This has been a great week of learning. I had the privilege to hear Thomas Guskey from the University of Kentucky give a presentation on Improving Student Learning with Standards, Assessment, and Grading.
I was particularly challenged to look at the grading practices in my district and the ways in which teachers create great variance in student grades based on the mis-use of poorly understood practices. With all of the work centered around the adoption of the common core, it would be easy to let a presentation like this go and not create an action plan around the learnings from the day. However, there is a moral case for correcting wrongs once they have been discovered. Luckily I work with a team of all-stars that aren't afraid of tackling big issues, even when their plates are already full. Every leader should be so lucky.
What I feel compelled to write about is an anecdote that Dr. Guskey shared about perception and misinterpretation. He told it in the context of grades and how they can be perceived differently depending on how you look at them. I am applying the story as a cautionary tale to be remembered and pondered as the beginning of the school year approaches.
There were two brothers who had developed the bad habit of swearing.
On morning their mother decided that she was going to put an end to it by swatting her sons the next time they cursed.
As she began preparing breakfast, her sons came downstairs and wandered into the kitchen. The oldest son asked what they were going to be eating. Upon hearing that it was pancakes, he replied, "I don't want any G..Damn pancakes!"
The mother, keeping to her mental promise, promptly grabbed her son, grabbed a paddle, and lit into him. Once she was done she sent him right to his room.
The other son, who was watching from the doorway, looked at his mother and said, "I don't know what he did, but I definitely don't want any G..Damn pancakes!"
This year, as we think about our students (especially our challenging ones), take an extra moment when you are agitated with them to consider how they have perceived what you have said. Carefully consider the context of your spoken words, and before you get mad at Johnny or Jenny, ensure that there is no possible way that they could have come to a different conclusion based on their perception of what you meant (or didn't mean).
Education is a tough business, and the personalities teachers have to deal with do not get any easier as the years go by. However, taking the extra moments in the heat of the classroom pressure cooker to consider all possible interpretations of situations prior to acting can save you a ton of grief in the long run.