To Be or Not to Be Part of the Solution? There Is Only One Answer to That Question.

If asked to be, the answer is ”Yes.” If not asked, that is still the answer.

Isn’t it weird how Shakespeare still entwines himself into our collective consciousness through lines such as those from Hamlet? After being dead for centuries, William Shakespeare still has such a profound influence on us. We are still able to take almost any play he wrote, update clothing and props for the times in which it is performed, and make an impact. It is profound for two reasons. The first, because it demonstrates the lasting power of his arrangement of the alphabet. Second, it shows how little has really changed in the human psyche, and how much we are more alike than we are different, among nations and across time.

This year, it is difficult to find precedents for most things until we start digging a little.

We rely now on historians, with their treasure trove of information, to lead the way. We rely on authors and teachers of literature to help us make sense of things, too, as they scour works to find the right quote, plot line, character, or other element to ground this situation in the “human condition.”

Politicians with a sense of decency and who serve the public are relying on millennia of rhetoric and logic to help them navigate this narrative that seems to spin out of control, sometimes on an hourly basis.

Science relies on the past to inform the present. What worked before? Will the same process work now? What do we have in our arsenal of remedies that might help us heal others? Where is our foundation?

One historian who influenced me greatly in college was Sister Patrice Fehrer of Holy Family University (then Holy Family College). One day, as I was speaking with her, she said to me, “Heather, all of us are absolutely necessary, although none of us is indispensable.”

I have gone to that line hundreds of times since 1992 or 93. Most of the time, it comes to mind when someone declares they are the current Messiah, whether they say that, or use another term.

It speaks to our interdependence. Each human needs the others. We cannot survive unless we all work together. Since we are all fallible, each of us brings to the situation a gift someone else doesn’t have.

Together, we become part of the solution. If we try to go it alone, we often become part of the problem. If we dismiss the good advice of others, we become part of the problem. If we refuse to hear others, we become part of the problem. That is how we end up on what has been called, “the wrong side of history.”

If we want to be part of the solution, we must – to paraphrase the great Maya Angelou – believe people when they reveal their character to us, embrace those who are ethical and humane, and reject those who are not. We must also recognize our interdependence and trust the trustworthy.

We need to stop giving oxygen to the words of those who consistently think they know better than anyone else and who do not act for the good of the rest of us. If someone reveals to you, time and again, that they are narcissistic, I say you need to run. One who is confident and knows his or her capabilities will help the rest of us. One who believes that only they can fix “it” should be avoided. Cult leaders should be avoided at all cost; cult leaders never serve their people, only themselves. History tells us so. Dictators gain followers by presenting their intentions falsely. Once their followers believe him or her and relinquish their power, that person can do almost anything and get away with it. We cannot let that happen.

As teachers, we need to lead the charge to lasting, sustainable change. We need to continue questioning everything and teach our kids to do the same. Look at the history of the world. Prove me wrong.

Learn More about Standards in 11 Minutes, 15 Seconds

During this module, we will investigate standards in more detail.  Specifically, we will review:

  • How standards are organized (subject area, strand / standard area, standard)
  • The difference between learning objectives and standards
  • The process used to unpack standards and create learning targets that students, parents, and the community can understand
  • Just a little bit about rubrics


If you cannot retrieve the samples I put in the presentation, you can download the sample rubrics from this page.

[aesop_document type=”pdf” src=”” caption=”Reading Informational Text”]


[aesop_document type=”pdf” src=”” caption=”Reading for Meaning”]


Constructive feedback is welcomed and encouraged.

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We Owe Our Children Everything

Our children do not come to us in a dream and ask to be born.  Instead, we make a choice to bring our children into the world.  They owe us nothing.  We owe them everything.

That does not mean that they are allowed to walk all over us and demand every wish be fulfilled.  Rather, we owe them every opportunity to practice becoming honorable, loving, conscience-bearing human beings.  We owe them our patience and kindness as they struggle through the learning process that every human must go through to truly understand their purpose and place in the world.  We owe them our willingness to be their role models, and to practice ourselves, every day, what we expect them to adopt for themselves as they journey toward adulthood.

We owe them their education in things such as the six “selves” philosophy that our martial arts dojo espouses: self-awareness, self-confidence, self-control, self-defense, self-discipline, and self-respect.  When they violate our right to one or more of those, we owe it to them to help them understand those actions are not acceptable.  When they violate their own right to one or more of them, we owe it to them to help them understand that those actions, too, are unacceptable.

We owe them the opportunity to learn deeply, think critically, and to take risks.  We owe them the chance to fail, but to fail productively.  We owe them the chance to feel unconditional love, not only from their parents, but from everyone around them.  We owe them the chance to love unconditionally, to forgive, and to express frustration.  We owe them the right to have their own voice.  We owe them the right to make an argument, to win it if they have done their part effectively, and to lose it if they have not.  We owe them the right to experience disappointment, to express disappointment, and to find the joy in overcoming it.  We owe them the opportunity to learn to accept disappointment from others, too, but we owe them the right to protection from needless heartache.

We owe them the right to expect us to respect them, and to learn to respect us and others, who also have the right to expect respect from them.

Children do not ask to be born.  We parents make a choice.  From then on, till death do us part, we are forever in their debt.  Someday, they will be in debt to their own children.  If we have done our job right, their children will feel as loved, cared for, respected, challenged, and important as we tried to help our children feel.  If we have taught them well, and they have learned well, we can all truly be the positive change we want to see in the world*, working with one precious child at a time.

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*Although Gandhi didn’t actually say “be the change you want to see in the world,” what he did say that inspired that sentiment is so profound that I included it as the featured image for this post.


Thoughts on Standards-Based Grading

In the interest of full disclosure, I work for a company that develops, markets, and sells software to K-12 institutions, but the opinions expressed in this post are my own and the company is not responsible for them.

The software includes an SIS (Student Information System), a performance management system, a special education system, and finance software. In the SIS, we have a standards-based grade book. When our product manager presented it, and the educational theories behind its development, to us recently, my first reaction was that of a parent, rather that a teacher. I thought,

4426.cstarinterrobangYou mean to tell me that students will not be penalized for missed assignments or for incomplete assignments? What?! That’s insane. You’re just inviting students to decide that the assignments aren’t important, and they won’t do them.

[aesop_quote type=”block” quote=”The Universe is made of stories, not of atoms.” size=”1″ align=”center” height=”auto” text=”#FFFFFF” background=”#222222″ width=”100%”]

That was how a lot of parents, teachers, and administrators reacted, too, when they decided to move to standards-based grading in St. Louis. The point of SBG, however, is to get an accurate “picture” of a student’s progress that does not include, for example, points awarded for doing homework. Instead, the grade produced indicates mastery of a standard, minus all the “fluff” that inflates grades and does not demonstrate true learning.

In addition, under SBG, students are able to actually master a standard. That means that they will be able to try, fail, and try again.

Another variation of the SBG theme is competency-based education. In my company’s world, they are basically the same thing, which might be a problem in some educators’ eyes, but it really isn’t. Basically, the grade book looks at the standards loaded by the district first, allowing a teacher to load assignments and assessments into the grade book under each standard measured. It allows teachers to answer the question, “How will we assess that this student has reached proficiency on this standard?” A student has to master the concept, skill, and / or standard and demonstrate mastery in order to ‘pass.’ From my understanding, that is how CBE works – it’s based on students demonstrating proficiency in some manner of a concept, skill, or knowledge. It does allow for more individualization than SBG (read the article below for a great overview), but our grade book would accommodate that level of individualization, I believe.

[aesop_quote type=”block” quote=”The Universe is made of stories, not of atoms.” size=”1″ align=”center” height=”auto” text=”#FFFFFF” background=”#222222″ width=”100%”]

When I was in grad school, I learned about a Middle School that was trying a different method of educating that refused anyone to earn less than a B. If you did poorly on a test or a project, you did it again until you earned the grade they considered acceptable. That presumes you did some remedial work in the meantime as well. In theory, that’s awesome. We would have a lot of kids, then, who would not be well-rehearsed in the ways of “doing school.” It would be a boon for differentiated instruction and personalized learning, too. Kids would be able to go at their own pace and master a concept or skill in true fashion, rather than trying to keep up with the middle. Imagine this: Kids would be allowed to make mistakes! Those who are “quick learners” (I am not among them, by the way) would be able to move on to more challenging concepts and skills and master higher standards. From what I understand, a number of online schools use standards-based (or competency-based) methods with their students. I love that idea – in theory.

In practice, it’s probably a logistical nightmare, especially for the teachers who have to keep track of each student’s progress, which could be all over the grade book map. I’m not sure that means we should abandon the idea; in fact, I think it means we should reconsider the following.

  • Doesn’t the design of SBG and CBE actually mirror what happens in life?
  • Do the traditional grade levels still apply in our century?
  • What is more important – being on track with others, or truly learning something?
  • What are we telling our kids when we espouse the ideas behind traditional academic success?

For now, I want to address the first question. In the article I referenced above, one of those who are not keen on the concept indicated that what happens in SBE and CBE does not reflect the ways of the real world. I disagree.

“That’s not how the real world works.”

Interesting. The first thing you learn when you engage in any project is this: deadlines are soft. Miss a deadline and you’ll need to explain yourself, but it’s not like it’s unexpected. Additionally, “getting something right” is more important than a deadline, and often “getting something right” means going off the rails and trying something other than what management expected. Staff takes ownership of a part of a project, and almost everything at work today is part of a project. Today, managers expect staff to be independent, knowledgeable, and flexible. Staff does not just do what it is told. Staff members start out with the goals they are given, but those goals can often shift. So, yes, this type of education does reflect the real world.

More later… It’s time to open presents!





More on Consideration Number One

I simply found it fascinating that an educator would say that SBG and CBE do not reflect the real world.  I understand why the person said it.  If you don’t meet the goals set in the workplace, there are consequences.  If you don’t do the work you’re supposed to do, there are consequences.  As I said above, however, adults set these deadlines while collaborating on a project or task, and the goals are continuously revisited for validity.  The manager does not set a goal in a grade book and give you a zero if you don’t meet the goal.  Yes, you have to explain yourself if you don’t meet the goal, but if you can explain yourself well, the penalties are often slight or not imposed at all.

Which brings me to my next point: Communication feeds the heart and soul of any human organization, project-based or not.  [pullquote]Communication feeds the heart and soul of any human organization, project-based or not.[/pullquote]In this reformed version of grading, students and teachers work on communication and collaboration skills, two very important skills to have as one enters the workforce.  If done right, I believe the students will learn to acknowledge that goals and deadlines are important, but more importantly, they will learn to communicate with their teacher when they are struggling to meet them or believe the assignments are not going to help them achieve their goals.  I think that educators are misunderstanding a fundamental part of this learning process when they allow students to miss deadlines or not complete assignments at all.  That’s a misconception about the process that absolutely must be addressed.  Students are missing vital learning opportunities when they do not attempt an assignment simply because they know they will not be penalized.  When students and educators agree that the assignments are learning opportunities and that they should communicate about its effectiveness and collaborate to make changes if necessary, that is when true learning takes place.  That reflects what happens in the real world.