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”.

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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.

 

 

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Inchworm, inchworm…

Here’s the 4th question for the #ossemooc #innovatorsmindset bloghop series. Thanks, as ever, to Tina Zita for the amazing visuals.

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As I let this question bounce around the inside of my brain this week, I was reminded of a song I used to sing to my kids when they were small:

The words that were sticking in my head were: “inchworm, inchworm, measuring the marigolds. Seems to me you’d stop and see how beautiful they are.” But when I went back and listened to the whole thing, I realized that the image of the inchworm, based in his numeric framework, cheerfully reciting his math facts that will probably help him “go far”, was also relevant.

We are, in many ways, caught in the inchworm’s dilemma.

As we begin to shift our practice, to take on the innovator’s traits, to ask our students to be co-learners with us, to genuinely question the status quo, we are still expected to come up with something quantifiable to show growth. Something that can go into a data portal, something that results in improvement on a standardized test, something that can have a numeric result assigned to it to go on a report card. Like the inchworm, that’s the existing language we have to work with, and, as classroom teachers, that’s the language that students and parents and administrators (and on, up the chain) understand and expect to see.

That puts us in a difficult spot, because it’s very difficult to quantify the fact that we’ve begun to look at the marigold’s colour, and where it prefers to grow, and what uses people made of it in the past, and the fact that it’s a native North American plant, and what it might bring to our schoolyard gardens and a whole bunch of other things we’ve found out by letting our students go deep with their learning, and show that learning in myriad different ways. Being able to convey the value of that learning, and the growth involved is going to take a lot of deep conversation and reframing for all of us. It’s not going to be easy, but things that are worth doing rarely are.

One of the biggest things I’m taking away from this book study is that we have to start that conversation – whether it’s having students record their thoughts (digitally or analog) after a learning cycle, and sharing those with parents and colleagues, or being brave enough to ask an administrator to let you try and go without numerical grades for a term and use ongoing descriptive feedback and discussion and metacognition/reflection instead. Otherwise, we stay locked in the inchworm’s limited mindset, trapped by the numbers. (As Alfie Kohn writes here)

This March break, I watched my younger son and his friends use a variety of technologies to communicate with each other, problem solve, and plan excursions.  This amazing group of 12 year olds troubleshot audio problems in a transcontinental Skype call; used a combination of Google Hangouts and texting to set up a detailed cross-city bus excursion involving multiple departure points and destinations; and worked through the bumps that inevitably come when people are taking public transit from all different points. They laughed a lot, helped each other through their frustration, and found and solved real-world problems. Exactly what we want for our students, and one way that we could measure the impact of innovative practice. Are these the skills we’re helping develop?

Inchworm, inchworm….

Other people’s thoughts:

Leigh Cassell

Donna Fry

Tina Zita

Mark Carbone

Amit Mehrotra

Stacey Wallwin

Jennifer Casa-Todd

Peter Cameron

Don’t forget you can add your thoughts to this discussion. Comment on a blog, join the Voxer group, chime in on Twitter, or post your own blog on the topic here: https://ossemooc.wordpress.com/

Let the sparks fly…