Are the students in your class likely to do better than those in your colleague's class? Is your room nicer, is the technology better? Are you more knowledgeable about the subject, or simply better at teaching it? Are the students in your class likely to do better than those in your colleague's class? Is your room nicer, is the technology better? Are you more knowledgeable about the subject, or simply better at teaching it?
If your answers to any of these questions is "yes", then you have confirmed that students' success and achievement are not solely because of how hard they work or their home circumstances. It partly depends on luck: How did your students happen to end up in your class instead of one that, in some respects, may not be as good? (Incidentally, factors like a teacher's lack of subject knowledge is not intended to be a criticism: Here in England many highly competent technology teachers have found themselves forced to teach coding, about which they know little or nothing.)
Matthew Syed, author of Bounce and other books, was reflecting on his success at table tennis in his youth. Here's what he had to say:
"I wasn’t the only person from Reading, the town where I grew up, to have excelled at table tennis. Silverdale Road, where I lived, produced no fewer than five national champions. Indeed, the club at the end of my road played host, for a period, to about half of the nation’s top players.
What was going on? Well, the school on Silverdale Road had among its staff a man called Peter Charters, the most visionary table tennis coach in the country. He made sure that everyone with an interest in sport who passed through the school was given a try-out in table tennis. And those who demonstrated aptitude or interest were given access to Omega, a club nearby that was open 24 hours a day."
Taken from Review of Fortune and the Myth of Meritocracy, by Robert H Frank: http://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/books-success-and-luck-good-fortune-and-the-myth-of-meritocracy-by-robert-h-frank-vn976bxr3 (opens in new tab)
Elsewhere, Syed has noted that had he lived just a few doors along the road, he wouldn't have been eligible to practise at the Omega club. Had he gone to a different school, he would probably never have met Peter Charters.
In other words, hard work is good, but not enough: You need a healthy portion of good luck too.
That's from a student's perspective, of course, so the real question is: What can you do to mitigate the negative effects of luck?
For example, can anything be done to improve the look and feel of your colleague's classroom? If there is some money in the pot, could it be spent on upgrading the tech in her class? Can you help her get any professional development she needs in order to excel at her job?
You may be bitterly laughing at the suggestion that you have any budget at your disposal, but we know from experience, and also from books like "Inside the Nudge Unit: How small changes can make a big difference", by David Halpern, that you often don't have to do very much or even spend very much to have a huge effect.
One way to think about this is in terms of "quick wins": What could you do today that would improve things for the students in your colleague's class? It might be something as simple as changing the arrangement of the desks and chairs. Have you asked your colleague what she needs? Have you asked the students? And remember: You don't have to change the world, only some aspects of your bit of it.
Terry Freedman writes about educational Computing, and other topics, on his website ICT & Computing in Education, and his newsletter, Digital Education.