It’s Not About the Points

“I view Acton Academy as Khan Lab School’s mentor on our very own hero’s journey here in Mountain View.”  Christopher Chiang, Academic Director of the Khan Lab School

This past week, we were honored to welcome Christopher Chiang to Acton Academy. After observing a morning launch and the Eagles working silently on their independent work goals, we showed him our Points Tracker.

The tracker, along with every process and system at Acton, has a clear purpose behind its design: to move each person forward on their own hero’s journey to find a calling and change the world.

How can we equip the Eagles to showcase their growth and learning to the world in ways that can be interpreted by peers, parents, future college admissions counselors and potential apprenticeship mentors and employers?

How can the children take charge of their learning and capture their best effort and progress toward achieving excellence in intellectual achievement, leadership experience and character development?

How can each person in our small community gain and give feedback that is kind, honest and helpful toward growth?

Christopher Chiang noted that large teams of software designers in the Silicon Valley, supported by millions of dollars, are working to create exactly this kind of unifying online program for capturing learning. He quickly saw it as the means to free up learners to be connected to each other for support and to take charge of their learning.

We parents, though, get nervous when new systems are integrated into our children’s lives. Understanding them is important to us so we can support the learning and growth all along the way.

For example, a parent recently asked: “What if my child focuses more on the points earned than on the joy of learning?”

At first taste, the tracker may feel like getting stickers for reading books or dollars for good grades.

But looking deeper with more time under the belt a new truth emerges:

The points recorded by each Eagle document effort, organization of work, and various feedback loops for improving one’s work.

These data points are important for our young heroes because they build a whole picture, over time, of the learning and experiences along their journey of becoming thoughtful, loving, highly skilled problem-solvers contributing to the world.

The tracker is a tool. The Eagles begin to see this clearly after a few weeks using it to record daily and weekly work effort. They, along with their Eagle Buddies, Running Teams and Guides can use this tool to dig deeper and understand more intimately their learning experiences: what is working; what is not; where struggles lie; where achievement happens.

The buzz around the tracker at the start of a new school year wears off because it isn’t about the points. It’s about effort and excellence. It’s about capturing what each Eagle puts forth in a day, in a week, in a year.

The vision toward excellence is achieved when small steps of progress happen over time. There is joy in this process. As someone tweeted to me recently, “giving one’s best effort is a high.” When this little high happens, the motivation to feel that way again kicks in. This is basic neuroscience. The brain is wired to thrive on progress. We like it. It feels good. We want it again.

But we remember at Acton that each person is wired differently at the genetic level.

Some of us are wound too tightly; others of us could use a bit more tightening up. We do need systems and processes to hold us all together and tug and pull as needed for each individual on the journey. This is where our handy tool, the tracker, helps us.

The systems and processes we build allow a self-choreographed dance to play out for each person – between external and internal motivators, private and public competition, individual and group work, freedom and responsibility. Guardrails and constraints are built in so we don’t flounder away from standards of excellence.

So what do we as parents of young heroes do to encourage our Eagles?

  • We celebrate effort.
  • We get to know how to use the Points Tracker so we can discuss achievements and setbacks with our children. (Ask your child to walk you through it and teach you how to use it. It’s very cool.)
  • We reflect as families on the idea that humans are complicated and even scientists can’t agree on one motivation theory for everyone. There is no recipe that works for all people on any given day. What motivates you each day to read, write, work, play? What is worth your effort? What is worth counting in your life? What should you stop counting?