I was recently working with a high school sophomore. Noting her strengths, I gave her a genuine compliment about her intelligence and ability to come up with uniquely creative solutions and viewpoints. She looked at me and said, “but I’m not smart. I get bad grades.”
My eyes burst wide and I said emphatically, “what do grades have to do with anything? You’re not your grades and you are very smart.”
It’s a crime when kids feel this way. Grades are tiny, blurry snapshots, not big pictures. They’re ‘fools gold,’ and of very little, if any, value. Grades are exceedingly misleading. They don’t tell how much has been learned, what has been learned, what value has come out of a class. Although it may appear so, grades rarely even reflect growth. Students can get straight A’s with minimal learning or challenge. They can work their tails off and get D’s. Grades show how well a student complies with the demands of a teacher. Do we want to raise good little robots?
Criminal is not too harsh a word either. Schools have 180 days a year to serve learners, to give them real tools for life. Kids that don’t fit into boxes often suffer needlessly and it’s not okay. It’s a crime. The words we choose to use with students, the actions we model, the messages we send, these have deep and lasting impacts that shape entire lives. It’s our responsibility to lead learners to understand how they are “smart” and it’s criminal to do otherwise. These are people’s lives we are messing with. Too often adults justify their actions by thinking they’re teaching a kid a lesson for his own good. How far off the mark we can be.
Lead well. Demand extraordinary education. Our kids deserve it. And help kids understand how they are smart.
Your thoughts? Do you know a story about a student who feels like he/she isn’t smart? What are some solutions?