Ready, SET Lab, Go!

Michele Spiezia
Sep 19, 2018 · 5 min read
What if someone asked you ‘who’ you wanted to be?

I’m sure as a kid, you too were asked the quintessential question:

‘So, what do you want to be when you grow up?’

Me, being the oldest child of a middle-income, blue-collar family who was bright, academically inclined and seeking approval, dutifully provided the prescribed answer every time. ‘I want to be a doctor!’ This simple response brought seemingly endless joy to the teachers & parents in my life, all pinning hopes on me being the first in my family to go to college, to ‘succeed,’ do better than they had done, making their sacrifices worthy of the cause.

Now, I’ve had a meandering career path of some 20+ years that have included poet, filmmaker, sommelier, event planner, tech startup founder and currently, teacher. I never became a doctor because I never really wanted to be a doctor. And it’s true, when most children are asked this question, they’ll either choose a service member of their community (like a doctor, firefighter or bulldozer operator) or a fantastical character (like Wonder Woman, Superman or Mr. T). I was far too pragmatic, even at seven, to choose the unlikely path of superhero. And while I didn’t become a doctor, I understand now after gathering myriad careers under my belt why I gravitated toward it.

I deeply value service. I find joy in facilitating others in becoming their best. I believe foundationally in the power of human relationships. And listening. And taking care.

If someone had asked me instead ‘Who I wanted to be when I grew up,’ way back then, perhaps I would have focused on the means and not the end; the why and the how, not simply the what. Perhaps if I had been encouraged to readdress and refine the question throughout my young adulthood, it wouldn’t have taken me nearly 40 years to figure it out. I’m not saying that this would have gotten me to my current role of ‘Teacher’ any faster. That’s not the point. But it would have provided a perspective along the path as to why I chose these particular paths, uncovering the connections between them, and helping me avoid some that I was certainly less well suited for, to put it gently.

As a new teacher, I have the unique opportunity and privilege to teach and learn in a growing, progressive Montessori school where educators are given a wide swath of latitude in the building, creating and adapting our curriculum and programs to best serve our students. We’re an independent, non-profit that’s 12 years young, including a middle school that just had its very first graduating 8th level students. So we’re still young enough to be nimble, agile and take risks with the support of our community. In the two years that I’ve been building and iterating the Tech & Media elements of our curriculum, I’ve had a single founding tenet — Human First. It’s a curriculum that focuses on ‘Starting with Why,’ putting values ahead of discrete skills and tasks, and aims to dismantle the fear mindset plaguing many of our families as they do their best to navigate uncertain futures.

So naturally, when I became one of SET Lab’s 2018/19 Delegates (yay!), I knew my research would focus on exploring how to help students develop a more holistic, comprehensive understanding of themselves in the context of their education experience.

The question my research will focus on is:

How can holistic student reports improve student self-understanding and allow admissions teams (at the high school and university levels) to improve the selection process, ensuring better school choice and fit?

As my own school continues to refine our values-based, project-centered curriculum, we are naturally questioning our approaches to assessment (self, team, and teacher) and, subsequently, reports and transcripts. Being a Montessori school, our pedagogy already supports a whole child approach to learning, assessing that learning, and providing feedback on the social, emotional and cognitive aspects of the student in addition to academic performance. Narratives are preferred over letter grades, allowing elaboration on both qualitative and quantitative aspects, though in our middle school we have adopted a numbered rubric assessing discrete skills.

It is my hypothesis that Holistic Student Reports will improve student self-understanding and representation in the high school and university admissions process, making for better school choice and fit.

At this stage of the game, I have so many questions! Through my research, I’ll explore:

  • How Holistic Student Reports could utilize a visual, comprehensive approach to include socio/emotional and qualitative values in addition to academic areas of strength & relative weakness?

I’ll be interviewing educators and administrators across varying philosophies from traditional to uber-progressive, as well as colleagues in admissions, recruiting and professional development. I can’t wait to dive in and share my work with the community! Be sure to follow me here on Medium and Twitter for updates on my research.

And, finally, as a good disciple of Simon Sinek, here’s my working ‘Why’ statement.

For students, families & education institutions who need a more holistic illustration of student accomplishment, Holistic Student Reports are visual, comprehensive assessments that encourage qualitative & quantitative measure of student social, emotional & cognitive elements alongside academics because I believe self-understanding is the most powerful contributor to one’s educational choices.

Have ideas for me? Feedback? I’d love to hear from you! Reach out anytime.

More about me:

I am currently the Technology & Digital Media Specialist at Hamilton Park Montessori School in Jersey City, NJ, designing curriculum & learning with students grades 3 through 8. I have had a meandering career path that includes sommelier, filmmaker and startup founder and have a B.A. from NYU’s Gallatin School for Individualized Study. I’m also the founder of Human First, empowering students, schools and families create the future, without fear. I spend lots of time cooking, eating, reading & yoga-ing, and love sharing a great campfire on a cool night with my husband Francesco, son Ellis and the family dog, Riley.

#setlab #educationscientist #changebydesign #humanfirst #startwithwhy

SET Lab 2018 — Michele Spiezia

This publication includes my series of posts related to my research project as a SET Lab delegate in 2018.

Michele Spiezia

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Process architect & people person. Human questioning everything.

SET Lab 2018 — Michele Spiezia

This publication includes my series of posts related to my research project as a SET Lab delegate in 2018.

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