Monday, January 27, 2014

Reminders on Kindness

By Michele Corbat
"I have this theory that if one person can go out of their way to show compassion, then it will start a chain reaction of the same. People will never know how far a little kindness can go."
Rachel Joy Scott (1981-1999)
Student, First Victim Of The Columbine High School Massacre

Do you know about Rachel's Challenge?  If you don't, stop reading this RIGHT NOW and check it out.  I've written about this before when people in my life have reminded me about the impact of kindness.  I've been reminded of this in two very powerful ways once again.

The first way breaks my heart into a million pieces.  The first way is how heart-breaking it is to others when we are intentionally unkind.  Maybe you haven't heard yet, but there's a new fad going around where high school and middle school Confessions accounts are popping up all over Twitter.  Or maybe it has been going on for a while and I am just finding out.  These accounts are places for students of these schools to send anonymous tweets that are supposed "confessions" along with their grade level.  These accounts are nothing more than horrible examples of keyboard courage.  According to, keyboard courage is:

Keyboard Courage
Function: noun
descriptive quality: 1: A quality or characteristic displayed by a person through the written word that this person would not ordinarily possess. 2: The confrontational attitude exhibited by someone via an anonymous entry to an internet web-page or posting. 3: An attitude demonstrated by someone when they realize that actions taken by them or words written by them across a computer connection will have little, if any, personal repercussions. 4: A false bravery possessed by an individual who does not possess the true quality in person.

Sadly, some of these accounts have shown up in my school district.  I have read the tweets.  Some are terribly hurtful and I wonder what the person named in the tweet is feeling.  Is she wondering what everyone will think when they see her at school?  Is he thinking that people will laugh at him and make fun of him?  Does he want to seek revenge for the anger he is feeling from his hurt?  Words are POWERFUL and unkind words can kill us!

But then, I was also reminded of the power of kindness; how small acts of kindness can cause someone to feel loved, to make someone's day, to heal and to inspire.  My colleague, Chris Carney, is battling the fight of his life.  One month ago, he was diagnosed with cancer.  He has been feeling excruciating pain for more than a year with the sources not found until recently.  Chris is a popular teacher, one who children love.  It's not uncommon to walk past Chris' classroom and see him playing his guitar and singing to or with his children.  Or to see him dress up as Superman to remind children how they are heroes for their acts of kindness.  Chris' wife, Christy, is also a teacher in my school.  She is one of the sweetest and kindest people you could ever know.  It's not uncommon to find a note from Christy letting you know she is thinking about you and praying for you when she knows you are facing struggles.  It's no surprise that she's taking unpaid time off from school to care for Chris.  

When Chris was diagnosed, just days before Christmas, teachers, parents, and community members stepped up immediately to show the Carney's just how much we love them.  Within days, a benefit was organized with information shared on Facebook and Twitter accounts.  People jumped in to lead committees, businesses donated gift cards and merchandise, students made cards and wrote letters, and teachers donated sick days.  One act of kindness led to another act of kindness and so on and so on. 

After only a few weeks of organizing, an amazing benefit took place yesterday.  The roads were ice-covered and temperatures were barely above 0, however HUNDREDS of people came.  People volunteered their time to work the various areas of the benefit.  Many donated more than the minimum amounts for admission or bake sale items. It was the top story on our local news.  Check it out here. At this point, more than $17,000 has been collected and this amount continues to grow as donations are still rolling in.  Acts of kindness filled the entire room!

However, Chris and Christy were not able to come to the benefit as Chris has only recently been released from the hospital and cannot compromise his immune system.  But the power of technology did not stop us from bringing them there.  The best part of the day for me, were the times we spent connected with Chris and Christy through our Skype visits.   To see their students, past and present, come to the iPad and tell them "I love you" or "We miss you", made my heart smile.  To see Chris and Christy smile from ear to ear as people talked with them was the best feeling in the world.  When we told them that $12,000 had been raised by 5:00 with still two hours to go, the expressions on their faces said it all!

Photo courtesy Kirsten Lovely
We all need to remember that what we say and what we do matters.  Life is short.  Rachel Scott said, "Tomorrow is not a promise, but a chance."   Will our actions and words help others feel hope or feel despair?  It's our choice.  I choose kindness.  I choose acts of love.  It feels so much better!


Wednesday, January 22, 2014

A Journey to Healthier Grading Practices

By Michele Corbat

Today I was reminded that Margaret Mead was spot on when she said this.  I worked with our elementary standards based grading team.  This is a team of thoughtful, passionate individuals who are changing our little corner of the world for students.
In my district, Swartz Creek Community Schools, we have had standards based report cards in place at the elementary level for about 5 years.  This was before Common Core State Standards were adopted by my state.  Over the years, our teachers have worked to make some tweaks to the report cards, but the cards have not really been fully aligned to CCSS.  This year a group of elementary teachers, led by Rodney Hetherton, was invited to represent their grade level and school building to work together on revising our report cards.  Our revised report cards will better reflect the CCSS for ELA and mathematics.
The team has only met three times, however the work these dedicated teachers have done is amazing!  It speaks volumes of their commitment to take positive steps in better communicating grade-level expectations for student learning.  It was obvious to me from the first meeting that a culture of learning existed on this team.  There is trust amongst these 7 individuals.  They are honest with their questions about how they have been reporting student learning.  They are positive and supportive with one another.  People on the team feel safe to express confusion.  Our conversations are reflective and thoughtful.  They are reaching out to their building and grade level colleagues for input and come to each meeting reporting this feedback to the team. 

During our first two meetings, time was spent revisiting elements of standards based grading and the purposes of it. We discussed the purpose of a report card.  We discussed the differences between formative and summative assessments.  We discussed power standards. In between meetings, we collaborated using Google documents to record suggestions for ELA and math power standards.  

Like I mentioned earlier, today was only our third meeting.  The first two hours were spent discussing what makes an effective standards based report card. We reviewed examples from other school districts. I had to leave the meeting for another meeting (a typical day for me) and when I returned two hours later the team had the entire ELA-Writing portion of the report card revised.  Not just for one grade level, but for kindergarten through fifth grade.  They were thoughtful about the organization of the card to align to the CCSS anchor standards, spiral up through the grade levels and that the wording was parent-friendly.  After a quick lunch, they spent a couple of more hours working collaboratively and revised the entire mathematics portion of the card.  Again, for kindergarten through fifth grade!

Because these educators are so thoughtful, they spent the last portion of the day planning how to share the drafts of these revisions with our colleagues.  They want to ensure that teachers understand the rationale behind the revisions.  Conversations around how to educate our parents on the revisions also took place.  Maybe a team of parents will join us in a future meeting.  A guide to the revised report card will be developed with an FAQ section.  Ideas were collected and documented on our Google doc.  These details will be worked out in our next meeting.

I am blessed to be a part of this team.  Margaret Mead was right.  My colleagues are thoughtful, committed people who are changing our little corner of the world. 

If you get grading right, it will support everything else you do.~Doug Reeves