Having worked extensively to support individuals, groups and schools as they learn and grow in regards to assessment and evaluation, I put together a presentation I call The Assessment Journey to help other assessment leaders understand some of the stages they might encounter. This is the one that I think many of you may have been waiting for- Stage Three: Anger.
Click here for the Overview. Click here for Stage One: Apathy. Click here for Stage Two: Denial.
As someone who held a position as the cross-curricular head of Assessment, Evaluation and Literacy and then became an Instructional Resource Teacher and now am in an Instructional Coaching role, I have worked with a broad range of individuals (mostly at the secondary level) across my large and diverse school board. And as someone with a Twitter handle @AssessmentGeek, you can guess that much of my work tends to end up with a discussion about assessment.
Now, I love talking about assessment. I am genuinely passionate about assessment because I think it has life-changing impact on students and student learning. That’s not a shtick; I’m an assessment geek deep down. However, being engaged in so many conversations about assessment has meant that I have encountered a LOT of angry people. People have sworn at me, walked out on me, shouted at me and called me names. I wish I was joking.
The thing is, I’m (now) in a very zen place about angry people. I came to the understanding that teachers who are angry about assessment are angry because they care deeply and passionately about students and about teaching. This perspective has completely changed how I think about people, groups and schools at the angry stage. After all, they care enough to get mad, to huff and puff and to challenge everything I say (and sometimes point out typos in my PowerPoint just for spite).
What might you see a person in the angry stage of the assessment journey do? Oh, I’ve seen things. You might see them get up and walk out of a discussion or presentation. You might see fist shaking and red faces. You might see assessment policy documents whipped across the room. There are, of course, lots of crossed arms and frowns.
You might hear some gems like these: “How can you think this is good for kids? “, “How is this preparing them for university?”, “But if I don’t mark everything then they won’t do it!”, “Maybe that works for your kids but it would never work for my students!”, “Kids have no responsibility these days!” and “It has worked for me for the last twenty years. Who do you think you are to question how I assess?”
Ahhh. Fond memories.
But if these individuals or groups are so passionate about their students and what they do that they are willing to pretty much challenge me to a fist fight out in the parking lot, then I’ll take them in my building any day over an apathetic teacher! I mean, I hope the anger is a temporary stage, but what amazing educators to care that much! They care about the integrity of their subject area and course, they care about preparing their students for the future and then definitely care about student responsibility!
So what to do about all this anger?
Well, let me share something I don’t do. I don’t “agree to disagree”. I don’t back down. I truly believe this is right for students, and, in addition to how I feel about assessment and evaluation, some aspects are non-negotiable. After all, in Ontario we work for the Ministry of Education, and assessment policy is what we are required to follow. Fortunately we use Growing Success which I have to say is one of the best assessment policy documents I have ever encountered; Growing Success emphasizes student learning and teacher informed professional judgement. I don’t love everything about it but I do believe in it and I will stand my ground. Nicely, of course. Professionally. Firmly. I don’t resort to name calling. I don’t try to literally shake some sense into them, despite my instincts to do just that. I think I have a particularly developed endurance level for marathon assessment challenges. Often I will sit with a single teacher and address challenge after challenge for 10, 20, 30, 75 minutes. One Science teacher I worked with came back to me on four different occasions to challenge something I had shared, and each time I heard him out and responded calmly and with evidence and honesty. And then he said, finally, “I think I’m okay now. I’m going to try it out.” Battling passion with passion can lead to great understanding.
That brings me to my next suggestion: be honest. I really do not have all the answers. And sometimes I don’t know if something will work in a certain way with a teacher or subject area or in that school at that time. I often have to say “I don’t know. But I can ask!” And I share my personal stories of what assessment looked like in my classroom with my students and when I failed at things I tried to do. That helps, too.
Finally, I would offer this suggestion for working with Stage Three: Anger: Focus on the thing that you already know they value- the students. Every single angry person I have encountered cared deeply and passionately about their students, and when I consistently come back to our singular purpose (to improve student learning) then we have found common ground and can move forward inch by inch. I think of it like the “home” button on your browser or in your Twitter account. When you have fallen down a rabbit hole of disagreement and are mired in the details of Achievement Charts and rubrics and assessment for learning strategies, pause and reset on the common purpose: student learning.
Do you have any tips for working with Stage Three: Anger? And have you found yourself at this stage? I certainly have been- like when the Ministry changed from the terms formative, summative and diagnostic assessment to assessment of, as and for learning. I shook my fist at the sky! And then I talked it through with someone and came to understand the why of that change (the explanation is page 30-31 of Growing Success, if my Ontario peeps are interested). And then I was okay again.
Check in soon for Stage Four:Curiosity.