Monday, December 8, 2014


I shared the following video from KLM with some peers and think it’s worth sharing for everyone. Watch the link first then read below….

Talk about Branding. What makes your class/school different? Are you truly a team of collaborating professionals? As I watched this video, I saw everyone pitching in to make the customer experience #1 priority. I saw no titles and no division of jobs based on job description. Everyone was doing exactly what needed to be done to make the customer happy. To give them an experience that made them want to come back. To create memories that last. We happen to offer the same services for our students, but are we doing it together? A personal challenge for me, from this point on, is to have the #happytohelp mentality. No matter what class you teach…. I want to help. Mother Theresa said, “I can do things you cannot, you can do things I cannot; together we can do great things.” So, how can you help other teachers make their classes great? What service can you offer to make your school great? Eliminate the boundaries of classroom walls and the isolation of staying in your comfort zone. Hopefully you agree…..with a little #happytohelp mentality the student experience will be like none other. I challenge you to seek out a colleague; offer a fresh perspective and be #happytohelp!



Monday, December 1, 2014

Leave your mark...

I shared this with our staff today and thought it was worthy of attaching to the ole' blog. I hope you leave a MARK!

What kind of mark are you leaving on your students? I read Mark Sanborn’s blog today and thought about our students. Are we making a difference in their lives? Do they leave knowing we care and that we gave it our all? When’s the last time you didn’t teach but took the time to learn more about your student’s? I hope you take the time before winter break to be committed in building relationships. Don’t get caught up in deadlines and schedules. Look at your lesson plans and question what experiences are you creating. Leave a mark. Let them know you care!



Monday, August 25, 2014

Don't Box Them In

Don't Box Them In!

Welcome to a new school year! Summer is over and it's time to get back to what we do as educators. This week I welcomed my second class into Academy EDU. The challenge was to do something different and capture their attention from day one. So, I started by making balloon animals with them because it's much more interesting than hashing out the syllabus and classroom rules. Over the summer Dr. Privott of Morehead State University led our cohort through this activity.  It was a great ice breaker and can be used to discuss the importance of communication, individualization, and failure. Numerous balloons popped in the process, but students were able to start over if needed. Watching and modeling became more important than listening to a fixed set of instructions. I encouraged students to talk with one another and help each other out. At the end we reflected on the importance of being a team and offering support to one another. We also discussed that failing at something new is better than not trying at all.  We then went over the syllabus for the course. I handed every student a blank sheet of paper. Many confused looks came my way. The standard comment of, "Hey.....mines blank" was uttered a few times. I then gave them a list of instructions to fold the paper in half, tear the corner off, fold it in half again, tear another corner off, rotate to the left 3 times, and place a hole in the middle. Then they opened up their syllabus and compared it to their classmates. What do know....they all received the same instructions but no two were the same. That's my goal this year. I am not going to "box" my students in with a heavy list of what-to-do's or make everyone do the exact same work. This year the name of the game is "personalized experience".  Just like their snowflake style syllabus my hope is that each student experiences something unique and impactful on their life. As teachers, it's important to realize that some of the best lessons we deliver are not academic in nature. As a matter fact when I asked my class to recall their favorite teacher and how they influenced their life. Many stated that it was not the academics that counted, but the personal life lessons learned that meant the most. I'm not sure how this year will unfold, but I do know I am stepping more out of my comfort zone to #IMPACT my students.
One way is through our building challenge of flipping the Genius Hour. We are implementing the 10-80-10 rule. The first 10% of a class is your time to be on stage as the teacher. The next 80% is purely driven by student engagement and practice. The last 10% is wrapping it up, spend time reflecting and discussing the next step. The leadership team got the idea from John Maxwell's blog about his 10-80-10 Principle. Maxwell uses this management principle for team projects where he only involves himself in the first and last 10% of a project. The middle 80% is carried out by the team because he wants them to feel ownership. Yes, you are still there to guide and assist but it truly becomes their baby. We then incorporated Gagne's 9 Events of Instruction (another takeaway from Dr. Curry at Morehead State this summer). This model really fits our idea of students truly experiencing personalized learning, self-discovery, and practice in the classroom. Again, we are not abandoning the teacher in this process. It takes a lot of behind the scenes prep-work to run your class this way and you get to interact at a more one-on-one level with students during the 80% time. This may sound like differentiated instruction, but I have to agree with Dr. Justin Tarte's recent post about 6 things we need to stop saying in education. In his post he recommends that instead of saying differentiated "we start saying 'personalized or customized learning.' Similar to teaching, differentiated instruction is very teacher-centered whereas 'personalized & customized learning' is more focused on the students." This sounds very constructive in nature and it is. We need to step away from the "one size fits all" mentality and start making education about the student. I don't care what test you give or how you measure your rigor in the classroom all I ask is that you create a culture where students feel safe to step out on a limb and are not afraid to fail. Don't box them in! Let them let get creative and in the end you may be surprised that they exceed your expectations. I leave you with this quote from Jon Gordon this morning on what customers want.I think this is what we want as teachers and what our students want from us:

If you have any fun....exciting....engaging activities for back to school leave them in the comment section for others to read.


Thursday, May 8, 2014

The Most Powerful Tool in the Classroom.....

It's that time of year in Ohio. The snow has melted and the flowers are pushing through the ground. Every classroom is coming alive and enjoying the winter thaw (it was brutal). The sound of the playground is erupting at every school and all the teachers take in a much needed breath of fresh air. For most of us "The Tests" are over this week and we start to look for fun engaging activities. Let's be honest here....we should be doing this all year long. I am going to make this post short and sweet and talk about the one Tool every teacher should use. I hope your ready because I am fully convinced that this Tool is powerful beyond any assessment or OTES Model. When used properly you will be surprised at how much growth you will experience in yourself and in your students (or staff if an Administrator).

Let's first discuss what it is not....

  • ...the magical LMS that saves you time and effort by putting all you resources in one happy place
  • ...the iPad app that makes every lesson Pop with interactive pieces and immediate feedback that drives your future lesson planning 
  • ...a fancy SmartBoard that acts as an expensive whiteboard because you haven't had the right PD to discover how to use it. 
  • iPad or a Computer that you use to share your Google docs through for collaborative 21st Century skills.
  • ...your PLN that you grow weekly by engaging in Twitter chats and sharing Social Media buzz every Wednesday using
  • ...the Staff book study that sends your mind into overload because it gives you a fresh perspective on how to view Education
So...what is it? Think you are ready to discover that one tool....IT"S YOU! You the Teacher....The Educator....The Guide on the Side...The Mentor...The one that listened when no one else cared! You make all the difference in creating the culture within the walls of your classroom and your building. None of the items I mentioned above happen without you taking action on them or seeking/discovering for yourself. Quit waiting for someone to show you how and get out there and create your own way. It's your classroom OWN IT! As Eric Thomas (@EricThomasbtc) says..."Create the New Normal!" Be excited about what you get to do each and every day. Rediscover why you got into Education in the first place and fuel your purpose with passion. Be intentional and consistent with your actions and SERVE your students, colleagues and staff members. Today my class Skyped with author and speaker Jon Gordon (@JonGordon11). His advice to passionate in every moment and finish strong. Focus on one interaction at a time and give it your absolute best. Happy Teacher Appreciation week and I hope you finish the year STRONG!


Thursday, April 17, 2014

Maintaining a GrowthMindset

Exactly what is a Growth Mindset? Carol Dweck shares that "in a growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work—brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment." Read more about this in her book Mind Set.

George Courous writes in his blog that the biggest game changer in the future of education is how we think and grow. He states the “game changer” is, and always will be, being open to new learning opportunities, doing something with them, and making that human connection to our learners." This blog represents what I do to maintain growth and ensure I do not stagnate. It's important to constantly evaluate new tools for my classroom and how they will impact my students. Search out sources of personal influence that can help push me out of my comfort zone. I like to keep a collection of random--ok, let me use a trendier word-- “innovative” thoughts or ideas to continually reflect on and implement.
New Tools

1. My latest tech integration tool has been Nearpod. This is a great  presentation app that can be used as a live session or a homework session for those looking to flip the classroom.  You can upload your presentation into the online platform. Once there you can add different activities (open-ended discussion, quizzes, polls, etc.) that allow teachers to use formative and summative assessments instantly during the presentation. A great way to gain that instant feedback we are all looking for.

2. GetKahoot is a quick and easy web based app to instantly gamify your classroom. Think of the quiz game at local restaurants, this app allows you to turn a boring review session into an instant hit by pairing students against one another to get the most points. We recently used it at our school with a group of 75+ 5th graders who had an absolute blast! A colleague of mine used it to review for his upcoming test and the students were begging for more. Gamification is a big push right now and any time you can turn your lesson into a game it becomes more interesting to the student.

Personal Influences

We all need people who inspire us. Mentors who coach us. Books that make us better. Professional connections that challenge us to grow.  I do my best to seek out those who challenge me mentally, physically, and spiritually. Here is a brief and incomplete list of who I turn to:

 1. My wife! She constantly pushes me to grow and challenges my way of thinking. With us, opposites truly did attract. I need her point of view when I am facing big decisions. She helps bring a dose reality into my dreaming mind but also encourages me to think outside the box. She hates sappy, so I am sure she will read this and laugh, but I am driven because of the value she adds in my life. A great lesson for any leader, when you add value to others you set them up for success.

 2. John Maxwell- Maxwell is a world leader on what it takes to grow people. His upbringing through the ranks of small churches to mega churches helped shaped his teachings. My first leadership book was Thinking For a Change. It altered the way I was approaching life back in my mid 20's. Maxwell has timeless principles that just about all leaders have heard of or quoted. I am very excited that I get to hear him speak for the first time next week.

3. Cory Gregory- If you follow me on Twitter you will notice that almost every morning I use the #upearlytotrain hash tag. This is because of Cory. He is the Co-founder of MusclePharm, a nutritional supplement company. Like any other mid-30's guy (assuming generalities here people) I needed to make a change to my physical health. Following Cory on Twitter is like having a personal trainer/ motivator in your pocket. I have had the privilege of working out with him and his 5AM crew at The Old School Gym. My students were fortunate to have him and Jason Daniels (MP Sales Dir.) speak at our school this semester. His story is one of success through failures and a testimony to following your passion. His training regiment is not for the weak minded!

4. Jon Gordon- I was introduced to Jon by way of his OneWord philosophy. This simple yet impactful practice helps you set goals for the year based around one word that can transform your life. Mine so happens to be #uncomfortable. Since then, my wife and I have completed almost all of his books and awaiting the release of his latest book The Carpenter. Jon focuses on the positive and encourages you to be a difference maker in the lives of others. His book the Energy Bus is a simple and creative story that anyone could take and implement its principles into their daily lives.

5. Eric Thomas-Not a whole lot to say here, other than you have to check him out. INSPIRING! His story is moving and he is contagiously motivating. I show his TGIM series to my classes consistently and constantly share his messages with others. If you haven't seen his original video about wanting to be successful check it out right here: Secrets to Success

6. My #PLN. Twitter has become a staple for my personal and professional growth. Here are some of the chats I have joined and the nights they fall on. can become addictive and you get odd looks from your family when you are constantly checking your feeds. Use your time wisely. Something I am struggling with but vow to work on for the sake of my family's sanity. (The links are either to the chat handle or the chat moderator.)
  1. My peers and colleagues. The ones I do life with everyday.
  2. #NBTchat Sunday 7PM CST
  3. #HCSDchat Tuesday 8:30PM EST
  4. #bealeader Tuesday 7PM EST
  5. #aspiringadmin Sunday 8PM CST
  6. #christianeducators Thursday 9PM EST
  7. #COLchat Monday 9PM EST
Random Ideas
1. Why don't we teach students like we coach sports. We allow the team to watch film to point out mistakes made on the court. We then create a plan to improve performance and ensure a better outcome. Don't punish students with homework or formative assessment. Instead make a plan to work together and get to a projected growth target. Make learning about them and more individualized.

2. Have you shipped your ideas lately? As a staff we completed a book study on Seth Godin's Linchpin. A phenomenal read that pushes you out of your comfort zone. In it he talks about the process of shipping ideas. Ideas that we have been sitting on because of doubt and fear of failure. The question I have is this, what ideas have you been sitting on because of fear or rejection? It's time to ship it and see what happens. Who cares if it is a flop? Take a chance...share it ...reflect on it ...and improve!

3. Recently I was talking to my Professor for an online class. For one of the projects we had to create an online activity for our students. I decided to have my students begin a blog about their experiences during their observations. However, one of the items we needed to submit was a detailed description of our instruction for our students. That is where I had a problem. I purposefully made my instructions vague and I was sharing this with my instructor. Our conversation went like this..."Please explain"'s like this, I told the students I wanted them to start blogging about their experiences. Done. "That's all you gave them?" Yep!... I only gave more if they asked for it. Not once did my students ask how they would be graded. I simply told them I wanted to share their thoughts and ideas with staff and through my twitter feed. I gave them an audience bigger than me. I wanted them to practice the art of reflection and make them aware of how important it is to be transparent. Was it uncomfortable for some? You bet. But what they have shared has been amazing. I have had to take a step back and learn from them. Great stuff!

My challenge is this and I would ask that you share your thoughts in the comments section. What are you doing to keep a "Growth Mindset" and how are you encouraging others to Grow?



Monday, March 10, 2014

Back to the Basics: The Three R's....

Growing up I remember being told that I needed to focus on the basics, the Three Rs of education, to get anywhere in life. I never got that,  I constantly misspelled Writing and Arithmetic for the remainder of my childhood. Today I was reminded that not everything you need to know comes from a textbook. As I was leaving the gym I overheard two guys discussing how they were doing with their personal goals. One of them talked about how he had fallen behind with one and was trying to play catch up. He continued to talk and it was hard for me not to listen. I could hear the reflective thought process occurring while he engaged in conversation. I was impressed that he had taken the time to see what caused him to get side tracked and I thought to myself, wow what a great lesson for the day! You see, I firmly believe that life is full of teachable moments. We just get too busy and bogged down to stop and listen. The young gentleman discussed that he had written down some ideas on how to improve. He came up with the following three words to guide him for the rest of the year: Refresh....Refine....Retool.

Immediately I thought how these three simple words could have an impact on the classroom or even our personal lives. What if  we as teachers, students, and individuals practiced this at least once or even daily? These became my Three R’s for the remainder of the year.

Refresh- Just like in video games....we all need a refresh (restart) button. Sometimes you need to start over because things have gotten a little messy since you began. Take a break...take a deep breath...find a new perspective. Whatever you do don't give up on the idea... unless it is useless (think 80/20 rule: focus 80% of your time on the top 20% of things that bring you the most reward)... If not, then drop it. As teachers should we allow students a chance to refresh? I say yes! Teach them to reflect and start over. Make them do it again to show they can do better and be more creative.

Refine- I think that we all need to work within our passion and purpose. Life however, has a way of derailing us if we let it. We pick up extra work, allow things to steal our time, we don't act when needed--out of fear, or we simply have developed a bad habit. According to Webster the word refine means "to free from impurities or unwanted material." A diamond is worthless unless it goes through a refinement process. Only then does it gain it's true value. Take the time to look at what you are doing. Is it with purpose? Are you passionate about it? If not, then why are you doing it? Find ways to refine your life and pursue your passion with intentional purpose. Polish yourself up and get after it!

Retool- What can you do today to better yourself? What new tool can you learn about that will have an immediate impact on how you do your day to day?  I could insert a long list of what I use, but what I use may not work for you. As an educator I am constantly looking into new technology and the way it could impact my students. Personally I look for books that challenge me to think differently and build my leadership style. It's best to go discover it yourself. Find something new that adds to who you are and truly allows you to grow. Even if it's uncomfortable. According to Brian Tracy you must “move out of your comfort zone. You can only grow if you are willing to feel awkward and uncomfortable when you try something new.”

The point behind all this is personal growth. As Will Rogers stated, “even if you're on the right track, you'll get run over if you just sit there.” Equip yourself for the future you. Be your own competition down the road and see how far you can go.



Monday, February 24, 2014

Intentional Failure...I'm not a Lifetime Learner, I'm a Lifetime Failure

Just recently my son has developed a love for basketball which excites me because I love that sport! At 6 he is a competitive little guy that has not seen a shot he did not like. During his third game this season he seemed to be in a bit of a slump and could not get one to fall in. His attitude immediately began to change with each shot he missed. You could tell he was feeling the stress of failure.  After the game I tried to talk to him, but  my son has two gears when failure shows up... quit or make a fierce comeback (that is fueled by intense self determination). In this case he quit on the court that day. But in the days that followed, he practiced harder, focused more and was able to use that as fuel to rise above. He wanted to go out and shoot as much as he could. He wanted to practice dribbling nonstop--to the point that he retreated to our basement to get more time with the ball. To him, failure is a pride issue. Failure hurts when he is not performing at his best and he is only 6. When we shoot around he always wants to play horse and at times I will will let him win. Just last night he made one of the most profound statements to me, "Dad I don't want you to always let me win....I have to learn how to win on my own." I was caught off guard. Why is it that my 6 year old has the desire to rise above but yet some teachers and students are afraid of failure? Why do we not accept failures in our life? Let's face it, without them many of the things we learned as children would not have been discovered. How many times have you watched a baby fall learning how to walk? How many times did you personally take a spill on your bike once you took the training wheels off? When you moved away from home how many times did you wish you had a support system when all things fell apart? At what age do we just stop trying when failure shows up? I think it is important to learn how to get away from the "just quit" mentality. I know it is hard for everyone to do that. In our immediate family alone there are literally four different attitudes present when failure shows up! Some breakdown and cry, some accept it and move on, others dwell on it and it can drag them down. It's hard to know the true response to failure because it is very personal. However, I feel we all have the potential to take failure and turn it into a learning moment. Let's be honest, we can not avoid failure and if we try to maintain life living in fear of failure then we will never know our true capabilities. This image sits on my desktop (and my twitter header) as a reminder that we gain experience from dealing with failure as it comes:
I got to experience one of those aha moments when I was encouraged by my school director to sit back and watch my students fail.  Sounds crazy! Well, we have a philosophy at the ILC that it is OK to fail. In fact, we encourage our students to continually try new stuff and see what happens. On this particular day (and what seemed to be in the heat of the moment) we intentionally set our students up for failure. Our students are future teachers. We want to give them the best real world perspective on what it means to be a teacher. We had had one of those weeks where we were out the classroom all day every day and by the time Friday came we were conducting a “5th grade Invasion” in our building. About 100 5th graders descended on the ILC nearly 20 min early and we did not have time to conduct our typical pre-plan meeting. We have done this about 10 times before, so we decided to just let our students do what they do and run the show. Two students were absent so they had to rearrange things and work on the fly. Groups were unevenly assigned and individuals started in different activities that they were not accustomed to. You could see some panic in their eyes and some attitudes became visible on their faces. It was a moment in which it felt like chaos was setting in. We started hearing comments from our students about how unorganized it all felt. You could tell some of them were struggling with working within their groups and trying to keep the attention of fifteen 5th graders became a major challenge. In the end, our director took all the students aside and discussed with them how this was a lesson in "intentional failure." His idea was for them to experience how stressful the day-to-day of being a teacher could be. Even in those times we still need to give our students our very best experience while they are in our care. They may not have appreciated the lesson that day but they had the weekend to think about it. The following Monday my co-teacher and I spent the day reflecting on the experience. Below is a list of thoughts that came from our discussion and I wanted to share. When failure shows up:
  1. Don't quit.....You may need a moment to process what is happening but don't ever quit.
  2. Don't blow up or implode.....This is hard especially if the system you have created is not working.
  3. Own up....We sometimes pass the buck or try to ignore but the best thing you can do is own it.
  4. Reflect on it.....Probably the most important step after acknowledgement is reflection
  5. Identify....What caused the failure to occur?
  6. Modify...What can you change so that you are ready the next time this happens?
  7. Rise up...Implement the change and rise above our previous failures.
  8. Be ready...Because it is going to happen again!
I probably took more away from this lesson than my students did. I have come to realize not everyone responds the way I do and that even I can learn something from a 6 year old. As teachers, parents, students and individuals we can't avoid failure. We can't always make it a safe environment and ensure everyone wins. We have to let failure be a process we all experience and learn from. The question is when it happens...are you going to quit or be fueled to rise above?



Thursday, February 6, 2014

Losing sight of the shore.....

When I first met my wife I was informed that her family operated a fishing charter service on Lake Erie. Needless to say it was love at first sight! After a couple of years I began helping in the summers working on the boats as a first-mate. My job consisted of prepping the boat, getting to know the customers, ensuring everyone had the proper bait, demonstrate the fishing technique of the day, and make sure the boat was cleaned and ready for the next trip. A few years later I decided to get my Captains License and now serve as relief Captain in the summers. It's a great way to help the family and there is nothing like being out on the open water. During my years as first-mate I was taught how to navigate home by looking at the shoreline. Yes, we had the fancy GPS but it was really much easier just look at the shore and head to Port. As I began running my own trips as Captain I would rely on this method. One particular trip stands out in my mind as I began running trips. I remember heading out and having a seasoned first-mate with me. The fishing was terrible close to shore and the customers were getting a little restless. My first-mate had some insider information on a school of fish about 14 miles out. On Lake Erie, that is a pretty good haul, especially in a boat that doesn't go that fast.

I knew at this point I had a decision to make. My first big go into the unknown or stay put, hoping the fish would start biting. A nervous twitch was in my stomach as I realized that the fish were so far out that I would not be able to see the shoreline. You see, the shore gives you a sense of peace. You can never feel lost when you’re in sight of it. Well, I decided to go for it and ended up having one of my best trips ever. I took a chance and left the comforts of my safety net to find the fish. The customers were happy and I was glad we avoided a mutiny. So, what does this have to do with teaching? To me this represents a challenge! Who doesn't like a good challenge? How could you step out of your comfort zone and take a chance in your classroom? As teachers we need to evaluate our day to day. Are we truly helping students by sticking to the same routines year-in-year out, relying on teaching styles that were used when we were in school?   Should we be helping our students realize that staying in your comfort zone is not always the most rewarding place to be? If you are willing to take a chance, let me offer you three challenges to get you started out of your comfort zone:

  1. Become the facilitator of knowledge in your classroom. All too often, teachers are the authority figure with the "my way or the highway" mentality. Be the guide on the side and not the sage on the stage. Present your material in a way that sparks interest with your students and makes them ask questions. Blow something up! Talk about grabbing their attention. Students love to see things explode. Find some creative lesson that gets them on the edge of their seat and tie it into how it impacts their life.
  2. Open the door for self-discovery. Quit handing out worksheets and quit delivering textbook power-points. BORING!  After you have found a creative way to present your material (Stormboard, Schoology, Padlet, whatever platform you choose), challenge them to create rather than regurgitate material back to you. We all know Bloom and even he says that creating is the single best way to show understanding. Have them create a blog with daily reflections of what they learned in class. Work in groups and create a commercial to sell a product. Don't hinder their creativity with a large list of what to do; rather be vague and allow them to ask questions. This dialog will be more beneficial than a list of instructions. You will be surprised how creative students can be when they feel encouraged to explore. 
  3. Get uncomfortable and develop a PLN with colleagues or on Twitter. This year alone I have truly discovered the power of Twitter (@MrRileyjo). It's not just a social media website. It is a source of constant Professional Development. I always look for ideas from teachers that are experimenting with new technology or ways to implement Project Based Learning. Find or create a group with colleagues that will challenge the way you think and work with you to discover new methods. Quit doing things the way you always have and step out of your comfort zone. Checkout the chart below. It comes from John Maxwell's book Sometimes You Win, Sometimes You Learn.What zone are you in?

If you are doing something different please share. If you accept my challenge comment and let me know how it's going. I am always willing to offer suggestions and learn myself. Get away from the shore-line and see what you find outside your comfort zone.


Friday, January 17, 2014

Busted Pipes and Grades....

You know that moment when confidence takes over and you feel you can do anything… and then it all comes crashing down on you. It typically happens right in the middle of a project or after a few small victories. You have conditioned yourself to succeed and then someone or something pops your balloon. I've lived that out over the last couple days. My wife and I came up with a "Honey Do" list of items that needed my attention around the house. I successfully completed about 2 days worth of work on the list and was feeling pretty confident about my accomplishments.  I decided to tackle the leaky spigot outside right before dark. You see, it's supposed to get cold again, frigid actually, thank you Arctic Vortex. So, I knew I could get it fixed in minutes allowing us not to worry about freezing pipes.  As soon as I turned the wrench I heard a pop and was instantly sprayed with water on the back of my head. The line running to the spigot snapped inside an elbow in our basement. I spent the next 3.5 hours in a whirlwind trying to fix the busted pipe including three trips to the hardware store and at least 20 confused looks from the employees as I explained the problem. Back home, water was steadily leaking out so I had to enlist my 6 yr. old son to bucket patrol because I couldn't find the main shut-off valve to the house. I even became desperate and gave an emergency call to the local plumber (who has still not returned my call). Luckily my neighbor came over and found the main shut-off (literally right in front of me the whole time) and offered and easy solution that only cost me and extra trip to the hardware store and .71 cents in cpvc. The day was saved but my handyman ego took a hit—however, I learned something new and gained a better understanding about house plumbing.

I tell you this story because I failed. I got an "F" in plumbing repairs but I accepted my failure as a learning moment. Next time.....hire a plumber :) You see, to me, this is how grading should be and how learning works best. Grading is a touchy subject for some and you may completely disagree with my philosophy, but hear me out and take some time to share your ideas in the comments.

I was the teacher that graded everything and it all counted. Not one point went unnoticed and if you didn't turn something in, you got a zero. If you turned it in late, I deducted points because you were terrible at your job.....being a student. If you didn't put your name on the paper, I took points off! Let's face it, you knew the deadline and I couldn’t bend, because as the teacher, I have policies on a syllabus that dictate my very being! Now, fast forward to the new, more informed me. I have had numerous conversations over the last couple of weeks that have really challenged my traditional grading procedures and have pushed me to consider how I pursue grades in the future. Maybe you think there is nothing wrong with our grading system but I would challenge you to consider the following points:

1.     We are setting kids up for failure and in today's society failure is not accepted. Well, unless you believe as I do—that failure is perfectly OK. We tell students that on a scale of 0-100%, 0-59% is failing while the only way to pass is to score in the top 41%. I don't know about you but the fact that the "F" grade carries a majority of the load seems unfair. Why don't we take the 5 grades and divide them evenly across the scale? Each grade would then carry 20% of the load. Is that fair? Why don't we scrap grading all together? That in itself is whole other conversation I will save for later.
2.     Punishing kids for late work or effort should not affect their grade on an assignment or overall course grade. Nor should attendance be taken into account when grading. We can't control what is occurring outside of school and we shouldn't allow those factors to flow into our grading policies. Assessment and attendance/effort are separate entities. As teachers shouldn't we be more concerned about why the work is late and why kids are missing class? Think of this scenario: a high school student is living out of his car and making it to class daily. He can only access a computer while at school and has trouble completing assignments by the deadlines. But when he completes the assignments he demonstrates a high level of understanding of the material. As a teacher, should we impact his grades by enforcing our syllabus policy? If you get a moment checkout the book A Repair Kit for Grading by Ken O'Connor. He argues that in reality people constantly negotiate deadlines. If you have built or bought a home you know how true this is. Ken shares 15 fixes for broken grades and truly challenges you to restructure the process. 

3.     Current mindset says that at the High School level we are preparing students for College and at the College level we are preparing them for the real world. So, in the real world we all get graded on a Letter Grade Scale, right? I teach both High School and College courses and as a teaching professional I never get a letter grade during my evaluations. As a matter of fact I get graded through an evaluation system that is based off a series of benchmarks. My administrator works with and mentors me along the way so that I am reflecting and improving on my skills as the year progresses. Even in the workforce most are evaluated over a year long period and may have quarterly reviews that reflect on their performance overall. Sir Ken Robinson has a great RSA video on changing the way we view our education system:

So, how do we fix this? Like the busted pipe, you have to try first! You will mess will get frustrated! But you must take the first step. Start in your individual classroom and challenge the system we have all been a part of. Change is hard but living in the uncomfortable can be rewarding as you reach breakthroughs. Get buy-in from your students, parents, colleagues, and administrators. Share with others your success but more importantly what you've learned when things fell apart. Look into a standards based grading system that allows you to measure student knowledge on the subject rather than whether or not they can complete assignments. Click this link for a great read on SBG. I have merely touched the surface in my new way thinking on grades and it is my hope to incorporate this into the remainder of the year. Who knows, next year I may not grade at all and just focus on teaching my students the art of failure, reflection and modification!