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Does celebrating success encourage success?

Student success is the driving force behind everything we do at Doha College.

As one of the oldest British curriculum schools in Qatar, the focus at Doha College is on delivering a quality, holistic education. With 1,800 students between the ages of 3 and 18, representing over 90 nationalities, our classrooms are happy places where dynamic and enthusiastic teaching and learning happens.

Standards are high here; many of our students aim to get into – and are accepted at – top universities around the world. These include Oxford, Cambridge, Harvard and Yale.
As an international school, one of our greatest challenges has always been our transient student population. We can never be sure how long a child will be with us for. In fact, between Year 7 and Year 13, almost one in three students will typically leave due to their parents taking jobs in different parts of the world or other changing circumstances.

To make sure the time they spend with us really counts, we monitor attainment and progress extremely carefully from the moment a student joins our school, and have different ways of encouraging them to give their best, from day one.

Keeping track

Experience tells us that our students respond well to a finely calibrated balance of challenge and aspiration, so we invest time and thought into setting appropriate targets for them.

We’ve found that being able to display the children’s achievement onscreen using a traffic light system is a simple way for staff to keep a check on the how they are progressing towards their goals and so we use a piece of software from SIMS Independent to do this. Recording achievement electronically makes it easy for us to see who is or isn’t progressing as expected using red, yellow and green bandings. This means that if a child’s attainment falls, we know quickly and can take steps to support them.

We’ve also added a banding we like to call ‘Doha College Blue’, which helps us identify those who are on track to exceed their targets by the end of the year. This helps us to celebrate effort – which in our view, is the vital element behind our students’ success.

Effort equals rewards

Whenever our students try hard or attain well, we want to be the first to congratulate them. Our experience is that celebrating success encourages success, and our students respond really well to the recognition they receive.

Along with the monitoring of current attainment, teachers award effort grades in each subject; 3 is excellent, 2 is very good and 1 is good. An average is then worked out from each student’s cumulative total, which is tracked by our Heads of Year to see if effort has increased. Or not. Effort scores also trigger a number of House points, which contribute to the overall House competition.

Our highest achieving students are invited to participate in a prestigious event. They personally receive a paper report and a hand-written letter of congratulations from the Principal. We usually produce electronic reports, but this is an occasion where students truly value the paper-based approach.

We know our focus on encouraging and celebrating success resonates with our students. When we hold our Celebration Evening after examinations, they often tell us it’s one of the things they most value during their time at Doha College. We’ve even had students travel back from other parts of the world just to pick up their certificates.

Reach for the sky

There is no resting on laurels at Doha College. We’re constantly striving to encourage aspiration and boost attainment, which can be a tall ask with some of the higher-achieving students. That’s why we have recently moved from tracking the number of students achieving A* to C grades alone, to looking at A* to B as well as A* to A grades.

This means Heads of Year can track grade distribution more accurately across each department, which creates a little healthy competition and keeps everyone on their toes. A mentoring scheme has also been set up for those students not achieving 5 A* to B grades. These students meet with our staff once a week to discuss their achievement and identify areas for revision, which is often enough to encourage them to aim higher to achieve their full potential.

A complex equation

The author Wilfred Peterson once said. “Success is focusing the full power of all you are on what you have a burning desire to achieve.”

What we want to do at Doha College is unlock the potential of every single one of our students. Then we help them achieve all they can, no matter how long they study with us for.
To do so is a complex equation but, for us, the combined focus on setting targets that encourage progress, using data to maximise marginal gains and celebrating success is a powerful one. While the ability of our students has been consistent since 2008, results are improving all the time. Success, by anyone’s standards.

By Paul Young, Senior Vice Principal, Doha College, Qatar

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