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Turning the Corner: Project 180, Day 68

Felt like we turned a corner in 211 last week, and I owe it to parents. “Operation Email” produced the influence I hoped it would, opening up communication between parents and me and motivating more students to do their work. And even though it resulted in a heavier workload for me this weekend, it is the work I expect and accept as part of my duty, my dedication. It is also the work that is absolutely necessary for student growth. Learning requires doing. Learning requires feedback. Learning requires work–for all three corners of the triangle. For the kids who are experiencing the most success, all three corners are in play, each corner meeting its respective obligation in this partnership of shared responsibility.

Still, there remain a few for whom Project 180 is not producing the results that I hoped it would, the few who seem to desire a return to the tradition of the compliant classroom. On one level, I get it. It’s produced “results” in the past, and it’s producing “results” in their other classes at the moment. It’s a system that they have been conditioned to respond to, and in its absence, conditioned compliance is not working. Commitment to their learning is not enough. They need a grade to influence their motivation. And I get it. Sort of.

On another level, I don’t get it. The few who are critical of what I am doing right now seem to believe that if I returned to tradition, then I would all the sudden step into the role of effective teacher, that what I am doing right now is not creating the condition their children need to be successful. But here’s the deal. Even if I returned to a traditional-grading approach, it would not change how I conduct business. It would not change my belief that the path to proficiency requires practice, feedback, and performance opportunities.

Further, based on my experiences past and present (I have 2 sections of senior LA with traditional grades) and based on my near-daily conversations with colleagues, kids’ completing work is no-less the reality in the traditional classroom, and if it’s a little better, then generally it’s kids only doing the bare minimum just to pass. In reality, I believe it’s probably a wash. So, what’s the difference? Why take the 180 approach? This is the 180 difference. Kids do work out of commitment to their learning, out of commitment to themselves. It gives kids an opportunity to learn about themselves as learners, to take greater responsibility for their actions, and to develop a sense of self-efficacy as they work to grow,  and not just work to complete the give-me-a-grade transaction.

That’s the difference. For some, that difference has not been realized, and sadly it may not happen for them this year. And I am neither blind nor unresponsive to that. In fact, for the two parents who have called me onto the carpet, I have offered to personalize a traditional approach for their children if they feel that is what is necessary to motivate them. They are neither interested nor impressed with my non-traditional approach, and that’s fine. I get it. But I wonder how many traditional teachers would offer to personalize a non-traditional approach in their classrooms to meet the needs of their students and parents for whom tradition was not working? Not many.

For several others, the 180 difference has been realized. Yesterday, as I was poring over a pile of papers, one gave me pause. Great pause. In fact, it prompted me to quickly log into Skyward, find a number, and call a parent–at home, on a Sunday. I had to call. I had to share how impressed I was by what her son had done. John (name changed), up to this point, had generally done all the work and had generally demonstrated that he was capable with the standards, but I was concerned that he seemed to be content with merely going through the motions. I expressed these concerns in the midterm portfolio, and I also expressed them to John in my feedback on his first film essay, challenging him to step up his game on the next.  Challenge accepted. Performance delivered. I was so excited by his turnaround, I had to call home. I had to share that he had written an exemplary essay. I had to call home and thank the parents for being involved and thank John for doing the work. Doing the work. That’s the difference. Learning requires doing. Learning requires feedback. Learning is work, for all of us. So proud of John for owning his learning.

Happy Monday, all. Thank you parents for doing your part. We have to do this together. Have to.

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