Behind teacher accountability measures and high-stakes testing is the intention of creating positive outcomes for students. The problem is that tests only measure how well a student understands a particular subject matter. What tests don’t account for are higher-order skills such as collaboration, critical thinking, and creative problem solving. Nor can tests measure a student’s intellectual curiosity, perseverance, or the possibilities they see for themselves.


We’re not suggesting testing is useless or should be eliminated. In fact, standardised testing is the reason we can identify achievement gaps and inequalities in the system. But tests themselves are not a strategy for correcting those issues. What has been proven to boost student attainment are things like establishing a culture of excellence, clear expectations, mutual respect, accountability — and lots of reading.


In many ways, better student achievement is indeed connected to teacher effectiveness: In order to promote high performance among students, the school must develop a high performance culture among it’s staff.


Here are a few ways to promote a high performance culture in the classroom.


1. Set high, but clear expectations. Set the foundation for a high performance classroom by creating a culture of planning, rough drafting, critiquing and polishing work. Show students the rubric by which the quality of their work will be measured and let them evaluate themselves. Not only does this make transparent the expectation of high quality work, it cultivates a growth mindset and accountability.


2. Create an environment of mutual respect. Collaborate with your students to create guidelines for communication and classroom behavior. Post these guidelines prominently and enforce them strictly. And because the students had some input into the class rules, they’ll hold themselves and each other accountable as well.


3. Show them new possibilities. Did you know that students from disadvantaged backgrounds often have unrealistic and narrow aspirations? Or that by seven students have already decided what jobs are possible for them and subsequently how relevant school topics are? But exposing students to a broader range of possibilities for the future could help them see the opportunities created by their learning — and boost their aspirations and achievement overall.


4. Celebrate success. Use a system of rewards and recognition to reinforce desired classroom behaviours and academic excellence. Acknowledge and reward students who demonstrate respectful communication, positive collaboration, and high performance. Don’t forget to recognise continuous improvements in addition to continuous excellence.


5. Encourage lots and lots of reading.  One UK school conducted an experiment where students were encouraged to read as much as possible: allowing them to bring their own books and take books outside for lunch; promoting “reading cafes;” and reading aloud together rather than separated into ability groups. Over the course of three years (2015 – 2018), literacy scores improved dramatically. What’s more, improved literacy helped close the “poverty related” achievement gap while boosting student achievement overall.


When you set the bar high and create a culture of success, students and staff will work hard to achieve. The key is to lay the foundation with clear expectations, mutual respect, accountability and opportunity.



Hi, I’m Dr Ioan Rees; thank you for reading this article.

I work with smart, motivated leaders to help transform their organisations by building a high-performance culture that places trust, engagement and innovation at the centre.

Download my latest free ebook 5 Strategies for Creating a High-Performance Culture.