different is more than good

Guest post by Jillian DuBois, @JillDuBois22, previously published on her site Imparted Joy

most of my life has been making sure that everything in + out of my control was perfectly maintained and appearances kept up to standards that I believed were necessary for success.

the picture perfect wife, mom, daughter, colleague, employee, friend. that’s what i thought i needed to achieve in order to feel confident + accepted.

i actually lived in fear of being different.

up until just a few years ago, it had been an exhausting existence. but what i have been able to understand is that there is no template for a successful life.

there is no available blueprint that can have specifics perfectly planned out + executed.

it just doesn’t exist.

so we muddle through life’s havoc as we search for harmony.

if we faithfully chase after wisdom + truth, we may just find the secret to it all.

recently there has been a chain of events in my family’s life that have led me to hold onto the above statement even more.

the ONE who knows me best, holds me close when i need it the most. and for that i am grateful.

i am the parent of a child who is different. not just quirky different.

you see, in our world, different is weird.

being different is excluded.

being different is misunderstood.

being different is frustrating.

looking back now, i know i misread the signals. i ignored the warning signs. i just wanted him to fit in. to find approval + be embraced in our community of friends + families.

my adult child is neuro-diverse with autism spectrum disorder + adhd exhibiting classic patterns. i’ve checked off the boxes on the list, believe me.

when he was younger, i believed the manifestations were there. but they didn’t have a label. they didn’t have a name.

my husband + i knew he was different. and that often didn’t look or feel good. but we continued to love + parent hard.

especially in comparison with all of his peers who were meeting and exceeding standards of growth in school and activities. i constantly looked for ways to keep him caught up.

to be like them.

it worked on occasions. we were pretty good at accommodating his lack of social cues + communication misunderstandings. we were able to do this for many years.

we would hyperfocus on what he COULD do well.


why did we fear him being different?

we understood biblical principles from scripture that stated how we are ‘fearfully and wonderfully made’ (psalm 139:14). we believed that to be truth. we still do. we never cared for him any less.

we have always worked together as a family unit to listen, learn, and grow in love. but at times we were impatient, exasperated, and disappointed that our efforts did not produce more results.

back to that secret i mentioned.

listen well, busy parents + families who are always seeking to elevate the normal, the accepted, and the perfect children.

our children have been created in an altogether unique design, like NO ONE else on earth.

each one with different gifts + talents to celebrate.

you know what they need from us? they need you to help convince them that they are remarkable humans. it’s not too late to start.

each one his or her own person. there is no reason to fear being different. fear is a roaring predator, seeking to destroy + dismantle our joy.

children arrive in our arms longing to be known, longing to accept themselves as they are, to be WHO they are.

and when they walk into the waters that are deeply overwhelming with rushing currents of their times, we want them to be able to come out standing firm on their own.

no standard can be created for ‘different’.

can we agree to concentrate on bravely choosing that different is BETTER than good?

better than normal. better than perfect.

with #impartedjoy.

#autismawareness #adhd #neurodiversity

Meeting SEL through PBL

By Rachelle Dené Poth,

When it comes to preparing our students for the future, there are many learning activities and digital tools for us to choose from. However, it can be overwhelming to sort through all of the options to decide which method or digital tool might have the biggest impact on our students. What I have learned more during the past year is that we must be flexible in our practice, purposeful in the decisions for tools and strategies to use in our classroom, and intentional about creating meaningful, real-world learning opportunities to help students build essential skills for their future and for now. 

When it comes to the essential skills needed, social-emotional learning (SEL) is a key component. There are five SEL competencies which include self-awareness, social awareness, self-management, responsible decision-making, and relationship skills.  To learn more about SEL, explore the many resources available through the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning. Why focus on SEL? Because research shows that by addressing the five competencies of SEL in our classrooms, we can positively impact and see an increase in student academic performance. We can help students to build relationships and collaborate regardless of whether we are in-person, hybrid or fully virtual.

PBL Through the Lens of SEL

Beyond simply choosing one specific activity or digital tool, bringing in project-based learning (PBL), for example, can help us and students accomplish many things. A few years ago I wasn’t providing true PBL opportunities for my students. After doing some research and reflecting on our experiences implementing PBL in our language classroom, I recognize the many benefits for students. Beyond just building content-area knowledge, if we look at PBL through the lens of SEL, the five competencies connect well within a PBL experience for students. 

Self-awareness: As students work independently during project-based learning, they are becoming aware of their skills and their interests as they explore topics that they are curious about. As they design their PBL focus, they learn to self-assess and evolve as learners. 

Self-management: Through project-based learning,  students work on setting new goals, dealing with stress as they work through their project or perhaps problem-based learning journeys. Because PBL is an iterative process, students will see learning as a process, rather than a final product as they develop their own personalized work plan.

Social awareness: By connecting with students in Spanish-speaking countries and developing a greater understanding of what life is like, the similarities and differences, for example, students became more socially aware of the world around them. Creating these opportunities for all students is important, in particular for developing empathy.

Relationship building. With PBL, whether students are working together with peers on a project or as in my experience, collaborating with students from other classrooms, they develop their interpersonal skills. We can help students to build relationships and collaborate regardless of whether we are in-person, hybrid or fully virtual. Providing opportunities to build relationship skills is essential for future workplace success. Employers look for teamwork and leadership skills.

Decision making: As students work through project-based learning or other assessments, they will develop their critical thinking and problem-solving skills. Working with peers will require students to make decisions, which are just a few of the many additional benefits of PBL that will better prepare students for future learning and work. 

Tools to Enhance PBL and Promote the Development of SEL

Once we recognize the benefits of PBL, especially for promoting the development of SEL, we just need some digital tools to enhance the learning that happens. Here are four tools to explore, perhaps even help with boosting student engagement at the end of the school year. Trying new tools will give teachers and students something to reflect on over the summer. 

  1. EdLight is a digital tool we recently started using in our classroom. EdLight is a web-based app that enables teachers to view student work as it is submitted. Teachers can then provide authentic, meaningful and timely feedback to students by either drawing or writing on the student work, adding stickers, or recording audio feedback. 
  2. Google Jamboard has been a favorite tool in classrooms this year. It is a free, cloud-based interactive whiteboard system for designing more collaborative and engaging learning experiences for students. It takes only a few minutes to set up a Jamboard and there are many ways to use them for collaboration. Students can manage their PBL ideas or use it as a PBL brainstorm space and post a note with topics they would like to explore or respond to classmates. 
  3. Nearpod. Another multipurpose tool that is a great choice for creating interactive  lessons for students and that can also be used by students to create their own lessons. As teachers, we can design lessons with Nearpod or use their content for our courses, adding in activities and opportunities for collaboration. Depending on the age of the students, they can create their own Nearpod lesson. Many of my students have used Nearpod to do their PBL presentations as a way to engage their peers more in learning and build essential skills. Using the virtual reality trips is so beneficial for promoting social awareness and empathy.
  4. Spaces EDU is a digital portfolio platform where students can create digital portfolios or collaborate with peers in a centralized space. Students will develop self-awareness and self-management skills as they reflect on their growth and set new goals. Social awareness skills develop as students can interact and work collaboratively with classmates.

There are many benefits for SEL when we have students engage in project-based learning. And not only is PBL an authentic, real-world learning experience, but it also creates more opportunities for students to develop SEL skills which are highly beneficial for their future. We want to promote student agency and PBL helps students to work through challenges, develop their workflow and be better able to understand their skills and the steps they need to take to grow. Long term benefits are that competency in SEL positively impacts the future success of students whether in college or in the workplace.

About the Author: 

Rachelle Dené is a Spanish and STEAM: What’s nExT in Emerging Technology Teacher at Riverview High School in Oakmont, PA. Rachelle is also an attorney with a Juris Doctor degree from Duquesne University School of Law and a Master’s in Instructional Technology. Rachelle is an ISTE Certified Educator and serves as the past president of the ISTE Teacher Education Network. She was recently named one of 30 K-12 IT Influencers to follow in 2021.

She is the author of six books including ‘In Other Words: Quotes That Push Our Thinking,” “Unconventional Ways to Thrive in EDU” “The Future is Now: Looking Back to Move Ahead,” “Chart A New Course: A Guide to Teaching Essential Skills for Tomorrow’s World and her newest book “True Story: Lessons That One Kid Taught Us” is now available. All books available on Amazon and Barnes and Noble, or directly from Rachelle. Her next book Your World Language Classroom (Routledge) is available for pre-order.

Follow Rachelle on Twitter @Rdene915 and on Instagram @Rdene915. Rachelle has a podcast, ThriveinEDU available at https://anchor.fm/rdene915

**Interested in writing a guest blog for my site? Would love to share your ideas! Submit your post here. Looking for a new book to read? Find these available at bit.ly/Pothbooks

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Call This Meeting To Order

Guest post by Heather Lyon, @LyonsLetters, previously published on her site.


About five years ago now, two of my kids were upstairs fighting. Upon hearing what can only be described as a ruckus, my husband Howard who has a lower tolerance than I do for kid noise, bounded upstairs to break it up. I wish I could tell you that his intervention was productive and that my husband was a model of composure, but alas, I cannot. Rather than de-escalating the fight, he got sucked in. From the kitchen, directly below, I heard three raised voices now. He said. She said. Dad yelled.

The next thing I knew, Howard re-emerged in the kitchen. I asked what happened and I got some rundown of a kid squabble that he said he resolved. Then, immediately after this heightened state of emotion, Howard yelled up to the kids, “What do you want for your snack?” as though this three-way fight between them had not just happened only seconds ago. I was beside myself. Snack?! What about resolution or restoration in light of the fight? Though their noise levels were back within the acceptable range, I was quite certain the emotions could not be. I wasn’t even a part of it and my emotions were on edge.

“I’m going upstairs and getting the kids. We need to talk about this,” I said.

“About what?” Howard questioned.

“I can’t live like this. I can’t have a nuclear war one minute and the next have snack. This is crazy.”

This was the start of our weekly family meetings. Prior to this event, we called family meetings when there were big decisions. We’re going to go on a trip, where should we go, for example. Our new weekly family meetings are not about decision-making, they’re about creating community and establishing the culture that I want our family to build and value. This probably makes me sound like I’m some type of mom who has her act together. Like I make my kids’ lunches from organic, free-range avocados or something. I assure you, I’m not that person. I hesitate to tell you, but I don’t care about our fruit or vegetable intake (our dinner a couple of weeks ago on Sunday and Monday night was completely deep-fried—like the vegetable was onion rings). Sunday night is the only night I’m guaranteed to cook and the other nights it’s a little Lord-of-the-Flies-like with dinner being leftovers, Lunchables, and ramen. You get the gist. I’m not a poster-child mom. But I am a human being. I am someone who wants to be around people who treat each other with kindness, respect, and patience. I am someone who cares about what is said and how it’s said. My kids don’t have to be best friends, but I will continue to insist that they are friendly towards each other.

So here’s how our weekly meetings work:

  1. We rotate the leader of each meeting so that we all have a turn. The order stays the same and goes from oldest to youngest.
  2. The leader opens the meeting with a prayer. We hold hands during the prayer.
  3. After the prayer, the leader asks, “Who would like to start by saying one nice thing about everyone?” Everyone has to participate. The nice thing can be a compliment, a thank you, or anything else.
  4. Next, the leader asks, “Do we have any announcements, celebrations, or concerns?” This is the time when we talk about anything that might be coming up for the week ahead (announcements), where we honor anyone’s accomplishments for the week (great soccer game this week), and/or any issues that need to be addressed (it’s really troubling that everyone has clothes all over their bedroom floor).
  5. We transition into the goal section of the meeting. “How’d we do on last week’s goal and what should this week’s goal be?” For example, the goal for last week was to play a game with at least one other person in the family.
  6. The meeting leader then asks a question of their choosing. You can only imagine the questions that have been asked. Howard is good for “what is your favorite…season? Sport? Movie?” The kids dread when it’s my week because they accuse me of asking complicated questions like, “What’s one trait from everyone else that you admire?” As we take turns with the questions, you have to say what the person before you said so that you can demonstrate you were listening. The first person has to say what the last person says.
  7. We close the meeting by saying, “What does it mean to be a family bubble?” and then answer in unison, “Putting each other first.”

Sounds awesome, right? You’re thinking that this is Rockwellian, right? I mean, we literally have the meeting while eating our Sunday dinner that I’ve prepared. What could be better? Don’t be fooled. These are all still the same people who I introduced you to at the start of this letter. We’re flawed and human and struggle. There have been meetings where we have literally had people leave the table out of frustration or anger. Okay, I’m probably the person most likely to get frustrated at the meetings. Why? Because in my head this is sacred time. In my head, this is a time when we should be at our best and putting into practice all of the work that we’ve learned from all of the prior weeks’ meetings. In my head, I really do want Norman Rockwell painting a picture of the Lyon Family. In reality, we’re still doing the meetings because we still have room to grow.

In the end, my kids still bicker and fight. My husband and I can still get sucked into that nonsense. I do wholeheartedly believe, though, that our meetings matter and set the stage for how we aspire to be even if we don’t always hit the target. The point is not perfection. The point is relationship.

I’m sharing this because it parallels the work that happens in schools. My family meeting is likely your restorative practices circle, your morning meeting, your routine that you do to ensure that students know that you care and see them as people. If you’re not creating space to build relationships, then you’re leaving to chance that the students will build connection with each other and you. People who are disconnected from each other are more likely to behave in ways that disrespect each other. On the other hand, when a culture of value and relationship is built, people are less likely to engage in ways that disrespect the culture that is created. Moreover, when someone does harm the culture, the goal should be to repair the harm—not to erode the relationship through blame, embarrassment, or shame. Meetings to proactively create culture do not inoculate you against challenges; they do, however, help establish shared values and expectations.


P.S. This week’s Catch of the Week is the teacher shortage. I am not celebrating that we have a teacher shortage–I am calling it to your attention. If you don’t already know, we have two issues taking place in education right now:

  1. There are not enough people becoming teachers.
  2. There are too many people leaving teaching.

The reasons for both of these issues are complicated and varied. That said, I’m not sure that people who are not in education realize that there is a problem. Please help spread the word. I also invite any thoughts on how we can address both issues in order to ensure that our kids get the best teachers.

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Guest post by Ross Loveland

Guest post by Ross Loveland, opinions expressed are those of the guest blogger

Am I a Bad Person if I Make Good Money in Education? Why It’s OK to Make Money in Educational Consulting

As an educator, your work is incredibly valuable. You do some of the most important work on the planet: teaching and molding the rising generation to successfully face life’s problems and to (hopefully) help make the world a better place.

And yet, too many educators, especially those in public education, are not rewarded for the work that they do. Educational consultants have the chance to change that for themselves, but it doesn’t happen automatically. It can also be extremely difficult to accept the mindset that making good money is acceptable and even desirable.

I met with several wonderful leaders in educational consulting to gather their thoughts on how to overcome the stigma that being “too” financially successfully should be avoided at all costs.

Vernon Wright, creator of shapethewrightvision.com. He also has a great, free audiobook, “10 Steps to Becoming a Gamechanger,” which you can find here.

Money isn’t the root of all evil. The love of money may be, but money itself is a tool. It can be used for evil, and it can also be used for good in incredible ways.

“Educators want to reach as many people as possible, but what they miss and don’t grasp at a deeper level is that in order to expand that reach, to reach as many people as possible, it takes money. What I would ask educators is this, ‘How much do you want to reach people on a wide scale.’”

We never put money before people; always people first. But money can allow us to fulfill our purpose on a larger scale and do more good in the world.

Daniel Koffler, founder of New Frontiers Executive Function Coaching, nfil.net.

In this field of educational consulting, your product is your knowledge and your experience, and you shouldn’t be giving that away. You spent a long time developing your skills and expertise (and likely your formal education wasn’t cheap, either!).

“My staff are professionals and very high quality people. I’m very comfortable arguing that they deserve to make a living. And I’m not ashamed of doing so either. As long as you believe in the value that you and your services bring, you should feel at ease charging what you’re worth.”

Mike Anderson, founder of Leading Great Learning, leadinggreatlearning.com. He also has a wonderful course for prospective education consultants, found here.

“We don’t need to be paupers in order to still be mission-driven. As long as we continue to do great work for kids, and great work for teachers, then I don’t think it needs to be antithetical to also be able to put more money into retirement or send your kid to college. You just need to be careful that the money doesn’t become the purpose.”

Dr. Kevin Leichtman, co-founder of TLC Education, tlceducate.com.

“If you forget that you’re making an impact or that you’re bringing any value, it’s really easy to devalue yourself. In this industry, we tend to think it’s all about service and not about money, meanwhile our families struggle.”

But you need to understand that you are bringing tremendous value to your clients. Remember that you’re not selling packets or worksheets or even your time; those are just the tools. The value you’re bringing is a struggling student getting a new perspective and having that “aha” moment, or a burned out teacher becoming inspired again and taking that energy back to his/her entire classroom. That has real value to it.

Ross Loveland, from Grow Green Profit Advisors, growgreenprofits.com

There’s a common myth that profits and purpose are mutually exclusive. It’s this idea that if you make a lot of money, you must be selfish and therefore taking from the world, not giving to it. And it’s absolutely true that there are some rich, selfish people.

“In my experience, most of the time, people with more money give more. So when we’re talking about this myth that making too much money is wrong, I have to disagree. In fact, I believe the opposite is true: greater profits lead to greater purpose.

Money, like so many things in life, is a resource. You can use that capacity to do good, to fulfill your purpose and lift those around you. Hence, the name of our blog, “From Profits to Purpose.” The financial success, the money isn’t the purpose, but it leads to and supports the purpose.

**Interested in writing a guest blog for my site? Would love to share your ideas! Submit your post here. Looking for a new book to read? Find these available at bit.ly/Pothbooks

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Technology Transforms Student SEL

Nicole Vaughn @MrsNicoleVaughn

ELA Teacher @co_sumner @SumnerConnect

Knox Doss Drakes Creek Middle School #sumnerconnect #sumnerachieves

Social, Emotional Learning—such jargony term. At least, this seems to be the mindset for many educators in the current days of checking off all of the boxes before 3pm rolls around, and trust me, there are MANY boxes to check off. But what if SEL is not just a part of “this list”? What if this term is in fact THE answer to connectivity in all aspects of learning? How do we treat this terminology now? Do we just throw SEL around by asking some questions or using a scripted curriculum saying we gave it a shot to check the box, or do we actually dive deep and come to the realization that SEL is the key to student success?

Social Emotional Learning is not just about figuring out how our students are feeling, but it is about getting to know who our students are and how we can meet their needs. In our classroom, we do daily student check-ins via google form. Having students fill out this form is just the very beginning. I take five minutes each day to read how students are rating their emotions and if they have anything they need to share with me. These check-ins have opened the doors to daily communication and relationship building opportunities. Here are a few personal stories to demonstrate the true power of making SEL part of who we are and our community of learning:

For a few days leading up to this check-in I had noticed this student marking he was struggling. On this day, he opened up and told me he was having family issues at home. His behavior had been off, and he seemed apathetic about school and not completing his work. One conversation about his struggles changed the entire trajectory for the rest of his school week. This student knows I read each of these check-ins, and although I am still working to build our relationship stronger, he continues to share openly and honestly with how he is feeling each day. This notion alone, creates belief in himself and belief that I care about him, so now he cares about our class and his learning.

Students who do not take interest in school or are apathetic to learning are why SEL is so vital in our classrooms. We are a community, and when one student is not an active member, then there is a downward shift in the expectations and beliefs of the community. The photo below is a screenshot of a daily check in, and this student did not enjoy our ELA class at the beginning of the year. He was constantly laying his head down, not answering questions when discussions were happening, and not completing classwork or assessments. The student started asking me questions through the daily check-ins. These specific types of questions I would typically view as meaningless candor, but they meant something to this student. My answers gave him the assurance that I was reading his check-ins and could see all concerns and needs. We quickly established a great student, teacher relationship, and now he is so incredibly excited to come to our classroom and learn. Checking in with this student daily made all of the difference in the meaning of being at school versus being a part of the school. He feels like he belongs–because he does.

Bottom line: relationships and trust are established first; then, learning can happen.

Technology Transforms Student SEL

Nicole Vaughn @MrsNicoleVaughn

ELA Teacher @co_sumner @SumnerConnect

Knox Doss Drakes Creek Middle School #sumnerconnect #sumnerachieves

**Interested in writing a guest blog for my site? Would love to share your ideas! Submit your post here. Looking for a new book to read? Find these available at bit.ly/Pothbooks

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Screencastify: Support Online Learning Through Video

Screencastify video tool

There are many tools available for educators to create a more interactive and engaging learning experience. Over the past year, especially as we transitioned from fully virtual, to hybrid and in-person learning, I wanted to make sure that students had access to the right resources to help them better understand the content and have access to review materials. For this, I relied on Screencastify for creating quick screen recordings of explanations, demos and other resources to benefit student learning.

In March of 2020, during the early days of the pandemic, schools shut down and educators quickly searched for tools to support remote learning. This created huge growth for Screencastify as they quickly grew 497% in videos made per day, an increase of 340% in daily users and over 1 million minutes of recording. The number of videos being created each month went from approximately two million before March of 2020 to twenty million videos created in April. Last spring, I had an opportunity to speak with James Francis, the CEO of Screencastify, who shared the story of Screencastify and its mission for replacing what had typically been a complicated experience when creating screencasts and making it simple.

Because of the ease of using Screencastify, over the last school year I have greatly increased my use of it in order to create and share videos with students, colleagues and members of my PLN quickly. As I have considered my class activities and the types of resources to provide or materials to use in my classroom, Screencastify has played a larger part in the solution.  Some of the questions that I ask myself when deciding to use Screencastify are:

  • How might the use of a video benefit students whether virtual, hybrid or in-person?
  • How can I design more active learning experiences for use in or out of the classroom?
  • Is there a better way to review content or practice activities so that all students have access?

5 Ways to Use Screencastify

1. Create Quick Lessons. My favorite use of Screencastify has been for creating quick video lessons to review activities or explain grammar content. When I spoke with Francis last year, he said “nothing replaces hearing your teachers’ voices, seeing their face and the authentic learning that happens because students have become used to the way their teachers present.”  While I explain and give examples in class, there are times when students have connectivity issues, may lose focus or I am not clear enough in my explanations. I like to make a quick video to post and share so that I know students can access it whenever they need it.

From Screencastify Blog

With the new Recording Toolbar of Screencastify, I can add emojis to my video or provide feedback for students using stickers, shapes, and even fireworks to the recording!

eFrom Screencastify websit

2. Check in on student learning. A beneficial feature from this school year is Screencastify Submit. Students can record videos without needing anything more than  a recording link shared by the teacher. Students can then record using their webcam or screen. The Submit feature provides a beneficial way to focus on SEL by providing a space for students to check-in, share their learning experiences and feelings, and explain their ideas. Teachers can better understand the thought process of students and be able to provide authentic and meaningful feedback.

3. Explain assignments and class activities. For creating short videos to explain an assignment or project, you can record (up to five minutes with a free account). In addition to providing students with a written task, being able to explain it and even provide examples in the video, gives them access to the right information they need when they need it. It is easy to edit videos and add other media into your video recording. The setup enables you to work with your video and make any adjustments needed before sharing. The video can then be uploaded directly to Google Drive, added to YouTube and shared, or downloaded as an mp4. I have used Screencastify to make a quick review for students that missed a class or a review of an assignment.

45. Answer individual student questions. Think about the number of times that we as educators may be asked the same questions. Being able to create a quick explanation to share with one student makes a difference. The use of short videos helps with the accessibility of a lesson and for creating a personalized tutorial. Many times students have asked questions in the evening or the weekend and it takes only a few minutes to create a quick explanation to share with them, but that can also be shared with other students as needed.

6. Learning journeys and digital portfolios. Depending on the age of students, having students create their own video to share what they have learned during a specific course, for project-based learning (PBL), or as a way to create a digital portfolio that enables them to share their growth throughout the year. Students build essential skills for the future while creating a more meaningful artifact of their learning journey.

When teachers are unable to be in their classroom or for students who miss a class, tools like Screencastify make a huge difference. Creating video messages or lessons that can easily be shared with students and families is something that will benefit us regardless of where learning takes place.

**Interested in writing a guest blog for my site? Would love to share your ideas! Submit your post here. Looking for a new book to read? Find these available at bit.ly/Pothbooks

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Making (Up) the Grade

Guest post by Heather Lyon, @LyonsLetters, previously published on her site.


Disclaimer: I’m about to tell you some information about how I performed in school. My point in sharing is to show that grades are commonly a reflection of teacher bias and subjectivity. Therefore, when I include the grades I got in school, please read the information about my academic successes in the spirit in which it is intended, i.e., to make a point about the subjectivity of grading.

I did very well in school. To give you a sense of what I mean, I was in my school’s Academic Society beginning in the seventh grade. If I remember correctly, to “make it into” the Academic Society, students needed to have at least a 92.5 average with no grade below an 85 on their report card. I not only achieved this feat in seventh grade, I did it every quarter from seventh through twelfth grade. That’s 24 marking periods. That’s in upper level classes. That’s without weighted grades.

Even so, one year, for one of the marking periods my overall average was something like a 93.66. For the next marking period, my overall average dropped to a 93.33. The reason I remember this is not because I cared about the decline. I really didn’t. The courses I took were hard and my overall average was certainly good. Nevertheless, my mom (who, if not a tiger mom, was someone who lived vicariously through her children and therefore insisted that they were successful), lost her marbles and grounded me. This is why I remember that the drop from one marking period to the other was 0.33 of a point. At that time I was beside myself with irritation that this negligible decline mattered so much to my mom.

Fast forward twenty-five years (give or take) and I am irritated by this memory, but now I am better armed for the ridiculousness related to the grading conversation. Let me explain why we should all be suspicious of report cards to measure student success.

I’ll start with traditional report cards that report student learning according to averages, which is most common at a secondary level (watch this AWESOME TEDTalk, “The Myth of Average” about why averages are flawed). With report cards, I ask you, what is that average supposed to represent? If you said, “The student’s knowledge of the content,” you would be correct. However, in almost every single case, that average takes into account all manner of non-content based information. For example, if a student turns in an assignment late and is penalized by reducing the grade on the assignment, then the grade earned does not reflect only the student’s content knowledge—it reflects the student’s content knowledge PLUS the student’s behaviors towards learning. Yet, show me in any standards for any state where behaviors towards learning are included in content knowledge standards. They are not.

Let me give you an example of what this looks like in action, though I’m sure that you have experience with this even if you’re not an educator. As I shared in the May 12, 2020, post, “Redefining Student Success,” my oldest son had a

Spanish teacher who gave all late work a zero even if the work would have scored a 100% if turned in on time. On the other 7th grade team, there was a long-term sub for Spanish who was much more lenient. My son repeatedly complained to me about how he wished he had the sub so that his grade would be higher. I told him that the other students were likely not going to be as capable in Spanish as he was. In fact, on his Spanish final, he scored a 98% with a score of 100% for his speaking portion. I am sure that the students with a sub did not score as high on their finals. Nevertheless, in the fourth quarter he turned in an assignment late due to a band lesson and he received a zero on it. His average was significantly and negatively impacted by this one zero for homework (we’re talking a difference of nearly 10 percentage points on his fourth quarter average) and was lower than the students on the other team who did not do nearly as well on the final—which is the actual measure of how much Spanish the students knew (or didn’t).

Turing in work late is concerning and should be addressed. However, turning in work late has no bearing on a student’s knowledge of content. Period. End of story. And neither should a student get extra credit for behaviors like bringing in a box of tissues to school, contributing to the canned food drive, or showing up at a school-sponsored event. Nice kids are no smarter than challenging kids and challenging kids are no less knowledgeable of content than nice kids. We need to stop including behaviors in our assessments of students’ content knowledge. That’s what the comment box is for.

The more common and progressive “standards-” or “skill-based” report cards usually seen at the elementary level still have problems. Here rather than taking the average of how a student does over time (even if the student has improved throughout the term and therefore can demonstrate high levels of proficiency), standards- or skills-based report cards are designed to report on how a student is doing with isolated standards or skills. This is an improvement on traditional report cards in theory because these skills and standards can tease out content knowledge from behaviors and usually have a section devoted to scoring students’ behaviors separately.

Unfortunately, there is very poor training in how to score students using the scales that are created for this style of report cards which usually uses a 1-4 scale. If done well, the highest mark, a 4, should show that a student demonstrated learning above what is expected for that grade level or time of year. This means that students who might consistently get all the questions correct would earn a 3 if those questions only asked about material that was taught. This is because unless a teacher provides the students with opportunities to demonstrate that they have the ability to do more than what was taught, a 4 is impossible. It can be true that a student’s writing can more easily demonstrate the ability to write beyond expectation. For example, a student might include transition words or dialogue even though the child wasn’t taught to do that. However, in math, most of the time unless a teacher puts one or two extension questions on the assignment, the teacher would have no way of knowing if the student could go above expectation. This is also problematic for parents who don’t understand the difference between a 3 and a 4. If the teacher is sending home papers with 100s on the top but never gave a student a chance to go above expectations, the parent is going to expect to see 4s on the report card, not 3s.

I am not saying that grades or report cards are bad. They are not. It is important that students and the adults connected to the students know how the students are progressing with their learning. This is important feedback and should be shared often. Just as often, the students should be asked to reflect on their progress and even set goals on what they hope to learn and accomplish. The challenge is that without a solid feedback cycle, the one-sided, quantitative feedback is insufficient to allow that number stand on its own.

For all of the reasons above, I am even more frustrated now about the drop of 0.33 with my average as a student. Unless all the grades that I got were hundreds—meaning I answered everything perfectly (which we know I didn’t because my overall average was not 100), all of the grades that I got (particularly for courses that have higher levels of subjectivity like English, art, etc.) were more or less made up. Even for courses with higher levels of objectivity—like math or science—though the answers I gave could be scored right or wrong, the value of the assignments was completely arbitrary. As well, one teacher could have weighted specific assignments like tests or quizzes, while another teacher might have made homework worth more points. One teacher could have decided to drop the lowest grade and another may not. One teacher might have just counted homework as completed or incomplete and another may decide that every assignment gets a grade out of 100. One teacher might have allowed for bonus points or extra credit and another may not. THIS is what I now understand as “an educational lottery.”

Report cards and grades in general are not a science—they are an art. They are subjective. They are arbitrary and capricious. My report card grades had some reflection of my efforts and knowledge, but the actual numbers out of 100 were wildly invalid and unreliable. This is why my report card average of a 93.66 meant nothing when compared to the 93.33 since those numbers actually had as much (and I would argue more) to do with how the teachers graded me, rather than a true reflection of my knowledge of the content.

Now that this is off my chest, I’m dying to hear your stories of grading.

  • If you’re a teacher, what are your challenges regarding grading and how have you attempted to resolve them?
  • If you’re a parent, tell me about what has been challenging for you with your child(ren)’s grades.
  • Either way, tell me about a time when you were in school and what grades/report cards were like for you.

Don’t worry. I’m not grading your response.


P.S. Brian Kulak is a K-5 principal in New Jersey and the author of Level Up Leadership: Advance Your EduGame, a clever look at how the evolution of the gaming industry closely mirrors that of educational leadership. His work has also been featured in Stories in EDU: Sail With a Fleet, in Educational Viewpoints, and on Edutopia. Brian has also presented on teaching, learning, and leadership at conferences such as NJAMLE and NCTE/CEL.

Organizational Psychologist Adam Grant rents space in Brian’s brain and drives his leadership. Grant’s podcast, Work Life with Adam Grant, examines how to “make work not suck” by digging into all the nooks and crannies that make organizations tick. In particular, Grant’s interview with Brene Brown and his interview with Trevor Noah provided plenty of fodder for Brian to use with his staff at Tatem Elementary School. You can follow Grant, who works at the University of Pennsylvania, @adammgrant.

P.P.S. Please remember to…

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