How Was School?

“How was school?” What kind of response do we want to hear when others (parents, community members, etc.) ask that question to our students? What we value in the classroom, what sits “front and center,” what we promote, will find its way into our students’ answers.

I am continually disheartened to hear students responses to this question revolve around behavior charts and letter grades. These are the shallowest representations of what we want to be happening in the classroom.  Society has assigned value to the letter grade, and we are creating a culture that values the behavior chart, but what kind of students are we generating if they are excelling only at these two items?

The behavior chart, while well intentioned (I confess, I have used them too), focuses on compliance. It is not the best method to  help students realize the necessity of working together or the benefits of empathy–it focuses solely on meeting the teacher’s expectations–complying with teacher directives.  Disruptive innovators do not exhibit this kind of compliance (think of Martin Luther King, Jr., Steve Jobs, etc.). By creating and valuing a culture of compliance, are we ensuring that there will be no disruptive innovators in our future?

The letter grades, while they do have some value, can be a symbol of “playing the game.” Students determine how to best get the grade they want (turning in the right assignments, earning the right amount of extra credit) without focusing on the learning  behind the grade.

I’m not saying it’s not convenient for teachers to have a room full of these kinds of students. But, what’s the cost? What life skills are we teaching our students in this type of environment?  We aren’t teaching self-motivation and actualization. We’re focusing on compliance and gaming the system. If we’re not careful, these are the values we promote and the students we value.  What does this promise for our future? Investment bankers who comply on the surface with directives, and seek to “game the system.”  Lawyers, doctors, teachers, etc. who seek to do the same.  That’s not a future that I’m looking for. We’ve already seen what some of that can look like, and it’s not pretty or beneficial.

So, what’s the alternative? Can we really throw out that behavior chart? Pernille Ripp says we can. She’s done it.  Check out her blog at Can we move aways from the traditional letter grade?  There are teachers who are doing it.  Look for Mark Barnes or Starr Sackstein. Let’s make this year the best year yet.  When people ask our students this year, “How was school?” let’s make sure their first answer is something about deep learning, moving forward, or finding their passions.


About tkslibrarian

Middle school science teacher--hoping to inspire wonder
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