themselves!
It’s so important for kids to learn to believe in themselves and not value the judgements of others too highly. How wonderful is it for this teacher to recognize that and to try to instill it in her students? If only more teachers did things like this!
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