I recently interviewed students in the schools I serve who went from unsatisfactory on their state assessments to mastery in one year. I asked them how did they improve so much? What were some key factors to their improvement?

Having observed the teachers of these students several times last year, I wasn’t surprised by their answers. Their responses were near-identical:

  •  We wanted to make our teacher proud because she loves us and work hard.
  • Our teacher believed we could do it, and we did.
  • We were ready for the tough stuff
  • Our teacher told us we would score mastery and I believed her
  • My teacher gave me confidence in myself
  • My teacher was patient with me when I didn’t understand
  • My teacher was serious about us succeeding, but not just on the test. She said this about ten times a day.
  • What we didn’t know was okay because she was going to make sure we knew it. She didn’t get mad when I was slow on things.
  • We weren’t afraid of no test! We’re destined for greatness. The whole class believed that. We had swag. Our teacher had swag too.

We just had to do it. Our teacher said we’ve been down for too long. It’s time for us to rise to the top. We wanted to be the top students in the world.

Did you notice something about the responses? If you saw they had nothing to do with the content and curriculum, you’re correct. Most of these responses were directly from the affective domain. The students were inspired, believed in themselves, were confident, prepared, unafraid, encouraged, and had a positive relationship with their teacher.

Now I’ll be remiss if I didn’t say that these factors alone would not move students from unsatisfactory to mastery. However, we must look at it from the lens of what’s most important to the students, and it’s these factors.

Yes, teachers must have a deep conceptual understanding of their content and knowledge of the standards and curriculum. Additionally, the teachers must effectively plan, study, annotate, identify misconceptions, and view each lesson through the lens of each student (this is tough). Also, teachers must be provided consistent professional development, coaching, feedback, and support throughout the year to ensure they have the tools necessary for their students to be successful. However, in the words of Principal Kafele, “The Attitude Gap must be addressed before The Achievement Gap.”

As I reflected on my observations of these teachers, I remember feeling the magic as I entered their room. The students were ready, smiling, engaged, talking, eager to raise their hand at the next question, and weren’t afraid to get the answer wrong. As I read the comments after the interviews, I remember a response a student had when I asked her did she like her class? She looked at me in the center of my eyes and said: “This isn’t a regular class; this is an experience in this room from the beginning of school until the end.” That made me ask, are our students having a magical experience in all of our schools and classrooms? Well, I know the students who went from Unsatisfactory to Mastery did. As educators, it is our goal and job to ensure that all of our students have “An Experience” in their schools and classroom.