We are “The System”

Throughout my career I have been privy to a number of conversations, debates, and discussions amongst educators on various educational initiatives and approaches.  During these discussions I have heard people refer to “The System” or “The District” in ways such as, “The System needs to change” or “The District ought to do something about that!”  It’s as though “The System” is some separate entity that we are distant from. What we need to realize is that WE ARE THE SYSTEM and if something needs changing or something needs to be done, WE need to be first-in-line to act.

Now some of the changes that you deem necessary will be within your circle of influence.  As such, you will likely be able to make these changes rather quickly in order for you to grow and become the kind of professional that you want to become.  In other situations we see that changes are needed but we don’t hold a position that puts us inside that particular circle of influence.  For example, you might identify something within the district that needs to change from a practice or policy perspective, however, not having a position at Central Office may lead you to believe that there is nothing you can do or that your opinion doesn’t matter.  For me, this is far too passive and emphasizes position rather than influence. Leadership is about influence, not title, and anyone can make that happen and everything is within our circle of concern.  Stephen Covey once wrote:

I am personally convinced that one person can be a change catalyst, a transformer.  It requires vision, initiative, patience, respect, persistence, courage, and faith to be a transforming leader.”

If we don’t hold a position of authority or a potential change is outside our circle of responsibility then we need to bring the message to those that do and make it loud and clear what it is we believe is necessary for our organization to grow.

While doing so, it is also important to bring that message of change to those who need to hear it in a way that is respectfully grounded in ideas that are sound and supported.  Using sensational language, putting people on the defensive, or attacking people personally (rather than focusing on ideas) will only serve to create more challenges and roadblocks along the way.

You are the system, you can make a difference, and you could be the reason why your classroom, school, district, or even province/state changes forever. Don’t sit back and wait for others to do what you know needs to happen. The time is now and the person is YOU!

Inspired by Anna

This is Anna.  My family and I met Anna during our 10 day trip to Vietnam this past August.  We were in Vietnam as part of a working vacation.  I had conducted a 2-day workshop for the East Asia Regional Council of Schools (EARCOS) and also worked specifically with the Saigon South International School.  After four days in Ho Chi Minh City we flew up to the resort town of Hoi An to fully immerse ourselves in the vacation part of this trip…it was in Hoi An where we met Anna.

Anna lives at the Hoi An Orphanage.  We had decided long before our departure that we were going to visit this orphanage as part of our trip.  We brought an oversized duffel bag full of clothing, toys, and other needed items to donate to the children. Many (but not all) of the children at the orphanage have special needs; others are even bed-ridden with permanent illnesses that, for some, stemmed from the residuals of Agent Orange.  Visiting an orphanage like this is a humbling experience for anyone, but we felt it was important for our kids (14 & 11) to see how these children lived and, obviously, to gain some perspective and appreciation for the life we enjoy in Canada.  What was clear to us the minute we walked into the orphanage was there was an abundance of love surrounding these children by a staff that was so caring and dedicated to making the children’s lives as comfortable as possible.  We did not know we would meet someone like Anna and I didn’t know she would become my role model and inspiration to become the best version of ‘me’ I could be.

What I learned most from Anna is that happiness is a choice; that no matter what our circumstance, we have a fundamental choice each day whether to be happy or not.  If anyone had an excuse to be sad or withdrawn it was Anna.  While it may be true that her age and naivety keeps her from fully understanding her circumstance, I can tell you that there was something special about this young girl…she was unlike any of the other children. There is a spirit within Anna that is unmistakable and an energy that was infectious.  You knew when she was in the room; at times it felt like she was running the place! Being around Anna made you smile, even if she was interacting with other adults or children.  You wanted to be around her, talk to her, play with her – she was a magnet…she was happy!

I want to live in the moment like Anna.  I want to continue to choose to be happy & positive no matter what life brings my way.  I want to choose to be grateful for what my life is.  That doesn’t mean I/we don’t have goals and shouldn’t strive for more (whatever more means to you).  It means that while we are striving and learning and growing we should be grateful for what we have, are, or do now.  Happiness is a mindset that will never be fully realized by the next promotion, raise, relationship, or circumstance. There is always more – more money, better vehicles, nicer homes, a new job – but the happiness that comes of these things is only temporary.  Remember how happy you were when you finally got your first permanent teaching contract or full-time job? At the time you may have even thought “If I could only get a permanent contract then I’d be happy.”  Are you still that happy or has the target moved?

When happiness comes from within I think we see the world differently.  It’s not as though we aren’t going to experience difficulties, set-backs and/or losses – we all will.  However, our chosen happiness will allow us to make the best of any circumstance.  We get out of life what we are since life is always about our perspective.  If we are continually feeling unhappy and negative then that will be our experience since you can always find something ‘wrong’ with just about anything.  Choose to be happy, positive, and inspired on the inside first and the world will change its color; it will become exactly what you want it to become because that’s how you see it.

Thank-you Anna for being my inspiration and for reminding me that happiness is a decision, not an outcome.

Over-Prepare ‘Em

Although many schools/districts have had students in session for a while now, this week, for many, marks the second week of school. As such, it is likely that many of you are preparing your students for their first summative assessment/moment in your class (maybe it’s already happened).  Back in January – in my first blog post no less – I wrote that “It’s all about Confidence.”  While a new school year can provide many students with the opportunity to re-invent themselves and fix what (in their minds) needs fixing, there is an unparalleled opportunity to build student confidence through success on the first summative assessment.

This is not a debate about the merits of summative assessments; this about the realization that many of you will be using some form of summative assessment to determine whether or not your students have reached the intended learning goals. Therefore, if you want students to have a positive emotional response (feeling confident) to the prospect of being assessed, over-prepare your students to the point where success is almost guaranteed.

Two things that over-preparing doesn’t mean: It doesn’t mean you give it away nor does it mean dumb-it-down. In either situation students will quickly recognize that the summative moment is atypical and does not represent their usual experience in school/your class, thereby rendering the assessment results meaningless.  Over-preparing means we provide the maximum amount of learning and support to ensure that they are ready for that first authentic summative moment.  This will maximize their success and likely result in many students “out-performing” themselves – which leads to increased confidence that this year might be different and that success (or even greater success) is possible!  As a reminder, here is one of my favorite quotes from the book Confidence by Rosabeth Moss Kanter:

The expectation about the likelihood of eventual success determines the amount of effort people are willing to put in. Those who are convinced they can be successful – who have ‘self-efficacy’ – are likely to try harder and to persist longer when they face obstacles. (pg. 39)

Now…imagine what might happen if we over-prepare ’em for every assessment?

Function over Format

In all of the discussion and debate regarding summative and formative assessments, there is one misunderstanding that seems to be revealing itself more and more.

Too often, the discussion regarding summative v. formative assessment seems to navigate toward a critique of certain assessment formats and their place in either the summative or formative camp.  For me, this is an irrelevant discussion and can distract us from developing balanced assessment systems that seek to match assessment methods most appropriately with the intended learning.  In short, an assessment’s format has little, if anything, to do with whether an assessment is formative or summative; what matters is its function.

To determine whether an assessment is formative or summative ask yourself this one simple question: Who is going to use the assessment results?

See, if you take those assessment results and use them to provide useful advice to students on how the quality of their work or learning can improve AND you don’t “count” them toward any type of report card or reporting process then they’re formative; even more formative if the students self-assessed and set their own learning goals.  If, however, you are determining how much progress a student has made as of a certain point in the learning AND are going to include the result in a cumulative report card or other reporting process then they’re summative.  Whether you convert and/or combine the results into another format (letter grade, etc.) is really not relevant.

In essence, if the assessment results from your classroom leave the classroom and inform others about how students are doing then you’ve got a summative assessment.  If the results stay within the classroom and are used for feedback, that’s formative.

Here’s the rub – every assessment format has the potential to be formative or summative since it has everything to do with the function (or purpose) of the assessment and nothing to do with format.

Now, I’m not here to suggest that a short/selected answer assessment is the deepest, most meaningful assessment format, however, in some cases a short/selected answer assessment can be the most efficient means by which a teacher might know whether his/her students have mastery over the key terminology in a science unit.  This demonstrated mastery will allow the teacher to feel more confident about moving on to more meaningful learning opportunities.  What the teacher does with the results will be the determining factor as to whether it was a formative or summative event.  If the results “count” then it was summative; if it doesn’t “count” then formative.  Summative and formative assessments begin with two very different purposes; knowing our purpose for assessing is the first key to developing high quality, accurate, and clear assessment information.

Anyway, the discussion/debate regarding what quality assessments look like is one for a future post. For now, know that every assessment format can be a viable option and it’s what happens with the results that matters the most.

Incidentally, for another recent and interesting take (one which I happen to agree with) on summative assessments, please check out Darcy Mullin’s post here.