As an Administrative Team, we are reading the book The Social Profit Handbook by David Grant. Core to Grant’s writing is a commitment by organizations to designing rubrics to assess our individual and collective progress toward our mission. Grant notes, “Used wisely, a rubric not only measures success, but also defines it and helps its users maintain momentum toward future plans and goals.” As we surpass the midpoint of the year and students receive feedback through winter midterm grades, we reflect on what it means to understand our individual and collective growth.
Proctor’s educational model sits somewhere between traditional and alternative, with a distinct lean toward the latter. While we are not planning on getting rid of numeric grades anytime soon (read more about our grading initiatives this year HERE), our focus as a school lies on the growth narrative for each student. Our internal struggle around how much to emphasize, or deemphasize, numeric grades has long challenged our faculty who know their students and their growth on a far deeper level than merely an assigned grade.
In the 1970s, Proctor introduced the concept of effort grades in an attempt to broaden the paradigm of assessing each student. While imperfect and fraught with bias we are working to minimize as a faculty, the concept sought to acknowledge the diversity of learners at Proctor and how their academic “performance” showed up on their transcripts. At the same time, Proctor introduced NTAs (Notices to Advisor) which have since evolved into being called Official Notes. These brief, student-centric updates from classroom teachers each student’s team of adults (advisors, dorm parents, coaches, and parents) serve as periodic check-ins on student growth. These three forms of feedback (numeric grades, effort grades, and ONs) provide a relatively holistic view of a student’s overall growth rooted in specific examples from class related to desired academic behaviors: preparation, participation, collaboration, responsibility, initiative, and resilience.
We love how this robust narrative informs our conversations with parents, however, the single most powerful aspect of this feedback loop is the opportunity to engage each of our advisees, athletes, or dorm residents in face-to-face conversations. In a world where technology empowers instantaneous communication, the impact of a face-to-face conversation with a student about what is going on in their life will never be replicated. It is during these conversations in advisory that we can begin to frame our own “rubrics” for each student.
Grant puts the importance of this practice of rubric building into perspective, “It is about having as much clarity and specificity as possible about what you are trying to do. It is about demystifying standards and criteria for success. It is about sharing the quest for excellence, not thinking it is the supervisor’s job.” How do we, as a team alongside our students, describe and define success for each individual student? As we consider our conversations with students related to their midterm grades, perhaps we start with a shared conversation around their (and our) definition of excellence. We think it will be a fruitful conversation that drives us all toward being better versions of ourselves: as students, as educators, and as parents.