Saturday, September 18, 2021

Measuring the Immeasurable

Yesterday I received this e-mail: 


As a professional growth goal this year, I am endeavoring to help my students regain SEL (Social Emotional Learning) skills, feel safe and become independent, empowered musicians in my classroom - of course the Schulwerk is the perfect vehicle to achieve these goals. 


While I feel confident as an experienced Orff educator, I am grappling with what it looks like to QUANTIFY the pursuit/achievement of community required by Administration (percentages, data, etc.). Have you published articles/books or materials that outline what this could look like for those of us who must show this for our evaluations? Help!

And I wrote back: 



Thanks for writing and honored that you asked for my help. However, you might not like my answer!


Einstein famously said, "Not everything that counts can be counted. Not everything that can be counted counts."


And I agree! There are many things—usually the best things— in this life that defy measurement. And when we try to measure the immeasurable, we miss the boat to genuine experience, to deep feeling, to beauty. How do you measure beauty? How do you quantify anger or love? Yes, we can put prices on paintings and maybe computer hook ups can give some number for the level of hormones released and yes, we can say, "On a scale of 1-10, how angry are you? How much do you love me?" But the real truth of social emotional experience is that it is a constantly moving target. You never arrive at mastery of emotion, you never get the relationship perfect so that you can stop talking about it. More than ever, we need to be real with each other and we especially need to be real with kids and who are we kidding by pretending that we can quantify something more about quality than numbers? And for what purpose? 


I know the school numbers-crunchers, bean-counters, corporation types that treat school like a business, want to get all their data neatly lined up and stacked to show on the Powerpoint at the Board Meeting, but any real teacher knows thats nonsense. 


But that doesn't mean there's no accountability or way to notice progress. The real teacher, the authentic teacher, the honest teacher, the reflective teacher, the artistic teacher, knows within two minutes of walking into a classroom what the mood is like, can instantly read whether the children are happily engaged, eager to share their ideas and feelings, trusting the teacher and each other, able to work both independently and cooperatively. If an administrator can't see that, then it's not the teacher's job to supply false data to make him/her feel comfortable, it is the administrator's job to learn from the teacher how to intuitively assess that. And of course, to ask the children. 

"Tell me about what you're doing. Are you enjoying it? Do you feel safe to speak out if something bothers you?" Then the necessary conversations begin to adjust the atmosphere, with the administrator, teacher and the students each alone and togetherconsidering how. 


SEL cannot just become another cliche buzzword that teachers tick off to show they're doing the "right thing," it's just a term of convenience to describe what every good teacher should, can and has done when teaching well. It's not something that someone walking into my class needs to make me prove that I'm fulfilling some quota or prescribed mandate— it's something that someone walking into my class should simply notice, appreciate and enjoy. See the way the kids help each other learn instrumental parts without me asking them to, how they work in small groups to create things of beauty— musical compositions, dances, dramatic skits. To feel how they ask questions without fear, ask me to explain or do something different if they don't get it the way I taught it, share their enthusiasm and their ideas, leave class saying "Aw, do I have to go to recess?!" or "Can we do it again?" or "Thank you, Doug!" (all things kids from 3 years old to 8th grade have said to me.)


In short, by leveling down to the "prove it with quantifiable data/ numbers/ percentages" way of thinking, we lose it. Instead of furthering community, we dumb it down and insult it, making it into a thing to measure, an inert noun rather than a flowing joyous verb. We kill the teacher's passion and enthusiasm by wasting their time filling in charts and forms and surveys instead of trusting their artistry. We reduce education to a corporate business with a bottom-line of provable profit (be it in money or units of SEL) and get sidetracked from the possibility of a school community as a joyous gathering of human intellect, feeling, achievement sparked by curiosity, fed by wonder, Instead of trying to measure the immeasurable, why not shift the energy to more deeply experiencing the mystery, the magic, marvelous world we have the privilege to investigate, learn about and participate in. 


So to answer your question, I don't have anything written about this. But I think I just wrote it. Feel free to share it with your boss!


Good luck!


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