Thursday, June 9, 2016

Measuring a School Year? The Real Questions

                 A couple of Junes ago, Jessica Lahey, author of the excellent The Gift of Failure, had a provocative post on The New York Times Motherlode blog: “How Do You Take the Measure of a School Year?” Around the same time, unaware of her post, I wrote “Good Year?” Recently I’ve been pondering these same questions, although in a very different frame of mind. Usually come May I’m so, so ready for the summer. While I’m still working, the pace is very different, and there is time for some refreshment. This year, though, I’m ready to keep going. At St. John’s we’ve had a wonderful year; and because I’m energized by the great things happening here, I want to maintain the momentum.
                Meanwhile, I’ve been thinking a bit about Jessica’s question. She presents some different thoughts from parents and school folks, most of which are conclusions. I’m going to take a slightly different twist and begin in a different place. First, of course, you have to make some attempt to clarify what success would mean. What it would look like. We know any sort of large-scale consensus on that remains quixotic. But hope remains that we can reach it on a school-wide basic. Most certainly in an independent school, where we should have a clear mission and approach and culture. An ethos, if you will. This clarity then leads to the questions one should ask in taking that measure. 

                Knowing one size does not fit all, I offer you, in no particular order, questions that schools should ask in taking the measure of a school year:
  • Are we a better school now than we were at the start of the year?
  • Whose needs did we put first--adults' or kids'?
  • Did we take enough risk? Did we let the kids?
  • How farsighted were we in thinking about the purpose of education?
  • Did we recognize and tap into the value of each member of our community?
  • Did we aim to inspire and enchant?
  • Did we give kids the right sort of headaches? Did we make them good tired or bad tired?
  • Are we asking the right and better questions?
  • Were there times we became so enthralled that we lost track of time and other frames?
  • Is our lens one of healthy skepticism or viral cynicism?
  • How often do we start with why?
  • Have we held ourselves to the professional standards we often expect of kids?
  • Do we practice what we preach?
  • Was our first reaction constructive--"yes, and"--or destructive--"no" and "but"?
                 Certainly some will reject this set of questions, perhaps even the approach. I've heard the argument often enough: you can't really measure these things. I try to understand the sort of mindset that requires the certainty and affirmation that can come with hard data.The questions do point us to softer topics.But as the cliche reminds us, soft is hard and hard is easy. We can measure plenty of things in education, and we put plenty of faith in them. Certainly the questions above demand more of us. That's because they remind us what really matters.

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