Implementing Change

All elementary and secondary teachers gather together for an afternoon of in-house professional development.  The teachers are pre-grouped into 6 smaller working groups and have been assigned to a specific table.  They find their places.  We begin with a skit of scenes so many of us have faced of students and parents hounding a teacher about what the student needs to do to “get an ‘A’”.  It generates some laughs and gets people’s attention.

Then, we move into a series of small group tasks such as analyzing the assessment scores of students from a parachute packing class (idea from Ken O’Conner).  Teachers are asked to determine what student they would want to pack their parachute if these scores represent assessment over a period of time.  Interestingly, all teachers clearly see that they want Student number 3 to pack their parachute and they see that if one were to take averages of the scores over the entire course, then student 3 wouldn’t come out looking so strong.

However, when it comes to suggesting that we should not worship averages and should consider only counting grades towards the end of a marking period when students have had a chance to demonstrate achievement, people just can’t let go of traditions.

We analyze a faulty report card and discuss the inaccuracies that often plague grading and reporting. There is agreement.  We analyze grading practices that inhibit learning.  Again, agreement.

Then, we present the first six of Ken O’Conner’s fixes for assessing behaviors that distort assessing for and reporting on achievement (O’Connor, K., How to Grade for Learning, Third Edition. Corwin, 2009, 31. From Anne Davies, 2000. Originally developed by Michael Burger) and assign each of the six small groups one of the fixes.  Their task is to put together a 2-minute oral persuasive advertisement advocating the fix.  Great discussion occurs amoung the members of the groups and the skits are hilarious. 


1.     Dont include student behaviors (effort, participation, adherence to class rules, etc.) in grades; include only achievement.

2.     Dont reduce marks on ‘work’ submitted late; provide support for the learner.

3.     Dont give points for extra credit or use bonus points; seek only evidence that more work has resulted in a higher level of achievement.

4.     Dont punish academic dishonesty with reduced grades apply other consequences and reassess to determine actual level of achievement.

5.     Dont consider attendance in grade determination; report absences separately. Dont include group scores in grades; use only individual achievement evidence.


Despite the huge success of the skits, reactions of individuals are mixed.  They find it particularly difficult to fully accept fixes 2,4, and 5. Those of us who attended the Ken O’Conner workshop are somewhat surprised at the resistance and hesitation our colleagues exhibit.  We decide we need to take change slowly and perhaps only address one or two fixes initially. 

I am left pondering the fact that change is just difficult and wondering how it can be made easier.  People are stuck in their ways.  I am surprised that some people even have the attitude, “Well, that’s how things were when I was a kid” or “I’ve been doing it like this for 20 years, I don’t see a need to change”.   Truthfully, I think it is the nature of the teaching profession TO CHANGE.  There is always a way to make things better.  There is research and evidence suggesting the need for better ways.  I think you can’t actually be a fully satisfied and happy teacher unless you are open to new ideas and change especially in the international setting where everything about your job is in flux.