“Never let the competition define you.
Instead, you have to define yourself based
on a point of view you care deeply about.”
Before becoming a Vice-Principal then Principal, I had the honour and pleasure to teach for 12 years. I loved my work and was always guided but what I thought was best for students at the time. But, it’s true what they say about time and how it has a way of making you look at things from a different perspective.
We are in an exciting time in Surrey Schools because much of what we have held to be true for so long is now open for discussion and improvement. Of particular interest to me are the changes to B.C.’s Curriculum and the discussion around how we can better communicate student learning to parents.
I believe we need to question everything we currently do around how we inform parents about their child’s progress and how we invite parents to be partners in this process.
During a recent community forum at our school, I prepared a presentation and in it, I used images of my own report card from my Grade 7 year. Doing so awakened many emotions that had been dormant for so many years – emotions and feelings of insecurity that I still work to deal with and overcome each day.
My teacher’s comments and how they viewed me – a pleasant, average, boy – contributed to me viewing myself the same way. My parents considered me lazy and not as smart as my three older sisters, based on the letter grades I brought home. You see, those letter grades – those symbols meant to communicate my strengths as a learner – defined me. When you define a child in a certain way for long enough, they begin to define themselves in the same way. And so, because I was always compared to others based on grades and the notion that better grades meant you were smarter and worked harder, I began to doubt myself and my worth.
I struggled with this for years, and realize that even today, some of this same thinking creeps into my consciousness. When I am asked to present to a group, be part of a team, or lead an initiative, I have to fight off feelings of self-doubt. I have to remind myself of my strengths and that with hard work, I can accomplish anything.
This defining runs deep, even in those that love you. Etched in my memory is the day of my university convocation as I stood with my mom, waiting for a photo to be taken. She quietly turned to me and with wonderment, looked at me and said, “I never thought it would be you.” No cruel words, but simply the honest words of a parents who never received anything from school that would lead her to believe otherwise. How school defined me was all she knew.
Having gone through this personally, you’d think I would have been more sensitive as a classroom teacher. Hopefully I was, but I now realize that each time I gave out a letter grade, I was essentially defining them, whether I liked it or not. I cringe when I think how many students I had a hand in defining in this negative way.
Often, students who received these grades were the hardest working students in class, but found the work challenging. Some of these students were also immensely gifted in areas we didn’t measure with letter grades, or at all for that matter.
To all my students…I’m sorry.
For those students who said “thank you for the A” when you got your report card, I apologize if I sent the message that you’d made it, you were done, you had reached the top. My message should have been, “where can you go now?” or “how else could you do this?”
And for that student who at the beginning of one year shared that her goal was to win the academic award, I apologize for not spending more time helping you focus on the joys of learning, creativity, and sharing your wonderful ideas with others.
To all my students again…I’m sorry.
This understanding drives me in the work I do today. I work with students each day who have a myriad of hidden strengths and abilities. I am committed to uncovering these treasures and encouraging others I work and learn with to do the same.
I continue to work with my colleagues to explore new and innovative ways of inviting parents to this conversation about their child’s learning, to break down traditional barriers to authentic home-school communication, and to provide them a “window” into the classroom.
Mostly, I am dedicated to ensuring that students have a say in how they define themselves and that I help them to do so in the most holistic, honest, and positive way possible.
What will you do today to uncover the many hidden abilities your students possess?
What will you do with this information?
How will you share this information with parents?