Friday, May 24, 2019

Balancing Achievement and Agency


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.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

7 Questions to Reflect on Kindness


Kindness is more than being nice. It's great to do nice things for people, and that's certainly part of being kind. But true kindness goes deeper. It tests our character because it isn't always easy. Most everyone is kind to others when they feel like it, or when other people are nice to them.

But here are 7 questions that take it deeper. These might be good to discuss with your students or even with your colleagues. I know I need to consistently reflect on these to keep growing and developing my own kindness qualities.


1. Are you happy for others when they succeed?

True kindness doesn't envy the success of others. It's being happy for others and celebrating with them and for them. 

2. How do you treat people who can do nothing for you in return?

Some people are kind to gain status or favor or tangible rewards. But true kindness shows up strongest with selfless motives, expecting nothing in return.

3. How do you treat others in times of crisis?

When things are spiraling out of control, that tests how committed we are to kindness. Do you still treat people respectfully and with dignity even when it's a crisis?

4. Are you able to maintain respectful dialogue with someone who strongly disagrees with you?

Disagreement doesn't have to result in disrespect. We should be able to share different perspectives without feeling diminished or making others feel diminished.

5. When you make a mistake or act poorly, do you take full ownership? Do you apologize immediately and sincerely?

Kindness doesn't make excuses. If you make a mistake, admit it and do what you can to make it right.

6. Do you have positive beliefs about others? Do you look for the best in them? Do you believe the best about their intentions?

A person who is kind believes the best about others. It's being the type of person who can see the strengths in others, even when they're hard to see.

7. Are you able to forgive others for their mistakes? Are you able to forgive even if they don't apologize or admit their mistake?

Holding a grudge is definitely not a kindness quality. But sometimes it's hard if the other person doesn't apologize. But true kindness is tested by the hard stuff.

What are other ways you can think of to show kindness? Leave a comment or respond on Facebook or Twitter. It would be great to hear from you!

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