Wednesday, January 22, 2014


     It seems all of us probably have realized that real work, learning, and/or achievement are probably never completely be measured by a grade or a score.  Although we know scores and grades have a place, how does one truly transcend them?


     Let’s take the life of a student, regardless or age or level, and analyze the system of grades and scores vs. what we all know really matters.  Once again, think of your own experience as a student.  Was your work, learning or achievement really accurately measured by grades or even scores?
      Don't’ get me wrong.  I am not advocating that we don’t give grades or pay attention at all to scores on tests.  I think we all know that inherently there is probably a better system, but, for one reason or another, we’ll have to live with our current system of grades (A, B, C, D or F), or even percentages or #’s on any standardized test. 
      Also, please don’t think that I would ever advocate for something that is not competitive or that doesn’t have value attached.  Indeed, no matter how much we evolve towards more relevant and individualized performance-based assessments and evaluation, we will always have systems that require a standardized score in order for comparison and aptitude.
Whether it’s the military, law school, medical school, graduate school, college acceptance, etc., there will always probably be a need for some sort of score, GPA or something similar to compare students.

    However, I don’t think grades and arbitrary scores do justice to truly quality and exceptional work They will never do justice to what any of us do that is truly professional, distinguished or even amazing.
     So, what can we do?  Well, does anyone think that their grades and scores really ultimately defined their careers as adults?  What did?  Well, it was getting attention from others professionally for quality work.
     It could have been winning an award, winning a contest, getting other professional recognition, being involved in something beyond the norm, etc.  What defined our resume – whether it was for getting into college or getting a job – was what we had done that was exceptional and that could be demonstrated. 
     Most adults are aware that once in an interview, or on the actually job, no one asked about our scores, our GPA’s or anything similar.  But they wanted to know could we perform and produce while generally improve the organization in general.

      For 21st century students, there are many ways to be defined that go way beyond and definitely TRANSCEND grades and scores. 
       Regardless of one’s talents or career goals, here are just a few ideas:

·       Focus on becoming the best you can at something – no matter what it is, it’s really hard for others to not recognize, accept, value or even utilize someone who is truly good at something.
·       Publish  & Have a Web Presence – whether it’s a blog, YouTube, Social Media or other, you can create a name for yourself and your work all on-line without having the blessing or approval of any teacher, class, school or organization.
·       Compete – enter contests and competitions in your area of specialization or interest.  It can be almost anything (writing, photography, film, music, art, technology, speaking, culinary, mechanics and more).  There are endless contests and competitions for everything going on somewhere on-line all of the time.
·       Get involved and network – if you get to know people who are professionals in your area of interest, good things will happen.  And with Social Media, you can now connect with professionals and experts globally almost instantly. 
·       Create something new – whether it’s a company, an organization, a blog, an event, etc.  The world is now full of people who begin things and innovate everyday.  Not every idea becomes famous.  But one never knows.
·       Get training and education outside of school – internships and other job-related experiences were once reserved for the seniors in college.  That’s no longer the case.  high school students and younger can now volunteer and get early, on-the-job training in any number of areas.  One just has to ask and show some initiative.


      For teachers and educators, what does this mean?  Does this mean we don't have to be or shouldn’t be concerned with our students’ scores on standardized tests (AP, SAT, ACT, ASVAB, Standards Tests, etc.)?  No.  Does this mean we can ignore our students’ scores on benchmark exams?  No.  Does this mean we do not have to deal with comparisons our student test data with that of other teachers, schools, etc.? No.
      But what it does mean is DON’T BE DEFINED by them.  That’s right.  What bright, hard working and professional educator would put their entire career on the line based on a standardized test?  Well, certainly not me nor the professionals that I’ve come to respect. 

      Once again, we’ve realized that quality and relevant real world student work cannot be only judged by a test score.  So, how can it be judged?  And, in turn, how can you be judged?  Here are some ideas:
·       Media attention – nothing speaks to validity and exceptional than that of newsworthy. If your students’ work or project (s) make the New York Times, will a test score really matter?
·       Contests and Competitive Opportunities – if your students’ work wins awards, it speaks volumes.  Scores are competitive, but contests and very are real, public and valid as well.
·       Do things that are so engaging, interesting and unique that students, parents and community are raving about you and your program.  If students are loving what they do and talking positively about it, that will trump scores and grades anytime.  Indeed, the scores and grades will probably take care of themselves.
·       Lead Professionally – it’s not enough to just attend training.  Become an expert or extremely passionate about something and then share it with the world.  If you are an educator who trains, excites, motivates or improves other educators, then you have credibility and value.  It’s hard to get that from a grade or score.
·       Change the World.  That’s right.  Do things that are truly new, different and even transformational.  If you create educational experiences that go beyond things that can be measured by a test, then what does the test really matter?  In other words, think about how your students can tackle and potentially solve real world problems.  Maybe the next generation of cancer cures will come from a high school classroom.  Test scores rarely really change a student’s overall learning value.  But new, different and transformational educational experiences often do. 

     Naturally, whether one is a student or an educator, there are even more ways to potentially transcend scores.  Grades and scores are a game we all must play and it helps to be good at the game.  But in the 21st century, and in an economy that is truly becoming global and high tech, they certainly won’t be enough to be competitive.  And there are bigger and better ‘games’ to master that are designed to truly demonstrate skills, talent and what is exceptional.
(photos courtesy of Foter)

Sunday, January 12, 2014

23 Years of Breaking the Rules - And It Works

     As someone who has been an educator now for over 23 years, I find myself often trying to pinpoint the key to success.  And it seems clearer than ever – break the rules
    That’s right.  Break the rules.  I don’t mean break laws, policies and procedures – but rather traditions and standard expectations. 
     When I began as a journalism teacher in 1990, I was told by several colleagues to “just play it safe.”  The inference was don’t rock the boat and don’t push the envelope.  I understood them to mean don’t have students pursue stories that were too serious or too controversial.  Well, I ignored them.  What happened?  There were new and unprecedented levels of success.  Our publications won awards, our students won awards, readership increased and many students went on to media-related careers enjoying tremendous success today.
      When I became a Student Activities Director, again I heard the same warnings.  Don’t let students be on the microphone, don’t let them have too much responsibility and more.  Again, what happened?  I ignored those voices and watched while students created and implemented new programs and events aimed at volunteer and community service, education, tolerance and acceptance, involving disenfranchised student groups and a whole lot more.  Again, the students and program won awards and received tremendous community recognition.  Many students went on to very successful advanced education pursuits and careers directly related to their levels of ownership and involvement in these programs.

   When I was fortunate enough to start Minarets High School (a new digital and project-based high school @, again the list of things I was told not to do or warned against were unending.  Don’t let students have your cell phone #’s, don’t allow students access to social media, don’t allow students too many choices, don’t survey students, don’t change the name of the library, students can’t handle the internet and so much more.  Again, irony reigns.  The most successful things that have developed at Minarets High School are almost all related to things that many said not to do.
      As usual, the idea of breaking the rules – remember in this context meaning breaking new ground, altering tradition, changing the standard expectations – are not new to entities outside of education. 
      In business, the arts, the sciences and more, breaking the rules has always resulted in the development of new products, new ideas, new technologies, new industries and new types of jobs.  In these areas, it’s widely accepted that breaking the rules is actually the key to success.
     In education, status quo dominates and we often try to isolate or minimize those that break the rules, push the envelope, break from tradition and truly try to re-write the expectations.
      In business or other areas, we acknowledge and look to follow innovators like Steve Jobs.  In education, we defer to those who continue to perpetuate what has always been done. 
      It’s time that we challenge all educators to re-write the traditions and aim for new levels of legitimate student success.  Nothing in education will truly be transformative until those of us in education realize that breaking the rules is the only path.  
     Learning is about discovery.  Discovery is about what hasn’t been realized before.  It’s time that education comes to terms with this reality. 

Friday, January 3, 2014


      There is no doubt in my mind (and most of the world as well) that education, especially at the secondary level needs to continue to evolve.  Whether it’s based on technology, careers, or any other criteria, we know inherently that we need to engage students a high level and address the changing world around them as they learn.
      However, what I often see missing is the foundation that drives everything.  Career changes are important and educators need to address this with all students.  But students are not always motivated by careers and certainly not by the changes.  Skills are important, but students are not motivated by addressing the skills that they need.  Standards, even the new improved Common Core, will not motivate students.  The list of things that will not motivate students is long – course requirements, A-G, accreditation, pedagogy and more.
      What does motivate all of us?  Well, it is what we’re passionate about. And that’s where we should begin and return continually to motivate students.  Why are younger students so inquisitive and interested in everything?  It’s because they are searching for their PASSION.  But at some point in school, we begin to ignore their passions and indeed avoid it.  Heck, we have often killed their PASSION.
      So, this is where we need to begin.  We need to make PASSION the foundation of our pedagogy.  When we ask students what they want to do, we tend to house that in either career or school terms.  But we need to do is have all students – through their entire K-12 experiences – identify and pursue their PASSION (S).

(photo courtesy of

     In a way, this seems so simple and so obvious right?  Well it’s not.  Our educational programs are not geared around PASSION.  Yes, we have electives.  And yes, those do have the potential to be passion-driven.  But it’s not enough.  Every student deserves to have a program that is designed around his or her PASSION.
     As an easy example, let’s take English, or at the primary level Reading and Writing.  We all agree that reading and writing throughout one’s education is paramount to learning and success. But why don't we design a student’s reading and writing around their PASSION?  
     What if we didn’t focus on everyone reading and writing about the same thing, but rather focused on students reading and writing – and as much as possible – about anything and everything related to their PASSION?  If we want ownership, mastery, engagement and a real love of lifelong learning, this is how we get it.
      All skills and mastery can be taught and addressed through any text. We would have students pursuing their PASSION everyday in what they read and write about.  After all, isn’t this what you see happening on-line and in the world everyday?  Isn’t our society and entire economy built on people pursuing their PASSIONS and learning more about them everyday?  And naturally this could be applicable to history, science and more.  
      What drives real learning, careers and success is PASSION.  But we don’t teach to one’s PASSION.  It is about time we start.  Pedagogy, reforms, technology, or being college and career ready are all great pursuits.  But they will not be fully realized or effective without a focus on PASSION.
      Can one’s PASSION change, evolve or fluctuate?  Sure. They should and they will.  But it’s through the pursuit of PASSION, that one discovers themselves and the true joy of learning.