As we’re approaching the midpoint of the school year, we took some time this morning to redraft our classroom norms. We call this list, “The Things That Make Our Classroom Work”– less threatening than “Rules,” right? Students suggested all the usual suspects– “Follow directions,” “Be respectful,” “Work together.” After we established five or six of these, they started to get kind of quiet, so I asked if anyone had any final suggestions. And then this conversation happened:
Third Grader #1: “How about, ‘Make mistakes’?”
Third Grader #2: “Yea– you told us at the beginning of the year that we would probably get a lot of B’s and C’s, and that’s okay.”
Third Grader #1: “Because we’re still learning. Even if we don’t get an A, we’re still learning.”
There’s so much pressure on these kids to get A’s. What does that even mean? This may come as a surprise to you, but I was (am) the quintessential straight-A student, and I can only recall a handful of those A’s that I actually had to work for. Those are the only ones that mean anything. The A I earned in AP English, from the teacher who taught me that I could not, in fact, bullshit my way through her class; the A I earned from the professor who taught me how to pursue knowledge on my own terms, and inspired a love of learning in its purest form; the A’s I earned from teachers and professors with high expectations and low tolerances for anything less than my best.
The stakes are higher than ever– Do you remember annotating texts or making PowerPoint presentations in third grade? I didn’t think so. We tackle some pretty tough stuff! Most of my kids are averaging B’s and C’s, and I’m okay with it because it means that they are taking risks and learning new things. A’s are hard-earned. But as far as I’m concerned, letter grades are irrelevant anyway– its progress that really matters. It’s about instilling a love for knowledge, and the aptitude to pursue it.
The first rule one of my sweet little hooligans suggested is another favorite, and something I hope that they will all take with them when they leave:
ALWAYS BE PROUD OF YOURSELVES, AND OF EACH OTHER.
The sign in the picture is a sweet gift I received today from one of my kids as a “thank you” for helping him become a better writer. Really, I don’t think I had much to do with it. I set high expectations, and demanded his best. He made mistakes, and he learned from them. In the end, he had a piece of work he was really proud of. The best part? We reflected on his writing and he made a plan to do even better next time.
Ownership. Progress. Pride. More than I could ever ask for, and more than any letter grade could possibly express.
“The kids in our classroom are infinitely more significant than the subject matter we teach.”