Believe from the beginning

6th June 2008 at 01:00
Outside, summer's into overdrive, with cartoon-blue skies and flowers everywhere
Outside, summer's into overdrive, with cartoon-blue skies and flowers everywhere. June is bustin' out all over. And with perfect synchronicity, our students are blossoming too.

Over the next few weeks, courses will be completed and the year's work for many will culminate in a riot of displays, exhibitions and extravaganzas. There's a heady atmosphere. What is it? Quite simply, success is in the air - and, with it, the confidence success brings.

Further education has a systemic bias towards success. Our college's "You can do it" philosophy underpins everything we do. Goethe said: "Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it." That may be a bit wordy for any college promotion campaign, but it pretty much sets out our stall.

"You can" is a big promise, one that centres around belief: the college's belief in the potential of the learner, and the learner's belief in what the college will do for the learner.

Goethe's exhortation "begin it" is important. Beginning is all. For us, that means getting the right student on the right course and at the right level. Get that sorted, and how can we fail?

Our "You can" philosophy is underpinned by systems that have evolved and survived through rigorous testing and evaluation and which have been emulated in higher education because they work. Success is good for learners. When learners achieve, they dare to push themselves farther.

We're not talking easy here. The learner's own sense of achievement is all-important. No learner will be fooled by easy assessment; confidence will only come if they know success is earned.

And what of failure? There is a time and place for failure, perhaps. Students have to learn to fail, to look on it as another learning experience, to see it as a spur. That kind of response takes time to develop - time and confidence. Some of our learners come to us for a second chance, having known all about failure first time round. For these students, finding the right rung on the ladder so they can begin to succeed is vital.

Failure will teach these learners nothing they have not already learnt. Bill Gates may say that "success is a lousy teacher" but, for many of our students, so is failure. That's why we have to make sure we can keep the bargain we make with our learners. It can seem a pretty scary bargain, especially on a dark, winter's afternoon when you have had to track down Michelle to the female loos after she's stormed out of class crying, because her report needs remediation.

While other students dodge and weave around fixing their hair and their lip gloss, you hand her a series of scratchy paper towels to dry her tears and finally get her to agree that it's not the end of the world.

But the dark days are gone. Over the next few weeks, final assessments will be recorded, individual student folders filed away and student achievement forms filled in. Courses come and go, initiatives come and go, but the bottom line is always the same: when learners take the bold step to commit to us, we believe in them until they believe in themselves.

Carol Gow lectures in media at Dundee College.

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