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”.
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.