March 22, 2016 – Growth

Educational experts talk about growth and data and the need to create a growth mindset in children. But data is what is driving that mindset. I can be a data junkie myself. Even from my first few years as a teacher, I loved item analysis, identifying whole and small group needs by creating conditionally formatted cells in a spread sheet. I could show said spreadsheet to another teacher in order to impress upon them, “Look, look at how sophisticated I am, how in touch I am with the strengths and needs of my students.” But kids aren’t just numbers or trending up-tics. They are complex, multi-dimensional still-forming beings whose FM tuner is mainly dialed to what’s right in front of them and can’t handle all the other white noise and signals of the larger and “more important” world around or ahead of them.

Today a student of mine, struggled and fought through her way to finish her science fair project. She is an English language learner and at the beginning of this year she would never talk, struggled to write and cringed any time math was mentioned. To see her today would be like seeing some before and after picture on a makeover show, but in her intellectual and socio-emotional self. She now offers answers, begins working on her own work, right away, without furtive glances to the others around her. This girl, who has little help at home because her mom and dad work hard all hours of the day, whose favorite meal is alphabet soup, who is one of the few that actually reaches out for help and who is always the first to help out another student in any way she can, whose peers continue to recognize and celebrate as she grows in voice, confidence and ability, battled her way to finish a science fair project, then at the end of the day took a test to benchmark how her intervention was going. I should’ve stopped it. I should’ve told the interventionist, but it’s two days from break and my own brain was frazzled from getting the class prepared for the fair. I should’ve said no.

I walked into the interventionist’s office to see how she had done. I was happy because the students had done such a wonderful job completing and owning their experiments. She was not. She had tears in her eyes and a look that only a teacher who remembered those times of no self-esteem, being lost, and hiding. She hadn’t gotten a number to show growth.

In what spreadsheet do I enter how the strength of her voice has grown, in what data table do I show the increase in her engagement and willingness to tackle new learning? In what box can I check that she didn’t think about college and career readiness but now is exhibiting those intangibles: perseverance, resourcefulness, and confidence?

Oftentimes plants are used to symbolize the growth of a learner. We talk about blooming and branching out. What my student has done this year is to grow roots. See, before she was just sprouting and had no roots to keep her from blowing over or being yanked from the ground. So she hid. Slowly, though, her roots began to spread and fasten themselves deeper into the soil. What you can “see” the score that was produced by one test, might seem as if there was no growth, but not everyone can see that what grew is what is going to help her grow tall and strong. Those roots are unquantifiable.

She shouldn’t’ve taken that test today. I should’ve said no.

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4 thoughts on “March 22, 2016 – Growth

  1. I was thinking about confidence today — in a meeting surrounded by teachers who’ve been at my campus longer then me. When I finally had something to say, because I wanted to address how we should be ambassadors to deeper, more meaningful reading, I turned beet red, my heart infiltrated my lungs and made me stop breathing, and I had to stop to catch my breath — like I had just run up a complete flight of stairs. And my principal was right next to me.

    I got over it and said some other useful remarks, but it was nowhere as articulate as the teacher who appears here on these pages and in these comboxes. Why do we have confidence to speak at certain instances and not another when it come to our kids? What makes us second guess ourselves and make us clam up when we know we’ll always look back and regret not having said anything?

    Maybe practice and experience, PW guy. This is my 3rd year at my campus. Everyday, I learn more about how to best teach, love and reach kids, everyday they become more and more my priority, and then my own dumb opinion of self becomes 2nd fiddle .. so that when I speak, I speak for Kid, not for Me. I don’t worry about how Me will look, I am overwhelmingly concerned about being the voice for Kid.

    .. I’m sorry, I bet that’s not what you wanted to hear. What happened was I was mesmerized by your eloquent, but lolling storytelling (are you from the South?), and when I was done, I just naturally looked at myself and thought, well, what’s up with you, Veronica?

    Plus it’s 2a and I need to finish packing for a trip.

    I love this piece. I think I’m going to print it out and stick it in everyone’s boxes. Child’s learning as roots we don’t see is such a creative metaphor. I have never heard of a better comparison, because, no, we don’t see..

    You are her hero. Other people (the state) may be the Force of Evil for a moment, but as soon as you can, pick that child’s spirit up and be you, Teach. You’re awesome. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This is what the powers that be don’t see, that teachers like you do, every day. Students are not factory output, cannot be measured by numbers. If it were that easy, then every student with the highest scores would be absolutely fabulous in college and beyond–and we know that’s not true, either. You teach the whole child, and have helped this one beyond measure–pun intended. Great piece; have you thought of submitting it as an editorial?

    Liked by 1 person

  3. This is such a thoughtful and well-written post. It should be shared and read by educators who also struggle with data and benchmarking. I love the tree analogy – it’s spot on.

    Don’t beat yourself up about letting her take the test. She knows. Everything you told us here – about her growth and her voice and her confidence – she knows you see that in her. I’m sure she knows.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Students really do think the test defines them. Sometimes we think that, too, as teachers. Define the state by growth, define district by growth, define the principal by growth, define the teacher by growth–all this measurable growth–little sprouts of data–little green circles. You are right, though, what an intricate root system that lies beneath the surface and that which truly promotes real growth. Wow! Those green circles…I need them to move more than they move, but really I should be focused on the individual. Powerful!

    Liked by 1 person

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