Zeal

In preparing to welcome 2015, I am driven to choose my ‘one word’ for the new year. I’ve been thinking about it for some time, and thought I had decided two or three times over before landing on the word zeal. By definition zeal is great energy or enthusiasm in pursuit of a cause or an objective. Energy….enthusiasm….pursuit….This was definitely my word. I am challenging myself to bring zeal to the journey of 2015. I certainly consider myself a passionate educator, but there is always room to improve and bring it to a new level. Zeal is so fitting because the enthusiasm and energy will flow into the various roles that I have. However, no matter the role, the cause is always the same – improving student learning.

This school year has brought wonderful new opportunities for my career. I am working in a new school, a new district and with new grade levels. My environment is filled with progressive educators who are challenging the status quo of education. As an instructional coach, I will ensure that my zeal is employed to improve student learning on every facet. Change brings fear and uncertainty, and part of my role includes calming the unavoidable apprehension while reinforcing the reasoning for the change. I must continue to bring zeal to my colleagues as we collectively seek what is best for our students.

Throughout 2014, I presented and consulted with schools from across the country. Bringing the focused enthusiasm and energy of zeal into various school environments has been a tremendous privilege. As I forge ahead into 2015, I will carry zeal with me wherever I go. Enthusiasm and excitement are contagious, and I will share it as far and wide as possible.

I will pour my zeal into worthy causes that will positively impact student learning. I will be relentless in the pursuit of ideas that transform education and allow kids to maximize their potential to learn. Zeal will bolster my confidence to overcome obstacles and fear that could negatively impact my ability to lead. Peering over the edge into a new year, I am excitedly anticipating all the new ideas and learning.

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Bring it on 2015, I am coming with zeal!

Some final thoughts on Courage 2014

On January 1st last year, I chose one word to guide me through 2014. The word I chose was courage. Looking back, I couldn’t have made a better choice. There were six different areas where I challenged myself to show courage…let’s see how I did!

The courage to be autonomous

Going against the grain for the sake of my students was something I became more comfortable with this past year. I gained confidence that I was the professional in the room who could make decisions and revise those whenever necessary. I understood that not only was my autonomy essential, but also the autonomy of my students – theirs maybe even more imperative than mine. I was able to let go more than ever before and allow my kids to own their learning. The students left the school year knowing they could make a difference no matter how large or small.

The courage to treat all kids fairly

Working tirelessly to give students what they need when they need it will never be an easy or perfect venture. But I felt as long as I was working to the best of my ability to get to know them as learners and people, I could support them fairly. My students appreciated this and knew that I was always looking out for them. They also knew their opinions mattered and they had a say in their learning. The mutual respect that developed from treating kids fairly rather than equally had a profound impact.

The courage to try new things

Wow, where to begin on this one…2014 brought a plethora of new experiences for me. I was able to present, work with teachers from around the country, and grow my practice. I took the plunge and did my first webinar – a very intimidating undertaking when you are very used to having a live, interactive audience! When all was said and done, I found a lot of success and look forward to expanding this part of my career in 2015. I also left the classroom this year. What a bittersweet move from classroom teacher to instructional coach that is in the sweet stage now! More on this as I continue…

The courage to help my colleagues

This one took on an entirely different look as I took my new position. I am able to help my colleagues with a variety of different things, from technology to reading strategies, grading practices to differentiation. I am grateful to support while watching as they take ownership of changes to make them work for their kids. It is so rewarding, very similar to how working with my students was for so many years.

The courage to write

Just a quick note on this piece of courage. I have continued to blog for my own reflection and growth. No plans to stop this one as the new year begins!

Finally – the courage to leave an impact

The courage to leave an impact will continue throughout my life. As I quoted John Dewey almost a year ago, I want to continue passing along this thought: “Education is not preparation for life; it is life itself.”

What to choose for my one word in 2015? That post is next on the agenda. I can only hope it will guide and serve me as well as Courage has in the last 12 months.

Repairing Grading One Fix at a Time – part 2

This is the second in a series of posts devoted to sharing my experiences in a Standards Based Grading classroom. Each is focused on one ‘fix’ for broken grades from Ken O’Connor’s book A Repair Kit for Grading – 15 Fixes for Broken Grades. (O’Connor, 2011)

Fix #2: Don’t reduce marks on “work” submitted late; provide support for the learner.

Late work…the bane of a teacher’s existence. What to do when students aren’t timely with their work? How is timeliness given the weight and importance it deserves if I am not including it in their grade?

In my experiences with kids, students who are late with their work are late regardless of whether it is a part of their grade. There is usually some underlying issue that is causing the tardiness; kids want to meet the deadlines you set and know they are important.  But could it be that something is going on outside of school impacting their focus or the amount of time they are able to devote to work? Does the student simply need more time to complete the assignment well? I am definitely not arguing that deadlines shouldn’t be set or enforced in some way. When a student is late with their work, it warrants a conversation. As with anything else, relationships are what matter in schools and classrooms. Talking with students to problem solve and determine goals for future assignments will encourage them to rise to the occasion so much more than some type of punitive grade.

When late work is assigned a reduced grade, academic achievement is not reported with accuracy. Grades should report where students are in relation to the standard(s) at that moment in time. A ‘no tolerance’ policy for late work with reduced grades or zeros has several detrimental effects. It will work against student motivation – some students will stop trying when they feel there is no way to pass. It communicates that this assignment is not important enough to complete or that the content or skill is not important enough to practice. It tells students that you, as a teacher, value compliance over learning.

Students don’t know less because they hand-in something 3 days after it was due, but if we lower the grade that’s what we’re saying. – Tom Schimmer

But they will have to have everything on time to be successful adults, right? No, adults frequently complete tasks late. This doesn’t mean that an employer doesn’t want assigned work completed. Deadlines are often mutually decided upon and employees still must complete the work they were given. If the work was assigned, it is important to complete it well. This holds true in education as well – if the assignment was important enough to give, then it is important enough for all students to complete. I would much rather have a student produce quality work that demonstrates their level of proficiency than something completed haphazardly just to get it in on time.

How do we solve the problem of late work? Meet students where they are. Help them understand the importance of the work they are undertaking. Don’t take no for an answer with regard to finishing quality assignments. Agree to deadlines jointly with students to guide the learning process.

I’m worried about my grade…(on my video game)

One evening, I was watching my two sons play a video game. They are busy elementary and middle school kids with sports, music, friends, and family obligations, so an opportunity to do this was exciting for them. They chose to play a basketball game and got started. I watched them, encouraged both sides (much to their chagrin), and reminded them that they should consider the other brother’s feelings before bragging about a great three-point shot. It was in the middle of their game that I noticed something… My boys were being given letter grades on their free throws by the game. Wait, what?!? Each time they completed a free throw an A, B, C, D, or F appeared on the screen. There was feedback to accompany the grade, albeit in a much smaller font. And there was definitely a mismatch between the grade, the feedback, and whether or not the shot went in. Wouldn’t it be enough to know whether you made or missed the shot and why you missed it? Does the additional layer of a letter grade add anything to the experience? My sons quickly answered the second question with a resounding ‘NO!’, according to their reactions. They were raising their voices at the screen with comments such as:                                                                                       How can I get a D on a shot and still make it??                                                                                                     Wait, I got a B- and missed mine…how is that fair?                                                                                           I got an F on my free throw???

I was shocked. The boys finished their game and we had a quick conversation about how the letters weren’t helping them improve, so maybe we should read the feedback next time rather than pay attention to the grade. They couldn’t find a rhyme or reason for how the grade was determined, and it was not explained in the game manual (Yes, I checked, even though no child would look for that). How eerie this felt… As I work relentlessly to refocus schools and teachers on learning through healthier grading practices, I was surprised to see that grades had infiltrated another part of my children’s life. I work hard to move grades to the background and here they were rearing their ugly heads again. I want grades to be a meaningful and accurate piece of communication, but this experience reminded me of an arbitrary, traditional letter grade. I started to reflect and wonder how many places grades appear outside of the educational world and what purpose they would serve. I am consistently reminded that the journey to grading reform has begun, we are moving forward, yet we have so far to go!