As a classroom teacher, one of my biggest frustrations was late work and work simply not handed in. I struggled with how to report this. Years ago my report cards would sit in front of me and I'd have to put grades in. I found myself thinking about effort, responsibility and attitude. I was wrong. It shouldn't be my biased opinion on those things, it should be a true reflection of what the student knows.
Frustration One: I'll admit I used this phrase in the past...School is a job for students. Really? I was wrong. The "Real World" includes compensation, typically in the form of money. The "Real World" people lose jobs for failing to work. Students aren't paid and students certainly aren't fired. Instead of saying you are preparing them for the "Real World", why don't we understand, relate and differentiate to optimize students potential in our classroom. Let's not relate it to the so called "Real World". If students don't do an assignment we as educators need to figure out why. Is it a lack of Resources? Time? Understanding? Why did the student not do the assignment?
Frustration Two: I'll admit, I've stated the phrase, "We must prepare our students for the future." I do believe this, but understand what this means. Preparing students for the future is teaching them how to be life long learners, how to problem solve and how to be a contributing citizen to society. My frustration lies in people saying students must learn _____ to be successful. The blank could be anything, the point is we should be teaching students how to find the answers and to think critically.
Frustration Three: I'll admit I've uttered the phrase, "Giving a student a zero will destroy their self-esteem or self worth." Really? I guess it could, but I believe that students would rather get a zero with no effort, than a 30% with effort. The student that tries and fails is much more likely to lose self-esteem. They've invested time and effort, a 30% would clearly show that they do not understand the concept.
Belief One: All kids can learn. I've always believed this. I've also always believed that a big part of teaching is motivating and engaging students. I love listening to Kevin Honeycutt and hearing his story about how he got a troubled student to embrace learning in his classroom. He said on day one, "HEY, this is a challenging classroom, do you have my back?" The student looked perplexed, Kevin restated, "YOU GOT MY BACK?" The student then proceeded to get the attention of the class, by yelling..."YO EVERYBODY! SIT DOWN, MR. HONEYCUTT IS READY TO TEACH!" From this moment forward the troubled student was no trouble for Mr. Honeycutt. The message here is, Trust Kids and you may be surprised what can happen.
Belief Two: Knowledge is power, but a clean slate can be more powerful. I remember starting each school year and looking at my class list. Every year I'd have teachers bend my ear with information about how challenging a student is. Immediately my perspective was skewed. I found value in the clean slate. In the end I think there is a happy medium. Some information is helpful.
Belief Three: The true value of a zero. My belief is that educators that give zeros (and I was one, at one time), are not assessing knowledge or understanding. Educators that give zeros are assessing responsibility and effort. PERIOD.
My report cards always had room for teacher comments. I ALWAYS filled the box with comments. This was my professional statement about the student. This was my opportunity to explain the students character strengths and weaknesses. The actual report card was just student knowledge, not my personal biases. I don't believe zeros should be given. I believe all students are capable of understanding on some level. I always believed it was my role to find a way for a student to "show me what he/she knew".
Educators have a challenging job. We must teach students content, help them become life long learners, engage them in problem solving and deeper thinking. Plus help them become the best person they can be. It really is the "whole child" approach. I embrace this, and I also believe that responsibility and effort are critical, I just don't think they should be the deciding factors in a students grade.
I can visualize the students I had that always turned in assignments late or didn't do them. I would conference with them, I would try to relate, I would try to motivate and engage. One student stands out for me: Austin. Austin treated school as social hour. He participated when he felt like it. At first I was frustrated with Austin. Then I learned about his life, I invested in Austin. After I invested in Austin I found it was easier to motivate him and he didn't want to let me down. Austin and I played chess when his work was done, he would teach me yo-yo tricks, and he even decided to sign-up for my after school cross country club. After I invested in Austin the zeros disappeared. I found a way to reach him. I believe all kids can be reached. Teachers are key, can you unlock a challenging student?
This week's big question: Grades are a communication tool to students and parents, do your grades reflect knowledge or effort?
For eight years I've been a principal. One thing I've learned over the years is the dynamic of Me versus We.
It's human nature to focus on yourself above all other things, but this can be the demise of a school, organization or family.
Have you ever been a part of a team and you just knew individuals weren't giving their all? Have you ever been a part of a team and thought, "I'm the hardest worker on this team?"
Sure you have.
I bet these thoughts created resentment, frustration, and anger.
My biggest struggle as a leader is constantly trying to get the most out of everyone.
What I do believe is to get the most out of people leaders need to:
Recently I received a piece of mail that made me pause. I opened the bulky manila envelope and pulled out the packet of papers. Instantly I could tell the package was full of older documents. Then I read the hand-written note at the top of the packet.
"Ben, we are purging old documents and we thought you'd like your transcript and file."
Interesting enough, I put the documents back in the folder and didn't look at them for nearly two months.
Then for some reason I decided to go through the packet. I studied my high school transcripts. I re-read the comments. I chuckled at some of my class choices. Next up, I sifted through my middle school career. Finally I finished up by looking at my elementary notes.
The first thing I'd like to share is, I was NOT the model student. As I prepared to begin kindergarten all the notes had concerns. I was recommended for an additional year of Pre-K and then I was recommend to repeat kindergarten. Evidently I was NOT where I needed to be as a five year old.
Second, if you look at the comments they ranged from good all-around student to capable of doing better. One can only imagine how these two comments could be attached to the same student...hmmm.
Third, as I completed 7th grade I was ranked 34th out of 86 students. Pretty much middle of the pack. As I graduated high school my final ranking was 16th out of 68. From an outsiders vantage point that would be considered acceptable. However, closer detail showed something a bit different.
Looking back at the classes I took from 7th through 12th grade I immediately saw a pattern. In some classes I played the game. I complimented my teachers, I raised my hand, I stayed after to get support, I was polite and friendly. In other rooms, with other teachers, I didn't, play the game. I was distant, I attempted to fly under the radar and quite often did just enough to get by.
For those wondering, I didn't experience a traumatic event and I was generally an upbeat, happy kid. The answer isn't as difficult as one may try and make it. My success came down to personal connections and respect. If I connected and respected my teacher I played the game and in turn, I almost always received an A or a B. The flip side was, sometimes I didn't respect my teacher and therefore, I didn't play the game. In these classes I would struggle to get to the 80% mark. Often times these classes ended up being C's and occasionally a D.
My frustration with school is that I do believe the game still occurs.
This is why school is fractured. Educator bias, subjectivity and final grades that still reflect attitude and effort happen all too often.
The solution? Let's STOP the Game of School. Here are some solutions -
Solution 1 - Eliminate the archaic system of grading. If you are still averaging percentages the simple question is why? Research and current best practice show a tremendous shift to standard based grading or competency based grading. This goes for all levels of education. Here is an article to reinforce this solution. Click here.
Solution 2 - Compliance should not equal academic success. Some of the greatest achievements have come from individuals that were willing to be disruptive. Yet, the school system of today rewards compliance and negatively labels disruptors. Don't believe me? Check out what Thomas Edison's teacher said about him... Thomas Edison, brilliant scientist and inventor, was thrown out of school at age 12 because he was terrible at math and unable to focus. His teacher said, ‘he was too stupid to learn anything.’
Solution 3 - Learning MUST become more personalized. Teaching to the middle or giving a one size fits all, all the time, is poor practice. This method widens the gap between haves and have nots, it also reinforces the Game of School Approach. If schools don't shift to a more individualized method they are doing a disservice to a large population of students. Need more information on Personalized Learning? Click here.
Solution 4 - Schools must create more authentic forms of learning. Task management and busy work do not engage high levels of learning. They reinforce compliance. Too often schools supply a heavy load of work to occupy students and stifle creativity. The best forms of authentic learning are intertwined with projects and service learning. This type of learning can appear messy, but it also makes the teacher more of a facilitator. Check out this post. Teach the Way You Wish You Were Taught
Solution 5 - Reward the best educators. Do we really still use pay scales to have everyone in lock step? What my experiences have taught me is, not all people are the same. Some doctors are better than others. Some lawyers are better than others. Some educators are better than others. Can you imagine if education was (in a small way) similar to athletics? Free Agency? Signing Bonuses? Multi-Year Contracts? If the system encouraged greatness you would see more people driving their own professional development. You'd see more people challenging the Status Quo. You would see more people motivated to stay in education because they are great...not simply reaching for the finish line.
Okay, maybe solution five is a pipe dream. But think about it, do you truly believe all educators should be paid similarly?
Ultimately, I'm fed up with the Game of School. In classrooms across the country a student that looks the part, acts the part, is polite and puts forth effort will likely be rewarded. It makes me wonder, are most schools designed to reward extroverts?
"A good coach can change a game, a great coach can change a life." - John Wooden
I've always been a huge believer in feedback. Then after reading the research by John Hattie I found feedback to be even more critical. Check out the research here.
That being said, giving feedback is a skill.
Recently I took in a 7th grade boys basketball game. Last year I co-coached many of the boys that were on the floor. I really wanted to see the growth that they've made as players and young men. I was honestly not expecting a polished game. If you've ever watched a middle school basketball game you realize it is raw, discombobulated and definitely lacks flow. As the game unfolded I watched how the boys played defense off the ball, communicated on the court and what they did when the play broke down on offense. What I witnessed were a few positives and some things that definitely needed work. However, this is to be expected, right?
At the conclusion of the game the home team walked away with a solid fifteen point victory. But I don't think wins and losses are that critical at the 7th grade level. My belief is about learning, improving and developing chemistry.
Several boys came out of the locker room and into the stands. One boy plopped down next to me. I gave him a fist bump and told him I really liked how he played help-side defense and took a great route around a screen to get in-front of his man. I finished by reminding him to use his dribble to open up passing lanes to the post. Then he gave me the strangest look.
He said, "I didn't play well." My response was simple, I told him he did some things well and needs to stay aggressive. He again said, "I didn't play well."
I finally caved and asked why he thinks that? His response left me agitated.
He informed me that after the game the team went into the locker room and sat on the wooden benches. He was untying his shoes and the coach pulled them all together. He then read the players their personal stat line and instructed them to watch the upcoming game that was set to begin shortly.
The boy looked at me and said, I had one rebound and two turnovers. I didn't play well.
All I could say was, "You helped your team get the victory, that is the most important stat."
In my mind I was deeply frustrated, what was the coach thinking? At the peek of my frustration my friend, Kenneth Durham really brought a good perspective. To paraphrase Kenneth, he stated: I understand your frustration, and I would add, isn't this ironically similar to educators focusing on grades?
I thought about it for a second...Kenneth was spot on. As educators we stick a number or letter on a paper, but do we give honest, supportive feedback? If we as educators don't, we are no better than a coach reading a stat line.
The question remains, what is the best way to deliver feedback? Here are four best practices.
First, feedback should be timely.
Second, be specific with feedback. Giving generalities will not help anyone.
Third, it is critical to be positive and sincere. The best leaders deliver feedback with empathy and understanding.
Fourth, focus on the process over the results.
It is safe to say my former players may not receive stellar coaching this year, however, as educators we can be better. Let's not mark up papers and stick a letter or number at the top. Let's help our students learn, grow and continuously improve. Your feedback has the ability to make all the difference.
Challenge to readers...
In the comment section I'd love to hear you share a story connected to feedback you've given or received.