Letter Grades vs Performance Reviews

Image result for letter grades

I tend to be out of date when it comes to local news. I also do not have kids, so please don’t judge if I’m late to the party on this debate!

I recently found out that there is a huge push to ditch letter grades in BC schools from K-9. Here’s a recent article outlining this movement:


When I think about this movement, immediately the teacher inside of me says YES! Learning should be about learning. The anxiety and focus on assessment in schools often detracts from learning so this is a great idea. The problem becomes what replaces grades.

When I was in K-4 my school was running a similar pilot program. Instead of traditional letter grades, we received a “G” (good), “S” (satisfactory), or “N” (needs improvement). Along with the “new” letter grade, there would be feedback. The feedback was of the sort that I’m pretty sure they were canned responses from an approved list. I can understand why this system failed. The letter grade system was ditched for another letter grade system with less options.

The proposed replacement in this new movement is a meeting between the teacher, parent, and child. I think this is great. It turns evaluation from a system of grading into one of continuous conversation. One of the core objectives I see in my own practise is to foster self-directed and self-regulating learners. In these meetings assessment is modeled to the learner, so that they can better apply these skills in the future.

While these assessment meetings are great–in theory–do they not resemble the dreaded annual performance review? Similar to the movement to ditch letter grades, many corporations are moving to ditch the annual performance review. Here’s a great Harvard Business Review article on this phenomena:


I think this put us–and our children–in an interesting position. While these meetings are a great idea, I can envision many a parent bringing in their own anxieties of evaluation via performance evaluation to the school meetings. Children may then learn to fear these, much like the letter grade system.

Ultimately, in the real world, there are no letter grades. If our objective is to prepare learners to thrive “out there” self-regulating skills are a must. This may not be the end answer, but we’re moving in the right direction.












The Core Assumptions of Skillful Teaching

Brookfield presents 4 core assumptions of skillful teaching:

  • “Skillful teaching is whatever helps students learn”
  • “Skillful teachers adopt a critically reflective stance toward their practise.”
  • “The most important knowledge that skillful teachers need to do good work is a constant awareness of how students are experiencing their learning and perceiving teachers’ actions”
  • “College students of any age should be treated as adults” (2015).

What I find interesting about these is the acknowledgement that our learners should be treated as adults. While it seems obvious, I think sometimes it is easy for us to forget. We may find an interesting teaching activity and want to try it out in class because it looks like fun, but may make learners feel uncomfortable as it could be interpreted as juvenile.

To me, this seems particularly acute in workplace training. In addition to being populated by adults, there is professionalism also runs high. This can sometimes dictate which learning activities are appropriate, as if the activity is perceived as a game, it could be perceived as a waste of time. After all, learners in the workplace are taking time away from their job and livelihood to attend training.

In my own practice, I often find it difficult to move beyond demonstration, lecture, discussion, simulation, or project based learning. I do this because I fear the blank stares that may appear as I introduce a new activity, such as Team Jeopardy. While I work in a casual office, it still seems to me that many learners may see such activities as juvenile.

Adult learners are unique. There are tons of books on teaching but many times these are not specific to adult learning. While there are common themes in both pedagogy and andragogy, we cannot lose sight of the differences. For our learners to be perceptive and welcoming of learning, they will need to feel like they are being treated like adults.




Operationalizing Mobile Technologies

kioskRecently I was asked for more information about the POS industry. I wrote a piece about the trends in the POS industry about a year ago and it can be found here.

Being in the technology sector, things are constantly changing. Mobile continues to be a huge driver in the new POS technologies available. Kiosks are one of the fastest growing products. The Kiosk is the restaurant’s answer to self checkout. These are growing in popularity as it is a way for restaurants to reduce labour costs and also meet their customer’s expectations of technology integration.

I have seen Kiosks implemented many ways. My first interaction with a Kiosk was in France back in 2012. Many of their fast food chains, such as Quick and McDonalds had Kiosk stations where you could order and pay. You would then pick up your order when they called your number. I particularly enjoyed this experience, as it allowed me to hide my terrible French conversational skills.

One of the most impressive interactions with a Kiosk was to follow in 2015. I had a layover at Pearson International, so I decided to sit down for a meal. This particular outlet had tables upon tables populated with Ipad minis and charging stations. The Ipad mini’s were free to use for anyone. On these Ipad mini’s you could order and pay for food at the restaurant. It would then be delivered directly to your table. The picture at the head of this blog is from that experience.

While many businesses are embracing these new technologies, many are failing to operationalize mobile technologies. Have you ever had the experience of placing an online or mobile order and go to the restaurant at the specified time only to discover your order is not ready? I have experienced this many times! Smaller companies seem to suffer the most, as they do not have the benefit of having IT and operational teams that create workflows and processes that accommodate these technologies. Google’s mobile play book ranks this as a primary concern for mobile technologies (see http://www.themobileplaybook.com/en-us/#/home).

When we start using new technologies, we often take operationalization and learning for granted. Just implementing new technology will not automatically work, increase efficiency, or reduce costs. We first need customers to start using these new methods AND we also need to provide an acceptable experience.

When I first began my leadership career in restaurants, I was introduce to the idea of consumer training. Why is it that an out the door line up at Tim Horton’s will only take a few minutes to get through, but the same is not true of other businesses? Consumer training! Customers at Tim Horton’s are taught how to order their coffee efficiently with terms like double double.

Learning and training does not stop with employees, it also involves our customers. Just a thought to ponder…





Teaching Perspective Inventory

One of the aspects I’ve been wanting to explore more and more recently is how my teaching perspective has changed since beginning the PID program. So I took the Teaching Perspective Inventory test.

I have not taken this test before, but did take a similar test in 3100. While I identify a lot with critical pedagogies, initially I did not feel these applied to my teaching context. The more I reflect, I do see how there is value in my teaching perspective.

In 3100, I was firmly in the Humanistic or Transformative areas of teaching. After taking the Teaching Perspective Inventory today, I can see that it appears little has changed. My distribution is very differentiated and my highest scores are in Development and Nurturing. What did surprise me is that there has been little movement over all, particularly with social reform.

For sure, I am development focused. No question about it. I see learning as an incremental process that not only teaches learners about a specific topic, but also about themselves as learners. Part of the fun of learning for me is making connections to everyday life and reflecting on new knowledge to combine in new ways. Nurturing too rings true as I strongly believe that fostering a safe and positive learning environment is as the content.

One of the limitations I see though is how social reform is presented. It’s always applied broadly, with verbiage like social change, societal impact etc… This makes it hard to apply tot teaching contexts that often do not deal directly with people or the broader public. For an example, I work for a company that produces technology for restaurants. It’s a big jump to see how social reform could ever have anything to do with our work. But it does! Technology can create new modes of communication or ways of working that change how we interact with each other. It can create  new jobs, enable people to share ideas, broaden awareness AND enabling learning. However, one is unlikely to see these directly as one would in the human sciences.

As with all evaluation, there are limitations and items can be interpreted many ways. TPI is no different.







A Facilitation Win!

This week I was presented with a bit of a problem where I needed to a large number of employees to fill out a form for an upcoming training program. There were a few tricky fields on this form, which I knew would tie up most participants. We were also on a very tight deadline and need to have these forms submitted in a couple days.

Previous situations like this I would email the form to all participants, give them a deadline and let them know my door is open if they need help or have any questions. This usually leaves me scrambling and having to visit most employees personally taping my foot and begging them to complete.

This time I took a different approach. I set up group meetings with all participants as a working session to complete these forms. And it worked! Instead of having to spend a day or two chasing people down I was able to get this done in an hour.

This actually seems like a thing that should occur more often in situations where you need forms or paperwork completed. Not only are you making yourself available for any questions that may arise, but it also blocks time off participants calendars to specifically complete the form, so that it does not end up getting pushed to the bottom of the pile of an endless stream of more urgent tasks. Some of the participants even commented that it was a much more efficient and fun way to get this task done.

Give it a shot next time you have one of these tasks.







Experiencing Teaching

The first chapter of Brookfield’s book “The Skillful Teacher” is appropriately titled Experiencing Teaching .

From the start of this book, Brooksfield has caught me. This chapter talks about how teaching and learning is messy and unpredictable. What works for one topic may not work for another. And what works for one group of learners may not work for another group of learners. Brookfield posits that exploring our experiences as teachers can help us manage the times when are best laid plans well bomb.

Brookfield also talks about some “truths” that he has discovered about his practise through his experience. While reading these, I could not stop yelling YES! YES! This is my favourite “truth” he shares:

I will always feel like an imposter and will never lose the sense of amazement I feel when people treat me as if I have something of value to offer.

This “truth” made me giggle. Each time I get in front of a class, I feel like I’m pretending to be a teacher. This does not just stay with my teaching experience either. As a manager, I also feel like an imposter. In both these roles, I sometimes feel someone will pop out of the woodwork and expose me for the imposter I feel like I am. It is humbling to think that I am not the only person who feels this way.

This brings to mind another experience I had in the PID program: Taking the in class 3220 class. The class was a mix of professionals just entering the teaching field and others who have been teaching for years. One of the commonalities that seemed to run through the group was our anxiety of leading a lesson. We all had varying degrees of nerves, which while we get used to over time, it does not completely disappear.

In my early years of being a leader, I used to blame my imposter feelings on a lack of confidence. The more I think about confidence, the more I realize that it is pretty rare that I feel completely confident. I always thought that if I just get more experience, my confidence will fall in line. BOY was I wrong. I am still rarely confident in the conventional way that I think you’re suppose to be. What experience has changed is how I manage this confidence gap.

My reflections on confidence have lead me to my own truth: I will never be fully confident and this is part of what makes me excel in what I do, both as a manager and teacher. My confidence gap keeps me skeptical. This prompts me to closely examine my actions and performance, so that I can improve. This makes me work just that little bit harder in attempt to mimic that actions and performance of what good confidence looks like, even though my feelings may not be completely aligned.

As a final thought, this reminds me of a TEDtalk by Amy Cuddy:

While her talk is centered around body language, what really sings true and applies to this discussion is that you really can “fake it til you make it.”

We may feel isolated in our anxieties about our confidence or performance, but this in itself balances us in our practise. It can allow us to closely examine our actions and forever seek better ways of doing and improving. And to me, this is what it means to be a good teacher.











Welcome PIDP 3260 viewers!

A new class means more content for my blog. While I have made it my commitment to continue this blog beyond the classroom, this means my posts will be more frequent than weekly–YEAH!

For any new viewers, you can learn more about me in the About/Brief Bio section. I also encourage you to read my previous blog posts, as most of the posts relate in some capacity to this course. I try to update this blog outside of the classroom, relating every day events to learning or education–hope you enjoy it!

This is my second to last course in the PID program, which is in itself exciting. Although, this course excites me because of the content–Professional Practise. Ethics, dilemmas, reflection are all aspects of educational practise that I enjoy. And with my Philosophy background you only need to mention ethics to get my attention. There are also a few personal philosophical questions about my own educational philosophy that I want to reflect on more analytically as I enter these last months of the program. Specifically, looking back to PIDP 3100 and where my philosophy stood, I feel I am moving more toward identifying with critical pedagogies, with an increasing interest in feminist pedagogy. While these ideas have always appealed to me, my initial thoughts were that they did not apply to my practise, as my content is mostly technical. I’m starting to realize this is not the case and these philosophies can apply to my context and many more.

Anyways, enjoy my blog!

Basic Education Curriculum Needs a Reboot.

It’s been a while since I’ve posted, but I would not miss preparing a post for International Women’s Day.

Feminism has played a large role in my life. I was raised by a single mother who is an unapologetic feminist. Growing up she had a saying for me anytime something unjust happened–it’s because you don’t have testicles. Later, this evolved to “Testicles and Letters” to encourage me to take what was in my control in my hands and get an education. To this day, we still joke about this phrase and I secretly cringe anytime I open a gift from her for finishing whatever academic program I’m working toward, hoping it’s not a pickled or dried animal product.

Growing up she did her best to expose me to female role models succeeding in their fields, ones that are often skipped over by textbooks and media. I am grateful for this, as I know somewhere this made an impact on my self concept and the arbitrary lines we create for our glass ceilings. I feel bad for girls and women who do not have this.

Growing up in the 80s and 90s, there was still very little women’s history integrated in the curriculum. My first real exposure to Women’s history was in college. The material to me was shocking because I had no real idea of the depth and breadth of women’s involvement in social, political, academic, and scientific spaces prior. Sure basic educations covers the big items, like property and voting rights, but that was about it.

Recently, I read “Hidden Figures”. This was not the first time I learned of women’s, particularly black women’s involvement as mathematicians in aeronautics and space research. Previously I had read “Rocket Girls” which outlined a similar group of women working in the California Jet Propulsion Lab. However, prior to these books I had no idea of women’s involvement in an important piece of our scientific history.

When I was in school, the only woman scientist we heard about was Marie Currie. After finding out about this huge involvement of women in the sciences and space research, I was angry. Early in my life, I was science driven. I wanted to be a scientist. I was obsessed with infectious diseases. I did not want to be a doctor, but rather a researcher. AND I was fairly gifted in the maths and sciences. But then somewhere around grade 10, I lost my interest. I gravitated towards the arts and have stayed there, at least academically, since.

This switch in girls from maths and sciences is not a new phenomena. This is a topic that has attracted considerable research in an attempt to attract more women into the sciences. While there are probably even more factors at play, a large part is the lack of female role models in the sciences. We need to be featuring more women, not just Marie Currie, in curriculum that women may be able to identify with.

I am happy that we now live in an era where Hollywood has picked up the huge involvement of women in the sciences. I hope Hidden Figures becomes that movie that is a staple in the classroom for years to come.

These role models are needed for more than just attracting women to the scientific fields. This is just the first hurdle in a long series women need to overcome to reach their goals in male dominated fields. While, I studied arts, I did end up in a technical field. Working in Software, I have seen various representation of women, but for the most part, this field is still male dominated. While we are protected legally against some of the ills of discrimination, there are still little aspects in a male dominated field that can put women on the outside. It’s not as noticeable now, but it’s still there. And it’s in times like that that women still need role models to remind them that they can succeed.

Our Curriculum needs a reboot. There are tons of text books that focus on male dominated history in every field. Why not switch and focus on women? The vast majority of history people will run into in other facets of life will be male dominated, so maybe we should make an extra effort to over emphasize women in our basic curriculum to even out the bias.