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.