Defining success without grades and silos
Mikala Streeter

Mikala, what a thoughtful, hopeful and engaging vision of education for the ‘innovation era’ you so compellingly draw for us! I feel like I basically underlined your entire article, but every other line I found myself nodding vigorously at my screen with agreement and enthusiasm for the points you make. Some of my favorites:

  • …our definition of success needs to shift from something that is measurable and can be normalized across students to something that is unique to each student. […] I propose defining success individually for each student.

YES!! And when I think about it, it seems so terribly bizarre that for so long we have thought it part of our duty to define success for our students and shape a single path towards it. It makes me think of what you say a bit later about how rubrics stifle potential:

In my experience, students limit themselves to what’s required to “meet expectations” or “exceed expectations” when given a rubric. Whereas when they are told more generally to “present their best work”, they set even higher standards for themselves than what we could’ve set for them, especially when the stakes are as high as high school graduation and also when they’ve been developing in and reflecting on 21st century skills (e.g. innovation, critical thinking) throughout their academic career.

I can’t help but think that the definition of success that we have been communicating, both implicitly and explicitly, in schools, has functioned like a rubric, giving our students a fixed point to achieve rather than letting them engage their imagination and creating bold, deep and extraordinary definitions of success on their own.

  • Anything essential will naturally occur in their work. Anything non-essential will not and that’s okay because it was clearly not important for that student to learn anyway.

YES! yes, yes, and yes!! This constant anxiety about standardization and measurement eclipses the role and importane of the essential, which ultimately, in my mind at least, is intimately tied to the purpose of education. The essential, like success, is inherently subjective and personal. Schools should teach and enable students to critically and thoughtfully appraise what is essential in their own lives…which, like learning, is a lifelong, ongoing, and certainly not linear, process.

  • With that said, students may not automatically see the need to do or learn these things, so it will be, in part, the responsibility of teachers in the future of school to be vigilant, to get to know each student and to push them to consider new modes of learning, thinking and communicating in order for them to do the work that they’re most passionate about.

I love this vision of the role of educators, not as content distributors but as guides and curators of student experiences. The most influential adults in my own life when I was a child and teenager have been those few who have taken the time to truly listen, with deep empathy, to what energized and excited me, and provided avenues for further exploration. It is those resources and experiences which they pointed me towards that have ended up being the most meaningful, transformative and defining moment of my education.

Thank you for this beautiful piece, I have so enjoyed sharing your vision. How might we start to make it a reality?