Grace Over Grades

Grace Over Grades

A choice? Not one teacher would choose the current situation that we find ourselves facing. Not one teacher would choose to teach from the kitchen table rather than be with students. Yet, teachers across our state and nation have chosen to answer the call to action. They have chosen to be there for their students, not knowing the full definition of “there” in this reality. We find ourselves in the great unknown, only knowing that our students continue to depend upon us as they face a new reality as well.

Being in uncharted territory, this new reality is forcing teachers everywhere to be more ingenious in their approaches. I’ve always considered myself an innovative teacher. Yet sadly, there is often a misconception of innovative ideas  being synonymous with technological platforms. At this time when technology is the lifeline to our students, the lines between technology and innovation are becoming blurred. Although it is currently keeping us connected, removing some of the technology in order to provide a more equitable learning experience could be the most innovative approach we could take during these times.

Since we don’t know exactly what education should look like during this time of distance learning, let’s imagine what it could be. What if we revolutionized what place-based learning could look like when trying to accomplish learning at home? What if students engaged in authentic learning experiences that are relevant to their current environment? Identifying a problem that impacts their local neighborhood or community, such as erosion or recycling, and finding a solution can provide an authentic learning experience. This type of learning can connect students to a world that they are currently isolated from. It can allow them to appreciate, maybe even love, the roots from which their lives and beliefs have grown.

What if students are able to learn essential math concepts through real-life experiences like cooking, exploring the home, or collecting authentic data? What if science included investigating phenomena surrounding students in and around their homes? What if literacy skills were enhanced by journaling and documenting these unprecedented events? What if our innovation at this time is a digital diet that gets back to the basics?

Learning should look less like... Learning should look more like...
An attempt to re-create school at home

  • Assuming a strict "school day" schedule
  • Requiring special materials (e.g., lab or materials not commonly found at home)
  • Pacing with the planned scope and sequence
  • Assigning readings to stay "caught up"
  • Assigning packets of worksheets and busy-work
  • Expecting that all learning experiences happen virtually
Flexible goals and structures for learning

  • Extended time for learning and reflection
  • Use of commonly available materials
  • Purposeful selection of learning targets
  • Opportunities for students to explore their interests
  • Meaningful, manageable tasks and projects
  • Opportunities to learn without the use of devices or the internet
Teacher-centered instruction

  • Virtual lectures/classes that all students synchronously attend
  • Teachers delivering information and assignments
  • Teacher instruction and feedback as the primary mode of facilitating learning



  • Optional opportunities to connect with teachers and peers virtually and at a variety of times
  • Teachers providing coaching, feedback, and encouragement
  • Encouragement for students to engage in learning and reflection with their families and communities
  • Encouragement for self-reflection on what students learn and how they learn it
Assignments to "get through" content

  • Emphasizing memorizing content or "checking off" tasks on lists
  • Asking students to solve contrived or hypothetical problems or complete design projects that value form over function
  • Trying to cover content through a volume of activities or skipping from topic to topic


Authentic learning in the home setting

  • Connecting questions and problems to household activities such as cooking, fixing things, or gardening
  • Asking students to identify relevant problems in their lives and engage in design cycles to address them
  • Allowing students to deeply explore phenomena or problems of interest through investigation to build understanding and practice over time

Version 1.2 of this work has been developed by Curriculum & Assessment at the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. View Creative Commons attribution at https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/.

What if more than anything else, the focus, along with teachers’ time and energy, is devoted to our students’ social-emotional health and well-being? With stress, financial crisis, illness, and death all around us, it’s not a matter of if our students will endure trauma; it’s a matter of the impact that the trauma they are experiencing will have on their lives. Despite inequities, our schools are working diligently to provide meals and technology to students. The one thing that is more difficult to replicate is the safety and community that schools offer. Our student learning objectives should be focused on students knowing that their feelings and emotions are acknowledged and validated. They should also include students knowing that they are loved and cared for. Above all, our objective should be to let our students know that no matter the distance between us,  their teachers are still there for them.

In this time of uncertainty, there is one thing that is known. It will be easier to teach students long division that they might have missed the previous year than to help them overcome trauma endured by this pandemic. Sometimes less is more. While we all have concerns about our children’s futures, it is their best interest that is driving the work we do.

Rather than adding to this already stressful time, maybe we need to extend grace.

This includes:

  • extending grace to our students who are navigating their feelings while adjusting to a life they’ve never known
  • extending grace to our teachers who are dedicated to keeping that connection with their students because they understand that is the basic foundation of the work that we do
  • extending grace to the families, who themselves are juggling a world of change while partnering with teachers to ensure that student needs are being met

What if more than anything, we extend grace to ourselves? If we recognize and accept that we won't be perfect, but that we will continue to strive for greatness in the future we are creating. If we recognize that we will make mistakes, but we will also work together to learn from them, and we will share that knowledge as we strive for what is best for children. Together, we will find a path forward for our students and the people who love them so very much.

Selected as the 2017 Missouri Teacher of the Year, Darbie Valenti represents the St. Joseph School District.  Darbie is an 18-year teaching veteran and is driven by her passion to create equity through trauma-invested practices. She also serves as an adjunct professor at her alma mater, Northwest Missouri State University, and is a proud member of the National Network of State Teachers of the Year (NNSTOY).





Melissa Grandel, Missouri’s 2020 Teacher of the Year, has always believed that she has one purpose in life: to teach kids. Melissa wholeheartedly believes that all students deserve a fair opportunity to learn and succeed, no matter their situation or background. As a teacher, her goal is to relate to the individual student and to find a way to support the educational success of each one. Through highly engaging projects, real-world connections, and equitable initiatives, she allows students to self-discover in an effort to create a learning environment in which students can blossom into their best selves.

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