Tuesday, December 30, 2014

...Then Don't Say Anything at All.

When I was a kid, my mother would say "If you don't have something nice to say, then don't say anything at all."  Sage advice, even today.

As I reflected on my ride home this evening, I considered the hastily-written entry of yesterday.  (Which was written while caring for the aforementioned-mother, who has been released from the hospital after an encounter with a truck while serving as a pedestrian.  She's better than fine.  Really.)  2014 is nearly over.  What, if I even actually INTENDED to make a resolution, would or should I resolve to do?

...Then Don't Say Anything at All.

It was sobering, when I considered the things that bugged me the most in the past year. Certainly all teachers have been impacted by the new teacher evaluation system, whether they've been through the "formal observation process" in the last two years, or are dreading scheduled during the next two.  The overwhelming complaint about the observation process is that there seems to be no room, anywhere, on any of the forms, for praise.  

Administrators don't get to enjoy lessons any longer.  They don't get to walk into classrooms and celebrate learning, or experience the wonder of kids making connections.  Instead, they are counting beans, highlighting boxes, and making suggestions for improvement.  Don't get me wrong, all teachers want to do a better job, but up until Charlotte Danielson descended upon us, walk through and observation reports always had cute comments like "Awesome engagement!"  "Loved the excitement" and notations of smiley faces and exclamation points in the margins of the notes.  Teachers live for this sort of approval and accolade, and now it's gone.

As I mentioned previously this week, I've been grading on the Turn it In system during this break.  It's a nifty system that offers plagiarism screening, originality reports, and automatically does spelling and grammar checks, suggesting alternate punctuation and discouraging split infinitives and sentence-ending prepositions.  It's really easy as a teacher to get caught up into the "click on all the highlighted suggestions" while grading.

Of course the dreaded RED PEN syndrome is gone when grading electronically.   And it's almost impossible to SHOUT (even if you do it in all caps, rather than bold red underlined sharpie) on an electronically-graded research paper.  I knew about Rutchick's study, (click on the RED PEN link above for the NPR interview), and intentionally seek out a green, blue, or purple pen when working on physical papers.

But today, while driving, I reflected upon how infrequently I now grade with praise instead of criticism.  Sure, a better word might be critique, rather than criticism, as I am hoping that my comments are viewed as a means to foster deeper understanding on both the topic and process of writing, but I'm not sure how often the comments are read and considered.  Most freshmen flip to the last page, look at the numerical grade at the bottom of the rubric, and toss the whole thing into the recycle bin before leaving my room.  (While gifted kids while scan the comments and attempt to negotiate and clarify for more points -- but that is a whole different topic for a different day.)

So why does it bug me so much to lose the exclamation points and smiley faces in the margins of my own performance review, when I have, inexplicably, adopted the same style of feedback for my students?

Get ready.  2015 is a new year.  And I'm shooting for a new resolution.  Let's seek out the work of Shawn Achor and Martin Seligman.  Let's smother these kids in positive psychology, and see what happens to the quality of their work.  I want to be that ONE ADULT that will never give up, understands the power of connection, and insists that my students become the best they can possibly be.  I don't know Rita Pierson, (see photo above), but in the words of Kid President, "She is awesome."

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