Sunday, July 14, 2013

Data with a Soul

Photo by Kelly Brady 

"Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity, and change." 

-Brenè Brown

The hardest subject for me in school was math.  I had a private tutor from grade one all the way through college. To this day I get physically nervous when I am forced to do anything more complex than multiplying numbers.  

So, as a teacher, you can imagine how I feel when I am faced with data.  During my first year of teaching, it was literary hard for me to breathe when I was dealing with student data.  And mastery charts, forget it, that was a complete nightmare.  I think and understand the world around me in words and images, so this was always such an area of struggle for me.

Granted, I understand the power of data, especially when it comes to our students.  Data helps us understand what students know and how to teach them...right?  

Of course it does, but I am of the belief that the type of data I have been asked to keep and analyze, standardized test data, is not the best judge of what my students know, or more important, what they are capable of actually learning and creating.

Today, I watched "The Power of Vulnerability," a TED Talk by Brenè Brown.  Actually, I watched it three times.  I was paralyzed listening to her talk, and I got chills thinkings about how her ideas about vulnerability, worthiness, and courage apply to me and my students.

There were three main ideas here that moved me pretty deeply.

1. "Stories are just data with a soul." 
This phrases resonates deeply within me as a writer and lover of literature.  It also applies to the move I am making to document student achievement through portfolios and blogs (stories) rather than tests and data charts.  My students deserve to tell their learning story to the world, to take ownership of this journey, and to be in charge of the process.  They are not numbers on a chart, they are humans with souls.  This is their path to knowledge, let's help them share it!

2. "Connections- it's what gives purpose and meaning to our lives." 
Brown talks about all sorts of emotional conditions that both interfere and guide us to having a meaningful life.  Connections, she argues, are foundational to having courage and a sense of worthiness.  Without connections, we are unable to fully accept love and find a place of belonging.  

Courage, she states, means "to tell the story of who you are with your whole heart."  In guiding my students, this is what I want them to be able to do in their own lives.  To love and be authentic.  To feel worthy and have the courage to share who they are with others.  This can start with sharing their own stories and accomplishments (and struggles).  This cannot happen with A,B,C,D options.  

3. "We perfect, most dangerously, our children."
Brown notes that, in a world obsessed with perfection, we have convinced ourselves that we must also craft "perfect" children.  She states that children are hardwired for struggle, we don't need to iron out their flaws. If we create an environment in which our believe they are worthy of love and belonging, they will shine in times of struggle.  They will have grit and perseverance (or whatever other character buzz-word you want to insert here).

The idea that we can help our students have the courage to be imperfect, while still absolutely believing they are worthy and loved, sounds utopic.  I hope that as an educator I can have the courage to apply some of these profound concepts into my classroom and through my connections with my students. Maybe, it starts with putting away the data tracking and listening to their stories.

How do we build a population of students that believe they are worthy of love and belonging without helping them first embrace vulnerability and imperfection? How can we encourage our students to be courageous through the opportunities we give them to tell their own stories and connect with the world?

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