Ep. 8 | Claire Romzek “Is this for a grade?”
Welcome to the Growth Over Grades Podcast where we talk about education ideas and topics that matter most to our SpacesEDU Educator Community At the beginning of each new episode, I’m going to feature an amazing educator in our community. At the TeachBetter Conference this past October, I was able to meet Livia Chan. She embodies teaching the whole child/student, and I had the privilege of sitting in one of her sessions where she talked about atomic interactions. Her message is about using every opportunity and interaction with students as a way to grow a deeper connection. Make sure to follow Livia Chan if you aren’t already doing so!
Speaking of amazing educators, Episode 8 involves a conversation with educator and leader Claire Romzek. She is the magnet coordinator for The Lied Stem Academy and works to promote STEM in her school through field trip opportunities and inviting guest speakers. Before her present role, she taught both elementary and middle school.
I met Claire Romzek at the NVSide Silver State Technology Conference in Las Vegas this past September. We immediately clicked when she came into my session which was focused on teaching the whole child/student. It was just a few people so we ended up having a deep conversation and sharing what we have learned and observed throughout our teaching careers.
Her goal as an educator is to help students learn to their maximum potential without worrying about grades. She wants her children and students to go out into the world as empathetic problem solvers knowing they can pass any test in life (not just the academic ones).
We know that grades often lead to the end of learning or pursuing knowledge.
Courageously, Claire Romzek made the decision to go gradeless! Now, she helps other educators who want to pursue this, and she is also learning more about competency-based education as the state of Nevada is moving in that direction.
Is This for A Grade?
Every teacher has been asked this question many times. Romzek reminded me in this conversation that we, as educators, have created this mindset. She explained how grades have become a student’s currency. They face consequences at school and home when they don’t bring home the right letters on their report cards. This currency of grades can go through a myriad of student calculations. In fact, she shares how some students, in order to save themselves from embarrassment in front of their peers, would rather not try and fail than fail and get a low score.
To get away from this grading mentality, we have to face some truths. First, our society understands grades. We were graded as students. We often believe that students won’t try if they don’t think they will be graded. However, as Romzek found out, students not only worked when they weren’t receiving a letter grade, they worked harder in many instances.
But like other educators who pursue a different approach to reporting grades, Romzek still has to submit something for report cards. Her system involved conferencing with students, who generally are harder on themselves, and using a scale to show mastery. Her process relied heavily on reflection and feedback. In order for this to work, we as parents, educators, and students have to see the benefit of not getting Straight As and the benefit of learning to master the standards or competencies. We have to trust the process and focus less on stellar grade point averages. In order for this upgrading or gradeless process to be successful, communication with all stakeholders must be a priority.
Through one of the reflections, a student shared with Romzek, “I learned more because I tried new things.”
Another amazing benefit of going gradeless was observing students taking ownership of their learning. Romzek shared that she and another colleague found that they no longer needed to take work home. Everything they do is in class.
At the end of our podcast, I asked Romzek about wisdom she would like to impart. She shared that we need to put humanity back into education. Students didn’t lose their learning, and we shouldn't be looking at students as numbers or categorizing where they “should have been.” Instead, we need to meet them where they are in this present time. To many of us in education, that’s the heart of a true educator, leader, and change-maker.