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  • Writer's pictureConvening Storytelling Team

By Corina Ontiveros

We are pleased to share with you today a piece from our storytelling series of reflections and noticings coming out of our convening in Tucson!

Please stay tuned for more writings from our team of storytellers and revisit the blog here to see them all in the coming months.


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  • Writer's pictureConvening Storytelling Team

By Jillian Kuhlmann and Kevan Kiser-Chuc

We are pleased to share with you today a piece from our storytelling series of reflections and noticings coming out of our convening in Tucson!

Please stay tuned for more writings from our team of storytellers and revisit the blog here to see them all in the coming months.


A number of storytellers captured their thoughts in images and short pieces. We'll be sharing those as well as the longer writing.

In February 2023, the Assessment for Learning Convening took place in Tucson, AZ, bringing together the AFL community and inviting in dozens of new friends and partners. At the event were 27 storytellers, gathering, crafting, and reflecting on all manner of things AFL. Jillian Kuhlmann and Kevan Kiser-Chuc are two of those storytellers.

At the Thursday morning session, ‘Aha & Mo’olelo: Ceremony and Story as Research and Assessment, the presenters introduced us to a new/very old framework for crafting story. But before that, the presenters—Cheryl Ka’uhane Lupenui, Puni Jackson, Kaimana Chock, and Megan Inada—asked us a simple question: Where are you from? For no one in the room, was the answer simple or trivial. Jillian Kuhlmann reflects.

The Ohio River at Sunset Wikicommons Photos

I am standing in a circle and I am challenging myself to introduce the place where I am from in a way that acknowledges the original caretakers of the land. I have never done it before. I have never been asked to do it before. No one is asking me to do it now. (It would be easier not to.) I am wrestling with the discomfort of pronouncing the names of Indigenous peoples incorrectly, to be seen as someone who does things incorrectly. I do not want to take (yet more) space away from them by mangling their language on my white tongue.

i’m from Cincinnati it was taken care of by the Miami and the Shawnee

I am stumbling over my words, my own nerves. I am editing myself in the moment.

i’m from Cincinnati the land belongs to the Miami and the Shawnee

I am looking at a map after to be sure I got it right. I got it wrong.

i’m from Cincinnati the land belongs to the Osage and the Hopewell and the Kaskaskia and the Adena and the Myaamia and the Shawnee

I think I do not belong to a place and no place belongs to me. I cannot claim without seeming to take.

And then we are talking about belonging, about building a sense of it. What it looks like and feels like, the privilege and the power in it.

I am listening when Cheryl Ka’uhane Lupenui says,

“We hear what ‘I don’t belong here,’ sounds like. Sometimes it sounds like, ‘I want to belong.’ Sometimes it sounds like, ‘I don’t want to take responsibility.’”

(for belonging)

I feel the keen bite of a necessary truth. White belonging requires taking responsibility. It is not about getting it right but creating space to acknowledge wrongs.

i’m from land that was taken from the Osage and the Hopewell and the Kaskaskia and the Adena and the Myaamia and the Shawnee

I will be standing in a circle next time and it will not be easier.

I will do it anyway.


ALP Conference Storyteller Reflection

Kevan A. Kiser-Chuc, PhD


About the Storytellers

Jillian Kuhlmann is the senior manager for communications at KnowledgeWorks, a nonprofit organization that partners with states and schools to align policy and practice, reimagining what education can do through personalized, competency-based learning – and what it must do to prepare students for a lifetime of learning.

Kevan A. Kiser-Chuc is a master teacher, teacher mentor/coach, and adjunct professor in both a public school district and at a land grant research university in the borderlands of the Southwestern United States. As a teacher researcher, Kevan proposes a classroom curriculum that is relevant and responsive, encouraging students to explore their identities using expressive arts and multimodal literacies.

By theorizing and practicing an approach to teaching and learning that privileges an interconnectedstrategy of student and teacher voice, self-efficacy, and agency for critical engagement, Kiser-Chuc has been grateful to witness and participate in transformative experiences in the classroom.

Dr. Kiser-Chuc holds a BA in History and Spanish from the California State University at Northridge, an MA in Intercultural Education for the Universidad de Las Americas in Mexico City, an MEd in Educational Leadership from Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff, and a recent PhD in Language, Reading and Culture from the University of Arizona in Tucson.

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  • Writer's pictureConvening Storytelling Team

Updated: Jun 20, 2023

By Gary Chapin and Laurie Gagnon

We are pleased to share with you today a piece from our storytelling series of reflections and noticings coming out of our convening in Tucson!

Please stay tuned for more writings from our team of storytellers and revisit the blog here to see them all in the coming months.


In February, at the Assessment for Learning Convening in Tucson, AZ, Gary Chapin and Laurie Gagnon climbed on a bus with sixteen other educators to go on an excursion to Sunnyside High School. The ALP Convening had partnered with Sunnyside Unified School District for this event. and had planned five different excursions for ALP participants to go into Sunnyside schools to. The excursion we went on was called “Equitable Grading Practices,” led by Matthew Craft and William Kotter. These two have been at the head of a process to make grading practices more equitable across the district.

Gary: Hello, Laurie! I’m glad we can continue engaging on this, especially since the “grading practices” discussion plays such a prominent part in your work and mine. I found the work at Sunnyside High School interesting for a few reasons.

Laurie: Hello, Gary! Likewise, it’s important to reflect on our experiences and carry forward what we learn. Too often we are rushing to the next thing and miss the chance to synthesize our ideas and wonderings. I’m eager to hear how you are thinking about our time at Sunnyside HS.

Gary: They’ve based their work on the literature – specifically Joe Feldman’s Grading for Equity – but they’ve picked a few entry points, not trying to do everything at once. They’re eighteen months into their process and, according to their own documents, are working towards a system based on Feldman’s three principles. 1) Grades accurately describe what the student knows; 2) Grading is resistant to instruction and implicit biases and actively counteracts historical inequities; and 3) Grading supports and draws upon students’ intrinsic motivation. Specifically, this means they’re developing policies around multiple opportunities to demonstrate learning, the role of the ZERO, eligibility, and work-habits stuff.

Those four things would keep any school busy, and one of the charming bits of their presentation was a slide where they showed their goals and timeline. It showed them planning to be done with all of that by year one. Matthew Craft commented, “That’s how naive we were.” They’ve revised their goals and timeline since. It was a nice moment, and the audience felt it because we’ve all been there.

Laurie: I remember that moment, too! It brought home that the work is ongoing and usually takes more time than we anticipate. One of the big mindset shifts in this work lies in accepting that it is fundamentally about adaptive change to our culture of school and learning. It takes time. We need to be attuned and responsive to the needs of the people enacting and experiencing the change. I appreciated their candid vulnerability about their journey.

Gary: One thing I want to comment on, but I don’t quite know how to express it. Craft, Kotter, and all the presenters, including kids and teachers, seemed a little worn down by the change process. I hesitate to say, “beaten up.” The conversations for the past eighteen months were designed to create an inclusive and transparent process, but they also seem to have been hard. I identify with this because, in my own past, I once facilitated a grade book change process that, by December, had taken a toll. It was hard! Which is what I’m saying: Craft, Kotter and the others at Sunnyside High School are doing a hard thing, and right now they are at a very hard point in the conversation. But they are persevering.

The fact that something is hard – and the fact that something is especially hard right now – is not evidence that you should do something different or that you should change course. The naive part of me wishes there were a way for SHS to go over, around, or under the hard part, rather than having to go through it.

Laurie: While we might tell ourselves the goal is for everything to go smoothly, I think the real goal in making a hard, but worthwhile change, is that we support people through the challenges of change to get to the celebrations of success. It’s also notable that the equitable grading changes are happening across the whole district. It made me think about scale and how to bring a thoughtful urgency to the pace of change. On one hand, I worry about the capacity of different building-level leaders – and their teachers – to implement a change that could feel top down, especially if the leaders are in progress on their own understanding and mindset shifts. On the other hand, I admire the district’s coherence framework and their leadership’s commitment to equity across all of the schools in SUSD. Leadership is situating the change within a larger effort sparked by their formative assessment journey.

Gary: Is it possible to have a district-wide change, in a district of around 14,000, without it feeling top down? This is one of things about scale that’s hard to work with. I have heard of districts bringing teachers around. Hall-Dale Schools, in Maine, had a five year plan during which every teacher went through a series of three PD cycles to be introduced to and gain proficiency in competency-based practices (this was 2006). Over that five years, they also did innumerable book groups. Their PLCs (K-12 content area teams) focused on the change. The school board did learning retreats so that they’d truly understand and support what was going on. Essentially, the only pedagogical conversation happening in the district for that time was about competency-based practices, and because it took place over five years, teachers who didn’t want to work that way tended to leave. If someone were still there after the five-year process, then they had, de facto, opted in.

The leadership challenge there was maintaining a consistent level of urgency and vision over time. This is hard since, as we both know, new ideas sometimes die in education not because they fail, but because they become boring. The attention wanders.

Laurie: One thing that has been on my mind about the visit is how to balance staging the change process so you meet people where they are and also getting to some sort of inflection point where the change is making a clear difference in moving towards an equitable learning system. Feldman’s work is really helpful in laying out the three pillars of accurate, unbiased, and motivating grades with concrete, practical moves to make. There’s also a lot of needed changes to instruction and assessment to support those moves. It’s impossible to do it all at once, and yet you want to keep some level of awareness that there is more work to be done to get to your goals without it becoming overwhelming. There will inevitably be bumps along the way with lessons to learn and adjustments to make.

Gary: Along with the theory of change, and the content of the change – which leaders a SHS seem to have in hand – there’s the experience of change. I don’t know that a lot of people have gone through an experience of intentionally changing an organization in some fundamental, values-based way. We have experience starting organizations, and we have experience ending organizations, but the experience of changing organizations in an important way and succeeding is not one that most people have. It can be surprising, fascinating, and distressing when you wade into it for the first time, especially if the organization is successful at some level (but needs to be more successful at more levels). Helping face this experience is the value behind works like, Leadership Without Easy Answers, by Ronald Hiefetz. It’s also the value of what we saw at Sunnyside High School. I am grateful to Matthew Craft and William Kotter.

Laurie: That’s a lot of change, Gary! Kidding aside, I am also grateful to our hosts, the teachers and students who joined us for a panel discussion, and to Sunnyside Unified, for opening up their doors to us. I hope we get to hear more as their story unfolds and that the next chapters include continued and deepening support for educator learning, moments to celebrate as the culture shifts to a greater focus on learning rather than grades, and new insights into where this work leads SUSD next.

About the Storytellers

Laurie Gagnonjoined the Aurora Institute in 2022 as theCompetencyWorks Program Director. She leads the work of sharing promising practices shaping the future of K-12 personalized, competency-based education (CBE). Her work includes identifying trends; conducting and facilitating research to answer critical questions facing the field; and disseminating those findings widely. She first became involved in the Assessment for Learning community as a grantee while leading the Quality Performance Assessment program at the Center for Collaborative Education. Laurie began her professional life teaching English in Japan and high school history in the U.S. She lives in Somerville, MA with her partner, young son, and cat.

Gary Chapin is our chief storytelling steward and longtime friend of the AFL community. Gary writes for Educating for Good and can be found on twitter @garychapin67.

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