Tag Archives: culture

Balancing two worlds

An interesting situation has developed this year…I seem to be living in two worlds with regard to grading and assessment in schools.

World number 1 – my professional domain

I have the honor and privilege of working in the business of education. I am blessed to work with teachers to grow their instructional practices, provide professional development on a number of important issues facing educators, and have been given the space and support to promote healthy grading practices. Learning always seems to be this chaotic process no matter whether it is for adults or kids, but I get to be a part of that wonderful experience for both.

I work within my district as well as with other districts to change how we look at assessment and grading. We discuss the purpose of grading and work to make it meaningful, accurate, and non-threatening for students. It is a huge shift in paradigm for most, but really important for kids and how they view school.

World number 2 – my parental domain

I have two children, one in elementary school and the other in junior high. Let’s just put this out there…it is virtually impossible to walk the fine line between parent and teacher when we consider our children’s education. I do my best to find that line, yet there always seems to be a gray area. At times I feel like I know too much with my background, but I refuse to discontinue my pursuit of better practices to grow and cultivate student learning.

Here’s the juxtaposition…my children are being graded for compliance, and it seems to be across the board with regard to content areas. Points are lost for missing signatures…deducted for lack of color on a math assignment where all problems are completed…gained for binder organization…the list goes on. They are developing a fear of bad grades and missing and/or late assignments (even a small one) for the repercussion that follows. They feel the high stakes of testing and assessment when reassessment is not an option. Anxiety has crept into their educational experience. As a parent, I work diligently every evening to refocus my kids back to the importance of learning. However, it is becoming more and more difficult to reinforce the natural progression of learning when a school culture is grade and compliance focused.

I have nothing against their teachers. They are wonderful people who truly care about the students in their classrooms. This is how they were instructed and how they are expected to teach kids lessons of responsibility, effort, and accountability. Don’t get me wrong, these are important lessons for all students…I simply disagree with including them in a letter grade. I worry that students’ academic achievement is not accurately communicated and no one knows how much of the grade is behavior, growth, or proficiency levels with the standards.

Moving forward I feel I need to ask some questions to best help my children. Are there any standards that are below proficient and need additional practice? Are there behavioral concerns that I can help to improve at home? Is my child growing and improving throughout the year? I also want to let the teachers know how thankful I am for their care and the positive relationships they have developed with my kids.

How can I separate my roles as a parent and educator? The truth is, I can’t. Together they are who I am as a person and deeply intertwined. I will continue to reflect and attempt to walk that fine line. I will search for ways to ensure my kids focus on learning while respecting the values and culture of their school. Living in two worlds is an interesting and challenging situation. I hope in the future the two will merge and become one.

Fulfilling the promise

I wrote a blog post earlier this year about my promise to start tough conversations in regard to grading reform. I am happy to say that I am working hard to fulfill that promise and help to move others forward. All the while I continue to learn myself about how to make grades a healthy part of the learning process. In my perfect world, grades would disappear, but I live in a reality where letters must be used as a reporting mechanism. As I write this post, I recommit myself to work toward this goal and not be afraid of the difficult dialogues that inevitably occur when approaching this very personal topic for educators.

I have moved into a leadership role of sorts in my new school district. I am an instructional coach who thankfully is not a part of the evaluation process. My district has moved to Standards Based Learning and Grading at the elementary level, and will change over at the middle schools (including mine) next school year. This is a huge transition, and I want to ease it as much as possible throughout the year. I have been welcomed so whole-heartedly into this learning community and am devoted to work with my new colleagues to improve instructional practice.

This week something occurred to me…my journey with healthy grading practices has become our journey. I am not alone in charting this course, yet I know I will carry a piece of the leadership for this initiative. I am so proud of the district and staff for deciding to embark on this voyage, and feel ready to serve in whatever capacity necessary. I have so much respect and admiration for my new colleagues, their commitment to student learning is visible in every nook and cranny of the school.

I bring my experiences, my knowledge, and my resources to share. There is so much power in the words, “I have been there.” I will be able to connect with their successes and failures along the way. I can talk them through problems and concerns. I am able to calm fears and reassure everyone that this is a work in progress and it will change and improve with each year of implementation.

Our motto is “Engage, Inspire, Empower.” The transition to Standards Based Learning and Grading will no doubt challenge us to the core as educators. I find comfort in the fact that I have already seen the strength of the staff and I am confident they are prepared for this undertaking. Grading reform will allow our students to engage more completely, to become inspired to learn for a lifetime, and will empower them to take charge and own their learning. We will be able to communicate learning goals and determine paths to achieve mastery in a clear, concise manner. We will use feedback to let students know what we value most in the classroom. We will accurately report achievement, habits of work, and growth in a meaningful way.

To say I am excited to transform my journey into our journey is an understatement. When I made the promise to promote healthy grading in any way possible, I had no idea I would be given this opportunity in a new district. I have been given an avenue to fulfill my promise, and I will not take it for granted. Here’s to an awesome year of growth, reflection and tough conversations in the name of student learning.

I will continue to post and share about our growth, trials, tribulations, and success along the way!

Living cautiously

It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all, in which case you have failed by default. – J.K. Rowling

A child walks into your school or classroom. They stare at the floor as they walk and talk to a few friends as they hurry by. A stop at a locker, a check of a schedule or a classroom number and they disappear into the swell of students not wanting to be late. Seated in a classroom, they want to be left alone, and will be compliant with any rule or expectation the instructor sets forth. All too often, these kids are left alone with so many others demanding constant attention from the teacher.

They live their school lives (and possibly their entire lives) cautiously. They aren’t natural risk takers and don’t want anyone to push or pull them in a new direction.

I was this child. As an adult I have regret about living this cautiously in my youth and early adulthood. I don’t mean that I should have been overtly defiant or out of control, but I know I didn’t take enough risks in school to maximize my learning. I followed all the rules, accumulated the proper amount of points, and moved right along through the years. I didn’t really start taking risks with my learning until I was several years into my teaching career. I am so glad of where I am now, but I realize what I missed out on.

Last year, I had a discussion with my students about risk taking. These were 9th graders, 14 or 15 years old. I asked the question, “Is risk taking essential to learning?” The response was interesting and varied, but by the end of the discussion my classes agreed that it was important. I could tell that this bothered some of my kids. Frankly, it would have bothered me as a student. These types of students need a lot of support to take risks. Modeling, positive reinforcement, and assurance that time will be given to master learning targets are the name of the game rather than the older style ‘game of school’.

This may seem difficult, but as we well know, teaching is difficult work. Quiet compliant students are so easy to manage that they often slip through the cracks. Give these students what they need just as much as the ones who fill the room with noise, movement, and endless stories of what they did last night. You will be doing them a huge favor…teaching them how to learn fearlessly.

Oh the places I’ve been

I had the fortunate experience of traveling some this summer and meeting educators from across the United States and beyond. To witness the passion for education that lives throughout our world was awe-inspiring. It was very interesting to talk with others and learn about diverse learning environments and school systems. The more I discover, the more I realize how much I have left to learn and I am intrigued. We sometimes get sheltered in our own school cultures and fail to realize how distinctly different other districts can be. My eyes have opened more fully and I feel more well-rounded heading back to school this fall.

There are of course similarities no matter what school you walk into or which teacher you meet. Student learning and how to ensure it happens in our schools resides in all of our hearts. We have a common ground that links us and guides discussion no matter what context and background we bring to the table. There are times when we disagree about methodology and assessment, culture and grading to name a few. I find these conversations are so important to my learning and growth. I love the challenge of rethinking what I do at school and defending my beliefs. It forces me to arrive at that slightly uncomfortable place where change and risk taking reside. It makes me reflect on my practice and consider new possibilities.

I have been faced with many difficult questions and discussions about what I do in my learning environment over the years. I have gotten the long pauses in my doorway with the begrudging looks. I have been avoided because it is much easier to ignore me than engage in discourse with someone who is so passionate about learning. Then I am faced with a decision. Do I walk away as well, or do I start the conversation?

I have grown more comfortable with this over time (and am still working to improve!). Walking away could leave behind a potential learning opportunity. I try to listen and encourage teachers to divulge problems or issues they are facing before I say anything. I strive to validate their opinions and find common ground before sharing my perspective about the topic or situation. So much is gained through these conversations and I become a better educator after each one.

No matter how you connect with other educators, whether it be via social media, travel, or simple conversations in the hallway, it is an opportunity to expand your horizons and learn. Don’t be afraid to share your story with others and listen to theirs. It will expand your educational world and enlighten you to the vastness that exists within it. Gather the varied viewpoints that create our amazing profession while finding the interwoven thread of student learning that ties us together.

You’re off to Great Places!
Today is your day!
Your mountain is waiting,
So… get on your way!                                                                                                      -Dr. Seuss