On Jefferson County, Not Yet and No Failure Zones

This week’s book learning is part of the ongoing series of inspiring learnings from ‘Switch‘ by Dan and Chip Heath.

In 1995, Molly Howard, a longtime special education teacher was entrusted with running the Jefferson County High School. The challenges were easily described – 80% of the school’s students lived in poverty, the teachers had a near-defeatist attitude and the students from the rural south area of Augusta, Louisville, Georgia had accepted a culture of failure.

Howard acted quickly making many necessary changes in the tutorial, counseling and assessment systems. But, her most distinctive change was to the grading system. The new grading system at Jefferson was A, B, C, and NY. And ‘NY’ stood for “Not Yet.”

In one stroke, Howard had eliminated failure and created a ‘No Failure Zone’. “We define up front to the kids what’s an A, B and C,” said Howard. “If they do substandard work, the teacher would say, ‘Not yet.’ That gives them the mindset: My teacher thinks I can do better. It changes their expectations.”

The school was reborn. Students and teachers became more engaged, the school’s graduation rate increased dramatically, and student test scores went up to the point that remedial courses were eliminated.

In 2008, Howard was chosen as the nationwide Principal of the Year, out of 48,000 principals, by the US National Association of Secondary Schools.

How inspiring is that? Every time I find myself coming up short these days, I find myself telling myself ‘Not yet’. Incredibly powerful.

How wonderful a place would the world be if we all used ‘Not yet’ instead of beating ourselves/others up for failure and sub par performance?

Here’s to creating no failure zones for ourselves, and others around us this week! Have a great week all!