Thursday, August 28, 2014

The First Friday: Our Future World

In addition to my regular blog posts, each Friday I share the Teaching and Learning Friday Focus memo I write and send to all staff in our district. Here is the first edition of the 2014-15 school year... 

"The future of the world is in my class today, a future with the potential for good or bad...several future presidents are learning from me today; so are the great writers of the next decades, and so are all the so-called ordinary people who will make the decisions in a democracy. I must never forget these same young people could be the thieves and murderers of the future. Only a teacher? Thank God I have a calling to the greatest profession of all! I must be vigilant every day lest I lose one fragile opportunity to improve tomorrow."
- Ivan Welton Fitzwater

This week, we set the stage for another successful year of leading impressionable young people. I take great comfort in knowing that these children attend our schools, where their minds, emotions, and values are shaped by some of the finest role models imaginable. These young people will go on to become our future. We will produce many noble citizens who go on to greatness. We also must confront the inevitable fact that others will take a different, even tragic, path. All we can do is remind ourselves to "remain vigilant every day lest we lose one fragile opportunity" to do whatever we can to encourage the former and reduce the likelihood of the latter.

The first week of school--indeed, even the first few minutes of the first lesson we teach--sets the tone for the entire year. If our students leave school Friday afternoon excited about themselves as learners, and you as their teacher, then, my friends, we are already halfway home. From what I observed this week, I anticipate this will be the case. As you progress through the remaining weeks of this school year, I encourage you to reflect on our mission. Recall also the import of our charge as described by Fitzwater. Remember, too, that our kids will meet any expectations we set for them as long as we are firm, fair, and consistent with these expectations and build relationships with our students so that they will want to meet them. Finally, remember that the primary way we accomplish this positive relationship-building with our kids is simply by caring deeply about them as learners--and as human beings.

Again this year, each of us has an exciting opportunity awaiting: to be a small part of something big--what our own future will look like! Thanks for molding the minds of our future politicians, lawyers, athletes, doctors, religious leaders, engineers, and teachers. May you all be blessed with a healthy and happy year, both at school and at home. I mentioned on Monday that I believe this will be our most exciting year yet in our school district's storied tradition of noted excellence, thanks to our amazing students and our equally-amazing teachers, who stand ready to teach them, guide them, and care for them.

Book Bits...

A Repair Kit for Grading: 15 Fixes for Broken Grades by Ken O'Connor

This summer, many staff members in our school district took advantage of our free, optional summer professional learning reading initiative. Some staff members read Rick Wormeli's, Fair Isn't Always Equal. Others read Personal Learning Networks by Will Richardson. Still others read Covey's Leader In Me. As for myself, I joined several colleagues in reading Ken O'Connor's book, cited above. At some point during the year, I will call on colleagues who read the other books to share what they learned with the entire district through the weekly Friday Focus. For the next 15 issues, however, I will be including in this space just a bit of information from Ken's book that I read as a way to share with everyone in our district a few key takeaways.

In O'Connor's excellent book, he devotes a chapter each to 15 "broken" grading practices, offering a "fix" for each problem. Here is the first problem, along with Ken's fix:

Grades are broken when they do not accurately communicate achievement, i.e., information about academic progress. The fix for this is to make sure we do not include student behaviors (effort, participation, adherence to class rules, etc.) in grades, only achievement. Grades should reflect only student performance in mastering the public, published learning goals of the state/district/school. Our kids and parents have a right to know the specific level of a student's knowledge in a particular subject and on each standard at a given point in time. Grades are broken when we mix achievement and non-academic achievement elements into a grade. The fix is to report such variables as behavior--or in our district, Habits of Success--separately from achievement. Too often, grades reflect a mixture of multiple factors; a grades should provide as clear a measure as possible of the best a student can do in a specific academic area.


  1. Jeff, your Friday Focus concept is excellent - it's going on my "To Do" list for someday. Reading your post reminds us of the powerful role teachers play in the lives of those charged with leading our future. When we run our decisions up against the question, "Is this decision what is best for children?" we can sleep at night knowing that we've served our purpose as leaders. Thank you for showing us the way, leading and learning, by example. Best wishes on the start of an exciting and strong school year!

    - Dennis

    1. Dennis, Thank you so much for reading and commenting. So important to keep asking ourselves the most important question of all, as you suggest: Is this what is best for our students? Have an awesome school year, my friend!