Measuring or mattering?

A few weeks ago, I treated my husband to an evening of restorative yoga and Thai yoga massage. As we relaxed through two hours of hot stone therapy, deep massage and gentle yoga poses, one of the facilitators offered some possibilities to focus our thinking. One of them in particular has been rattling around in my brain since then. The question was “are you measuring or are you mattering?”

This question resonated with me particularly because of an experience I’d had earlier in the week. Mr 14 had come home with a challenging story. He had gotten to school one morning last week to find a crowd outside the office. He found his friends gathered around a listing of students who had achieved “honour roll” status with their first semester marks. “Okay”, I thought, “this was an alphabetical list of the kids who had achieved a pre-established standard. Not ideal, but not awful”.


Measuring, or mattering? A strange combination here. credit: flickr user Rafael Castillo, va cc

Except, as my son explained, it wasn’t what I pictured at all. Instead, it was a list of student names, with their averages listed, in numerical order. I have a fairly resilient kid, so he wasn’t particularly shamed by what was posted, but I also have an empathetic kid, who was looking at friends who were crying (or trying not to), and obviously struggling. One very talented child, who had achieved an average above 90, was repeating “it’s not good enough” to herself.


This is clearly a focus on measuring over mattering. The system in which these children are learning seems to value the grades they achieved over who they are as individuals, and felt that it was acceptable to post a list that would clearly identify who was “winning” and who was not. It made me think of Josh Hill’s amazing TEdXedu talk in Waterloo in the fall about how we define excellence:


The story does have an ending that gives me hope. My son has built enough of a relationship with the director of his program that he felt able to approach that teacher in the hall later that day, and express his concerns about the way the Honour Roll recipients had been published. He was not the only student to do so over the course of the day. When I bumped into the program director a few days later, he expressed his thanks that those students had felt able to address the issue with him. He talked about an “unexamined tradition” that will now be looked at with staff and student input moving forward. The staff and students, together, are beginning a journey from measuring to mattering.

It’s easy to get caught up in measuring – again, there’s that idea of expectations and “enough”. Is our house clean enough? Are we making enough money? Are we losing enough weight? Are we taking enough risks in our classrooms? Are the students in our class learning the material as well as those in the classroom down the hall? It’s often the default position in the world we live in – to compare ourselves to others. How do we shift the climate – for ourselves, our families, our students, our school communities – so that we look for ways to show others that they matter, that they have intrinsic value, no matter how they “measure up” to some imposed set of standards?

I would invite you, as a small step, to think of someone in your world who needs to hear today that they matter – a student, a teaching colleague, your administrator, a friend, your own child, your spouse.  Or maybe even, you. Take a moment and let that person know that they have value, that they are enough. Take a moment to matter.


Let the sparks fly.




8 thoughts on “Measuring or mattering?

  1. Hi my friend, and thanks for posting the link to Facebook. I know you’ve given up social media for Lent, but I can really use those reminders that something new is on your blog. (Congratulations on being included as a featured Blogger on the ECOO site, by the way!)

    You should be so proud of Mr. 14! How courageous of him to speak up, and how good of the admin to reconsider this practice.

    I’ve heard of the “you matter” movement from Angela Meier, I think, online. It IS so hard not to measure (even when we mean it in a positive way). Any tips on how to say someone matters without the measuring sneaking in?

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I think that you can always tell a person why they matter to you without measuring. For example, you matter to me because you listen, because your smile lights my world, because you have a relationship with your family that is much like mine, and you are willing to work at it. You make a difference in my life, just by being who you are.

    Liked by 1 person

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  5. This brings me back to high school (over 40 years ago). My grade 10 math teacher used to hand back tests in order from highest mark to lowest mark. I was usually somewhere in the top of the class but I remember feeling horrible for the kids who got their tests back near the end of the whole public process. I’m not sure if the teacher thought that this humiliation would motivate students to study harder but it probably had the opposite effect.
    Kudos to your son and the other students for finding a way to respectfully share their concerns and to the educators for listening to student voice.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks so much for the comment, Lisa. I had forgotten about that experience, which definitely happened to me as well. I was astonished a) that this happened; b) that my kid and others felt that they couldn’t just walk away; and c) that somebody was willing to listen and make a change. It gave me hope for a system that sometimes makes me want to have endless head-desk moments.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. When I was at Uni our degree results were posted on a noticeboard outside the admin office, in order from best to worst. I had to go and find out results for quite a few friends who were too scared to be seen, just in case they had not done well. When I got here to Glasgow it was worse – all of the degree results were posted up in the Cloisters (a public space). When the Uni eventually stopped doing this, some staff complained that a “great tradition” was being removed. Hmmm. Good for Mr 14.


    • Sarah:
      After I wrote the post, so many stories like this emerged. I had forgotten how much of a reality this used to be. At my university, you had to pass a bilingualism (French/English) test in order to graduate. Again, results were posted in a hallway at the university, in order of results. I remember being simultaneously thrilled that I’d passed, and mortified at being solidly middle of the pack. I am thrilled that we are starting to create communities of learners who will say “no, thank you, I choose not to be shamed”

      Liked by 1 person

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