Student Well-Being Opinion

Time to Put My Beliefs to the Test: Starting a New No Grades Classroom

By Starr Sackstein — September 18, 2016 2 min read
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Okay, so I’m struggling. I worked so hard for several years to really get good at developing the no grades classroom at my old school and when I started my new job it never occurred me that I wouldn’t be able to continue the work I was doing regardless of where the rest of the school was. I had just assumed that it would be like my old school, I’d be doing it alone until others were ready to give it a try.

Never having the intention of pushing my beliefs on others, I at least thought I’d have the freedom to continue with the work I started. I learned quickly that the school is in a different place than my old school and that it may take longer than I had hoped to transition back into the way I did things before.

Discouraged at first, almost to the point of tears, I sat looking at a pile of student work today hoping that I’d be able to adjust the online system we use the way I used it, but unfortunately no longer have administrative rights.

So how could I work without taking too many steps backward and behave in a way that goes against my educational philosophy?

First I needed to vent in a safe place and reached out to my favorite Facebook Group, Teachers Throwing Out Grades for some support. I’m not ashamed to admit my embarrassment about being the person seeking out help when so often I’m the person others turn to for this kind of help.

After reading the encouraging words and suggestions, I realized it was time to really put my beliefs and theories into action by starting over from scratch. And so I figured out a work around within the constraints of the system we have and was still able to give excellent, actionable feedback.

And here are my next steps:

  • I want to talk to administration about my concerns and talk about the benefits of what I do and how I feel it will help student achievement.
  • A lesson will be delivered on how to read the data inside of our online grading system and I will start to teach students how to track the feedback they receive.
  • Starting next week, students will be taught how to reflect and self-assess against the standards and skills on the school wide rubric and I will tie in these skills to the content that is being taught. Since we are already doing work on growth mindset, it fits in perfectly.
  • I will reach out to parents and start the conversation about the shift and still adhere to school wide expectations to the best of my ability without working backward against my own belief systems.
  • Because I’m starting from scratch again, I will remember to be as patient as possible because this is a huge shift from traditional. At some point, I too, stood where they are and had to find my way. Everyone takes their own time and I can only do what I can to do what I know to be best for students.
  • I will continue the dialogue with my students and administration to ensure that everyone understands the why even if they don’t understand the how yet.
  • Feedback will continue to be the center of what propels students learning and reflection and conversation about growth. But the students need to be taught the language first. I can’t assume they know because they don’t.

Baby steps. Things won’t happen as quickly as I want, but they will happen and great change is possible. My being able to be vulnerable about these changes and my fears about them is a testament to how change is hard but still worthwhile.

I’m in. Who’s with me? Please share

The opinions expressed in Work in Progress are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.