Who is stopping you?

The question isn’t who is going to let me; it’s who is going to stop me. – Ayn Rand

I am a positive deviant and proud of it. I have spent the past few years of my teaching career pushing the envelope, moving outside the box (and throwing the box away for that matter!), and most importantly learning. I learn every day not only to grow as a person and an educator, but also so that I don’t forget what it is like for the students in my classroom. I research and implement new things – sometimes they work beautifully, and others not so much. But the important thing is that I keep moving.

Many times I don’t ask for permission to try new things in my learning environment. Sometimes I wonder if I did, how many new and innovative ideas that have worked would have never come to fruition. People fear the unknown and like to stay in their safe zone. I say we blow the walls off that zone and strive for something better. Sometimes we let ourselves get in the way of greatness. We think that someone has to grant us permission to take a risk and try something new. I would like to challenge that. We are professionals and it is so essential that we model learning for our students. We must model the messy chaos that can end in something amazing, or something that we learn from. That’s the risk you take with learning, and our kids face it everyday.

So who is stopping you from trying something new? Is it the culture of your school? Is it someone who thinks that teaching should be a perfect and scripted entity? Is it yourself?

Don’t let anyone or anything stop you from being great.

 

And the blog turns one!

Today is my blog’s first birthday. It has been such a tremendous way for me to reflect and share my ideas about education. It took a lot of convincing for me to start writing, and as funny as it sounds, I couldn’t imagine being without it now. I was never what you would consider a ‘strong writer’ in school. To be honest, English was not my favorite subject and I took the absolute minimum number of writing classes possible to graduate high school and with my undergraduate degree. So, when I was approached about beginning a blog by colleagues and even my husband, I shrugged the idea off. After quite a bit of nudging and some testimonials from educators I respected on the value of blogging, I reluctantly agreed to get started. I thought that I would use my little blog as a reflective tool, and who knows, maybe I could improve my writing skills a bit at the same time. I had no clue what I was getting into…

I had developed a closed mindset about writing – this is exactly the opposite of what I promote in my classroom. I love innovating, taking some risks for the sake of learning, and pushing myself forward in that manner. Blogging felt like the biggest risk I had taken in a long time. I was going to not only write, but also put it out in a public forum where people could comment, critique, and disagree with me. It was scary. Then I remembered all the frightening things we ask out students to do each day. Fear needed to be overcome, I had to courageously model the behavior I wished to see from my students.

After publishing my first few posts, I calmed down a bit. The writing had been well received and there were a few people who let me know they enjoyed my writing, or that what I said made an impact. Then the steamroller effect started. I actually enjoyed writing, so I wrote more. I got positive comments and others that made me think and reflect. I got a great deal of support from my Professional Learning Network who regularly read and respond to what I write. Inspiration for new posts seemed to pop up everywhere. I have written consistently for a year now, and I am a better educator for it. Blogging has strengthened my writing skills to a point that I have confidence in an area that I previously thought was a weakness. Success breeds success, and the more I write the better I become.

So as my blog heads into its second year, I hope to keep improving my skills and reaching a broader audience. I will continue to promote my passions of healthy grading practices, standards based learning, differentiated instruction, student ownership in the classroom, amongst other things. As I said earlier, I undoubtedly cannot imagine life without writing at this point. It guides me to sharpen and hone my craft of teaching while providing a wonderful space for reflection. Writing forces me to analyze my beliefs and defend them in an articulate manner. With every post I am reminded of the importance of a growth mindset and what a considerable impact just a few words can have on others.

 

Why should I change how I grade?

Grading reform is near and dear to my heart. I am a huge advocate of healthy grading practices that support learning for our students. Yet I still get asked the questions – Why should I change the way I grade? What difference does it make how I grade? Grading doesn’t impact the way I teach or my students learn, does it?

The truth is, grading has a huge impact on our kids. It sets the tone for classrooms and schools, and suggests where students’ focus should lie. The way we view and practice grading communicates its importance. Should a major emphasis be placed on grades, scores, and points? Of course not – but many teachers and administrators don’t realize how much traditional grading practices interfere with the learning process. Grading is what makes many kids nervous to come to our classrooms and be assessed. Grading makes it easy for some kids to hide behind numbers and good behaviors for proficient marks. Grading contributes to fearfulness of risk taking and trying something new. Wait a minute…if our students never try something new, how are they learning? How are they growing? How are they preparing for the next steps in their educational experience?

In order to shift the focus from grades to learning, educators must lead the way and demonstrate its positive impact. Students need to see that motivation exists and is enhanced when grades are in the background. So many of us have spent countless hours developing our scales, weights, and points for every assignment and assessment, but the time can be much better spent. The time should be used to create valuable learning experiences and to provide opportunities for kids to take risks, try new ideas, and maybe even fail a few times on the road to success. Students need us to lead the charge and show that there is more to education than point chasing and high stakes assessment. They require a role model in the classroom that not only values learning, but also what each student contributes to the process.

When we make this change, feedback becomes the norm for new growth and achievement.  Authentic self-assessment becomes a purposeful endeavor that previously may have seemed like a doubtful guess at a point total. When we do assign a grade, it carries accuracy and meaning. Scores and grades are criterion referenced, evidence based and defensible to all stakeholders. The mystery of how grades are determined vanishes and we ensure an honest, genuine reflection of learning. With the abundance of feedback prior to assessment, students develop confidence in their abilities.

So, after all this enthusiasm toward grading reform, what perpetuates stagnation? What compels so many to continue using a traditional grading system that maintains a competitive, extrinsically motivated (or extrinsically unmotivated) culture? Is it the fact that grading is personal for educators and can seem like the only piece of our practice that is autonomous? Is it a power struggle for teachers to keep ‘control’ of student behavior? Is it that many retain a fixed mindset and fear unfamiliar territory? 

So I return to the question at hand…Why should I change how I grade? To be a role model of progress for students. To find healthy grading practices that support learning. To take on old traditions that undermine a focus on growth. To make a difference for each student that is bored, unmotivated, or inappropriately challenged. To communicate that learning supersedes everything else, and lasts for a lifetime.