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Keepin’ it Real: Project 180, Day 161

After a week of “heavy” speeches, Sam provided some much needed levity with his speech on the injustice of parents on social media (see below). It gave us all a good laugh. I love it when kids keep it real. And there are few better than Sam at keepin’ it real.

Down to 19 days. Kids will continue working through their Change-the-World projects today, moving into the planning stages. I am excited to see what they generate. They have come up with some pretty awesome ideas, but now they have to begin turning their ideals into realities. No big deal, really. They just have to change the world. And ya know. they just might. They just might.

Happy Monday, all. I hope you enjoy Sam’s speech.

The Injustice of Parents on Social Media

When signing up for social media networks, there are many restrictions and blanks to fill in. You have to give your name (first and last), address, birthday, phone number, gender, and you also have to meet the minimum age requirement which tends to be 13 years old.

 This is good and all but there seems to be one thing missing. Where is the maximum age requirement? Where is the blank at the end of the registration that tells my parents that they are too old and too out-of-date to use these social media services? Where is the blank that gives me the freedom to not have adults looking over my every move? Where is that blank? I’ll tell you where. It doesn’t exist.

Every day thousands and thousands of people sign up for different types of social media such as Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat and many more. These aren’t just teenagers and young adults who want to see what’s going on with their friends. Some of these people are adults, who similar to my mom, only get the apps to annoy the crap out of their children.

In the summer of 2016 my sister made the biggest mistake any of us kids could ever imagine. She did the unspoken. She did something we would never forgive her for. She showed my mom Snapchat. She showed my mom how to send random, unimportant pictures to any of us whenever she wanted. She opened the gates to hell and we were all forced to walk through it.

To this day, my siblings and I endure the suffering of having a “hip” mom that Snapchats us at free will. Many of you are probably saying “Why don’t you just block her” but the consequences of such would be more far more devastating. The constant nagging and complaining of “Why did you block me?” and “Add me back on Snapchat” would be far more than I could handle.

This speech is not a plea for help, for I have already fallen to this monster. This speech is a warning. A warning for all of you to keep your parents away from social media at all costs.

When Movies Say it Better: Project Change the World

What I will use to help introduce Project Change the World today.



The Story Behind the Story: Project 180, Day 141

Friday, I posted on the data we collect. Much of the data we collect is mined from students’ standardized assessments. And as the kids hopefully wrap up testing this week (at least 3 days to go), we will sit and wait for the results, the data. And though some would suggest that the data are key, are essential to informing our work in the classroom, I am no longer convinced that’s the case. I will get some information about this year’s kids; OPSI will generate a “report card;” the administration will offer up graphs and charts as evidence of what is and isn’t; and I will be asked to look for trends from this year’s results to drive my decision making in my classroom next year. Next year. From this year. Here’s the rub. The problem with the over-reliance on last year’s standardized assessment data is that it applies to last year’s students. It’s not relevant. Not once in my career have I found state assessment data to be of significance when making decisions about my approach with my current students. And I know that the argument suggesting that the data follow the kids exists, but I have not found it to be particularly useful in making real decisions in the classroom. For me, and others, standardized assessment results are really just an indicator that students, teachers, and schools have jumped through the hoops. Oh, I am sure it serves someone or something somewhere, but we need to reject the narrative that it provides critical input for teachers when it comes to making key curricular and instructional decisions. It is simply not true.

And yet, those in power believe that it is THE revelatory data that we should use to make our curricular and instructional decisions. I believe many in education are kidding themselves about the power and usefulness of the data we mine from standardized testing. The only useful data I have ever uncovered in my career has come from my immediate, in-the-moment, day-to-day interactions with my students. That is the data to dig up. That is the stuff of truly relevant data-driven decisions.

And so, as we move on to day six of testing, I will continue to be a cheerleader for my kids, encouraging them to  jump through the hoop of hoops. And I will, then, sit and wait for the hoop-jumping results in June, bidding farewell to my kids this year, waiting to meet next year’s kids before I make any decisions. I have to. No relevant data will exist until we begin our experience together. Yes, teachers should make data-driven decisions. Of course we should. But not all data are useful. So we need to be selective about the data we choose. All data tell stories. But some stories are more important than others. I am no longer buying the standardized story. Well, I haven’t bought for a long time. I am just more willing to publicly call BS now. Time for a new story.

Happy Monday, all.

Growth not a Grade: Project 180, Day 135

Wrapping up a great week in 211 today. I was so pleased with the kids’ poems. But it was not as much about their poems as it was about their challenging themselves to get on stage. For some it was easy peasy, but for others it was a real challenge. But they did it anyway. And in the 180 classroom they did it for their own personal growth, not a grade. And that’s the beauty, that’s the supreme satisfaction I have gotten this year with grades being off the table. I have been continually amazed by the majority of the kids’ dedication to learning this year, despite the extreme shift in approaches.

As I look ahead to next year, I will seek to pull back a bit from the extreme, but I will continue to place feedback and growth at the center of our experience, not grades–at least not in the traditional sense. Never going back there. Never. I’ve already begun working on a plan for next year, and I will unveil it in due time. In the meantime, I will continue to process what I have learned from this year–inside and outside 211, seeking to revise and refine the 180 approach.

Today in 211, we will finish up the last few poems, talk last minute strategies for the SBA, and conclude with Community Circle. Perfect end to a great week.

Happy Friday, all. Have a great weekend.

They Come As They Are

Teaching is not a choice. It’s a responsibility. We don’t pick our kids, and for the most part, they don’t pick us. They come to us as they are. They come ready. They come ahead. And they come behind. They come happy. They come angry. And they come sad. They come motivated. They come apathetic.  And they come defeated. They come from whole homes. They come from partial homes. And they come from broken homes. They come from wealth. They come from poverty. They come sated. They come hungry. They come from success. They come from failure. They come connected. They come alone. They come as they are.

We don’t get to choose who’s on the team. But we do get to choose how we treat those who end up on our roster. In that there is choice. In that lies our responsibility. We have to meet them. All of them.

And while there perhaps exists some inspiration in the novelty of our grave responsibility, there also exists some guilt in the weight of our great burden. Can’t meet all of them. Haven’t met all of them. After a score of years, my ‘success’ is riddled with holes of failure, cracks through which I have let kids slide. And for that there is no reconciliation. I have failed kids. I could not be all for each. And I carry that. I wear that around my shoulders.

But I tarry not in self-admonition or pity, I carry it as a reminder of my being’s weakness, that I may find the strength each day to meet my kids. Hard to accept that I can’t succeed, but harder to deny that I can’t fail.

And so I try. Every day. Every day a battle between can’t succeed and can’t fail. Most days I am lucky. Can’t succeed fails, and can’t fail succeeds. And, thus, I continue. One day at a time. One kid at a time.  All I can do.

Missing Muse: Project 180, Day 113

Morning, all. Experiencing a rare moment this morning. Not finding much to write about. Oh, there’s plenty going on in class. Even have some good Twitterverse graphics to share, but not finding my flow today. Doesn’t happen very often.

Been thinking a lot about next year, and as I do, I am weighing carefully whether or not I will go gradeless. At present, the scale is balanced. There are reasons why I should. There are reasons why I shouldn’t. That said, I will continue to contemplate and ruminate as the journey continues, but as of right now, there is no certain path.  Of course, some important factors still remain in regards to how effective the project has been, and they will play a significant role in my final decision. One will be the results of the state testing. Another will be the final, end-of-the-journey feedback from the kids. And while neither will fully reveal nor decide the matter, both will weigh heavily in my decision.

Speaking of the devil. State testing is right around the corner. There are some interesting things going on in the state right now, House Bill 1046, which “delinks” testing from the (ACA and ICA) graduation requirement has passed the House chamber and is now in the Senate. And though I am still educating myself on what the implications of this may be, I am pleased that there has been some official progress with how we approach and/or connect standardized testing and its data with graduation requirements.  Every year, I find it harder and harder to not more strongly resist and speak out against the madness that is standardized testing.  For now the saga continues, and I will do my part to prepare my kids for their current reality. But it rankles.

All right, that’s all I got. Alas, my trusty muse eluded me this morning. Happy Thursday, all.

Slow and Steady: Project 180, Day 108

Moved a little farther down the road yesterday. Looks we have settled into a pace of 5 conferences per hour. No, not setting any speed records, but we are moving ahead–slow and steady.

Above are some images of my sitting down with some of my kiddos yesterday. Here are the steps that I follow for each conference.

  1. I provide a general overview of what the  conference will entail.
  2. We each pull up the letter on our Chromebooks. Love Google Docs.
  3. I provide each kid with a form. On one side is the SBA rubric. On the other side are two columns: “Things to Think About” and “Things to Celebrate.”
  4. We then read through the letter together. As we go, I offer feedback, and the kids write down my suggestions in the “think-about” column.
  5. Next, we flip the form, and with a highlighter in hand, I mark where I believe they fall on the rubric, providing a brief rationale, which draws largely from our conversation in step 4. I also provide a tentative, unofficial indication of how I think they will perform on the SBA based on what I see in front of me.
  6. Finally, we flip the form one last time, and together we find things to add to the “celebrate” column. I make the kids go first and then I add what I believe is worthy of celebration, too. This final step is very intentional. I always want our interaction to end on a positive.
  7. I thank the kiddo. Place the form in his/her portfolio and get ready for the next.
  8. Repeat steps 1 – 7.

Each conference takes roughly 10 minutes. And though the process is the same, the content of each varies by kid. And that is what I love the most. I have to meet each where he is. Differentiation at its purest perhaps. Love, love, love it. And I am beginning to believe that the kids are finding value in it, too. Well, at least, they seem not to hate it.

Brief pause today. We have half days for conferences, and so this 1st, 2nd, and 3rd periods’ Friday,  and since it’s, then, the first Friday of the month, it’s Community Circle time. Yes, that will delay our conferences, but the letters will be there when we get back to it on Monday. Today, the members of the community, not the work of the community, will take center stage. Another intentional decision. Another important decision. Can’t teach them if I don’t know them.

Happy Thursday, all.

Enough Already!

See ya, tomorrow, all. Ugh.


A Thousand Words: Project 180, Day 86

Here are some of the projects that the kids produced. I was so impressed with the creativity and variety of their projects. There was also a movie and puppet show, which I unfortunately could not share. I have two more classes who will share their projects today. I am beyond excited to share in more moments with my kiddos. I am so proud of what they accomplished despite the snow-day setbacks. I am also proud of their commitment to something for which there was no grade. It seems choice can indeed foster commitment.

On a separate note, with nearly half of the parent letters returned, all have chosen 180. No school tomorrow for the kids. I’ll be back with you on Monday.

Happy Thursday, all.

Guilty: Project 180, Day 79

Some day it’ll happen. And they’ll find me. Broken. Bent beyond recognition. A fatality by flexibility. I’ll have bent too far.

One lives. One does. One thinks. One wonders. One worries. I am one. And so, I worry. I worry about my flaws. I worry about my flaws as a father, a husband, a friend, a son, a person, and far too often I worry about my flaws as a teacher. And while my list beneath that particular hat is long, presently I ponder one practice, one habit I cannot break, cannot escape. Flexibility. Am I too easy? Am I a pushover? Am I too forgiving? Am I making a difference? Am I ruining lives?

I don’t think that it’s that I really believe those things, but I find them in my head, and so, I have to accept that on some level they are real, for they are present. And, as they are present, they make me especially vulnerable to doubt. And, then when the doubt creeps in from the outside, well…one worries.

Gifted A’s aside, I forever find myself being overly flexible, manifesting itself in my giving more time, more chances, more options, more of anything at my disposal. And though by now I have come to generally accept that after 20 years that’s just who I am as a teacher, it does not mean that I am free from the worry that I bend too much. Still, when I worry further and reach deeper into the core recesses of my belief set, I find that perhaps when one endeavors to create a realm of possibility for his students, flexibility becomes a necessary by-product. If I am going to sell “possible,” then I have to produce possible. I have to be flexible. So I am.

To that point, the two-day in-class final became, for many, a four-day in-class final, and for some that still has not been enough. So, what does Captain Flexibility do? He lets those not done, take it home. Bye-bye in-class final. Hello take-home final. Am I crazy? Maybe. But if the kids are motivated to finish, to do their best, and I stand in the way, am I still peddling possibility? I have to give them more time. After all, in the 180 classroom, it’s not about the grade. There is no reason to cheat. It’s about learning. And if learning requires time, a commodity I possess, then I will freely distribute it. We know that kids have to be motivated. It’s 60% of the 180 Formula.  My 60% is my being dedicated. To my students. My students need time. I have the flexibility to give them more time. I will give it. It’s who I am.

I also can and will give options. Had two more boys “own” that they had not read Night, wanting to know if they, too, could then possibly use one of the movies for their essay. Of course they can. No, I am not happy that they failed to read the book, but if there is an option to salvage the situation and provide a learning opportunity, then I will grant it. They–though unable to find it for the book, have found some motivation to do, to learn. And when learning is still possible, I will be flexible.

In the end, when they do find me broken from bending too far, I may well do some time in teacher purgatory, guilty of my sins, but I’ll take my chances. No choice, really. It’s who I am.

Happy Thursday, all.


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