Rigor and Compassion

CompassionI had to make sure my teachers understand that it’s compassion over compliance right now. We don’t know what students are going through, the hurdles they’re having to climb over to get to your Zoom link, so you have to have compassion.

While rigor may be one of the most discussed elements of education in the past decade, teachers have had to rethink their ideas on rigor when students were no longer in the room with them and when some students were struggling with significant obstacles to their health and well-being. Educators we spoke with talked honestly about needing help answering key questions such as: How do you continue to inspire students to stretch and grow intellectually while simultaneously nurture those who need it? How do you set the bar high and still meet students with flexibility and compassion?

Guiding Questions

  • How do we make sure students and adults are met with an expectation of excellence, paired with compassion and flexibility during this unprecedented time of disruption?
  • How do we think about the content and curriculum that are being delivered and make strategic choices, especially during times that are particularly disruptive or fragmented?
  • Given that we will be able to cover less content in remote instruction, which critical learning experiences should we prioritize and how will we use standards to make those choices?

Professional Development Connections

PD should be aimed at:

  • Making the research-based case regarding the harm done by well-intentioned teachers who refuse to “place the same rigorous demands on their students of color as they do on white students. … Such ‘accommodations’ may unintentionally give students the message that teachers believe [they] are incapable of learning.” (Language, Culture, and Teaching: Critical Perspectives, Sonia Nieto)
  • Breaking down common false assumptions:
    • One can be either a compassionate teacher or a rigorous teacher, but not both.
    • Students don’t want rigor. (Students work harder and learn more deeply when they are challenged.)
    • Low-stakes assessments means easy. (Build in time for getting things wrong and learning from those mistakes into every class.)
Use these selected strategies and resources
Strategies Resources

Student Choice

Emphasize and provide resources to teachers on giving students choice in how they learn the material (video, reading, exploring) and how they show that learning (video, printed worksheet, digital quiz) with sample rubrics that take both into consideration. Adding well-chosen and monitored elements of choice in topic or medium helps boost motivation while also teaching students how to improve their ability to choose.

Ready-to-use choice activities from The Science of Keeping Kids Engaged—Even From Home (Edutopia):

  • Choose from one of four essay prompts.
  • Select a renowned leader that meets a set of criteria to study for your project.
  • Produce your work in the form of a podcast, children’s book, 2- to 3-minute video, art installation, or paper.

Teacher Reflective Questions

Help teachers incorporate reflective questions that push their thinking on rigor and put themselves in their students’ shoes.

Some effective reflective questions from The Necessity of Having High Expectations (Edutopia):

  • Are we giving accommodations in students’ zone of proximal development or their comfort zone?
  • Do our accommodations empower students to access more content and higher-level thinking or do they remove learning opportunities?
  • Are scaffolds gradually removed as kids approach independence or do the scaffolds anchor them in dependence?

Education and Career Planning

Students who create a plan during high school that they update and revise year-to-year with guidance from caring, knowledgeable adults are both better prepared for life after high school and more aware of how their educational and career plans are interconnected. When students know what courses and activities align to their interests and goals for the future and why they are important, they are more invested in their time in high school overall.

This suite of Education and Career Planning tools gives schools a clear, user-friendly way to enable students to set and refine their goals for the future and align their high school courses, activities, and other preparation opportunities to potential career options. (FHI 360, College and Career Readiness Guide for Navigators)

  • Education and Career Plan High School Students. The process of creating and updating an Education and Career Plan (ECP) will help young people (ideally beginning in 8th grade) identify the steps needed to move from where they are to where they want to be. Throughout high school, it helps them to outline and align both their course plans and their college and career planning activities and accomplishments with graduation requirements and their postsecondary education and career goals. (Tip: turn this PDF into a google doc for each student to customize)
  • ECP Quick Guide for Students. The ECP is designed for students to use with guidance from at least one caring, knowledgeable adult such as school counselor, advisor, or teacher, a family member, or an expert from a support program. But students need to own their plans and this quick guide gives them the information and tips they need to do just that.
  • ECP Implementation Guide for High School Navigators. This guide is a resource for Navigators —the teachers, counselors, advisors, youth workers, mentors, and other advocates who guide youth through the twists and turns on the road to becoming college and career ready. Whether playing a formal or informal role, these college and career readiness Navigators are critical for helping young people map out their journeys toward the futures they want for themselves.

Use Interdisciplinary Resources

Help teachers find activities that integrate a range of content areas and academic skills in relevant and purposeful ways.

· Interdisciplinary activities often put learning into meaningful contexts.

· Interdisciplinary activities can address a range of target standards in one lesson.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) has a searchable database of activities to help educators nurture financial capability across the curriculum.

CFPB’s classroom activities come with a digital teacher guide and supporting student material, so it’s easy to implement during hybrid and remote learning.