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This year I am embarking on a new challenge. I am teaching two classes of AP Human Geography and am helping to facilitate our whole-school transition to Proficiency-Based Learning (PBL). PBL is similar to, but not the same as, Standards-Based Grading.

How did we get here? It was like that moment when you get a trickle from the water hose and wonder if something is wrong so, for some reason, you put your face up close and look into the hose. Then, right as you do that, the person bending the hose lets it go and water explodes onto your face and into your nose, mouth, and eyes. That’s how we got here. At first a few of us were trying it in our own classes–a Fine Arts teacher, a couple of Math teachers, and me. Slowly more teachers, seeing the results in the classroom and facing the persistent struggle of traditional grading, began to adopt it and tweak for their own classrooms. Then, like the hose metaphor, our principal let go of the bend in the hose, and said the whole school is going to PBL. Those of us prepared for the water did okay, but others nearly drowned amidst the deluge and felt like they were building a boat in the middle of an ocean. At the same time, that principal left our school after 10 years to work at the district central office. Last year was a rough year.

What did I learn? A lot. I learned the value of stepping up to lead even if you are afraid. I learned about the amazing resilience of our staff and students. I learned that my own love of leaping into a project and learning about it along the way is not a model for whole school leadership. I learned to talk less and listen more. I learned in practice what I already knew in theory which is the smartest answer is the whole room (or school) full of people–not one person individually.

How will I use what I learned in my new role this year? I am going to make sign to put up in my office that says:

-You have answers, but not all of them. Know what you know and be willing to ask questions.

-Believe in the strength of this community and its ability to weather storms. That said, don’t create unnecessary storms.

-Ask yourself: “What is the worst thing that could happen as a result of our best idea?” If that thing is deal breaker, find a new “best idea.”

-How can we achieve consensus?

-To what extent is our system sustainable?

-What questions do I need to be asking right now? Who can answer them?

-Who is left out? How can we include them?

What is my monster? I think my biggest monster is my self-doubt and my false belief that other people’s certainty is wisdom. I hope I learn to trust in what I know right now, always keep listening and learning, and never confuse my own certainty for wisdom.

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