Creating a Champion Culture

One question we get consistently from teachers: How can I make sure my students qualify for the MOS Championship? It’s a loaded question, but we’re hoping our guest author can break it down a bit for you. Marty Roettgen is a retired teacher, and one who enabled dozens of students to compete in the MOS Championship. We had to ask Marty, “How did you create a class of champions?” Check out her secret sauce below.

Setting the Stage

First, let’s start with some of my background.  I worked in the computer industry for over 30 years, retired, and then started teaching Excel and Access classes.  I felt that it was important whenever I could to “manage” my classroom more like a business.  To that end, I would assign a goal for the class to achieve on the certification tests.  If the class achieved its goal, then they would earn a “bonus” in the form of a celebration, such as donuts or cupcakes.

Because I treated my students like employees, I emphasized that my students learn an application by using the logical interface of the application and not by someone demonstrating each of the skills to them.  In addition, I wanted to enable my students to use their skills in real-life situations. Of course, these skills would help them do well on the certification exam, but it was so much more than that.

Classroom Culture

Running my classroom like a business and giving my students the autonomy as my “employees” definitely helped create a Championship culture in my classroom. These are some of my biggest pieces of advice:

  1. Do Away with Lectures: Lectures? What lectures? Any time that I thought I needed to “teach” the class a skill, I would ask myself if the time was better spent with the students using the application or listening to me.  Therefore, I would estimate that I maybe lectured about one hour total for Excel and about three hours total for Access.  Most of the Access time was explaining what a database is versus a spreadsheet and how relationships work. Getting rid of lectures gave students back valuable time to immerse themselves in the application and gain the confidence that they could figure most everything out on their own.
  2. Make Sure Students Help Students: Students were told that they were first responsible for their work, then their tablemates, then their row and then the whole class. I reminded them that we were in this together and all would need to successful to earn the bonus.  Students that were ahead of the minimum pace were required to help other students and they were also allowed to review for other subjects with their “earned” time.
  3. Give Students Freedom to Work at Their Own Pace: All of my daily lessons were online, so I told the students they could move as quickly through the material as they would like. I had all the lessons online and for the other applications and expert skills, I had the list of skills tested on the certification tests (as provided by Certiport) and links on how to do some of the harder skills.  In addition, I had students create single skill lessons and provide the starting and finished files.  They posted them to the class portal so other students could learn skills that way as well. I did have to establish a minimum pace, since even in the business world, there are basic requirements and deadlines. In the six weeks I allotted for Excel, students would finish all the lessons in anywhere from three weeks to six weeks.  If the students finished early, I had them go the extra mile by working for their MOS Master certification.  Giving students freedom to work at their own pace allowed those who struggled to get the help they needed, and those who soared to gain additional credentials. I truly believe that students are capable of so much when they’re given some independence. Two of my North Carolina state champions were students that were initially labeled as “disruptive” by other teachers. The combination of self-paced lessons and the freedom to earn additional credentials brought out the best in them. Both achieved their MOS Master certifications, and the MOS Championship helped establish them as leaders in the class.
  4. Focus on the MOS Championship Last: Interestingly enough, creating a classroom of champions meant that the Championship wasn’t our first goal. I wanted to first create a culture of independence, curiosity, and mutual support. Once we’d gotten to that point, students were empowered with knowledge, skills, and support to become true champions. Those students that had learned the key objectives and had hopefully worked on earning their MOS Master certification, would start to take the certification test to focus on earning a top score and time to qualify them for the MOS US National Championship. At this point there was a strong sense of competition to be the fastest with a perfect score and they drove themselves to unbelievably quick times.  I also believe that their confidence in their ability to figure out how to use the application is the reason so many of the students did well at the MOS World Championship.

Give It Time

Creating a classroom culture doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time, consistency, and effort from both you and your students. Ultimately though, if you believe your students can become Champions, and you show them that you believe in them, they’ll rise to the challenge. And don’t forget to enjoy your time teaching. I am envious of you, except for the getting up early every morning part.