Who do we learn more from, the COACH or the JUDGE?

April 23, 2014

Last week I had the opportunity to work with Damian Cooper, author of Redefining Fair: How to Plan, Assess and Grade for Excellence in Mixed-Ability Classroom.

It is interesting how my professional practice has changed from being a young teacher in the 1990s wondering why we were starting to talk about “assessment” at all, to my thinking now where I look at Assessment FOR Learning and Assessment AS Learning as being the most critical thing we can do to improve and enhance student learning.

Damian had us consider consider “Five Imperatives” that should guide teachers’ work:

  1. Curriculum must be meaningful, coherent and relevant
  2. Instruction must be responsive to students’ needs
  3. Assessment must be informative
  4. Grading must blend consistency with professional judgment
  5. Communication about learning must be truthful and transparent


One comment that really stuck out that he shared was:

If our assessment practices do not demand THINKING on the part of students, they are probably a waste of time…


He went on to explain by asking this phenomenal question:

“Who do kids learn more from, the COACH or the JUDGE?”


To me, this was a 10.0 comment! Is it the number at the end that the judge gives me on my performance that I learned from? Or, if thinking about professional sports players, is it the hours of video watched and critiqued, the work with the coach to improve, the formative feedback from coaches and teammates, the intent to improve their abilities and skills, and the discussions before, during, and after the practice or game that make all the difference? Or the score in the end? Without the other stuff, the score will not be affected…

Seems like a pretty easy question, but we need to make sure that we are utilizing this thinking with all of our students.

So, how can we support each other in this work? We, as teachers, need to take the time to talk about assessment and how it looks daily in our classrooms. I can help by ensuring that time and structures are in place to enable teachers to:

  • Collaborate with colleagues to agree upon essential learning
  • Collaborate with colleagues to agree upon the assessment tasks students must produce as evidence of essential learning
  • Communicate clearly to students what comprises critical evidence of essential learning
  • Collaborate to come to an understanding that this work is a major part of learning, and not just an add-on!

After all, this reflective thinking is the whole point in why I create this blog!

As an administrator, I need to ask myself some questions that have come out of this thinking:

  • “Who do TEACHERS learn more from, the COACH or the JUDGE?”
  • How can we be (learning) coaches, not judges (or just “principals”) for our teachers?
  • If we expect kids to get it wrong the first time… What about us as professionals? Do we encourage and support each other when we do make mistakes?
  • Is this work optional for teachers? Is it part of our teams? Our PLCs? Our own Professional Practice?

Easy questions to ask, harder to implement, but at least we are on the journey!

Damian Cooper can be found at @cooperd1954 on Twitter and more about him can be found at http://damiancooperassessment.com.


Going from “Back to the Basics” to BETTER…

April 9, 2014
Recently, an editorial appeared in the Edmonton Journal with the headline “Alberta Education’s radical curriculum reforms will damage economy, limit our children’s future.” Wow! Definitely worth a read if you are an educator.

Brutal. They make so many bad or unproven assumptions, it is amazing something like this was published. It assumes the old system was good. I did awesome in the old system because I could memorize, not because I could think. It did not prepare me at all for later life. I think it is our job to give our kids a BETTER education than the one we received!

I am not even going to start going over the in accuracies and brutal assumptions contained within this editorial. Instead, I am going to go with my heart and my passion in my response.

Education is a growing and changing field. Even over the course of my career, it has grown and changed immensely, from changes in assessment and formative assessment, extensive development of educational and assistive technologies, the way we report and work with parents, the way that learning takes place in language arts, mathematics, arts, physical education, and how we work with students social, emotional, and psychological needs.

Sorry folks, education is changing and getting better. We are learning more every day about how the brain works and about how students learn, and that drill and kill is just not the best way to learn.
I don’t know about you, but my education did not teach me how to think, be a critical thinker, be a reflective thinker, be creative thinker, or how to be able to be an effective learner. I was excellent and at being able to replicate what the teacher did on the board during math without any understanding of why  I was doing but I was doing. I was excellent at memorizing and reading a book and being able to remember the information it until the test, then lost that information immediately because I did not need it for more than the test.
The moment this changed was when I found the desire to become an educator. All of the sudden, my work in University became important and authentic, so there was a reason I was learning and beyond the test at the end of the course. I went on to get an excellent GPA, went on to get a masters degree in education, and went on to become a current principal. Now it all made sense and there was a reason that I was learning what I was learning.
I loved many of my teachers and no they tried to do their best. Education looked differently back in the 1970s and 80s when I was a student in school. If it did NOT look different, that would be when we need to be concerned!
I love my job because I am always learning. There is no binder that I can pull off the shelf to tell me how to do my job, what the right budget and staffing scenario looks like, or how to work with any specific student.
I don’t want to go back to the “Good ol’ days,” as they just were not that good. We need to look at creating a BETTER education for our children, rather than going back…
Work hard, learn tons!

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