Let's Change Education

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Month: January 2016 (page 2 of 4)

Morning Minutes: January 19, 2016

We grow not in comfort.  I will begin this short week by sharing the graphic below with my kids in an ongoing effort to create and sustain a growth-mindset culture in my classroom.  Next month, I have been asked by the Washington State Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (WSASCD) to be a guest author on their blog, where I will write about this very topic.  And while I am certainly no expert on said topic, I believe in earnest that it is a crucial step in the right direction for changing the narrative and making significant change in education.  Until then, and beyond, I have a lot to learn about growth mindset.  I am not really in my comfort zone, but I’ve learned to embrace that, for it means I am growing.  Now if I can get my students to embrace it as well.

Have a terrific Tuesday, all.  Please check out the Weekly Wonder if you haven’t had a chance.  Weekly Wonder: I wonder if we should fail kids. http://www.letschangeeducation.com/?p=254


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Their Thoughts

Response to Weekly Wonder: I wonder if we should fail kids.  http://www.letschangeeducation.com/?p=254

I’ll start by agreeing about mission impossible. I work with developmental disabled adults and my job is to teach them daily living skills. However, when I am working with 3-6 adults that all need constant assistance in necessities such as grooming, eating, and tolieting, it proves to be difficult not to take short cuts. What the state of Washington is expecting from staff is really not plausible unless each adult had their own trainer to meet all their needs. I believe the struggle of being an educator is that they want every one of their students to succeed but can’t possibly individualize a lesson for 150 kids. Some kids undoubtedly will fall short. Now as far as the failing kids question…I think it may be a light shown on the keyhole that may lead a change. Here’s how: Students who fail are not motivated to try again or harder (typically). Once a student is sent down a path of failing they typically accept they aren’t able and leave it at that. I took a intro to literature class which I was very excited about but the class was huge and it was just lectures and computer work. I found this very unappealing and failed the course twice even knowing the majority of the material the second time taking it. I will NOT try a third time because I know it does not work for me.
Here’s where I get a little contradictory.
I think there has to be some failure. If a classroom is designed for everyone to pass there is not challenge, strive, or correction. There would be not measurable data whether the teacher is teaching effectively or if the students are really learning. I do however believe that there should be multiple things in the classroom that are fail proof. All that is needed is participation. In all subjects, if a student is giving some hope that they have a chance of succeeding or given a confidence boost I think we’ll see an improvement in classroom performance.

~Alyssa Abel, Cheney High School graduate, student at Eastern Washington University

Weekly Wonder: I wonder if we should fail kids.  

Failing them teaches them a lesson. If we don’t fail them, they will never learn, so we have to fail them…so the traditional narrative goes in education.  But does it work?  Does it really teach them a lesson?  I’m not sure.  For many of the kids who fail in high school, it is not a new phenomenon, and many become our frequent “failers,” apparently not “learning the lesson” from past-failed classes.  And sadly, for many, in high school, they are set on a track from which it is difficult to deviate, and they struggle to learn from the tough-love lessons that we provide. Some simply give up and disappear.  I wonder, then, if we shouldn’t consider a new course of action, a new track, a new narrative.  What if we didn’t fail kids?

Welcome to the first Weekly Wonder.  In these posts I will be purposefully provocative, seeking to strike a chord among readers, compelling them to join the tougher conversations, the tougher chapters from the narrative, which I believe have to be rewritten if we are going to make significant, systemic changes in public education.

This first installment. “I wonder if we should fail kids,” will be presented in three segments.

  1. Did the kid fail the class, or did we fail the kid?
  2. Is our grading system fair?
  3. What if, instead of continuing a culture where kids fear failure, we create a culture where kids set their sights on success?

This first segment takes a look at the culture of the system, calling into question the ability of teachers to truly meet students’ needs in our current reality and what implications that may have on student success.

Did the kid fail the class, or did we fail the kid?

Learning isn’t simple.  It is complex, and as we’ve learned, it is different–distinctly different–for each kid, and certainly, one size does not fit all.  At least that is what our talk suggests.  But a look around suggests that we still walk the same old walk, forcing kids to wear a universal shoe as they make their way through our system.  To be fair,  perhaps we have made some progress in regards to differentiating learning in recent years, but for the most part, it is still the same old approach, a factory model still stuck on the same default settings from the beginning.  And while I think there are a lot of dedicated, passionate educators who champion change and promote progressive practices that move us away from such a model, the slope is steep and the mission may be impossible.

I, as most high school teachers, have roughly one-hundred-fifty students per semester.  I see them for roughly one hour a day,  one-hundred-eighty days per year.  Sounds like a lot of time.  It’s not.  I feel like my presence is barely a perceptible blip on the radar of their educational experience.  Truly.  Even so, I, as most, work hard in that precious space of time to do the best I possibly can for each student.  Think about that.  One-hundred-fifty souls, all with different needs, for whom I am charged with an enormous task that I take beyond seriously. And I fail every year.  I fail every day.  I fail every period.  No really.  I am not trying to heap on the pathos here.  I am simply stating the truth.  I cannot possibly meet the needs of every kid, and so, I just try hard each day to help more than I hurt, getting by and succeeding where I can.  And that’s the reality.  For my average and above kids, this generally works, and I fail less.  In short, we do the best we can.  But what about my kids who don’t fit into the average-and-above category, my kids who are disinterested, distrustful, and disenfranchised?  Sadly, it doesn’t work, and I, hand-on-heart, am not so sure that when these kids fail, it is not they who failed but I.  And it is my terrible, guilty burden.

Sadly, the same saga plays out every year, and not enough is being done to change it.  And while I am not certain if we can or even know how to re-pen the story, I think we have to find a way. It’s too dark a tale to continue, for students and teachers alike.  There has to be a way.  The mission cannot be impossible.

Please join the conversation.  Your words matter.

Their Thoughts

An enthusiastic and active teacher motivates me. If I have a teacher who simply gives an assignment or a project just to keep me busy that night or review something we’ve gone over already I am extremely unmotivated. If they don’t care…why should I care? Teachers who explain what this assignment will help me with in the real world and seem to enjoy teaching are much more pleasant to learn from. When I have a teacher who is excited and is motivated to help me learn, I am motivated to learn. Motivation is a two-way street.

Anna, Sophomore, Cheney High School


Morning Minutes: January 15, 2016

Tired today.  Coming down with something.  Didn’t rise till 5:00.  At a loss for words.  And that doesn’t happen very often.  The last time it happened was at the Washington State Teacher of the Year Retreat, where each regional competitor had to write an inspirational story from his or her classroom.  I’m not sure if it was the pressure of being an English teacher or the I’m-not-really-a-chicken-soup-for-the-soul-story-kinda-guy,  but I had nothing.  Nothing.  Finally, with pressure mounting and deadline looming, I found something–not chicken soup exactly, but an honest serving of who I am. Feeling a little awkward about the whole award thing and being exposed by the spotlight and my worthiness for the award and not wanting to pat myself on the back, I wanted people to know that I am not always the model teacher, and I have lots of bumps, bruises, and scars from my learning over the years.   So, I wrote the poem below.  It’s the second time the poem has come to my rescue.  Here is the link to  From Seed to Apple (http://www.k12.wa.us/EducationAwards/pubdocs/SeedtoApple2013.pdf#cover ) that is published annually at the retreat. Sorry for my lack of inspiration and words this morning.  I’ll get back in the game next week.  Have a wonderful weekend, all.


I Wonder if They Know 

Confessions from the Classroom

I wonder if they know

That I ruined Jared’s day.

He was wearing a bandana, and

After all, a rule is a rule.

And despite his sunny, spring-day step,

I would be right,

For he was wrong.


I will not tell

That I found him later

With a handshake and a sorry.


I wonder if they know

That I failed Marina.

Too late I learned

She wanted to teach.

Too late, for

I had already placed her on

The 16-and-pregnant track.


I will not tell

That now

We have community circle

Every Friday.

I will never not

Know my kids again.


I wonder if they know

That I passed Morgan

Even though he failed

With a 42

And not an attitude I loved.


I will not tell

That I was not so sure

That it was not I

Who had failed.


I wonder if they know

That Rachel earned an A,

But I gave her a C.

It could not be helped.

She had not done

All her homework.


I will not tell

Of my now desperate hope

As I shy

From the mistakes of my past,

Clinging not to

The prejudice of grading

But the justice of learning.


I wonder if they know

Of my emptiness in June

As I jest


It’s over,”

Scooting each

Out the door

With handshakes and hugs.


I will not tell

Of my excitement in August,

Of an admission

Beyond doubt

That I need them more

Than they need me.


I wonder,

And I want

Them to know

Morning Minutes: January 14, 2016

Thank you for wasting our time.  In a desperate–perhaps drastic–attempt to get my kids to embrace mistakes as learning opportunities, I’ve decided to try my hand at some amateur psychology.  Of course, to some degree, I have been trying to convince them that mistakes are necessary all year long, but they have been reluctant to buy what I am selling.  I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. Learned behaviors are not easily unlearned. And, in truth, mistakes aren’t exactly placed on a pedestal in education, where kids learn to if not completely avoid, at least hide mistakes. So, the battle is not downhill, but it is one worth fighting. Yesterday, I employed a new strategy.

Our daily work with sentences is not always fun, and it is rarely easy.  It requires practice, and it requires examples.  Up to this point, on either a volunteer or random basis, I have 3 students go to the board to share their sentences.  Upon observance, one might think I was asking them to walk the green mile, marching forth to their execution. So, with heavy feet, most trod to the board, fearing that their example will contain a mistake that all the world will see.  And despite my reassurances that mistakes are good, mistakes are desired, we replay the ritual each day, 3 more to the gallows.  Okay, it may not be quite as dramatic as I am making it out to be, but my kids still don’t trust, in spite of my blue face, the magic in mistakes. So, yesterday, I tried a different approach.

Still 3 to the board.  Still the ritual reassurance.  Still the dread.  But.  But this time, I forced my kids to evaluate their peers’ examples and use the following statements to indicate if the sentence was done correctly or incorrectly.  If it was correct, then the kids responded in chorus with, “Thank you for wasting our time.”  If it was incorrect, then the kids responded in chorus with, “Thank you for helping us.” What?  Well my logic was thus.  While correct examples, too, serve a purpose, learning is limited; they are, therefore, less valuable than incorrect examples, or to add dramatic flair, they are a waste of our time.  On the other hand, incorrect examples launch learning, creating a dialogue, allowing us to make corrections, allowing us to learn.  Thus, they in contrast are more valuable than correct examples, a worthy use of our time.  And while the logic and psychology may be a little sketchy, a little risky, I am willing to take the risk if that is what it will take to help my kids develop a growth mindset.

How’d the kids respond?  Well, they still have a lot of unlearning to do.  I’m not sure that they’d describe mistakes as magical at this point, but I’d like to believe that we made progress yesterday.  It’s a pretty cool thing to have kids beam with pride upon hearing that they wasted our time.

Happy Thursday, all.  May you find some magic in your mistakes.


Morning Minutes: January 13, 2016

Hate me now; thank me later.  Feeling a little frisky yesterday, I wrote this next to the sentence-combining activity in the “Today’s Tasks” menu on my whiteboard.  I know my students don’t love our sentence work, and I wanted them to know I know, but as with many less-than-loved things we do in life, there’s benefit–even if we don’t like it.  Sometimes I call it the broccoli factor.  Like it or not, it’s good for you. So, I tell them, “quit yer whining, and eat your broccoli,” a steady staple in my room.  

It is rare that teachers are appreciated in the present.  If we’re lucky, sometime down the road, a student discovers that we actually did something for them, not to them, and they are grateful.  If we’re super lucky, we’ll get an email letting us know that we made a difference.  But that’s generally far down the road, in the future far removed.  However, on occasion it happens in the present, and we are luckier yet, for teachers like anyone, like to be appreciated.

I got lucky the other day, and as it goes, I didn’t truly appreciate it till later.  On Monday, obviously tired and stressed that she did not have the homework completed, Zab thanked me for my flexibility–I always take late work–and promised to have it to me the next day.  I nodded with a smile, telling her it was all good, to get it to me when she could.  I then went to the next student, not missing a stride, not thinking it was a big deal, for it’s not.  It’s simply how I choose to conduct business with my kids.  I choose to create a realm of possibility, which I will speak of next month when we discuss grading practices. A key element of that realm is being flexible with my kids when life outside my classroom conflicts with life inside my classroom.  My class is important, but I realized long ago that it’s not nearly as important as I think it is.  It is only part of my students’ world, and I have to accept that.  I have.  And, now when other aspects of their lives get in the way, I make sure that I don’t further obstruct forward progress by rigidly clinging to some notion that my class is all important.  Thus, I choose to be flexible.  And while some don’t truly appreciate it, and some even take advantage of it, on occasion, I am rewarded with a simple, heartfelt thank you from those who appreciate what I do.  Unfortunately, I did not realize the sincerity of Zab’s gratitude until later Monday night.

Driving past the the high school after picking my son up from the middle school and discussing his day, I was suddenly snapped to attention as I came upon a kid on a bike, riding the wrong way on the icy streets, in the dark, without a light.  Dumb kid.  Craning my neck to see who the daredevil may be, I was surprised to discover the culprit was Zab.  Burdened with an impossibly big backpack–no doubt full of books–with her helmet unstrapped and precariously perched atop her head, Zab was making her way home after basketball practice.  In a hurry to get home and call it a day–finally getting to relax, I drove on shaking my head.  About halfway home, it hit me, the sincerity of Zab’s thanks from earlier in the day.  She meant it.  She really meant it.  And as I think now about my kids like Zab who take on too much and push themselves too hard, I am reassured that my being flexible–perhaps to a fault, makes a difference in worlds that are far more important than the one that exists 55 minutes at a time in 219.  Thank you, Zab, for the reminder.  By the way, she handed the assignment to me the next morning.

Have a wonderful Wednesday, all.


Morning Minutes: January 12, 2016

“What is love”?  “Why are people so anti-GMO?”  “What is the purpose of homework?” “Would the world be a happier place if everyone exercised?”  Round 2 is officially underway.  Yesterday, during our weekly check-in, students shared their topics/questions for their independent-learning projects, the above being a sampling of some of the cool research questions my students are pursuing.

Though the core of the project is the same this time, they did negotiate some changes: less paperwork, removal of process from the presentation, a mini-lesson on how to make a proper bibliography, and freedom to decide the sequence of sharing required elements during the presentation.  Of course, these things didn’t just present themselves immediately–it took the kids a bit to trust the negotiating process, to trust that I would actually compromise, but once they found their voices, the flood gates opened and a true dialogue took place, arriving at a mutually agreed upon end.

And it took me a while to trust the process, too, wanting to work my way back into the driver’s seat–my comfort zone, but with the help of my students holding me accountable, I stayed on the passenger side and let them drive.  I suspect next time I may end up in the backseat, and eventually maybe outside the vehicle as they take more ownership and control of their own learning.  I may have to get used to a new comfort zone.

Thanks for tuning in.  Have a terrific Tuesday, all.  I’d love to hear from more of you. There are a number of posts that you can chime in on, or if there is something else you want to talk about, email me at montesyrie@gmail.com, and I will help start the conversation.  Your words matter.  They matter more when you share them.


Morning Minutes: January 11, 2016

Morning, all.  Didn’t drag out of bed till 4:19 this morning.  Gonna be a Monday. Don’t love Mondays. Definitely a Superman-shirt day.

Anyway, over the weekend some may have noticed that I started a new section titled, “Their Thoughts.”  It’s a section devoted to highlighting and sharing comments from those who have joined the conversation. I began with sharing student comments from this month’s “Student Say” section, and though I may have “cheated” a little bit by having my students go on and post in class, I wanted to promote the voice of this incredibly important stakeholder group.  So, if I have to cheat a little to make that happen, I will.  It is really about them after all.

I’m also rolling out a new section next Sunday called, “Weekly Wonder.”  This section is where I will begin to get a little jiggy with it, setting the stage for more provocative, controversial topics, hopefully generating some tougher talk on the status quo, opening a pathway for change and progress by challenging conventional wisdom.  Here’s a sneak peak of the first topic.

Weekly Wonder: I Wonder If We Should Fail Kids.

Failing them teaches them a lesson. If we don’t fail them, they will never learn, so we have to fail them…or so conventional wisdom goes.  But does it work?  Does it really teach them a lesson? I’m not sure.  For many of the kids who fail in high school, it is not a new phenomenon, and many become our frequent “failers,” apparently not “learning the lesson” from past-failed classes.  And sadly, for many, in high school, they are set on a track from which it is difficult to deviate and they struggle to learn from the tough-love lessons that we provide.  Some simply give up and disappear.  I wonder then if we shouldn’t consider a new course of action, a new track.  What if we didn’t fail kids?

I will present the full post on Sunday.

Meanwhile, this week back in 219 we will be busy pursuing an answer to our essential question, “Can we prevent injustice, or is it an unavoidable consequence of human society?”  Along the way, we will pause, viewing the vistas of the rhetorical appeals, and logical fallacies from the various speeches we read.  Gonna be a busy week.  But it always is.

Thanks for tuning in.  Have a magnificent Monday. See you bright and early tomorrow.  I never sleep in on Tuesdays.



Finland Takes A Bold Step Towards Changing the Face of Education

My wife Sherry, a middle school art teacher, brought this to my attention this morning.  What’s interesting is that Finland has been setting the world standard for some time now, and yet they are willing to change, striving to always be better.  It will be interesting to see what happens.




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