I can grade you or I can teach you, but I can’t do both

“I can grade you or I can teach you, but I can’t do both.”

One sets us up as opponents, the other as collaborators.

  • As educators, which relationship are we seeking?
  • As a society, which relationship do we value?
  • As humankind, which relationship will offer us the best opportunity to move the world forward?

Framed in the global context, the choice is simple. We want to have collaborative partnerships with our students, because as adults, we intuitively understand that these young people will one day take our places at the head of companies, in board rooms and science labs, leading and teaching on the world-stage. All of us are charged with the task of training our replacements for the important, impactful work we do. Are current educational practices preparing students to be successful in the global economy? What should we be doing differently?

The Grading vs. Teaching quandary comes from Matthew Rhodes-Kropf, a managing partner at Tectonic Ventures and a Professor of Entrepreneurship at MIT. He points to a subtle yet powerful nuance at work in the classroom.

Grading sets up a Me vs. You dynamic. Mostly adversarial, students are quantified and assessed against some rank of established norm, which may or may not relate to any kind of meaningful or relevant social “average”.

By contrast, teaching creates a collaborative, constructive give-and-take interaction between educator and student which ideally leads to experimentation and discovery. While the discovery is perhaps more profound for the student, the desire for the next dopamine hit of satisfied curiosity affects both.

edOS 4: Design-Test-Ship

This important insight originally gained traction in the venture capital world in a recent blog by David Frankel from Founder Collective. He describes how the grading-teaching dichotomy shapes their decision-making when investing in new start-ups. Strategically aligning mission and expertise makes their clients ultimately successful because they focus on the collaborative teaching dynamic.

If this kind of thinking is moving the business world, could EdWorld also follow suit? What if educators started looking at their students as “new start-ups”? What if administrators and teachers started seeing themselves as VC funders investing the currency of their wisdom, knowledge and expertise in young minds?

Competency education is ripe with possibility. Where mastery replaces grading, educators are empowered to co-create with students and venture into explored and unexplored territory on a quest for innovative future problem-solving.

Could public education become more about the teaching than the grading? It is time to seriously wrestle with this perceptive idea. We might all of us be putting our skills to best use.