Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Professional learning post-mortem

Monday, 7/30/18, 9:57 p.m. MT

By the time you read this, I'll be done freaking out.

See, I'm trying something I've never done before: I'm leading a small panel as part of a district professional-development day (#innovateBVSD). One local colleague and three Twitter connections accepted my invitation to participate. We're planning to swap ideas about the current state of grades, grading, and assessment in our -- and our students' -- respective worlds, and we're going to see what other educators in the area are doing and/or wondering about these critical topics on the verge of a new school year.

These can be topics fraught with both meaning and baggage. Probing them often involves questioning school status-quo, which explains one source of my anxiety. At the same time, I'm trying to imagine (or not imagine) the litany of technical and logistical difficulties that might befall juggling face-to-face participants with those joining remotely via Google Meet. "What could go wrong?" I wonder. "What couldn't?" my inner defensive pessimist jibes.

And yet, I'm excited, too: for dialogue, for collaboration, even for the mundane chance to attach voices and faces to what have until now felt like wise, disembodied avatars in my learning network. Stay tuned for what happens next...

Tuesday, 7/31/18, 9:42 p.m. MT

So. five of us formed a panel this afternoon. Sarah and I were there as flesh and blood while Carla, Amy, and Monte had their mortal coils rendered digitally from afar. The rendering worked pretty well, with sometimes spotty audio. The thinking we shared along with contributions from a dozen participants was anything but spotty in my opinion. In fact, I expect the ways our thinking converged -- across roles, levels taught, physical distance -- are going to stick with me for a while.

There was Sarah making the case for students' integral roles in the assessment process, in particular how that's borne out word-for-word in our district's teacher-evaluation criteria. There was Monte sketching out his distinction between the value in students' ongoing learning versus the finality of what they've learned in the past tense. Mastery, he suggested, might be more mirage than construct worthy of aspiration. There were Amy and Sarah, both, tying Monte's thread to the notion of growth and wondering how our reporting responsibilities as teachers might accommodate that shifty moving target. There was Carla championing portfolios as a potential bridge in this endeavor. There was Kelly noting her own child's ambivalence about changing the game of school that he's in the middle of playing even as Kelly's professional side endorses alternative instructional paradigms. There was Kiffany wishing for innovative efforts in higher education that might lever change throughout PK-12 systems. There were more thoughts, too, of which I know I lost track, but Sarah wrote down a bunch. There was also frustration expressed with traditional applications of grades, apparent in this temperature check captured via AnswerGarden:

Our conversation lasted less than an hour, nowhere near enough time. I can still feel its ripples continuing to spread, and I realize my first sentence written 24 hours ago in this blog missed the mark. Now I'm freaking out for a new reason: There's so much more to do.


  1. Brian, thank you for inviting me to your discussion on grading. I loved connecting with everyone and hearing their stories. It's clear that each of us has been struggling with the same issues and in our own ways have been experimenting to make change. And I know there are many other teachers out there who are also trying to find ways around the "evils" of grading. Yes, there's so much more to do, but I feel energized knowing that I'm not alone. Rather than feeling like a lone rebel, I'm starting to feel like part of a revolution.

  2. Brian, congrats for pushing yourself to try this professional endeavor and have this worthy conversation. As an elementary teacher, I hate grades. I tried to do away with some of it last year by not putting a grade on kids math tests but it got tricky. I think we need more conversations like the one you started!

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    2. Kathleen, I don't know if you'll see this, but the 9th grade math teachers at our school tried to switch the way they were assessing in math class and it worked well for them. All of our math classes will be changing the way they grade this year. You can read about what they did here:

  3. I detest presenting to colleagues. I can be so calm, so comfortable teaching kids all day, but give me a room full of adults and it feels completely different. It sounds as though all went well and you went really deep into the discussion. Well done!

  4. There is always so much more to do when you are a dedicated teacher, Brian.

  5. It sounds like your panel was a success, and a sign of that is the work that resulted from your efforts. I would be disappointed if such a panel didn't inspire positive changes; sounds like you hit your mark!

  6. Sounds like an interesting conversation (and thanks for sharing out some of its pieces with us), and the themes seem familiar to discussions that go on at our school.

  7. Thank you so much for leading this conversation - it is only the beginning, but we have to start somewhere!

  8. What an important topic. I contemplate how to change things often. This gives me more food for thought.