March 26, 2013 § Leave a comment

I consider myself unbelievably lucky that I get to spend my days working on one of my major passions: improving education experiences. More than anything else, I feel blessed that I get to do something which has the potential to inspire change and that I can be positively influencing the education of future generations. I am passionate about the field that I am in and I am not sure why I don’t mention it more often.

I was speaking at an education technology leadership summit recently in Toronto, Canada.

We were discussing the future of content in technology, the best way of providing students with the skills they are going to need to compete in a more digitally empowered society. A usual theme, we were discussing the importance of assessment and the best ways that assessment can take place so that it truly is reflective of holistic ability and also encourages learning processes, not just testing processes. A major discussion point is promoting self-assessment – providing students with the ability to truly lead their own learning, to be able to determine when their results are excelling, when they need extra help, to encourage students to reflect on their own learning, their own individual needs. One educator turned and said to me, “how do we assess ourselves as adults, though? The only time I assess myself each year is when I complete and hand in my tax return. There is nothing else that I do which shows me where I am compared to last year, where I hope to go”.  This intrigued me (and not just the pedagogical implications, i.e. the fact that the majority of assessment tools we require our students to learn are certainly quantifiable but don’t equip them with any purposeful and successful manner of interacting in the world that we are sending them out into after school). From the moment we enter the schooling system (and sometimes long before), we are being taught how to be assessed and the (ever increasing) plethora of standardised testing our students are subjected to are not, in fact, fairly assessing the students as whole individuals, but rather teaching them how to best test.

I am by no means advocating a series of standardized tests for adult existence, but, considering the fact that the tools we are taught are important for validating ourselves throughout our time in schooling are not, in fact, helpful for truly creating a picture of ourselves as entire beings,  how do we assess our lives as adults?

We certainly do a lot of standard deviation comparative assessments of ourselves and of our worth. We judge ourselves based on a ‘norm’ and deviation from that. The norm, however, is coming rather from our perception of others and how they are living their lives. How many smiling, holiday-background facebook photos of them looking beautiful are there? As many as other friends? How about likes? Do I earn as much, posses as much, travel as much, love as much, enjoy as much as everyone else I know (and those I only partially know but am somehow electronically linked to): An entirely subjective assessment.

Seemingly fitting was a quote from a book I read on the plane home:

“Other people exist merely as a function of their problems and spend all their time talking compulsively about their  children, their husband, school, work, friends. They never stop to think: I’m here. I am the result of everything that happened and will happen, but I’m here.” – Paolo Coehlo

As an adult in the workplace, we often go through review proceses – although here we might wish for more standardisation in the face of personality clashes and arbitrary goals. But if we are speaking about self-assessment, is my tax return really the only way that I can fairly assess myself and my life? Is this really the best way I can check for myself whether I am on the path I want to be on, deserve to be on, should be discovering? Is this the best way for me to motivate myself to achieve and improve and live with integrity?

– I doubt it, although I certainly look forward to tax time as much as I used to look forward to exam time. I also feel that something like a tax return can only reflect my achievements and my life in the same way as a standardized math test could reflect my musical ability. So how do I get to the point where I can think “I’m here”, where I can self-asses where I am here in this moment as opposed to where I was the last time I reflected. I know that I use birthdays and new years, Christmases, general symbolic markings of time to compare how much I have changed and how far I have come.

A lot has happened since my four-year-old green crown wearing birthday party!

For my part, I am no Felton with the accounts that I keep of my year, however the goalposts I set myself, the things I choose to quantify in my years have definitely started changing: instead of striving for fitness, eating healthier, finally joining a gym (or something equally as unrealistic), I aim to be happier, live more honestly, love more fully. It would seem even Richard Branson believes that happiness is key, citing a Himalayan kingdom who measures their gross national happiness. So I propose, instead of measuring ourselves against each others achievements, instead of trying to fit into an ideal for our bodies that wasn’t our own to begin with, instead of finding our validation in numbers that we submit showing all that we gained and lost and changed financially, that we start a different type of self-assessment –  I propose that we focus on the moments of happiness we have had, and shared, and given to others. I propose that we focus on the moments of pure joy and fulfillment we have. I propose that we focus on how many moments we have felt complete love, have allowed ourselves to love entirely, have showed love to others. I propose that we focus on those moments of pure peace, found in a sunrise, an embrace, a piece of perfect music. I propose that we focus on these things and the frequency that they happen, that we focus on increasing that frequency. I believe that could be the best self-assessment we could participate in, the best way of saying, this is me, I am here. I guess I will also be happy with just having finally submitted my taxes this year…


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