Tag: reform



How do you define student achievement? Is student achievement defined by how students perform on some type of standardized assessment? When politicians, policymakers, and lots of educators too, talk about raising student achievement, it usually means raising test scores.



The problem is that test scores are a very narrow way to define student success and student achievement. That definition favors a certain type of student, magnifying a certain type of skill set, while diminishing a whole range of other factors that can lead to success academically and in life.


So why is it the current definition of student achievement is always tied to how students perform on one test that happens in one moment once a year? I want to see more emphasis on student agency. I want to find ways for students to connect to what they are learning, to apply what they are learning, to do things with their learning that are making a difference. To me, when students exercise agency and demonstrate growth, that is achievement.


When we are driven by preparing kids for a test, we may neglect preparing them for life. I’m not saying we can’t prepare kids for the test and for life, but too often I think that’s exactly what’s happening. The test is driving everything in some schools. 


But does the learning stick? Will students remember the things they must know for the test? I really like how Will Richardson put words around this idea. He says we need to aim for learning that results in permanence. We should seek learning that has lasting value. When students have agency and ownership in learning, it’s much more likely to have long term impact. When it connects to their passions and their goals, they’re much more invested emotionally and intellectually.


Another question I would raise is this, does the learning shift perspective? Simply learning content and using it to answer test questions doesn’t necessarily change who you are or how you see the world. And I think education should always result in more empathy and understanding. It doesn’t just change what you know but helps you better understand who you are and how you can make a bigger difference.



If we want more permanence and perspective in education, we have to be willing to invest in agency. We must empower students and teachers to do things that are bigger than just mastering content standards. We have encourage creativity and connection and allow for learning that taps into strengths and passions.



So let’s aim to get a better balance between achievement and agency. Achievement won’t solve the world’s problems unless our students learn they are powerful problem solvers. They must know first and foremost the significant agency they have to make a difference.



What are you thoughts? How are you specifically equipping students with greater agency and empowerment in your classroom and school? Leave a comment below or respond on Facebook or Twitter.

Read More Balancing Achievement and Agency




Educators should be futurists. Now you’re probably thinking, “What the heck, one more thing I have to be. It always feels like teachers are being asked to do more and more, with less and less. One more thing!” But hang on, I’m not asking you to do more. I’m asking you to shift your perspective.



Futurists are scientists or social scientists who look ahead to the future of what might be possible. They don’t necessarily try to predict the future. No one can do that. But they do explore the possibilities of how current realities might lead to future developments in any and all areas of life.



Futurists believe in progress. They believe there is more to be done, that we can expand our capacity, that we can solve some of the most pressing problems of today. Of course, they also warn of what might happen if we don’t address some of the potential problems of the future.



Years ago, Harvard Professor Edward Banfield described a study in his book Unheavenly Cities related to factors that best predicted individual’s upward social mobility and economic prosperity. He expected factors like family background, intelligence, connections, race, or some other fixed characteristic to be most influential.



But what he found surprised him. The greatest factor related to future productivity and success was what he termed “long-term perspective.” Writer Brian Tracy describes Banfield’s findings:

He said that men and women who were the most successful in life and the most likely to move up economically were those who took the future into consideration with every decision they made in the present. He found that the longer the period of time a person took into consideration while planning and acting, the more likely it was that he would achieve greatly during his career.

The importance of long-term thinking makes sense to me. We are faced on a daily basis with decisions to do what is easiest in the short-term or do what’s best in the long-term. Wisdom is knowing the right thing to do and having the courage to do it.



But it’s more than delayed gratification and self-discipline. It is also having a vision for what the future will demand. It’s thinking like a futurist. It’s being forward-thinking and reflecting on how a changing world will impact my world, the way I live, and work, and interact.


It’s also important for educators and schools to have a long-term perspective. In my upcoming book, Future Driven: Will Your Students Thrive In An Unpredictable World? I challenge educators to reflect on their own perspective. 


Schools should be less like time capsules and more like time machines. The time capsule approach only protects the status quo. It assumes the way we have taught in the past is good enough for today’s students too. The time capsule teacher wants to remind us of everything in the past and wants to filter everything in the future through that. To be blunt, the time capsule teacher is stuck in the past.


But the time machine teacher wants to transcend the current reality. When you think about stories involving time machines, they typically involve using time travel to solve a problem or impact a destiny. They involve a hero’s journey. 


In this case, I am suggesting that time machine teachers want to create a better future. They have a long term perspective. Even though they can’t literally visit the future, they are future driven. They are pushing forward and living in the emerging future.


We are living in a rapidly changing, complex world. Our students will need a future driven education to be ready for the challenges they will face.


Educators make the biggest impact in a place where the future and the present collide. A future focus, combined with action today, has the greatest potential to produce positive change. We need to have a long-term perspective and so do our students. We have to model that for them and cause them to think in those terms. 


The place where today meets tomorrow is where you can make the greatest difference as an educator. Your impact will depend on your perspective and your actions.


I expect Future Driven to be released in a matter of weeks. It will challenge your perspective. It will help you increase your capacity for positive change. It describes how to become a time machine teacher and how to create a future driven school.


I don’t want to jump through hoops. I don’t want to go through the motions. I never want to waste precious time. I want to do my part to create a brighter future. I believe most educators want the same. You are building futures every day. 


Question: What are ways our schools are time capsules, stuck in the past? What are you doing to move forward and have a long-term perspective? I want to hear from you. Leave a comment below or respond on Facebook or Twitter. 


Read More Schools Should Be Places Where the Present and Future Collide




Educators should be futurists. Now you’re probably thinking, “What the heck, one more thing I have to be. It always feels like teachers are being asked to do more and more, with less and less. One more thing!” But hang on, I’m not asking you to do more. I’m asking you to shift your perspective.



Futurists are scientists or social scientists who look ahead to the future of what might be possible. They don’t necessarily try to predict the future. No one can do that. But they do explore the possibilities of how current realities might lead to future developments in any and all areas of life.



Futurists believe in progress. They believe there is more to be done, that we can expand our capacity, that we can solve some of the most pressing problems of today. Of course, they also warn of what might happen if we don’t address some of the potential problems of the future.



Years ago, Harvard Professor Edward Banfield described a study in his book Unheavenly Cities related to factors that best predicted individual’s upward social mobility and economic prosperity. He expected factors like family background, intelligence, connections, race, or some other fixed characteristic to be most influential.



But what he found surprised him. The greatest factor related to future productivity and success was what he termed “long-term perspective.” Writer Brian Tracy describes Banfield’s findings:

He said that men and women who were the most successful in life and the most likely to move up economically were those who took the future into consideration with every decision they made in the present. He found that the longer the period of time a person took into consideration while planning and acting, the more likely it was that he would achieve greatly during his career.

The importance of long-term thinking makes sense to me. We are faced on a daily basis with decisions to do what is easiest in the short-term or do what’s best in the long-term. Wisdom is knowing the right thing to do and having the courage to do it.



But it’s more than delayed gratification and self-discipline. It is also having a vision for what the future will demand. It’s thinking like a futurist. It’s being forward-thinking and reflecting on how a changing world will impact my world, the way I live, and work, and interact.


It’s also important for educators and schools to have a long-term perspective. In my upcoming book, Future Driven: Will Your Students Thrive In An Unpredictable World? I challenge educators to reflect on their own perspective. 


Schools should be less like time capsules and more like time machines. The time capsule approach only protects the status quo. It assumes the way we have taught in the past is good enough for today’s students too. The time capsule teacher wants to remind us of everything in the past and wants to filter everything in the future through that. To be blunt, the time capsule teacher is stuck in the past.


But the time machine teacher wants to transcend the current reality. When you think about stories involving time machines, they typically involve using time travel to solve a problem or impact a destiny. They involve a hero’s journey. 


In this case, I am suggesting that time machine teachers want to create a better future. They have a long term perspective. Even though they can’t literally visit the future, they are future driven. They are pushing forward and living in the emerging future.


We are living in a rapidly changing, complex world. Our students will need a future driven education to be ready for the challenges they will face.


Educators make the biggest impact in a place where the future and the present collide. A future focus, combined with action today, has the greatest potential to produce positive change. We need to have a long-term perspective and so do our students. We have to model that for them and cause them to think in those terms. 


The place where today meets tomorrow is where you can make the greatest difference as an educator. Your impact will depend on your perspective and your actions.


I expect Future Driven to be released in a matter of weeks. It will challenge your perspective. It will help you increase your capacity for positive change. It describes how to become a time machine teacher and how to create a future driven school.


I don’t want to jump through hoops. I don’t want to go through the motions. I never want to waste precious time. I want to do my part to create a brighter future. I believe most educators want the same. You are building futures every day. 


Question: What are ways our schools are time capsules, stuck in the past? What are you doing to move forward and have a long-term perspective? I want to hear from you. Leave a comment below or respond on Facebook or Twitter. 


Read More Schools Should Be Places Where the Present and Future Collide





I’ve been guilty of looking at business as a metaphor for education many times. I think there are some ways it works okay. We can learn from the business community and certainly need to work closely with business partners. We have some shared interests in good education outcomes. I enjoy reading books from business and a whole variety of areas and applying principles I learn to my work as an educator, where appropriate.



But we have to be very careful with comparing education to the business model. Our mission should be to advance the human condition. Our measure of success as educators is changing lives and creating opportunities. And making our democracy stronger. In business, the bottom line is ultimately measured in dollars and cents. But you can’t reduce a child’s education to increased profits.



The business metaphor is especially dangerous considering the current political and policy landscape. There are many who would like to privatize education. Better schools, goes the thinking, would result from competition and the marketplace. Capitalism would do it’s thing and education would be stronger for it. But that model has proven failed over and again. Learning is not a commodity.



I’ve also been guilty of referring to students as customers. When I’ve done this, it is making the point that we should provide good customer service. Our students are the end users of what we do, and we should carefully consider their experience and how school is working for them. 



But this comparison only works to a degree. The relationship between a business and a customer is transactional. The customer doesn’t own much responsibility in the relationship. The customer pays for goods or services and expects the business to do the rest. 



But schools need to go beyond treating students like customers. We must make students partners in learning. We are not just delivering learning to students like a product. We must co-create learning with students if it is to be most effective. It requires a degree of pulling together and helping students to contribute to their own learning. 



Metaphors are generally helpful to try to understand the world in deeper and more meaningful ways. But as educators, we have to be careful about comparing what we do to what businesses do. Can we learn from business? Yes! But should schools entirely operate as a business model? I think not.



Question: What are your thoughts on schools as businesses? And students as customers? I want to hear from you. Leave a comment below or respond on Facebook or Twitter.

Read More Schools Aren’t Businesses, and Students Aren’t Customers





I’ve been guilty of looking at business as a metaphor for education many times. I think there are some ways it works okay. We can learn from the business community and certainly need to work closely with business partners. We have some shared interests in good education outcomes. I enjoy reading books from business and a whole variety of areas and applying principles I learn to my work as an educator, where appropriate.



But we have to be very careful with comparing education to the business model. Our mission should be to advance the human condition. Our measure of success as educators is changing lives and creating opportunities. And making our democracy stronger. In business, the bottom line is ultimately measured in dollars and cents. But you can’t reduce a child’s education to increased profits.



The business metaphor is especially dangerous considering the current political and policy landscape. There are many who would like to privatize education. Better schools, goes the thinking, would result from competition and the marketplace. Capitalism would do it’s thing and education would be stronger for it. But that model has proven failed over and again. Learning is not a commodity.



I’ve also been guilty of referring to students as customers. When I’ve done this, it is making the point that we should provide good customer service. Our students are the end users of what we do, and we should carefully consider their experience and how school is working for them. 



But this comparison only works to a degree. The relationship between a business and a customer is transactional. The customer doesn’t own much responsibility in the relationship. The customer pays for goods or services and expects the business to do the rest. 



But schools need to go beyond treating students like customers. We must make students partners in learning. We are not just delivering learning to students like a product. We must co-create learning with students if it is to be most effective. It requires a degree of pulling together and helping students to contribute to their own learning. 



Metaphors are generally helpful to try to understand the world in deeper and more meaningful ways. But as educators, we have to be careful about comparing what we do to what businesses do. Can we learn from business? Yes! But should schools entirely operate as a business model? I think not.



Question: What are your thoughts on schools as businesses? And students as customers? I want to hear from you. Leave a comment below or respond on Facebook or Twitter.

Read More Schools Aren’t Businesses, and Students Aren’t Customers





Are you beating the state average? The teacher down the hall? The school down the road? How about the Fins or the Singaporeans? How do your scores measure up? Is your school keeping up with the Joneses?



Lately, I’ve seen lots of comparisons of achievement data. Including the PISA international benchmark results that were just released. Once again, U.S. scores were not stellar in comparison to some of the best test takers in the world.



While reading Linchpin by Seth Godin, I was challenged to think about how we define success. And where we spend our energy to develop world class schools. Godin illustrates how difficult it is to be the best by any statistical comparison.

❝Donald Bradman was an Australian cricket player. He was also the best athlete who ever lived. By any statistical measure, he was comparatively the best at what he did. He was far better at cricket than Michael Jordan was at basketball or Jack Nicklaus was at golf.

It’s very difficult to be as good as Donald Bradman. In fact, it’s impossible. Here’s a chart of Bradman’s batting average compared with the other all-time cricket leaders. 

Bradman’s Test batting average was 99.94. In cricket, a player’s batting average is the

total number of runs scored by the number of times they have been out.



Everyone else is quite grouped near sixty. Bradman was in a league of his own, not even close to the others. 

The challenge of becoming a linchpin solely based on your skill at plying a craft or doing a task or playing a sport is that the market can find other people with the skill with surprising ease. Plenty of people can play the flute as well as you can, clean a house as well as you can, program in Python as well as you can. If all you can do is the task and you’re not in a league of your own at doing the task, you’re not indispensable. 

Statistics are a dangerous deal, because statistics make it strikingly clear that you’re only a little better than the other guy. Or perhaps not better at all.

When you start down the path of beating the competition based on something that can be easily measured, you’re betting that with practice and determination, you can do better than Len Hutton or Jack Hobbs did at cricket. Not a little better, but Don Bradman better.

And you can’t. 



And this demonstrates the problem with measuring school performance based on standardized tests. To clarify…



1. Someone is always statistically better. 



You cannot be the best just on your effort or the effort of the students in your classroom or school. You cannot measure up. Even your best will not be enough. There will always be a Don Bradman. So when we accept this measure as judge and jury of our effectiveness, we are setting ourselves up for frustration and inadequacy.



2. More achievement is not always better.



A recent article about the learning culture in Singapore shows just how unhealthy a culture of over-achievement can be. Even in our own schools, we should not celebrate unhealthy attitudes toward achievement. How many ulcers, headaches, and mental health issues are a result of students, and educators, who are placing too much emphasis on achievement results? Being an effective human being involves a healthy attitude toward achievement, not high achievement no matter what it takes.



3. What can be measured doesn’t always count the most.



And what counts the most can’t always be measured. There are so many things about being an effective learner, a well-educated person beyond test scores. In fact, there are many people in our communities who are incredibly successful and lifelong learners, but who did not excel as test takers. Their success is attributable to many intangibles that cannot be easily measured. As Godin points out, “The easier it is to quantify the less it’s worth.” The most valuable things are often hard to measure.








4. High test scores are not a vision for learning.



When raising test scores becomes a chief aim of a school or district, it can easily become the vision of the school. And raising test scores is not a vision for learning. This approach marginalizes the individual and their learning needs in favor of data objectives that may not even be meaningful to the individual. In a sense, it dehumanizes learning. A vision for learning should always focus on the individual learner and create a culture that helps each student reach his or her goals. 



5. A school’s identity should not be contingent on achievement.



The identity of a school, or individual, should not be contingent on achievement. It should be comprised of the way the school seeks to fulfill its mission. We should seek to have a high level of commitment, collaboration, and care. We should strive to help our students achieve, but also to fully engage, to be more excited about learning, to gain hope, to learn more about who they are, and to fulfill their potential in the broadest sense. We control our identity, but we can’t always control our scores. Any teacher knows this, but sometimes we do our best work with students who DO NOT demonstrate achievement on tests.



So what’s the alternative to playing the test score game? Godin suggests using emotional labor to make yourself indispensable. I think this principle can be applied to schools, too. The idea is to focus energy on connecting, supporting, reaching out, lifting up, and offering hope better than anyone else. It is always teaching students first, then curriculum.



Even though many educators realize how important emotional labor is, it is rarely included in strategic plans, teacher evaluations, or educator standards. It is not considered a strategic advantage. In my review of my state’s principal standards, the word data was found 15 times. By contrast, the word relationships was not to be found. The era of accountability has created an assembly line approach to schooling. It seems to almost eliminate the human element. 



But the truth is the human element is everything in education and in most every profession. Once you have achieved a measure of expertise in polishing your craft, you become a game-changer only through your interaction with each child. Your emotional labor is what makes you able to do your job unlike anyone else on the planet. And if your school collectively does it’s emotional labor better than anyone else, it will indeed be world class. And I’m betting your test scores will improve as an added bonus.



Question: How do you view the role of emotional labor in your classroom and school? Is it a measure of success? I want to hear from you. Leave a comment below or respond on Facebook or Twitter.

Read More 5 Reasons to Look Beyond Test Scores as the Measure of School Success





Are you beating the state average? The teacher down the hall? The school down the road? How about the Fins or the Singaporeans? How do your scores measure up? Is your school keeping up with the Joneses?



Lately, I’ve seen lots of comparisons of achievement data. Including the PISA international benchmark results that were just released. Once again, U.S. scores were not stellar in comparison to some of the best test takers in the world.



While reading Linchpin by Seth Godin, I was challenged to think about how we define success. And where we spend our energy to develop world class schools. Godin illustrates how difficult it is to be the best by any statistical comparison.

❝Donald Bradman was an Australian cricket player. He was also the best athlete who ever lived. By any statistical measure, he was comparatively the best at what he did. He was far better at cricket than Michael Jordan was at basketball or Jack Nicklaus was at golf.

It’s very difficult to be as good as Donald Bradman. In fact, it’s impossible. Here’s a chart of Bradman’s batting average compared with the other all-time cricket leaders. 

Bradman’s Test batting average was 99.94. In cricket, a player’s batting average is the

total number of runs scored by the number of times they have been out.



Everyone else is quite grouped near sixty. Bradman was in a league of his own, not even close to the others. 

The challenge of becoming a linchpin solely based on your skill at plying a craft or doing a task or playing a sport is that the market can find other people with the skill with surprising ease. Plenty of people can play the flute as well as you can, clean a house as well as you can, program in Python as well as you can. If all you can do is the task and you’re not in a league of your own at doing the task, you’re not indispensable. 

Statistics are a dangerous deal, because statistics make it strikingly clear that you’re only a little better than the other guy. Or perhaps not better at all.

When you start down the path of beating the competition based on something that can be easily measured, you’re betting that with practice and determination, you can do better than Len Hutton or Jack Hobbs did at cricket. Not a little better, but Don Bradman better.

And you can’t. 



And this demonstrates the problem with measuring school performance based on standardized tests. To clarify…



1. Someone is always statistically better. 



You cannot be the best just on your effort or the effort of the students in your classroom or school. You cannot measure up. Even your best will not be enough. There will always be a Don Bradman. So when we accept this measure as judge and jury of our effectiveness, we are setting ourselves up for frustration and inadequacy.



2. More achievement is not always better.



A recent article about the learning culture in Singapore shows just how unhealthy a culture of over-achievement can be. Even in our own schools, we should not celebrate unhealthy attitudes toward achievement. How many ulcers, headaches, and mental health issues are a result of students, and educators, who are placing too much emphasis on achievement results? Being an effective human being involves a healthy attitude toward achievement, not high achievement no matter what it takes.



3. What can be measured doesn’t always count the most.



And what counts the most can’t always be measured. There are so many things about being an effective learner, a well-educated person beyond test scores. In fact, there are many people in our communities who are incredibly successful and lifelong learners, but who did not excel as test takers. Their success is attributable to many intangibles that cannot be easily measured. As Godin points out, “The easier it is to quantify the less it’s worth.” The most valuable things are often hard to measure.








4. High test scores are not a vision for learning.



When raising test scores becomes a chief aim of a school or district, it can easily become the vision of the school. And raising test scores is not a vision for learning. This approach marginalizes the individual and their learning needs in favor of data objectives that may not even be meaningful to the individual. In a sense, it dehumanizes learning. A vision for learning should always focus on the individual learner and create a culture that helps each student reach his or her goals. 



5. A school’s identity should not be contingent on achievement.



The identity of a school, or individual, should not be contingent on achievement. It should be comprised of the way the school seeks to fulfill its mission. We should seek to have a high level of commitment, collaboration, and care. We should strive to help our students achieve, but also to fully engage, to be more excited about learning, to gain hope, to learn more about who they are, and to fulfill their potential in the broadest sense. We control our identity, but we can’t always control our scores. Any teacher knows this, but sometimes we do our best work with students who DO NOT demonstrate achievement on tests.



So what’s the alternative to playing the test score game? Godin suggests using emotional labor to make yourself indispensable. I think this principle can be applied to schools, too. The idea is to focus energy on connecting, supporting, reaching out, lifting up, and offering hope better than anyone else. It is always teaching students first, then curriculum.



Even though many educators realize how important emotional labor is, it is rarely included in strategic plans, teacher evaluations, or educator standards. It is not considered a strategic advantage. In my review of my state’s principal standards, the word data was found 15 times. By contrast, the word relationships was not to be found. The era of accountability has created an assembly line approach to schooling. It seems to almost eliminate the human element. 



But the truth is the human element is everything in education and in most every profession. Once you have achieved a measure of expertise in polishing your craft, you become a game-changer only through your interaction with each child. Your emotional labor is what makes you able to do your job unlike anyone else on the planet. And if your school collectively does it’s emotional labor better than anyone else, it will indeed be world class. And I’m betting your test scores will improve as an added bonus.



Question: How do you view the role of emotional labor in your classroom and school? Is it a measure of success? I want to hear from you. Leave a comment below or respond on Facebook or Twitter.

Read More 5 Reasons to Look Beyond Test Scores as the Measure of School Success

Grading as a Kind of Manipulation



Earlier this summer I did something I vowed never to do again. I fell for a deal with a cash-back rebate. You know, the kind where you follow a complicated set of instructions and then mail-in all the required papers and hope it pays off. If you’re lucky, you’ll get your rebate check back in the mail in a few weeks.

I’m not sure why I fell for this again. I guess I thought the deal was just too good to pass up. After the rebate, the synthetic motor oil was going to be a great buy. And I didn’t even need it right away. I had just changed the oil in the vehicle I planned to use it in.

But in spite of my best intentions, I failed to ever claim my rebate. I kept the receipt. I had the bar-code and the rebate form. I was good to go. But then I got distracted. I forgot about the rebate for awhile. And when I thought to finish the process, I couldn’t find the receipt anymore. Game over.

Now I am just a resentful consumer. I’m irritated with myself for breaking my promise to never try for these offers. And, I’m irritated with the brand for manipulating me with a rebate offer they know many customers won’t complete. They count on it. They are manipulating customers to buy knowing many consumers won’t ever complete the rebate process successfully.

But it’s so frustrating, and it’s not customer-focused. If they really wanted to give me a great deal, they’d just give me the $10 off, without all the hoops. They don’t actually want me to be successful. They want me to fail.

You’ve probably been frustrated by a rebate offer too. I think most people have. But not getting my $10 bucks is not the end of the world. But when similar tactics are used in the classroom, it undermines the foundation of learning.

The Problem With Points and Grades

In schools, the currency is not dollars and cents, it’s points. And for a student, the more points you earn the better grade you get in the class. Students start learning this at a very young age, as soon as grades matter to them and their parents.

The points themselves are not the problem. The problem is how the points are used. Students learn to see the points as part of a transactional system, the game of school. The goal is to earn points. We have used the system to the extent that many students have forgotten how to learn just for the sake of learning. The first question students ask in many classrooms after an assignment is given is, “How many points is this worth?”

Clearly, classrooms and schools aren’t offering cash-back rebates, although I’m guessing students might say it was great if we did! But when we further a grading system that is transactional, in essence, we are using sticks and carrots to manipulate behaviors and results. It’s very similar to what companies do when they use rebates.

Just like the rebate is used to manipulate, points can be used to manipulate, too. Teachers have used the power of points for all sorts of reasons. To get students to participate, to show up on time, to choose right answers, and even to bring boxes of Kleenex.



Students are even sorted and ranked according to how well they play the game and earn points. I’m not a fan of sorting or ranking when it comes to learning. But this is especially concerning since earning points is often more about compliance and selecting right answers than showing good thinking or solving problems creatively.


In the current system, teachers even communicate the importance of an assignment by how many points it’s worth. “The test tomorrow is worth 100 points so you better study tonight.”



It’s well-intentioned manipulation. And when used on rare occasions it might be helpful. Teachers are always trying to influence student behaviors and decisions. And for good reason. We will do just about anything to motivate students to learn. But as soon as sticks and carrots become routine in the classroom, students come to expect them all the time.








Point Chasing Never Empowers Students As Learners


The problem with transactional systems is they only change behavior for a moment. They never last. In fact, they work against most some of the most valuable things we want students to gain from school. They rob empowerment. They steal intrinsic motivation. And they even undermine relationships. 



Some students get so frustrated with the points game, they just quit caring. They refuse to play along and choose not to care about how the teacher or the school ‘grades’ them. And it’s not just the kids who are ‘at-risk’ or ‘underprivileged’ who tend to reject this system. Often some of the most intelligent and creative students see through this artificial construct and pull back from learning in school.

Some of these same students have passions outside of school they pursue as self-motivated learners. They pour themselves into hobbies, interests, and causes. They will read online for hours, they will create art or practice an instrument, or they will share ideas on message boards or through social media on all types of important topics.

We do our students a disservice when we don’t empower them as learners at school too. If students leave school less excited about learning than when they entered, we have failed them.



Learning Isn’t About Transactions Between Students and Teachers


We don’t have to use transactional systems in classrooms and schools.



Some companies choose not to use rebates. They let their product or service stand on its own merits. They communicate the value of their products with a compelling message of why they are helpful and beneficial to us. And because we believe in their product, we are willing to pay full price.

Likewise, classrooms and schools offer something extremely valuable to their end-users. What could be more valuable or more helpful than learning, for the sake of learning? But we have to remind our students of the wonder and awe of learning. We have to package it in ways that are interesting and attractive. This is especially true when they have come to view learning as part of a system of compliance to ultimately earn a grade.

Cash back rebates don’t build loyalty with consumers, whether they ultimately receive the rebate or not. And a school culture driven by points and grades won’t build loyalty with students either. It won’t transform students into self-motivated learners. Only empowerment and authentic learning experiences will do that.



Question: How do you empower your students and avoid the compliance-driven classroom? I want to hear from you. Leave a comment below or respond on Facebook or Twitter

Read More Does Your Classroom Offer Cash-Back Rebates?

Grading as a Kind of Manipulation



Earlier this summer I did something I vowed never to do again. I fell for a deal with a cash-back rebate. You know, the kind where you follow a complicated set of instructions and then mail-in all the required papers and hope it pays off. If you’re lucky, you’ll get your rebate check back in the mail in a few weeks.

I’m not sure why I fell for this again. I guess I thought the deal was just too good to pass up. After the rebate, the synthetic motor oil was going to be a great buy. And I didn’t even need it right away. I had just changed the oil in the vehicle I planned to use it in.

But in spite of my best intentions, I failed to ever claim my rebate. I kept the receipt. I had the bar-code and the rebate form. I was good to go. But then I got distracted. I forgot about the rebate for awhile. And when I thought to finish the process, I couldn’t find the receipt anymore. Game over.

Now I am just a resentful consumer. I’m irritated with myself for breaking my promise to never try for these offers. And, I’m irritated with the brand for manipulating me with a rebate offer they know many customers won’t complete. They count on it. They are manipulating customers to buy knowing many consumers won’t ever complete the rebate process successfully.

But it’s so frustrating, and it’s not customer-focused. If they really wanted to give me a great deal, they’d just give me the $10 off, without all the hoops. They don’t actually want me to be successful. They want me to fail.

You’ve probably been frustrated by a rebate offer too. I think most people have. But not getting my $10 bucks is not the end of the world. But when similar tactics are used in the classroom, it undermines the foundation of learning.

The Problem With Points and Grades

In schools, the currency is not dollars and cents, it’s points. And for a student, the more points you earn the better grade you get in the class. Students start learning this at a very young age, as soon as grades matter to them and their parents.

The points themselves are not the problem. The problem is how the points are used. Students learn to see the points as part of a transactional system, the game of school. The goal is to earn points. We have used the system to the extent that many students have forgotten how to learn just for the sake of learning. The first question students ask in many classrooms after an assignment is given is, “How many points is this worth?”

Clearly, classrooms and schools aren’t offering cash-back rebates, although I’m guessing students might say it was great if we did! But when we further a grading system that is transactional, in essence, we are using sticks and carrots to manipulate behaviors and results. It’s very similar to what companies do when they use rebates.

Just like the rebate is used to manipulate, points can be used to manipulate, too. Teachers have used the power of points for all sorts of reasons. To get students to participate, to show up on time, to choose right answers, and even to bring boxes of Kleenex.



Students are even sorted and ranked according to how well they play the game and earn points. I’m not a fan of sorting or ranking when it comes to learning. But this is especially concerning since earning points is often more about compliance and selecting right answers than showing good thinking or solving problems creatively.


In the current system, teachers even communicate the importance of an assignment by how many points it’s worth. “The test tomorrow is worth 100 points so you better study tonight.”



It’s well-intentioned manipulation. And when used on rare occasions it might be helpful. Teachers are always trying to influence student behaviors and decisions. And for good reason. We will do just about anything to motivate students to learn. But as soon as sticks and carrots become routine in the classroom, students come to expect them all the time.








Point Chasing Never Empowers Students As Learners


The problem with transactional systems is they only change behavior for a moment. They never last. In fact, they work against most some of the most valuable things we want students to gain from school. They rob empowerment. They steal intrinsic motivation. And they even undermine relationships. 



Some students get so frustrated with the points game, they just quit caring. They refuse to play along and choose not to care about how the teacher or the school ‘grades’ them. And it’s not just the kids who are ‘at-risk’ or ‘underprivileged’ who tend to reject this system. Often some of the most intelligent and creative students see through this artificial construct and pull back from learning in school.

Some of these same students have passions outside of school they pursue as self-motivated learners. They pour themselves into hobbies, interests, and causes. They will read online for hours, they will create art or practice an instrument, or they will share ideas on message boards or through social media on all types of important topics.

We do our students a disservice when we don’t empower them as learners at school too. If students leave school less excited about learning than when they entered, we have failed them.



Learning Isn’t About Transactions Between Students and Teachers


We don’t have to use transactional systems in classrooms and schools.



Some companies choose not to use rebates. They let their product or service stand on its own merits. They communicate the value of their products with a compelling message of why they are helpful and beneficial to us. And because we believe in their product, we are willing to pay full price.

Likewise, classrooms and schools offer something extremely valuable to their end-users. What could be more valuable or more helpful than learning, for the sake of learning? But we have to remind our students of the wonder and awe of learning. We have to package it in ways that are interesting and attractive. This is especially true when they have come to view learning as part of a system of compliance to ultimately earn a grade.

Cash back rebates don’t build loyalty with consumers, whether they ultimately receive the rebate or not. And a school culture driven by points and grades won’t build loyalty with students either. It won’t transform students into self-motivated learners. Only empowerment and authentic learning experiences will do that.



Question: How do you empower your students and avoid the compliance-driven classroom? I want to hear from you. Leave a comment below or respond on Facebook or Twitter

Read More Does Your Classroom Offer Cash-Back Rebates?



A recent article came across my feed that caught my attention, Why High Schools Are Getting Rid of Valedictorians. It was especially timely since I’d just had a conversation about this topic with a principal from another school in our area. He was interested to know if we still recognized valedictorian or not. We do not. In fact, we haven’t had a valedictorian since before I arrived on the scene 8 years ago. I’m not sure how long that decision had been in place before my arrival.




Why High Schools Are Getting Rid of Valedictorians

According to a recent article in The Washington Post, American students today are unmotivated and apathetic about their schoolwork, and teachers actually care more about students’ grades than the student. Teachers are expected to make lessons more engaging and fun, and to serve more like entertainers than old-fashioned teachers.



The author of the article contends that schools are ending the valedictorian award “because it might make others feel badly about their GPAs.” According the article, this decision is just more evidence that schools are lowering expectations. The author seems to draw connections between elimination of valedictorian and student apathy, mediocrity, and even the performance of the United States education system in international rankings. Those are sweeping generalizations with very little evidence to support the claims.



In truth, the school leaders I’ve spoken with have very different reasons for dumping valedictorian than those presented in the article. Valedictorian recognizes the top student in the class based on GPA. However, GPAs are a terrible way to determine one student as being the best. Often, the difference between the top few students can be less than one-thousandth of a decimal point. And the factors that determine that difference usually have more to do with what classes the students did or did not take than actual academic performance. 



For example, we had a student a few years ago who was a National Merit Scholar finalist and had perfect grades in high school. That’s right, straight A’s. However, his class rank was not even in the top 3 or 4 of his graduating class. How can that be? Well, he was an all-state musician and took multiple music classes every semester. These classes are not weighted in the GPA. Fortunately, he didn’t play the GPA game to be the “top of his class” or we would have missed his outstanding musical contributions in our school.



And it is a mathematical game. I could go on with more examples of how the system can be manipulated and often results in students taking classes strategically to have the highest GPA instead of taking classes because they are beneficial to their own future aspirations.



So the decision to get rid of valedictorian has nothing to do with lowering expectations or protecting other students’ feelings. In place of valedictorian, our school honors the highest performing students with a cum laude system, so students who earn above a certain GPA are recognized for their academic achievements. Our students wear medallions at graduation to note this distinction.



Moreover, we no longer provide information to students on class rank. It’s no longer on the grade card or the official transcript. We only provide the class rank information if it’s needed specifically for scholarship purposes.



And that decision is based on a purpose larger than the fairness of the GPA system. We want to encourage students to learn from mistakes, explore a variety of interests, and become better people as a result of their schooling. The GPA system does not reward growth or risk-taking. It rewards perfection and right answers. Stanford Professor Carol Dweck’s research on growth mindset is clear that labeling performance is not healthy for improving performance. Instead, the focus should remain on effort, improvement, and dealing with setbacks. 



Students cannot always control the results or outcomes in life, but they can always control their effort and their attitude. The loss of valedictorian isn’t harmful for motivation or performance. However, labeling students can be harmful for motivation and hurtful to healthy attitudes about learning. One mom shared how the pursuit of valedictorian was not beneficial to her perfectionist daughter.




The trouble with high school valedictorian awards – The Boston Globe

When educators talk about why their high schools have given up the award, they note the negative message it sends to the kids who lose by a fraction of a point, or the kids who are never in the competition. I am here to argue that it’s not even necessarily good for the valedictorian.



The pro-valedictorian author seems to imply that the valedictorian award is important as a celebration and reinforcement of achievement. But is a simple GPA formula appropriate to determine who is achieving the most?



Consider the student who is a victim of abuse, practically raises younger siblings, serves as designated driver for dad, and still manages to make B’s and C’s in school while holding down a part-time job. Anyone want to question this student’s merits as “high-achieving?” Again, effort and attitude are hard to quantify, but there are lots of students overcoming incredible odds to succeed in school. These inspiring students deserve to be recognized too.



That’s why schools should focus more on effort, enthusiasm, and attitudes. Rewarding only the highest achieving students won’t improve apathy in schools.



Question: What are you thoughts on schools ending the valedictorian honor? How does your school handle recognizing student achievement? I would like your feedback. Leave a comment below or respond on Twitter or Facebook.

      

Read More Why High Schools Are Getting Rid of Valedictorians (Response)



A recent article came across my feed that caught my attention, Why High Schools Are Getting Rid of Valedictorians. It was especially timely since I’d just had a conversation about this topic with a principal from another school in our area. He was interested to know if we still recognized valedictorian or not. We do not. In fact, we haven’t had a valedictorian since before I arrived on the scene 8 years ago. I’m not sure how long that decision had been in place before my arrival.




Why High Schools Are Getting Rid of Valedictorians

According to a recent article in The Washington Post, American students today are unmotivated and apathetic about their schoolwork, and teachers actually care more about students’ grades than the student. Teachers are expected to make lessons more engaging and fun, and to serve more like entertainers than old-fashioned teachers.



The author of the article contends that schools are ending the valedictorian award “because it might make others feel badly about their GPAs.” According the article, this decision is just more evidence that schools are lowering expectations. The author seems to draw connections between elimination of valedictorian and student apathy, mediocrity, and even the performance of the United States education system in international rankings. Those are sweeping generalizations with very little evidence to support the claims.



In truth, the school leaders I’ve spoken with have very different reasons for dumping valedictorian than those presented in the article. Valedictorian recognizes the top student in the class based on GPA. However, GPAs are a terrible way to determine one student as being the best. Often, the difference between the top few students can be less than one-thousandth of a decimal point. And the factors that determine that difference usually have more to do with what classes the students did or did not take than actual academic performance. 



For example, we had a student a few years ago who was a National Merit Scholar finalist and had perfect grades in high school. That’s right, straight A’s. However, his class rank was not even in the top 3 or 4 of his graduating class. How can that be? Well, he was an all-state musician and took multiple music classes every semester. These classes are not weighted in the GPA. Fortunately, he didn’t play the GPA game to be the “top of his class” or we would have missed his outstanding musical contributions in our school.



And it is a mathematical game. I could go on with more examples of how the system can be manipulated and often results in students taking classes strategically to have the highest GPA instead of taking classes because they are beneficial to their own future aspirations.



So the decision to get rid of valedictorian has nothing to do with lowering expectations or protecting other students’ feelings. In place of valedictorian, our school honors the highest performing students with a cum laude system, so students who earn above a certain GPA are recognized for their academic achievements. Our students wear medallions at graduation to note this distinction.



Moreover, we no longer provide information to students on class rank. It’s no longer on the grade card or the official transcript. We only provide the class rank information if it’s needed specifically for scholarship purposes.



And that decision is based on a purpose larger than the fairness of the GPA system. We want to encourage students to learn from mistakes, explore a variety of interests, and become better people as a result of their schooling. The GPA system does not reward growth or risk-taking. It rewards perfection and right answers. Stanford Professor Carol Dweck’s research on growth mindset is clear that labeling performance is not healthy for improving performance. Instead, the focus should remain on effort, improvement, and dealing with setbacks. 



Students cannot always control the results or outcomes in life, but they can always control their effort and their attitude. The loss of valedictorian isn’t harmful for motivation or performance. However, labeling students can be harmful for motivation and hurtful to healthy attitudes about learning. One mom shared how the pursuit of valedictorian was not beneficial to her perfectionist daughter.




The trouble with high school valedictorian awards – The Boston Globe

When educators talk about why their high schools have given up the award, they note the negative message it sends to the kids who lose by a fraction of a point, or the kids who are never in the competition. I am here to argue that it’s not even necessarily good for the valedictorian.



The pro-valedictorian author seems to imply that the valedictorian award is important as a celebration and reinforcement of achievement. But is a simple GPA formula appropriate to determine who is achieving the most?



Consider the student who is a victim of abuse, practically raises younger siblings, serves as designated driver for dad, and still manages to make B’s and C’s in school while holding down a part-time job. Anyone want to question this student’s merits as “high-achieving?” Again, effort and attitude are hard to quantify, but there are lots of students overcoming incredible odds to succeed in school. These inspiring students deserve to be recognized too.



That’s why schools should focus more on effort, enthusiasm, and attitudes. Rewarding only the highest achieving students won’t improve apathy in schools.



Question: What are you thoughts on schools ending the valedictorian honor? How does your school handle recognizing student achievement? I would like your feedback. Leave a comment below or respond on Twitter or Facebook.

      

Read More Why High Schools Are Getting Rid of Valedictorians (Response)





I’ve been reading Good to Great by Jim Collins. It’s one of the top business books ever, but it has so much to offer for educators and really for everyone. The principles apply to life in a variety of ways.



In the book, Collins shares the story of Merck, the pharmaceutical giant. At one point in its history, the company gave away millions of doses of a drug that cured river blindness. The disease was caused by a parasitic worm that ultimately caused blindness in victims. 



The point of the story was that Merck didn’t profit from distributing the drug charitably to remote places like the Amazon. Collins shared the story to illustrate that Merck had established a purpose for the company beyond profits.



Back in 1950, George Merck, son of the founder, explained the company’s philosophy:

We try to remember that medicine is for the patient…It is not for the profits. The profits follow, and if we have remembered that, they have never failed to appear. The better we have remembered it, the larger they have been.

Collins described how the great companies they studied all shared a commitment to core values aside from the desired end resultprofits. The companies all had different core values, but they were consistent in building these into the organization and preserving these values over time.



So how does this apply to schools? In recent years, schools have felt immense pressure to produce ever increasing standardized test scores. It seems that schools were being defined almost exclusively by how well students were doing on achievement tests. 



As a result, many schools lost sight of developing core values other than creating higher test scores. But raising test scores is not a vision for learning. It is not at the heart of what a school is or should be. We have, to an extent, created an identity crisis in education by allowing too much of our value to be defined by high stakes standardized tests.



But the purpose of my post is not to rail against standardized tests. In more recent days, it seems that policy makers have taken small steps to reduce the amount of testing and its exclusive role in defining successful schools. That’s all good news.



But what are we doing to establish core values in our schools? Every school has a mission statement, and most of them are quite alike. But do the mission statements really reflect the culture of your organization? What is it you want your school to do better than anyone else? What are your core values?



I’ve adapted the words of George Merck to education. It’s a brief statement about some of my core beliefs.

We try to remember that our school is about learning, and for the students. It’s about creating better opportunities. It’s about building on strengths and ultimately building stronger people. It is not about higher test scores. However, if we create a future-driven, learner-centered school, higher test scores will likely follow. But if we focus on test scores, we miss the mark badly and will likely fail many of our students.

I would like to see schools think deeply about the outcomes they are seeking for their students. I would like to see students, parents, business leaders, and higher education have a voice in the discussion. What do we really want for our bottom line? It’s obviously not profits. And it’s not standardized test scores either.



Every community has different needs and every school has different strengths, so I think finding a purpose and establishing core values should be closely tied to the individual school. But instead of focusing on outcomes like graduation rate, test scores, or attendance, maybe some schools would adopt one or more of these core values?



What if a school chose to make ending poverty a reality in its community?



What if a school’s purpose was to find a cure for cancer? Or solve some other pressing problem plaguing humanity.



What if a school’s purpose was to make learning as customized and personal as possible for students?



What if a core value was to make learning as creative as possible?



What if a core value was to construct learning on a foundation of each student’s passions?



What if a school involved students as co-creators of their own learning?



Those are just a few ideas. I think the possibilities are endless. Instead of the same old mission statements, wouldn’t it be great to see schools finding a unique mission to drive action and really make a difference in the lives of their students and in the world outside of the school?



Question: What are the core values you would want your school to embrace? What can your school do better than anyone else? I would love to hear from you. Leave a comment below or share on Twitter or Facebook.

      

Read More Our Mission is Not Higher Test Scores





I’ve been reading Good to Great by Jim Collins. It’s one of the top business books ever, but it has so much to offer for educators and really for everyone. The principles apply to life in a variety of ways.



In the book, Collins shares the story of Merck, the pharmaceutical giant. At one point in its history, the company gave away millions of doses of a drug that cured river blindness. The disease was caused by a parasitic worm that ultimately caused blindness in victims. 



The point of the story was that Merck didn’t profit from distributing the drug charitably to remote places like the Amazon. Collins shared the story to illustrate that Merck had established a purpose for the company beyond profits.



Back in 1950, George Merck, son of the founder, explained the company’s philosophy:

We try to remember that medicine is for the patient…It is not for the profits. The profits follow, and if we have remembered that, they have never failed to appear. The better we have remembered it, the larger they have been.

Collins described how the great companies they studied all shared a commitment to core values aside from the desired end resultprofits. The companies all had different core values, but they were consistent in building these into the organization and preserving these values over time.



So how does this apply to schools? In recent years, schools have felt immense pressure to produce ever increasing standardized test scores. It seems that schools were being defined almost exclusively by how well students were doing on achievement tests. 



As a result, many schools lost sight of developing core values other than creating higher test scores. But raising test scores is not a vision for learning. It is not at the heart of what a school is or should be. We have, to an extent, created an identity crisis in education by allowing too much of our value to be defined by high stakes standardized tests.



But the purpose of my post is not to rail against standardized tests. In more recent days, it seems that policy makers have taken small steps to reduce the amount of testing and its exclusive role in defining successful schools. That’s all good news.



But what are we doing to establish core values in our schools? Every school has a mission statement, and most of them are quite alike. But do the mission statements really reflect the culture of your organization? What is it you want your school to do better than anyone else? What are your core values?



I’ve adapted the words of George Merck to education. It’s a brief statement about some of my core beliefs.

We try to remember that our school is about learning, and for the students. It’s about creating better opportunities. It’s about building on strengths and ultimately building stronger people. It is not about higher test scores. However, if we create a future-driven, learner-centered school, higher test scores will likely follow. But if we focus on test scores, we miss the mark badly and will likely fail many of our students.

I would like to see schools think deeply about the outcomes they are seeking for their students. I would like to see students, parents, business leaders, and higher education have a voice in the discussion. What do we really want for our bottom line? It’s obviously not profits. And it’s not standardized test scores either.



Every community has different needs and every school has different strengths, so I think finding a purpose and establishing core values should be closely tied to the individual school. But instead of focusing on outcomes like graduation rate, test scores, or attendance, maybe some schools would adopt one or more of these core values?



What if a school chose to make ending poverty a reality in its community?



What if a school’s purpose was to find a cure for cancer? Or solve some other pressing problem plaguing humanity.



What if a school’s purpose was to make learning as customized and personal as possible for students?



What if a core value was to make learning as creative as possible?



What if a core value was to construct learning on a foundation of each student’s passions?



What if a school involved students as co-creators of their own learning?



Those are just a few ideas. I think the possibilities are endless. Instead of the same old mission statements, wouldn’t it be great to see schools finding a unique mission to drive action and really make a difference in the lives of their students and in the world outside of the school?



Question: What are the core values you would want your school to embrace? What can your school do better than anyone else? I would love to hear from you. Leave a comment below or share on Twitter or Facebook.

      

Read More Our Mission is Not Higher Test Scores

[Version I: Just the Manifesto] My Open Educator Manifesto ‘We’ educate future citizens of the world Teaching is my professional practice I Share by default I am Open, Transparent, Collaborative,…

Read More Open Educator Manifesto