Challenging Assumptions – Grade Reporting Timelines

What conditions and characteristics of school do we simply assume are engrained parts of the system? You know, those things about school that we take for granted are just baked into the structure of school.

During the 2016-17 academic year (there is one of those assumptions, right?), I plan to post a series of blog entries about these assumptions along with a few ideas and questions about how we might challenge them.

Why am I interested in thinking about and sharing these assumptions? Well, when our school year started at Mount Vernon, our Head of School Brett Jacobsen shared some powerful messages about being Mavericks – those people and organizations that step up, stand out, and face their giants. When talking to the faculty at the opening-of-school gathering, he named three things that Mavericks must do:

  1. Mavericks must vary their routes.
  2. Mavericks challenge assumptions.
  3. Mavericks live fully.

So, I’ve been thinking even more than usual about what assumptions we might challenge about the structure of school as it has been designed by so many educational organizations in the last century.

Additionally, I am currently reading Inevitable: Mass Customized Learning by Charles Schwahn and Bea McGarvey. Recently, I spoke to Bea, and she and I discussed a few of the items she highlights in Chapter 8: “Weight Bearing Walls.” These weight bearing walls are the elements that supported an industrial model of schooling. They are also known as the assumptions we take for granted about the structure of school. In the conversation, Bea expressed that school design of the future must develop new weight bearing walls.

Here is the list of weight bearing walls in Chapter 8 of Inevitable: Mass Customized Learning

  • Grade Levels
  • Students Assigned to Classrooms
  • Class Period / Bell Schedule
  • Courses / Curriculum
  • Textbooks
  • Paper and Pencil
  • ABC Grading Systems
  • Report Cards
  • Learning Happens in Schools
  • Nine-Month School Year

So, what about grade reporting and grade-reporting calendars? Typically, summaries of grades come out every quarter of the school year (for the many schools on the quarter system). In many cases, teachers are expected to add narrative comments to those grade summaries, and the grade-comment combos are sent home to parents via email or snail mail.

For my mother, when I was in school as a child, this schedule probably made more sense. There was no email, no online grade books, no Twitter, and no online dashboarding that she could use to “keep up” with what I was doing in school and how I was performing relative to the standards set. Given that students and parents today are much more technologically capable and empowered to monitor progress in real time, why do we keep to the quarter summary of grading? (And I am not yet even challenging the assumptions of the grading system itself – that will come in a later post.)

What if student learners had a more regular practice of reflecting on their learning and progress, and what if they sat more in the driver’s seat of reporting on their learning? Perhaps with a tool like “7 Questions to End Your Week,” student learners could send their own email or online-based progress reports, and teacher-mentors could comment on the student learner reflections. And perhaps on a monthly basis student learners could reflect and report on their overall learning and progress relative to some power standards and habits of mind. Sure, it would take developing such systems for reflection, and a school would have to commit to building those muscles in learners. But such a newly designed system could definitely provide a more modern and effective load bearing wall for the future of school.

What do you imagine to be more effective timelines and systems for reporting on learning?

Coca-Cola Workplace 2020 – Visit to AOC

What might the world and functions of innovation demand of our workplaces? How might our work environment complement – even promote and spur – the activities and necessities of an organization striving to innovate? Such questions are a major line of investigation for me and for the school where I am blessed to work – Mount Vernon Presbyterian School. And so, we explore and research in order to learn.

On Friday, April 15, 2016, I was fortunate to visit and tour the Coca-Cola Atlanta Office Complex (AOC). Thanks to friend Rodney Drinkard, who works in security and risk-management at Coke, I ventured into the Workplace 2020 transformation happening at Coca-Cola corporate headquarters, and I was accompanied by colleagues Blair Peterson, Head of Upper School, and Rosalyn Merrick, Chief Philanthropy Officer, at Mount Vernon. The time at Coke’s AOC was invaluable and incredibly thought provoking. They are doing tremendous work there to leverage brand and culture to transform space…and to create a virtuous cycle for space to build brand and culture even more purposefully.

As detailed in Design Leveraged,

Enter Workplace 2020, a massive project to instill Coke’s facility with a sense of optimism matching what consumers feel when they see the brand’s polar bears or hilltop singers. That may all sound touchy-feely, but this project is far from a feel-good exercise; the goal is to increase brand value, grow product lines faster and boost the bottom line.

From the very beginnings of our Coke tour, I was reminded of my recent visit to IDEO in San Francisco. At IDEO, the office is intentionally designed to facilitate creative collisions for collaborators. Similarly, at Coke AOC, the Workplace 2020 transformation, partly informed by input from IDEO, seeks to purposefully facilitate such creative collisions and collaborations, too. With innovation stemming from networking and associative thinking, an environment that supports bond-making rather than isolated task-doing promotes the conditions needed for enhanced innovation. Overall, the surroundings at Coke are constructed so that people will benefit from the principle of “we are smarter than me.” While individual space still exists in great quantity, the quality and number of spaces to meet, work together, share and collaborate are superb.

Two of the many things that impressed and intrigued me:

  1. The brand qualities of optimism, happiness, and sharing a Coke with a friend were expressed as part of the physical architecture and decor. The space felt alive with the culture that Coke works to exude.
  2. The degree of prototyping going on was tremendous! There were future product prototypes in numerous places, and the Workplace 2020 team was utilizing experimental space to conduct user tests for various configurations and work-pattern sites.

The photo gallery below contains my image captures from the fabulous visit to Coke AOC. I know that there will be countless views that I make to this gallery as the team at MVPS continues to research and design according to our principle and practice, “Learning demands interactive and flexible spaces.”

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SPARKplaces 2016

“Welcome to the first-ever SPARKplaces gathering.

From the very beginning of daydreaming this event, we were certain about a few things. We wanted:

  • an intimate experience that invested in authentic human relationships;
  • to gather creatives and visionaries that love discovering new ideas;
  • all participants to be uniquely hand-selected year one;
  • a fully immersive expedition, not a pick-n-choose conference;
  • to explore the design of learning environments but make sure we were focused on ‘learning’ first, ‘environments’ second;
  • to trust in everyone’s expertise and experience coming in the door, but more importantly we wanted to see what happens when people let go of their own biases;
  • to be inspired by the spirit of ‘design thinking’ without over worrying details;
  • to ‘wander’ and ‘wonder’ without apology;
  • to ‘do’ and ‘create’ something that gained momentum after the event ends;
  • to see if a tribe could emerge that seeks to keep exploring together over time.”

Such is how the SPARKplaces notebook began with a welcome to the participants. In this two-day design expedition, we gathered in the stunning Convent and Stuart Hall School, situated in the Flood Mansion, and we engaged in a collection of provocations and challenges that yielded compelling design possibilities and inspiring manifestos. For me, one of the most exciting findings took the form of the fast-cycle in which all of this concentrated effort occurred. The window of work, not much more than ten hours when all was said and done, created a set of artifacts and launching pads derived from committed teams of people — work that could be replicated, in process, with the people who make up a single-school community, as well as a tribe of people from various schools.

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Rapid-fire speakers sharing profound talks in five minutes, dinner table prompts hybridizing a Jeffersonian Dinner format, epic questions, learning metaphors, and a learning ecology build palpable momentum, “completed” by a manifesto drafted by each team and percolated to richness because of all of the meaningful pump-priming that preceded the quick-write of shared understanding and conviction.

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Paradoxically, the work felt “finished” and unfinished simultaneously. Wonderfully, it excited me to continue the efforts and forward the next steps…whatever they may be.

SPARKplaces 2016 Storify

Many heartfelt thanks to Christian Long (Wonder, by Design), Carla Silver (Leadership + Design), Howard Levin (Convent and Stuart Hall), and to the fellow participants who poured themselves into this collaboration. I felt honored to be in your learning community.

Visit to Brightworks School

I met Gever Tulley in 2010. We spoke at the same TEDxAtlanta event, and then Gever extended his stay in Atlanta so we could hang out and talk more about schools and education. Mostly, we talked about how schools could better “mirror” deep learning.

After that, I rushed out and bought his book, 50 Dangerous Things (You Should Let Your Children Do), and my sons and I added it to our Father-Son-Based-Learning (#fsbl) excursions. And we regularly re-watch Gever’s talks from the big TED stage.

Gever and I keep up sporadically, and I would count him as a huge influencer of mine. When he founded Brightworks, an amazing, change-everything school, I followed with great interest and excitement.

So, I consider it a dream come true that I was able to visit Brightworks on Tuesday, February 23! The two-hour immersion was intriguing and inspiring and provocative. Having colleagues from Mount Vernon and Hillbrook School enriched the experience even further because we were able to exchange curiosities, reactions, inquiries, and ponderings.

What stood out most to me? The high degree of ownership that students possessed and demonstrated about their relationship to learning. The high degree of trust that “collaborators” (the Brightworks word for teachers) exhibited for the learners. The empowered vibe that children exuded as they explored deep curiosities and thrived in a culture of exploration-expression-exhibition arcs of learning. The mixed-age “bands” that prioritized relationship and community. Content was at the service of explored curiosity, rather than any sense of compliance-based digestion of content out of context.

My visit will have me thinking for a long time!

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What kids and teachers can do…ARE doing!

Some people collect stamps. Some collect rocks. People collect many things.

Me? I collect examples of the work that students CAN do.

Many people underestimate what children can do as “school work.” What if “school work” were more “real-world-work” sourced? It’s happening at so many innovative schools. It’s happening at Mount Vernon, where I am blessed to work.

Largely because of the work that we do at Mount Vernon Presbyterian School and the Mount Vernon Institute for Innovation, I collect inspirations and examples of children doing “school work” that many might deem “adult work” for later in their lives.

This TED video from Cesar Harada is one of the best samples of “school work” that absolutely can be done by children. It’s worth your 10 minutes. And it’s worth you helping to make such work even more of a reality at the schools near you.


Related: Mount Vernon continues to drive for enhanced mashup of “real-world work” and “school work” with Council on Innovation 2015