(Author's Note: If this title makes you think of George Jetson and Daughter Judy, let's be friends.)
Our goal is to create 21st century learners who are prepared to navigate the real world in problem solving, collaboration and innovation… and aggravate our teachers to death by quantifying innovation into checkboxes.
Okay, so I made that whole thing up (especially the last part). But doesn’t it sound a little like PD week or discussions about education in conferences, books, videos and everything else? Yeah. I thought so, too.
Guys, I GET IT. I’m so passionate about the fact that we need to teach our kids how to find the tools they need to thrive in a world we can’t even begin to fathom or foresee. HOWEVER, I also think we can’t possibly focus on TEACHING 21st century skills and ideologies if we don’t even LIVE those skills and ideologies on our own.
Jess, WHAT DOES THAT MEAN?
I know. Let me break it down.
As educators we lament:
There are so many skills students need today that are simply not being assessed on the state exams, or even in our classroom assessments.
Our students need to learn the value of what is not being graded. There can’t be a rubric for everything! Except a kindness rubric and a sarcasm rubric, I do have both of those.
Our kids have no tolerance for ambiguity. They want an answer to memorize and regurgitate. Answers are never risky. Ideas, in all their maybe or maybe not glory, create vulnerability. Kids need to be vulnerable!
(Note: These laments are brought to you by Jess’s brain at this moment in time.)
We argue that evaluation systems don’t capture the whole of a teacher or the whole of a classroom. (cue booming voice) THEY WHAAAAT?
We go to trainings with an attitude of meeting requirements rather than growing as a professional learner. Don’t just give GT students extra work—checkity check. Now what’s next?
Most of all we argue, this is the right way to teach! No, that’s the right way to teach! Your classroom uses fluorescents and yours has string lights. Ladies, one of these is not like the other and that means one is WRONG!!
I contend that EDUCATORS need more tolerance for ambiguity before they ask students to do the same. I dispute, despite the potential tomato-throwing debacles, we need to learn to gain confidence and affirmation from an avenue independent from the assessments through which we are evaluated. I clash with the status quo and sing loudly and with vibrato that we as educators need to be vulnerable, which—I mean, don’t kill me—means we need to try something new! We need to fail at something! We need an idea to go down in flames and model how that is sometimes a great thing!
In my classroom, I say, “Everything you do in this room and out of this room will be evaluated by me.” At this point, I usually see many kids calculating the distance between them and the door to ensure a safe and timely exit. Then they glance at each other as if to say, “Are you gonna run? I am.” The truth is, I want to strive and assess students on their growth as a learner. That doesn’t happen by going down the list of checked or vacant boxes. It happens from viewing a whole person today and a whole person tomorrow and estimate the difference between the two. I can’t possibly see everything kids do—although I’m very good at guessing so that they think I can—but I can trust that they are the sum of their knowledge and experiences and it will manifest to me if I ask the right questions.
Your superiors, no matter the job, will never see everything you do. If you practice checking boxes every day, you might want to remember to maintain your amateur status so you can check boxes in the Olympics. That will be your only talent as long as you practice it. Conversely, if you practice doing your job well, being aware of your strengths and weaknesses in each moment and doing everything you can to be better and learn more, those boxes being checked are like a surprise gift with purchase. You didn’t show up and work hard to check boxes, but you’re sure glad they got done anyway.
I’ll be honest. In high school, I wanted everything to be for a grade. If I was given a task, I could get it done—A+ style!
My dreamer-mind refuses to fixate on finishing tasks. I don’t want to be a box checker when I grow up. In this fast-paced, invigorating world, I will be no good if I’m just teaching myself “to the test.” I want to have my head so in the clouds, so vividly trekking in the direction of my goals for growth and the future that the test is eating my dust. It will take confidence in myself with little to no affirmation from others, but only then will I be a true, gutsy, 21st century teacher. It might take a whole lot of coffee… and probably tacos… and definitely wine.