Why Grades Don’t Work

“I think I deserve better than ‘meet expectations,” commented the STEAM assistant in a follow-up meeting after her review for the year. We were asked to fill out an assistant teacher evaluation for our STEAM assistant in the preschool. This position was new this year got defined as the year progressed. We have two PreK 3 and two PreK 4 classes with a teacher and teacher assistant in each room. The STEAM assistant works with the four teachers, the STEM coach, the math coach, the preschool science teacher, and the innovation team to come up with centers that integrate all these subjects for our preschoolers. Now the year is drawing to an end, and all of us were asked to complete an evaluation. Not a big deal, right? Well…

The innovation team met, we came up with a ‘rating’ system and presented the form to our team member. That’s when it was evident that our rating system did not work. The STEAM assistant is a person who is motivated to grow and learn. She likes to take the initiative and is reliable. We all know there is always room to improve and technologies are changing fast. We went with ‘meet expectations’ because it was her first year and she is learning different tools she can use to incorporate during the STEAM activities. The format was wrong. Together we came up with a goal sheet for next year with measurable and attainable objectives for the next year. That encouraged her. Ding, ding, ding, ding! That’s when it dawned on me what a disservice we are doing our children with grading them. They feel the same way!

Yes, we want to hold our students accountable. Yes, we want to motivate and empower them. Maybe we are going about it in the wrong way. The goal is for students to become happy, self-reliant, confident, and responsible learners who love the process and know how and where to go for resources. There is always room for improvement, right? I think of myself as a lifelong learner. Does an A encourage me, or does it tell me I mastered it and there is no deeper learning possible or necessary? Perhaps short-term goals and narratives would create a lot more lifelong learners. I would love to hear your opinion.

What we do as Innovators

Why? Why do we do what we do as innovators? Do we want to make an impact on children’s lives, so they can become the best people they can for a future that we do not know what it is going to hold? We want to raise a generation that cares about the world around them, shows empathy, knows how to problem solve, make things better, or invents something new to create a better the world. Do we need to transfer knowledge? No. Are we to dictate what they should know? No.

To develop caring individuals we need to provide them with a skill set, so they know how to act upon a given situation or a new idea. They need to know where to find relevant and accurate information, who to connect with, synthesize that information, and then how to communicate their findings to a captive audience.  They learn how to collaborate and think outside of the box to solve a problem, build upon an existing idea, or design a radically new one. We are talking about innovation. Innovation’s definition is a new idea, device, or method. But it is more than just that it is to make something better. If we want (and we need to) provide our learners with skills, so they become successful, passionate, and applicable individuals, we need to innovate. And like George Couros says in his book The Innovator’s Mindsetinnovation is a mindset.

When we start with the youngest among us, we will have a bright future ahead. We can tap into knowledge with the touch of a button, but skills of identifying problems or opportunities and taking a vested interest in finding a solution give us an opportunity to teach the basics to learners and more. To research a topic, they need to know how to read. They need to know what the main idea is, how to summarize, how to make inferences. Data is most likely involved in some way, shape or form.  They need to be able to make calculations, interpret data, visually represent that data and even predict outcomes. They need to learn how to write, how to organize, how to get a point across, and how to narrate, so readers clearly understand their story. Learners need to write in a way that it is a colorful and touching because we want the audience listening to act upon the delivered message. Findings can be communicated through a visual presentation as well. What we want for our learners is to be able to spark the interest of experts in an original way. They need to be able to pitch a speech. To deliver, inspire, or persuade others, they need to know and recognize emotions and character traits. To make an impact they need to be able to think creatively, to think out of the box, try different angles when faced with obstacles, and persevere. Learners need to have a vested interest in what it is they are doing.

Innovative projects that capture the interest of our youngsters have the opportunity to teach basic skills. Research gives us history. When they think of new ways of doing things, learners will explore the sciences. The arts might find a way throughout the whole process because we want to present or represent our passion in an expressive manner. Furthermore, culture and languages find a way into these projects because of real world connections in an ever growing global economic world. We no longer live in isolation. The world is changing so fast, consider the first human flying drone. No longer is the person in this new mode of transportation in control of the vehicle. Disruption of transportation is happening. How long will it be, so we no longer need driver licenses? We cannot think that giving kids just knowledge like education did for so long, can be enough for learners in school right now. The speed of technological advancement is one of exponential growth: we do not know what the world we will live in looks like when they get out of school.

Applying common core standards throughout a skill set of finding out what matters, researching, synthesizing, creating, redesigning, and delivering a presentation is possible. When they document and reflect on the process, they assess the risks they took. They learn from it and grow. Learning is now in their hands. Students need to try new strategies and seek input from others when they’re stuck. As educators, we can guide them by saying “Let’s talk about what you’ve tried, and what you can try next.” Learners explore their passions, interests, and future through play and purpose like Tony Wagner and Ted Dintersmith describe in their book Most Likely to Succeed: Preparing Our Kids for the Innovation Era. We want to design optimum learning environments where there is room for risk taking, critical thinking, self-assessment, reflection and connected learning. Never forgetting the person they are through character and citizenship. It is the skill set they can use for the rest of their lives. So I started with the WHY we do what we do as innovators. What possibly could stop you from doing so?

Miami Device 2015 Reflection

Miami in November is a special treat: sunshine, warm temperatures, good food, and the best learning experience (Michael Jaber, I love that term!) for educators all over the world. Even more special is to be part of an event that inspires you to be that eager learner you want your student to be. Miami Device ignited a new spark in me, being an active part in some way or another of the present and future of education. The event happened a week after I presented and attended FCIS in Orlando where I heard Tony Wagner, Nishant Mehta and Christian Long, three inspiring people with a vision to transform education for our students. Play, passion, purpose, digital lockers for students, question journals, students being architects of their free time, certificates of mastery, and not to forget individual attention matters were some of the ideas that stood out to me. Now imagine coming home with these ideas, followed by Miami Device the next week. WOW! Affirmation indeed.

My heart is full of gratitude for being a part of St. Stephen’s Episcopal Day School, where all faculty and staff members are encouraged and given the opportunity and freedom to keep on learning. No wonder that visitors who come to our campus all notice that everyone has a smile on their face: both students and faculty. I consider myself fortunate working here! Thank you, Felix, for making a vision come to reality. Miami Device came out of many brainstorming sessions, and you realized it to what it is now: Not a learning event, but a learning experience! Happy to be part of the team!

Miami Device created a unique learning experience for each individual who attended. All keynote speakers inspired, gave hope and connected to what is important for learning: relationships. Adam Bellow mentioned the importance of creating a culture of learning. We can do that through empathy on all levels: among staff and faculty members, among students, and among student-teacher relationships. Dean Shareski mentioned Louis Gerstner’s book Who Says Elephants Can’t Dance?,  and how culture is not just one aspect of the game, it IS the game. What if instead of improving student achievement we worked to improve students’ well being? Maybe a model to follow is the New Zealand public school system presented by Richard Wells. I believe a field trip to New Zealand would be fun! Derek Muller left us at the end of the first day to find an element of truth about certain misconceptions having to do with science. Kids possess natural curiosity. It is up to us to foster that curiosity so they can explore, discover, create and build upon questions they might have.

George Couros further iterated the importance of always being a learner who knows how to connect to the heart before you can connect to the mind. He touched all our hearts, not a dry eye in the audience! George mentioned that the fear of adults often drowns the inspiration of youth, and he went on to show that a  measure of intelligence is the ability to change. Why shouldn’t we? It starts with courage. Angela Maiers left us with a message to encourage all of us to take that first step. And why? Because We Matter!

There were so many other sessions I could not attend that I would have loved to learn from, sessions by Vicky Davis, Wesley Fryer, Carl Hooker, Lisa Johnson, Erin Klein, Kyle Pace, Sarah Thomas, Silvia Tolisano, and, of course, Tony Vincent. Maybe next time I can clone myself! This weekend I spent both days going over my notes, reflecting, and reading George Couros’ book The Innovator’s Mindset.  I feel more than ever inspired to empower our students and teachers to take risks, foster their curiosity, never doubting they matter, and become confident leaders of their dreams. Thank you to all speakers at Miami Device.

Coming to work today, was like a kid going to the playground using swings, soaring in the sky, and jumping off and fly for a moment thinking the world is yours. I am happy to say I was able to apply a couple of things to make learning a little more innovative for our students. Students in grade 5 are working on an Explorer Unit, and they are wrapping up their presentations. A lot of them used AdobeDraw App (thank you Tony Vincent) as part of their presentation, and I added another option VideoScribe App to their choices. What brightened my day was that each student was using different apps smashed together to reflect on their learning. They have a choice and, therefore, feel empowered.

I just posted two post it notes on our You Matter board in our school. Thank you to Mercy Gonzalez for initializing the You Matter Manifesto by Angela Maiers  in our school. Knowing that John Spencer, author of Wendell the World’s Worst Wizard, was coming to Miami, Mercy engaged our fourth graders reading the book, had discussions online, collaborated with Robbin Simons to create robots during FabLab, and finally tying in the You Matter Manifesto as a wrap up for the book. Students created a You Matter board using the ComicLifeApp to show why they matter. When the author read the last chapter to our grade 4 class, you could see the excitement on each student’s face.

Today was a new day to contribute to the future of education. It is about intrinsic motivation: students learn because it is worthwhile and challenging. Innovation is the process, not the outcome. It’s not about the curriculum, iPad integration, or maker space: it’s messy. We all are a part of designing the future of learning as we go along. I consider myself lucky I can be a part of that.  And like Nishant Mehta said: “We are building the engine while driving the car.”

International Dot Day at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Day School

It all started with the book The Dot by Peter H. Reynolds… 

“C is for…”
“Caring – The Dot is a story of a caring teacher who inspires a doubting student”


“C is for…”
“Confidence – What begins with a small dot on a piece of paper becomes a journey of self-discovery”


“C is for…”
“Courage – Take a chance, Let’s start with a Dot”


“C is for…”
“Creativity – Each one of us is a creativity champion when we use our talents, gifts, and energy to move the world to a better place”


“C is for…”
“Connecting – 1 and a half million people from 75 countries are connecting on this day to share their creativity and inspiration”


“C is for…”
“Collaboration – Our community works together today to share our creativity and make our mark on the World Map”


Let’s transform teaching and learning around the world as people of all ages re-discover the power and potential of creativity in all they do! ENJOY INTERNATIONAL DOT DAY #DotDay