The Adult’s Challenge after the Tragedy in Orlando

I had a different #tbt planned, but once again my plans were thwarted by current events–this time at a High School in Florida where, as it stands now, seventeen people have lost their lives. It is not OK. We are failing. Please read through the full link–particularly parents who want to find a way forward in your conversation with your children. While the event in Florida is a school shooting, not a terrorist attack, it is yet another mass killing. I repost this recognizing these events are not at all parallel except that they represent stunning loss of life and that they present a unique challenge for parents and adults in lives of children. 

Ross All Over the Map

From CNN.COM June 6, 2016 From CNN.COM June 6, 2016

Last November I wrote a piece the morning after the Paris terrorist attack. (I have copied it below). Much of what I wrote seems sadly relevant to the Orlando attack at the Pulse Night Club where there were forty-nine victim mortalities and even more injuries, many critical. This latest attack is just that…the latest attack.  Even though it has its own very specific context—in Orlando, at a Gay Nightclub, a single attacker—it seems to be not only identified by its specific details and scale, but by the fact that it is the most recent. There is a growing resignation and accompanying corrosive angst that the next incident of mass murder is inevitable and not that far in the future. That combination—resignation and angst—does not serve us well. It diminishes us. As parents and as adults in the lives of young people we should rise to…

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St. George’s and Serve901: A New Partnership to Meet an Old Need

For #TBT this week, this post from almost exactly two years ago came to mind. The benefits of the St. George’s Bunkhouse continue to grow as we learn more and more about how to take advantage of this great space. Next month our the entire Class of 2019 will spend a couple of days there engaging with and learning more about their city and area, and they will look ahead to the contribution they will make to SGIS during their upcoming Senior Year.

Ross All Over the Map

JSt. George's Junior Alton Stovall, CEO of City Leadership John Carroll, yadayada, and Head of Serve901 Jeff Riddle gather to see and discuss the shared space at ADDRESS St. George’s Junior Alton Stovall, John Carroll/Executive Director City Leadership, Shelby Smith/City leadership, and Jeff Riddle/Coordinator of Serve901

[Last night we sent a letter to the St. George’s Independent School community about a new, and I think, unprecedented partnership with Serve901 to share space and to create service learning experiences for our students. Serve 901 is an initiative of Memphis’s City Leadership, which also supports the vibrant and successful Choose901 campaign. I will let the press release below describe the relationship; however, it is worth noting here that I believe that this sort of partnership is exactly the direction great schools should be going to best underpin their academic, athletic and other co-currcular programming. We are not just seeking to graduate students who know things…we are seeking to graduate students who make something valuable from knowledge and experience. We are not just charged to graduate students headed toward successful…

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For Parents—A Dad (also a School Head) Wondering About Grades

Parents can get a bad rap because we come across as obsessed with our children’s grades, while neglecting a far more appropriate concern with our children’s learning and critical skill building. Perhaps we are simply misguided as to how to best express our interest in what is happening at school and its relationship with the value a school is delivering for our child. No matter our intent, it washes away in the eyes of the folks who empty our refrigerators and refuse to greet us and look away from their phones at the same time when we limit our questions about school to grades. A number of conversations are likely to follow such lines of questioning—none of which are likely to recommend us to the Parenting Council (which evaluates a parent’s every move, of course). In short, we tell our kids it is not all about the grades and then we make it seem as if it is indeed all about the grades. Teenagers in particular have a finely tuned talent for smelling out duplicity. We end up sounding like parents we didn’t want to become, and our kids end up confused about what the real purpose of their education might be (HINT: it is not about grades in and of themselves—rather grades are the highly imperfect way we try to gauge the learning a school seeks to provide).

With all that in mind, I have an idea about a smarter path, one that might allow us to communicate our real interest in a way that allows us to be good partners with both our child and the school. First, the Change: move the conversation with your child about an important evaluation before the evaluation rather than having it only after the fact. Instead of just asking, “How did you do?” or “What did you make?” after an assessment, parents get to ask smarter questions in advance of an assessment, such as:

  • Did you do your work all along with your best effort?
  • Do you feel prepared?
  • When you struggled, how did you seek help if you needed it?
  • How did you prepare?
  • Are you planning on changing your approach next time?

Second, the Commitment: let your kids know you are making a change and explain why. Make them partners in the shift in your approach to discussing academic work. Don’t be a mystery to your kids. Try this approach long enough to see whether it works well for your family. Third, the Best Part: you will get to express your high expectations in the context of how your child is going about doing his or her work instead of simply through the lens of the grade itself. It also allows us far better perspective on the meaning of the grade when it is returned, thus putting us in position to be the educational partner our child needs. This is important: not all As or Bs or Cs or Ds or even Fs are alike, and if you know more in advance of the assessment’s return, you will be best aligned to be parents your child needs. For instance, the conversation with your child is different after the assessment is returned depending on answers to questions you may have asked before the assessment like, “when you struggled, how did you seek help?”

Students want expectations—high ones. However, our high expectations too often have been the wrong ones based more on the grade itself than the learning it represents. By moving our conversations in front of an evaluation, we hack into a potentially unhealthy cycle that hyper-inflates the meaning of an individual grade and diminishes the emphasis on learning. The change I suggest is likely to result in a healthier conversation with your child that will bear fruit in both learning and the academic reflection of it.

While I hope the idea that I just named is helpful to some (particularly perhaps students in grades six through ten), it is a small step compared with the moment of reckoning overdue for traditional assessment models in secondary education. A far more significant hack into the grade obsessed culture we have made over the last century plus is increasingly necessary. I focused my wondering in today’s blog narrowly on the relationship between parent and child. What if we thought bigger? Wider?

A number of people and entities are asking exactly that question. Tired of feeling like helpless inheritors of a flawed approach to assessment where what we seek to evaluate and what we actually evaluate are not always well-matched, the idea of finding a better way may not be as far out of reach as we may have thought. At my school, we have become members of the Mastery Transcript Consortium, a group of schools across the country whose vision is reflected in this statement: “the MTC hopes to change the relationship between preparation for college and college admissions for the betterment of students.” While I do not know where this conversation will lead (and we are not making precipitous moves to leave our current transcript and approach to assessment behind), I am excited for our school to be at the table for this fascinating conversation. If there is a better way, I want us to find it and be bold enough to pursue it. Our kids deserve nothing less.

[Here is a more complete idea of the MTC: “The Mastery Transcript Consortium (MTC) is a collective of high schools organized around the development and dissemination of an alternative model of assessment, crediting and transcript generation. This model calls for students to demonstrate a mastery of skills, knowledge and habits of mind by presenting evidence that is then assessed against an institutionally specific standard of mastery.” For more go HERE.]

Convergence and Permission: SUN and STAX and the Creative Community

For Throw Back Thursday this week (I am trying to get better at remembering to do this), I am posting one relevant to Memphis and its incredible musical legacy. I am particularly interested in how those of us in education might learn from the sort of rock and soul musical communities Memphis has witnessed. As an added bonus, don’t forget to click the Carl Perkins link at the bottom of the original post.

“Convergence and Permission are critical in the formation of a creative community. When a group of people has a shared space to come together and they have permission to uncover and reveal their gifts, the artifacts they leave behind are often astounding. Additionally, what can happen in those communities when the whole becomes greater than the sum of its parts, is electric. Seeing the topic from this angle reveals that those of us working in education have much to learn from what are essentially wonderfully successful learning environments where collaboration, engagement, and experimentation take root.”

Ross All Over the Map

“Artists, in fact learners of any kind, thrive in a supportive context and when given permission to experiment and collaborate.”

IMG_5137

IMG_2200In June of 2015 my family and I moved to Memphis from Atlanta. In our brief time here we have tried to learn about our new town, and we have visited places that define it: Graceland, The Peabody Hotel, The Pyramid (home to the largest Bass Pro Shop in the world–you want it, they’ve got it…in Camouflage), and The Brooks Museum. The barbecue here deserves its own sentence of places worthy of a visit; The Rendezvous, Corky’s, Tops, Interstate (my current favorite), Central, Germantown Commissary, and Three Little Pigs. (I have always found that eating pork provides a bit of insight. If true, Memphians must have a lot of insight.)

Where so much of Memphis gets its real flavor, however, has to do with…

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