Beyond Statistics

November 3, 2016 - 6 minutes read

Although I don’t follow baseball closely, I have to admit this year’s playoffs were exciting. Not only did the Toronto Blue Jays make the final four (how can you not cheer for Canada) but the World Series final between Cleveland and Chicago was a thriller. The Chicago Cubs, perhaps the sentimental favourite given they hadn’t won the World Series since 1908, prevailed in their quest to be World Champions.


I learned a lot about baseball these last few weeks. Statistics appeared constantly on the television screen each time the batter walked up to the plate or the pitcher hit the mound. I imagined it would be relatively easy for scouts to pick the best players as such comprehensive statistics must surely tell it all.  But do the numbers really tell all?

Apparently the Chicago Cubs screen potential players for character and personality traits in addition to mere player data. Team President Theo Epstein wanted to know specifically how each player handled failure. He wanted evidence both on and off the field attesting to each player’s ability to face adversity. According to Epstein, “In the draft room, we will always spend more than half the time talking about the person rather than the player. What are their backgrounds, their psyches, their habits, and what makes them tick?”

In today’s world, companies look beyond transcripts and GPAs when hiring potential employees. They want to know if applicants are leaders, can work well collaboratively and can think critically and creatively. Are they resilient? Can they persevere through challenges?  How do they tackle problems?

The re-designed BC curriculum places emphasis on those ‘soft skills’ baseball scouts and company presidents seek when they build their teams. As educators, we provide opportunities for these skills (aka core competencies) to be developed across all curricular areas in hopes our students are desirable employees one day in addition to being educated citizens who engage productively and respectfully in our world.

Parents, too, understand the importance of developing soft skills. At a recent session on Communicating Student Learning, we asked West Bay parents what ‘graduating gifts’ they hope for their children. Parents indicated they want their children to love learning and be confident, resilient, globally-minded citizens. Among other qualities, effective collaborators, communicators and problem-solvers were cited as desirable ‘gifts’.

In the Communicating Student Learning document (report card), parents indicated they want personalized comments about their child. How does my child interact with others? Is my child a team player? Does my child demonstrate compassion and empathy? Parents want to know their child’s strengths and areas for growth and like to know how they can support their child. Parents were also keen on learning about any passions or special skills their children may demonstrate at school that may not be apparent at home.

When asked to recall their own report card experiences, parents included ‘percentages’, ‘ranking’, ‘scores’, ‘letter grades’, ‘personalized’ and ‘anxiety-provoking’ in their remarks. I didn’t hear the words ‘learning’, ‘growth’, or ‘strengths’ mentioned.

When parents receive their child’s progress report, they won’t see percentages, letter grades or rankings. Instead, they will see a personalized document that includes the IB Learner Profile traits and attitudes the child demonstrated while engaged in learning, information on progress made in all curricular areas including the foundation skills, and ways to support the child. Each child completes a personal articulation where they reflect on the knowledge acquired, any action undertaken, as well as the skills, traits and competencies they developed in each unit of inquiry.

Since West Bay moved towards grade-less report cards, we have noticed a significant decrease in the levels of anxiety amongst our learners. Students receive continuous feedback and are well aware of where they are and where they need to go with their learning. They do not feel labelled as a ‘C’ student which can be discouraging and a barrier to developing a growth mindset.

No doubt our children’s collective experience at school today differs from that of our own – and it should. We live in a different time that demands a different ‘product’ (graduate), thus a different ‘process’ (educational journey). Each child’s learning journey is unique and worthy of our support and encouragement.  We must continue to look beyond statistics and grades (hard skills) and recognize personality and character traits (soft skills) as being essential ‘gifts’ for our children.  Using this holistic lens, we can support our students’ passions and interests, encourage them to go deeper with their learning, and applaud their efforts to be risk-takers.

The Chicago Cubs players are statistically skilled, yet possess the soft skills necessary to be winners. Through teamwork, focus, perseverance and resilience, this team prevailed despite being down three games to one. Just as we are seeing a move away from letter grades in schools, we may see a more widespread shift in recruiting practices in baseball.  Evidently Epstein got it right. And I can say with confidence we are getting it right in education, too.