The Joy of Reading Report Cards

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No, the title is not a joke.  MANY years ago, my principal walked into my office, with coffee in hand, and deposited a relatively small pile of report cards on the desk of his beleaguered VP during report card time.  Stressed parents.  Stressed teachers.  Stressed Admin staff.  Stress kids.  Hundreds of report cards to read, give feedback, and sign.  Yet with a smile on his face, a coffee in hand and the lion’s share of the report cards, off he went to his office.  Being that beleaguered VP, I set to work to return the report cards with suggestions on post it notes, or signature and appreciative comments on a thank you notes back to teachers ASAP so we could all “get on with it”.  I feverishly finished and went to announce victory to my principal and thank him for the taking the biggest pile to review and sign.  There he was sitting with the student photo book from the school photographer in hand, the class lists in front of him, reading report cards – still with a smile on his face.  “Hey, listen to this…”

It was at that point, I learned about how to read report cards.  It was not an addition to my already heavy workload but the real work – getting to know the kids better so I could support their learning.  It has now become for me, what it is for parents – additional insight into what they already know about the child and his/her/their learning.  Sitting down with the photo book allows me to match the name with the child, if I haven’t already done so.  It makes me smile.  It gives me a new piece of the puzzle or confirms my suspicions.  Classroom visits and meetings with parents and teachers, give me some insight into the individual children.  Interaction on the playground gives me another perspective.  Teachers provide another.  Student voice in the report card provides yet another.

With the roll out of new curriculum in British Columbia, there has been a new spotlight on student understanding of his/her/their learning.  Student voice in report cards has been included in many well written report cards over the years.  However, with the new curriculum in British Columbia, student voice has become a focus.  Our very own, Judy Halbert and Linda Kaser, of Spirals of Inquiry fame, have given us the structure to facilitate this within our own learning and classroom instruction:

  • What are you learning and why is it important?
  • How is it going?
  • What next?

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As students experience answering these questions, and posing them on their own, student voice finds its way into assessment and reporting practices.  This is where the true joy emerges for me as a reader of report cards.  There is incredible promise when students are empowered to take control of their own learning.  The ability to identify learning strengths, areas that require more repetition and practice, and strategies for further learning,  the ceiling is removed from what our children are able to achieve.   It develops the metacognitive skills required for children to think about their own thinking and learning, then develop a plan to move forward.

I’m hoping the practice of paying students for being good at something at report card time is replaced with good conversations about celebration of successes, as well as plans for future efforts.  As a little girl, my daughter swam with the Coquitlam Sharks and was repeatedly disqualified  (DQ’d) at swim meets during the dreaded butterfly stroke.  So much that we regularly went to the DQ to eat ice cream and shake it off after swim meets.  The first meet that Larkyn wasn’t DQ’d, our family went crazy.  We hooted.  We hollered.  We hugged. We cheered with enthusiasm and apparently volume!  The dad beside me leaned in and said, “You know your kid didn’t win, right?”  However, Larkyn conquering the “butterfly stroke” was the biggest win of our swim club experience and is entrenched in family lore.  My hope is that is what report card time can be just like that for all families.  Reading strength-based report cards that are honest about achievement, clear about areas requiring more focused attention and delineate a plan to move forward, give me hope.  It is possible for report cards to bring joy.  These are the opportunities to create enduring family stories.

 

 

Back to School

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It is that time of year where I am filled with conflicted emotions.  I desperately want to eke out every possible enjoyment of summer.  The lazy days of summer start to pick up the pace.  I desperately want to maximize reading of fiction, organizing, writing, socializing, exercise and random opportunities into the last days of freedom from responsibility.  The last bit of time before the days spin by and I drop into bed exhausted.  Too tired to read.  Too tired to pick up after myself.  Too tired to want to do anything other than flop down in front of reruns of Modern Family.

And yet, there is also the excitement of a new school year.  The smell of new books.  The seduction of brand-new highlighters and pens, colourful file folders and novel post-it notes.  The promise of a new year with complete organization and balance in life.  People to meet.  Conversations that make a difference.  The excitement of a new year of possibilities.

The good-bye speech from one of my teachers at my previous school, included the story of the teacher calling me to deal with four boys that were wreaking havoc in his class one afternoon.  He came to my office to find them drinking tea and talking about their feelings.  There is always a story and I do love to unearth them!  Facilitating the first steps to calm-down strategies and then moving on to problem solving makes a big difference in student perceptions of conflict and their ability to navigate it.  It’s also the essential piece required for empathy and for relationships to be repaired.  I look forward to facilitating those lessons that have the potential to make long term differences in lives and a kinder and more peaceful world.

I also love the opportunity to collaborate about learning opportunities with colleagues, students, parents, and community partners.  I have been fortunate to work with many strong administrators in my capacity as both a teacher, administrator, and as a parent.  These individuals believed in a flattened hierarchy and they believe in empowering others to assume leadership positions.  I look forward to helping teachers, parents and community partners to achieve ends that benefit them personally while also supporting the school community.

The Vancouver School district has defined a vision of creating a collaborative learning community through a lens of excellence and equity.  As a social justice advocate, equity of opportunity for all students in foundational in my educational philosophy.  As a principal in a new school, I am reflecting on what I need to learn from my new school community.  I will be investing in trying to learn about a new school culture.  I’m looking forward to the opportunity to the activities and conversations that can lead to a common understanding of our culture and define directions to consolidate and celebrate our strengths and the capacity for future growth.

Over the past year, our dynamic superintendent, Suzanne Hoffman, has used the metaphor of the iceberg to facilitate conversations between administrators about the culture in the Vancouver School Board, one of the largest and most complex of the 60 districts in the province.  It has provided a meaningful way to facilitate discussion about culture,  both the visible parts of the culture that are easily observable, but also the larger mass that exists beneath the surface and is more difficult to discern.

I spent most of my career as a teacher in Coquitlam.  When I started to work as an administrator in Vancouver a decade ago, I discovered the challenge of trying to identify and understand the less obvious aspects of culture.   I attended VSB schools from Kindergarten to Grade 12.  I lived in Vancouver until I got married and moved to the suburbs.  I believed I knew Vancouver culture.  And I did know the obvious, exposed areas of the iceberg.  But I had no insight into the less obvious aspects of the culture.

Visiting David Livingstone Elementary and initial conversations have given me some insight into the culture and vibrancy of opportunity at the school.  I look forward to the conversations with the people in the school community to help me develop a deeper understanding to guide my work.  And this part is the most enticing part of back of school.