Measures of Success

Back in the pre-COVID days when I was in the classroom, I was fairly adept at determining what success looked like in my classroom. Sometimes I used rubrics (writing or projects), sometimes standards correlation tables (usually for math), but most of the time I watched and observed the kids while they were working. It wasn’t about the assignment necessarily, but how they went about getting it done. The process often mattered more than the product.

There were those who flew through, doing everything exactly the way I’d modeled, and they might be able to speak to one or two parts of the work and explain their thinking. And there were those who took very odd routes (that worked a lot of the time) to get what they needed to done or those who used “It’s in my head” and indeed it usually was. And still there were those who got stuck, not knowing what to do next, or lost altogether because the words were different this time, the numbers different, or the work itself wasn’t something they cared too much about or were struggling to connect with. All of these things told me whether or not we were being successful.

(I say “we” intentionally. My kids being successful and growing toward greater understanding meant that I was doing something right. It was incredibly evident when I had done something wrong, both to me and to them, and being the un-filtered sweet things they were, they also had no problem telling me that a particular lesson stunk…and I was ok with that feedback–as long as they could tell me WHY it stunk.)

Because I had the opportunity to see the kids working, asking and answering questions, pushing back on strategies, reminding of format or necessary pieces, teaching in the moment with “Hey kids, let’s stop for a minute…” I was able to know in my gut, even before they finished, whether or not they’d gotten what I’d intended them to get out of the lesson. And when it was evident that they hadn’t, sometimes I’d have them finish regardless because the process of doing the work was important too, and I’d go back and re-strategize ways I could help them understand or do what would show growth toward mastery.

COVID and hybrid/online learning has changed that and now teachers are struggling to determine what success looks like in this alien world we’re living in. Teachers have had to strategize ways to measure progress differently, and they’re moving away from conversation, conferencing, and over-the-shoulder formative assessment, to Google form based quizzes, JamBoards, PearDecks, and photos of completed assignments (that may or may not have been completed by the kids on their own). Teachers can’t observe the process of kid-work from a Google Meet or Zoom Room. It’s just not possible and they are replacing observation with concrete types of evaluation to save their own sanity and lose some of the cognitive load that all of this has caused.

Parents mean well, particularly with their little ones just beginning school, when they offer to help or write for their child for an assignment, but part of a teacher’s measure of progress will always be the child’s own handwriting, coloring, words, and ideas. Part of learning involves the struggle. That’s so difficult for parents and kids to wrap their heads around–particularly the gifted ones who are working with perfectionism… watching kids struggle is so difficult, especially when you know you could make it easier for them.

One doesn’t learn to tie one’s own shoes by watching someone else tie them or switching to velcro or slid-in shoes. We don’t learn to make ramen (because we’re the only one who wants it on soup night) by watching mom or dad do it for us. No one learns to play hockey by watching Miracle on Ice. And we don’t learn to replace bathroom vanities, sinks, and faucets by watching reruns of This Old House on their own. In order to learn how to do it (and when to ask for help or call a professional) we have to actually give it a shot by ourselves.

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The most beautiful words a child can utter are “I can do it myself!!” and even if the buttons are all wrong, the outfit is horrific (but would surely inspire some nut at New York Fashion Week), the shoes are on the wrong feet, or the writing is totally illegible to anyone but the child…it’s a win because the child advocated for their right to fail forward and make progress toward being self-sufficient.

The struggle is a valuable piece of learning…and teaching. Some say that writers, artists, and musicians are the most creative people on earth, but I know for a fact that it’s teachers. Teachers right now are doing several things at once: helping the kids in the room learn and observing their work in real time, helping kids online learn and trying to evaluate their work when it shows up in their inbox, and help kids who are trying to learn at odd hours because family work schedules and virtual learning aren’t compatible with no ability to observe or discuss much in the moment. And they’re trying a hundred different ways to do all of those things every day, and sharing what they learn with the other teachers in their world

So our measures of success have to change. It doesn’t mean working harder, longer hours, or putting together multiple sets of slideshows or finding more engaging videos for specific students. It doesn’t mean evaluating all the kids using a google form assessment for which there are definite correct answers. It doesn’t mean working yourself to death providing 47 different learning opportunities in one day and trying to grade them all, agonizing over holding Georgie accountable because they only did 30 of the 47 opportunities you worked so hard to provide.

Measures of success right now might be that you are able to identify the most important thing you want the kids to understand and grow toward mastery of in that lesson. It might be that you notice you have to change something in your presentation format because you forgot to teach how to use it…or really aren’t sure how to use it yourself but it sure sounded good in the moment. Measures of success might include that James is showing up to class and is fully present…that he’s healthy and happy and has something good to share during class. Success is that when you talk with Mary, she can tell you her story and show you with pictures (that may or may not look anything like what she’s telling you) how it goes…when before she didn’t know about beginning, middle, or end. Might be that Ciaran whispers to his mom who is off camera that he can do it himself during class and finally turns in a writing assignment in his six-year-old scrawl written at a diagonal despite lines on the page. Perhaps success is that LeDarius asked for a book about dogs to read for fun, when before he wasn’t willing to read at all, but because you gave him tools like audio books or LearningAlly, he feels comfortable asking for more…he is a reader now.

And sometimes, measuring success is simply a note from a parent acknowledging that they see what a teacher is doing and is thrilled that their child is happy at the end of each day, excited to go to school (whatever that looks like for them), and takes over dinner conversation talking about what they learned that day, or a sincere thank you from a teammate for an idea you mentioned in passing that worked really well for their kids.

Sometimes the measure of success isn’t something you can add to the gradebook that ties directly to a standard, but the little things that keep you going…the tiny bits of progress you get to see every day and the encouragement to try something else tomorrow.

Look for the little things. A flower doesn’t magically appear out of the ground one day…it takes time and noticing the little things like a bump in the earth or something green poking through is what shows growth is happening. The process of growth matters more than checking off boxes. Seeing the process play out ought to be your measure of success.

Photo by PhotoMIX Company on Pexels.com

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