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?

#MustRead Shares (weekly)

  • Maybe one of the most important leadership articles we can read…and implement.

    tags: leader radar leadership newnormal #MustRead #MVIFIshares change

    • Keeping pace with the hockey stick curve of exponential change requires being deliberate about evolving as a leader.
    • Too many leaders — both at the top and across organizations — are taking a linear perspective that focuses on small incremental gains, often achieved by squeezing harder on what they already know. The problem is that, in a world of exponential change, a linear path is an exit ramp.
    • RADAR believes that “new normal” captures the emerging truth that change and volatility will continue to accelerate and intensify. Equally important, we believe many leaders have been led to think that new normal means things will level out again, and that there will once again be stable times they can get their arms around.
    • Transforming from normal to new normal leadership is the single most important variable in sustainable success.
    • transforming how you lead is difficult because leadership has become, more than ever, a team sport. A leadership team’s ability to become more adaptive requires not just individual change, but collective and coordinated change.
    • Something makes us think that greater speed should require more intense focus on the road immediately in front of us. In reality, it is exactly the opposite.
    • The most powerful and dramatic shift you can make toward new normal leadership is to reset your and your team’s perspective, to follow the racer’s rule of thumb and look out of the top 1/3 of the windshield. Like in racing, focusing farther ahead is the key not only to speed, but also to both seeing greater possibility and avoiding potentially
      deadly disruptions.
    • What stands out most about how this team works is the time commitment they make to developing and maintaining up-and-out perspective.
    • “Perspective is worth 80
      IQ points.”
    • However, managing speed requires more than perspective. Leaders also need to develop alignment.
    • In organizations, alignment is what makes foresight an accelerant.
    • Resetting perspective is the most powerful evolutionary step you and your team can make toward new normal leadership.
    • With strategy, sensemaking pushes leaders back into the role of explorer rather than just decider.
    • With leadership development, sensemaking forces leaders to teach high potentials how to learn, rather than what they know.
    • Sensemaking — especially when approached as a team with a goal of producing aligned foresight — gives an organization one of the most remarkable assets imaginable: clarity of possibility.

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

New normal leaders set conditions for non-conformist growth

In the newly launched resource, Radar: The Journal of Adaptive Change, Paula Champa authored an article titled, “Don’t Follow the Leader: The Demise of the Mini-Me and the Future of Talent Development.” In the piece, Champa weaved together the research of Adam Grant and Carol Dweck.

An organization stands a greater chance of positively influencing its future trajectory when it fosters initiative and an adaptive mindset in its people.

The article is a must read for leaders working in transformative organizations who are mindful of culture within the leadership team. The provocation provides fodder for continuous reflection and kaizen around the dynamic equilibrium among “shared understanding” and “non-conformist diversity strength in a team.”

Included below are Adam Grant’s and Carol Dweck’s TED talks. How are your subtle leadership tactics communicating conform and comply versus agitate and grow?

#MustRead Shares (weekly)

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

REFLECTION: 7 Questions, May 13, 2016

7 Questions to End Your Week - HW

OBSERVE: What pleasant surprises did I discover this week?

This week, I was invited to serve on a panel of visitors to hear and evaluate some serious design work for a school’s learning-and-play space called The Frontier. The designers, fourth graders at MVPS, have been engaged in a design challenge connected to observations and collaborative interviewing they’ve been doing with Preschool partners. Among four classes, they created six design solutions, and they presented to the panel for feedback and evaluation. The most pleasant surprise – the format of the panel and some insider information from the students and the teachers point to the enormous desire they have to implement a solution and make a significant impact. Their determination to see a prototype through to implementation is even higher than I’ve seen it before with other challenges. I am thrilled that these learners have such a strong sense of agency, desire to change the world for the better, and the will to persevere through the complexities of real-world projects.

REFLECT: What lessons did my work teach me that I could build upon next week?

Being present for support and collaboration on classroom challenges – like that described above – makes my work more fun and rewarding. What’s more, my immediate MVIFI team reached out to the Fourth Grade Team to ask if they would document the project for the archives on That simple ask is the least an innovation team can do to encourage, promote, and amplify the incredible efforts of the instructional designers – the Fourth Grade Team – and the solution designers – the student learners. Then, the work has an even greater chance of being seen and influencing others’ work. #IdeasWorthSpreading

FOCUS: Are my short-term efforts and long-term goals sill aligned?

Long-term goals are connected to amplifying the thought and action leadership of the MVPS faculty, staff, and students. The short-term efforts to be with the panel, to meet with the Fourth Grade Team the week before, to reach out for their archivable story…those efforts are very well aligned and important. I wonder why the Fourth Grade Team thought to reach out to me a few weeks ago – I mean, specifically why. How might I make certain that I am seen as a willing and excited collaborator and amplifier?

BE PRODUCTIVE: What could I have spent more or less time doing?

I love my office mates and the serendipitous collaboration and creative sparks that happen with them. I would not trade that. At the same time, we all have aggressive To-Do lists that often require more secluded work. How might we balance these dually important work modes and make sure that we are in-phase and out-of-phase with each other’s frequencies at the best moments?

HAVE COURAGE: How did fear and uncertainly affect what I did and didn’t do?

In an early-week meeting with a number of education leaders, I sensed that there is significant tension over the perceptions of “what’s on our individual and collective plates.” I totally understand such tension – one to be managed probably, rather than resolved. I think I still “fear” (not sure that is the exact right word) that this group of education leaders possesses yet the best level of shared understanding of whole-part-whole collaboration needed to move forward the “right” set of objectives to advance the big-picture ideas in the most coordinated ways possible.

CLENSE: What mental clutter can I clear?

I experienced a setback this week regarding the way an educator graded a paper/presentation such that the student scored the maximum point value for the desired learning outcomes and mindset demonstrations, but turned in the work late and had 15 points deducted from the single-score, reported grade. I am puzzled why more schools have not worked faster (is that the right word?) to disaggregate the numerous assessment gauges that are inappropriately lumped together into a single number and a one-chance-to-show-proficiency. That’s partly why I tweeted these two tweets recently:

Should I just let this emotional and mental clutter go? In talking to a parent, they expressed that they think such penalties are completely and totally fair. So, perhaps I just need to get over it. #ThingsThatMakeYouGoHmmm

BEGIN ANEW: What is the first logical step for next week?

Start crafting my own prototype of a week-long PBL lesson connected to observation journaling, recording and archiving observations, pooling such observations together with a team, and operationalizing the ways in which collected, curated observations can become fodder for PBL engagements. Also, continue to explore how we might better know about and collect the incredible PBL/DT work of the faculty and those “tribe members” at other schools.


NOTE: I am venturing into an experiment. I plan to use these 7 Questions to End Your Week as a discipline of regular reflection. I feel very strongly about reflective practice. As John Dewey has taught me, learning is not simply experience, but reflecting on experience. Additionally, I think we neglect a fundamentally important opportunity when we choose to assign “homework” as a school but fail to prompt reflections like these seven questions as a building habit in young (and old) learners. What if a menu of prompts like these, and others, became more integrated into the home learning that we expect from our students and colleagues at our schools? So, to explore this wondering, I am assigning the questions and prompts first and foremost to myself. And I have invited other members of my tribe to enter into this experiment with me. I cannot wait to see all that I/we learn.