Thursday, September 7, 2017

Back To School Night (BTSN) 2017

You've already heard some from me, but since we're at the time of the year for BTSN, I, of course, have more.
Over the past few years I have noticed more and more students who have strained under the pressure of homework and grades and college applications and feeling like they need to take certain classes in order to be qualified for certain “good” colleges.
Really, it’s just too much.
What about the joy of learning?
Or learning how to be a good learner?
Or focusing on the learning and content knowledge as the thing and not stressing about points?

Not worrying about “needing” certain classes, but what classes make us happy. Which courses help us learn now AND in the future?

Yes, I get it, you want your kids to go to college, but as Frank Bruni argues in the book Where You Go Is Not Who You’ll Be, there is, largely, an illusion over what are “good” colleges and what aren’t. It is up to the student (your kid) to get the education. They should not rely on the college/university - or even the high school. They have to own it and make it themselves. Everyone else is only offering opportunity.
By the way, I highly recommend reading the above mentioned book. It’s pretty short and is excellent.

School can be played as a game, but should it be used as such? Probably not.
Students thinking they need to have a certain number of AP courses in order to compete for certain colleges isn’t healthy. At all.
And really, if a school has less than a 20% acceptance rate they probably aren’t getting in anyway. That’s just how the numbers work. You can be “perfect”, and a legacy, and not need any financial aid, and still get denied. It’s kind of a crap shoot, unfortunately.
It isn’t the end of the world, it’s just the beginning of a different opportunity.
Don’t pressure them so much. Your kids will be fine. Trust me. We have more than 100 teachers and staff here working really hard to give them as much as we can. As an added benefit, pressuring them about school less will only increase the possibility of a positive relationship between parent and offspring.

Personally, I’m more concerned with them using the knowledge and experiences in this class to make themselves better and to inform the depth and happiness of their life long after they leave my class(es). If you think about it, all of life is influenced by Art and creativity. The ways of really looking in here, and how they have to problem solve...that’s the good stuff, that stuff will make an impact on personal and professional aspects of their life going forward. Not the same can be said for every class they take here, unfortunately.

Which brings me to the big change for this academic year.

I am largely going gradeless. Really that just means grading less.
I still expect them to do the right thing, be respectful, and perform at a high level, but I’m not going to be awarding - or taking away - points for behavior (or as some name it, compliance).
I am not going to worry about projects being late. Yes, there are times when I cannot accept anything any later in a semester because I have to have time to deal with it at the end of the term, but that comes later, right?

I will still be making note online for all of these things, but it won’t negatively impact their grades.

If I prioritize the standards and content of the course, if I really believe that the products we make (their experiences) are where the learning comes from, that is what I need to consider when determining a grade. Those other things matter, but by not giving them points it actually allows for more personal conversations and fewer frustrations and hurt feelings if all is handled well.

We will be focusing on giving a lot (A LOT) of feedback this year throughout the process. It’s amazing how little students constructively talk to each other, or ask for help from each other about their work. I need them to get over this hump and not feel like they themselves are expected to have all of the answers - or that I am the only one with all of the answers. Yes, I have more experience and a broader range of language to offer, but they also have experience and knowledge to offer, so why not?
That use of feedback in an effort to get better is important. I have a peer at another school that has a motto, “Do. Reflect. Do Better.”
You have to admit, that’s pretty solid. If the students do that, if they can constantly make baby steps towards better they will have an amazing experience in this course.
Notice that this doesn’t mean achieving a certain level and then staying there, though. There is a difference. I am going to challenge your kids to continually do better, and I set the same challenge for myself. It isn’t easy, but it is worth it.

I had some great experiences over the summer, some of which I have shared with you through links already, but I thought I would share a couple of books as well.
One is Shift This, by Joy Kirr.
Another is Creating a Culture of Feedback, by Ferriter and Cancellieri.
If you have time, or are intrigued, I would recommend them both to you. It will change how you think about what your kids could have in school as contrasted with how you were taught. You won’t agree with, or understand, everything (especially in Shift This there are some strategies that just aren’t for me), but I like things that are interesting, and both of those books are that if nothing else.

I want the students to know it is about the learning, not the grades. I want them to have fun. I want them to be better.
I also want the same for myself. I want to have an amazing year where I am energized and interested and get to know a bunch of really great people - your kids.
I don’t shy away from tall tasks, so I hope they won’t either.

Here’s to the year, welcome!


Here are some other interesting links I’ve read recently you might find interesting:

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