Lance King, an inspirational educator tells a story about taking his children bungy jumping. But, believing as most parents do, that we need to challenge our children to make them stronger, he tells them to ignore the guides who talk people through the challenge of making the first jump.  He tells his kids to stand at the edge, look down, listen to the voice screaming in their head to walk away, quiet it, and then jump.  Michael Thompson, someone I refer to frequently, tells a story about being with a group of kids one cold morning, about to jump into a lake at a summer camp.  They were all shivering and afraid, but, one by one, jumped into the lake and then ran back to the fire.

The point of commonality in both stories is that all of the kids in both stories exulted in their accomplishments. They had faced a challenge, overcome their fears and then, on their own, achieved something.

Mr. King talks about this a great deal when he discusses life long learning.  He describes the notion that there are three areas necessary to develop to build a lifelong learner: efficacy (believing in oneself) agency (skills and strategies) and action (taking opportunities to fail well).

The last of the three, failing well, is what has me thinking about our transparency system, Veracross.  As you may recall, we are embarking on a new era at ISS where we are putting students, parents and teachers at the same informational table.  But for me the reason why became increasingly clear as I listened to Mr. King at a recent conference in Madrid.

Mr. King defines ‘action” as what we do in reaction to failure.  He defines failure as not achieving a self directed goal.  And in his research, where he compared similarly skill students who either performed extremely well on a test to those who performed extremely poorly, he found a 100% correlation.  Those who did well had a history of acknowledging failure, reflecting on what went wrong, reviewing the strategies, selecting new strategies and then trying again. Those who did poorly blamed others, the institution, resources, anything but themselves.  Or they denied the problem and added drama to the failure (my life is ruined…)  His conclusion is that in an education that truly believes in self directed learning, we must do what all parents do with their younger kids when they measure their growth against marks on the wall.  In other words, we must make it clear to students how they can compare themselves against themselves as they progress in their classes.  Or life.

This is why we move towards a system where students can measure their own progress.  Its not about grades, its about progress.  The adults who have similar access must always remember that.  Student centered learning that promotes ‘self management’ demands that students have comparison points.

It is that simple.  For us Veracross is simply the marks on the wall to measure growth.  But the real challenge behind implementing such transparency is that we will all need to jump off the cliff, or in the lake together.  Change demands courage. It demands that we reassess how we approach the way we teach, the way we learn, and the way we support the reason we are here.  As Mr. King puts it, we are building human beings NOT “human doings.”  And the knowledge we will share must never be just an accounting of what our students are doing. It must be about HOW they are growing.  That is why we are looking at assessment.  That is why we are looking at a transparent system.  It is not about holding anyone accountable, or feeling in control.  It is actually about letting go.  Its about taking a leap…



  1. Really great point about self-directed learning. I think this is important not only for students, but for teachers as well. Student achievement is one of the measures teachers can use to understand their professional growth. This should inform their own self-directed professional development via their PLN. This is certainly a critical aspect of transparency in education that we all must understand and embrace.

  2. This is a great point and I agree strongly with the student centered learning and measuring against your own self challenges. I would like to see ISS put this into its teaching more strongly. For example in one grade level — one math class which is ahead should not be held back in order for a slower math class at the same grade level. Student achievement has to translate to functional class room policy.

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