Recently I’ve been reading a book that got me thinking about what it means to have a safe school. I decided to go and look at different school websites from around the state of Texas (where I live) and see how many of them mention the word “safe” in their mission statement or vision. Each and every one of them I read included the word “safe” to some degree:
“…create a safe, nurturing community…”
“…children learn best in a safe, nurturing, and stimulating environment.”
“…provide a safe and secure, supportive…”
Disclaimer: I’m not wanting to discuss physical safety here where kids can be sure they will not be physically harmed when attending school.
The book I’ve been reading is called Rethinking Grading: Meaningful Assessment for Standards-Based Learning. It is written by Cathy Vatterott. In the second chapter: Why We Need a New Grading Paradigm, she compares the Standards-Based Grading (SBG) paradigm with that of the traditional grading paradigm. There is some great stuff in here and I suggest reading it if you haven’t. As I’m reading along I come to a line that makes me stop and say “ouch” out loud:
“Within the traditional grading paradigm, it’s not safe to make mistakes.”
What she is talking about here is that students are penalized for making mistakes while they are learning in the traditional grading paradigm. If you don’t know something at a particular time on a particular day, well then, “too bad, so sad” as we use to say on the school playground. Generally, we move on and whatever grade you got is what you got, there’s no changing it. I immediately thought about all the vision statements and mission statements I’ve seen in schools in my time teaching and how they almost always include a term of safety. We hurt kids in a non-physical but real way when we tell them we are moving on with or without them. We hurt their motivation, hurt their psyche, hurt their ability to have a growth mindset.
I wanted to change to SBG before starting to read this book, and now I truly feel convicted. If schools are going to say they want to and will provide a safe school, they should really think about their grading practices as well as providing a place where kids can feel physically secure.