I often get comments by teachers that move me close to tears. This is one of them. In the best of times, what the writer says would not be remarkable. In these times, these words remind us how education can be powerful and why these days it is not, it is just filling in the blanks.

I thought that several years ago the NCTE had come out with a position or paper arguing that rubrics were not appropriate for several reasons. I tried rubrics for several years and found them to be limiting and the products that I received in Social Studies, English and Humanities courses to be less than what I knew the kids could do. It’s a natural human thing to want to please and then focus on doing what is defined in front of you ala a rubric and stop. “Little Boxes” rings in my ears.

I adopted Leonardo DaVinci 7 Principles as a guide and was especially attracted to Sfumato usually translated as “Up in Smoke” meaning to embrace ambiguity, paradox and uncertainty. Great things are produced and discovered when you open the door to possibilities and leave some things undefined. When I did that, there was difficulty adjusting as kids had been trained to give the right answers. My response was there may be none and that I was more interested in originality, creativity and being able to explain and defend one’s thinking. En Garde!

However, once kids realized that they were full partners in their learning and that most anything was possible, they brought me to tears with their work. I have been lucky to work with teams of colleagues that shared this philosophy in public and private settings here in Houston and around the world. We shared a belief also that rich, engaging teaching and learning was the best way to inspire kids and the test scores took care of themselves. All test prep and no play makes Johnnies and Janes dull kids.