Counting What Counts

It’s been a busy few days and I decided to rerun this post from Fall 2019. While I hope lots of people will find value in this post, I’m sharing it more for a graduate student of mine who needs to remember: Not everything that counts can be counted.

My daughter graduated from high school a few months ago. Her commencement ceremonies were an emotional celebration that a lot of family, friends and former teachers were able to attend. After the ceremony, I bumped into my daughter’s former fifth grade teacher who had worked with over forty students in the graduating class. Mrs. G had just completed her 25th year of teaching and I was excited to see her at the graduation ceremony.  Mrs. G was one of my daughter’s favorite elementary teachers and I always found her to be a creative and effective teacher. She was always student-centered and empathetic and I was impressed that she had come to the ceremony to celebrate with her former students.

As we stood there talking for several minutes, Mrs. G dropped a bombshell. This would be her last year of teaching. After 25 years, she felt like it was time to retire and was ready to try something new. I thanked her for her service and congratulated her on her long career. Since she had been such an amazing teacher, I asked her if she would share some advice that I could pass along to the beginning teachers with whom I work. Here’s what she said:

“Teaching has changed so much since I started. It’s so data driven. And that’s not a bad thing. We have so much more data on student learning and that can really help to drive the types of ways we reach and teach our students. But there’s so much that isn’t represented in the numbers we have. We don’t measure student motivation. Or passion. We don’t capture their personalities or their humor. The numerical data is important, but it doesn’t tell the complete picture of who our students are. And that’s being lost. We’ve become so data driven that we’re not being student driven anymore.”

There’s a famous quote that’s been attributed to Albert Einstein that says, “Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts.” I think that’s important to remember as we interact with our students and as we create assignments and assessments to gauge their learning. There’s a lot of important data we can collect about our students that can drive our instruction. But we need to get a whole picture of the students with whom we work to really be “student driven.”

In a way, Mrs. G’s advice from her 25 years of teaching echo the strategies from Dr. Newton Miller that I shared a few months ago. Teaching is about creating positive experiences for our students and this means seeing through the numbers and recognizing the other meaningful data that counts


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