Let's Change Education

Challenge. Discover. Lead. Change.

Month: May 2016 (page 1 of 3)

Game Day: Morning Minutes, May 31, 2016

Though it has been some years since I have coached any athletic teams, what I am feeling this morning is not unlike what I always felt in anticipation of the big game, race, or match back then. Gotta say that I am pretty darn anxious, excited to begin the kids’ presentations of their speeches today–finally. As many know, we have been working with these speeches for months, and while it was never my original intention to drag them out for so long, I am thankful that I did.

You see, it was my original intention for these speeches to be the kids’ best work this year, the capstone if you will. And that hasn’t changed–I still expect and want this to be their crowning moment. But what did change was my approach, and that, I believe, is why it has taken so long. I didn’t want the kids to do this to get something done; I wanted them to do this to make something great. I didn’t want this to be just another transaction for a grade. I wanted it to be something to which they had a deep personal connection, transcending compliance  and discovering commitment. So I took a risk and concocted a formula for success, a recipe with two simple, key ingredients: deep connection and an authentic audience.

At the outset of our work, I told the kids they had to select an injustice topic, either global or personal, that created a fire in their belly. As we are becoming ever more aware of the importance of emotion in learning, if people do not feel a deep emotional connection to something, then they cannot think, they cannot learn deeply. For some, this connection was discovered and developed immediately, but for others it took many trial runs to discover “the one.” In fact, as late as last Friday, some kids changed topics again, intimating “the burn” had subsided, the emotional connection had waned. I, of course, granted permission, especially if they felt it would compel them to complete their best work. It’s not my fire. It’s not my belly. It’s not my choice.

Beyond connection, I created accountability through an authentic audience–a speech. This was not to be something for me to read and grade only. Never was. I wanted to make it real. Fear is real. Fear of public speaking is very real. And while I do not fancy scaring my kids, I do fancy challenging them. So, I added the public-speaking element. And the kids are afraid. But I don’t think they are afraid just because it’s public speaking.  I think they are afraid because it matters–to them. Of course it does; they have an emotional connection to this, and now all, in their moments, will get to share that which matters deeply to them with the broader world. And I cannot wait.

Even now, as I write this, I am a little shaky. And while it may just be the coffee, I think it’s bigger than that. I think it’s simply that I get the honor, the privilege to see my stars shine in their moments. Wish I could record it all for the world to see, but that may be too big an audience for my rising stars.


Their Thoughts: May 30, 2016

As a student and a daughter, I know how my parents feel about communicating with teachers. As a student and a daughter, I know what my parents expect from teachers. My parents are very strict on me when it comes to school. The sky is not the limit when it comes to getting an education. My parents mostly don’t communicate with teachers unless there is an initial problem. As a student, I would honestly love to see my parents more engaged with my teachers. I personally feel that if my parents knew my teachers better than just the class they teach, they could relate to me a lot better when it comes to school related topics. My parents always tell me they would love to see our assignments and even when our upcoming tests will be. Not only that, but they expect challenging material in class. My parents want to see me improve. They expect challenging material, but also things I enjoy. My parents love when I talk about what we’re learning in your class just because of the fact that I’m happy with it. Even if it is causing me just a little bit of stress. My parents want to see their daughter coming home happy and excited about things she’s learning in class. That my friend, is something you’re doing right.

–Destinee, Sophomore CHS in response to “What Do Parents Really Want?” http://www.letschangeeducation.com/?p=625

Just a quick share on Monday morning. Happy Memorial Day, all. Can’t believe it’s nearly June.


Can’t Fix It If We Can’t Face It: Morning Minutes, May 27, 2016

In school, as in life, we come across tough topics. And while sometimes it would be easier to avoid and ignore such topics, our doing so doesn’t make the problem better; in truth, it often makes it worse. Consequently, we have confronted a number of tough topics in 219 this year, and the kids have done so with both maturity and grace, even when the confrontations have been uncomfortable. Of course, prior to our tackling tougher topics, I always preface them by telling kids that avoiding tough topics doesn’t make them go away, and it certainly never makes them better. We have to face, discuss, and strive to mend the gaps in our society. Of course, that is always easier said than done, but we can’t shy from the divides among us . And, as we know, it is not up to the adults alone to fix that which needs mending; we have to empower the next generation to do what we could not.

That said, the following is not easy to confront. In fact the video is really hard to watch; it’s uncomfortable. But it’s important. Two days ago, Nicole led us to the edge of an issue in our society that we struggle to talk about, which sadly prevents our making any real progress, but that has to change. As I mentioned in the post about kids’ independent learning projects on Wednesday, the coolest part of the experience is that I get to learn from the kids. On Wednesday, we learned that May is Mental Illness Awareness Month. Sadly, most of us had no idea, and that is indicative of where we are on this societally. Nicole’s goal with her project was to increase awareness around this difficult topic. Below you will find a post from her “mock blog,” Understanding Brain Illnesses, along with her stop-motion video that she created as her product.

Admittedly, ashamedly, I was reluctant to share the video because I knew it would be hard to watch, but then I figured if I am going to talk the talk, I better walk the walk. I am so proud of Nicole for not only presenting such an incredible project but also for allowing me to share it with you.

Welcome to Understanding Brain Illnesses a site where you can feel safe. Our mission is to help people struggling to understand their brains and help with the awareness of mental disorders. www.ubrainillness.com

 Mental illness


May 22, 2016

As a person who has struggled with dealing with their own mental illness along with their family’s, I know how hard it is. You can feel so alone. Sometimes reaching out for help can feel impossible because they simply just don’t understand. My goal is to inform people about mental illness and how it affects lives all over the world. I’ve lost family members and close friends to mental illness and I don’t want the lack of knowledge to be a reason. Even though mental illness can be hidden, there are still signs that can be visible, so look out for abnormal behavior either in sleep, appetite, or mood. For a long time, I felt guilt about the loss of a family member because I had no idea that they were hurting for so long. I tried to gather as much information as I could about mental illness so I could help with others struggling. I can tell you now, if you are dealing with the loss of someone close because of mental illness, it does get easier after a while. It just takes time to heal. Talking to someone like a therapist or even a family member can be a good reliever. Same with people struggling with mental illness. Talk to someone, it isn’t going to magically get better. It takes on average ten years for a person to get help. Break that average and get help early. Help each other.

Purpose: Express and Reflect on Mental illness and how to help with others struggling.

Have a great weekend, all. Thank you for all the support this week.


Ya Never Know: Morning Minutes, May 26, 2016


I suspect this will seem an odd post to many of you, for it is certainly different from what I normally post, but I felt compelled to share the above image to tell a story and make a point.

In what now seems like a lifetime ago, I began my teaching career at Royal Middle School in Royal City, Washington. It was there where I first learned the truth about the importance of mistakes in learning, there where I first began to adopt my do-learn-do better mantra that now guides my daily approach to teaching. And though much time has passed and many lessons have been learned, it seems lessons from Royal still remain. And I was soberly reminded of this yesterday when the above notice came to my attention.

My initial response was incredulity, surely Nathan, a former student, was playing a prank, especially when I recalled the Nathan of my early days in Royal. This can’t be real. Then my next response was pride. If this is not a joke, then I am SO PROUD of Nathan for pursuing public office. But then, my pride turned to humility and shame as I more fully recalled my experiences with Nathan, for back then, had someone told me that Nathan Pack would be running for county commissioner some day, I would have told them, he might not even make it through middle school. Boy was I wrong. Dead wrong.

You see, Nathan was a rather challenging young chap, who kept me and the rest of RMS on our toes for three years. He certainly was not a model student–either academically or behaviorally. In truth, he was a huge pain. HUGE. But to his credit, and to our surprise, he was a less-huge pain by the time we sent him off to high school. Four years later, he graduated from Royal High School and made his way into the world. Fast forward to today, Nathan owns his own business and frequently travels the world–he sent me a message of a Carpe Diem sign in a store window from Thailand saying that he and his wife (also a former student) both exclaimed, “Syrie !”upon seeing it, and he just had to share. And now, Nathan is running for public office. I am so proud of Nathan, and I am so sorry that I was wrong. I am so sorry for thinking, for ever projecting upon him the idea that he would not make it in the world. How dare I? But I, as he, was young, and I have since learned, and as evidenced by the image above, I am still learning. Always learning.

So what? What’s the broader implication of this lesson? This. As adults we wield a terrible power over kids. We wield it as parents. We wield it as voters and policy makers. And we certainly wield it as educators. And while educators do not hold all the power, they hold much of it, for we co-exist in an arena with kids where we generally separate them into winners and losers, especially when we regard and sell the idea that success in our system is the predictor of success later in life.

Thus, when kids like Nathan fail to comply and conform, we in turn fail them, which for many then casts the die, and they play out the roles that we script for them. But for others, others like Nathan, they reject the script and succeed in spite of our predictive, prescriptive system. And that should give us pause. It has made me pause and again reconsider the purpose of education and what really matters. And in this paused moment, I find myself less certain that participial phrases matter. I mean really matter. Maybe all we need to do is place phrases in Latin above our classroom clocks. And while I am neither crazy nor naive enough to believe that this will be sufficient for all, I am beginning to believe that for some it might be everything. And that is not to suggest that two antiquated, foreign words in my classroom somehow led to Nathan’s success in the world. It is to suggest that maybe we don’t know as much as we think. Thank you, Nathan, for the lesson in humility, the reminder that we shouldn’t be too quick to label success and failure, for with kids–as with Nathan–ya never know. Seize the day, sir; seize the day. Pack for President!

Happy Thursday, all.


#kidsarecool: Morning Minutes, May 25, 2016

Yesterday, we began presenting our final Independent Learning Projects for the year. This is the fourth project we have done, and though the project has evolved in ways that I did not necessarily desire or anticipate, one thing has remained true each time, I learn from my kids. Here are some of the cool things I learned yesterday.

  1. I learned how to do an eagle pose in yoga from Jacob. Well, really, for my old bones, it was more of a pigeon pose. It seems teaching is the only place where I will be practicing flexibility. #thiseaglelandedalongtimeago
  2. Steph taught us the basics of “jump training,” so we can make gains with our verticals this summer. #oldwhitemen(still)cantjump
  3. Bradley taught us the finer points and purposes of binge watching our favorite TV shows. We all decided that if we did some yoga and jump training, we might feel less guilty with this particular pleasure. #MASHmarathon
  4. Elyse shared her dream to live the “Van Life,” and in doing so, taught us all we’d ever need to know to pursue said life for ourselves. Most of us found it pretty intriguing until it came to the lack-of-a-bathroom part. #nobathroomnoway
  5. Meghan presented her plan to create an app, College Sports Made Easy (CSME), for helping prospective college athletes shop colleges and programs. #therewillbeanappforthat
  6. Lexi revealed her new obsession with detox drinks. She made from scratch and shared three different drinks, which promised to help people clean out and energy up. #healthyforlife
  7. Keegan, using time-lapse video, showed us her creative process as she drew two hands intertwined. #artistsareawesome
  8. Alex taught us how to become more accurate archers. #katnisscraze
  9. Megahn helped us discover whether we were introverts or extroverts and what that means. Turns out she is the most introverted in the class, and what’s cool, as she is discovering, is that we better understand and are beginning to understand even more what it means to be an introvert. I was the second most introverted. #introversionisastrength
  10. And finally, Jesse dashed our time-travel dreams by sharing that while theoretically there are four possible ways to travel through time, all of them would kill us, and it is not possible to go back in time, only forward. Where’s the fun in that? #bettersellthedelorean

Of course, this is but a small sample of the many cool things we learned yesterday in 219. So proud of my kids and so privileged to learn from them. Kids are cool.

Happy Wednesday, all. Anyone interested in a Delorean with a flux capacitor? Will sell cheap.


Shaky Legs: Morning Minutes, May 24, 2016

Think about it…

LSAT, MCAT’s, Praxis exams for teachers in the United States, bar exams for lawyers, CPA exams for accountants, driver’s license tests, auto mechanic’s certification tests, pilot’s license exams are all allowed to be taken over and over again for FULL CREDIT. High stakes, fully reflective of the larger responsible world the kids will one day enter.

How pompous is it for the classroom teacher to say, “This quiz…this paper…this test…this homework is so indicative of the larger world of responsibility that I’m trying to teach you, and so high stakes, that it can’t possibly be redone.”

You don’t have a pedagogical leg to stand on.

–Rick Wormelli

Yesterday the kids took their sentence final, a comprehensive exam over our work with sentences this year, targeting such things as participial phrases, adjective clauses, comma splices, etc. In short, it was not an easy test. And while I am generally happy with the kids’ performances (roughly a B average in all four classes), there will be a number of kids who will want an opportunity to retake it. Fortunately, in 219, a realm of possibility, that is always an option. Of course, sadly, this is neither an option nor appreciated in some of my colleagues’ classrooms. For they, believe–earnestly it seems–that my doing this for kids is ruining their chances for success in the real world because I am not teaching them the importance of responsibility. Because, as we all know, there are no second chances, no do-over’s in the real world. BS.

There are, as Mr. Wormelli points out above, plenty of second chances in the real world–yes, even in high stakes arenas. I have always been wary of teachers who threaten kids with the real world. I was wary as a student, and I am most certainly wary as a teacher. The world is real enough for our kiddos right now. Let it be real. Don’t brandish the future as a threat for the present. Challenge kids. Support kids. Let them grow. Help them grow. Don’t cause them to recoil in fear of a future that you present to be more scary than real. That is not to say that our kids won’t face challenges later. Of course they will. That’s why they are with us, so we can help them face those challenges by supporting and preparing them in the present of their very real worlds.  Begin by letting them redo and retake. Quit mistaking your rigidity for responsibility. Be flexible. You’ll find it is easier to stand aboard the learning ship once you find your legs.

Happy Tuesday, all. Sorry for the rant. Peddlers of impossibility rankle me.


Words of Wisdom: Morning Minutes, May 23, 2016

Over the last week there have been a number of student posts on my blog. One of the requirements of our Real-World Writing Project was to join a bigger conversation, which meant that kids had to get their voices into the larger world by posting a comment or question on a website, blog, etc. I told the kids that if they had nowhere else to post, they could post to my blog. Some did, and I am so thankful, for it gives me some real feedback on their experiences in 219. What’s funny is that many who posted expressed to me in person their anxiety over being judged by others, fearing their words wouldn’t be significant. And though I am not sure how others will judge their words, I know how I have judged them. I find them deeply significant, wise words from honest mouths. Thank you all for joining the conversation. Below are their words. I have placed in bold the parts that I found most resonant.

“Yup, Syrie. I have reached the summit of Mt. Stress. I’d like to ask you why, if you knew it would be like this, you didn’t change anything. I would also like to ask myself why, if I know what your late work policy is, I’m stressing out so much. But come on, everything due on the same day? I know we’ve known about it for a while, but when it’s not due the next day, I frankly don’t do it. Which is why I have had so much to do because instead of having one thing to turn in tomorrow, I have 6,000. OK, maybe only 5. Which is why I am still up when I want to be sleeping. I am not blaming this on you (maybe just a little) but on my poor time management. I’m just saying you could have made it easier. Mr. Not-So-Tough-Guy, thanks for the late work deal. So why do you even have due dates? And why am I even worrying about due dates? Who knows? Now that I’ve thought about it, I’m going to bed. Good night.”  –Zab

“Room 219 is different from any class I’ve ever had. There is no cruel pressure to get our work done or else we will be punished. There is only guidance and help through it all. Even though there is no actual “due date” for anything , I find myself getting stressed, and that is just me. I know I’ll get the grade, but I also want you to be proud of me for the quality and getting it done on time. You may not swing in every time we are in need of help, but by not being the “hero”, you are truly helping us in that way. Teaching us an important life skill we will need in order to survive the cruel harsh world that we have yet to come. No one will always come to our aid, Our responsibilities are our responsibilities and no one else’s. I understand that it is hard for you to not save your students, but there is only so much you can do.” –Kasia

“It’s hard stepping out of that “hand-holding” stage when it comes to our work. Personally I am a perfectionist. I am used to doing exactly what is asked of me, especially from my teachers. I may constantly ask for guidance or “if this is okay” because in the end I strive for that good grade and the teachers approval. All my life I have been told exactly what to do and basically given a rubric for everything. Now that I am in control of something, my mind fills with ideas, but also worries if any of those ideas are acceptable. Therefore, I go to you for guidance. I realize that we need to learn on our own and have faith in ourselves but at the same time that’s stepping way out of our comfort zone, worrying on “am I doing this right?” I do not think that you have failed us, but I believe we are in a state of shock. We have never been given the chance to choose our own path in learning and now that we have, we are worried, and our first instinct is to go to you for acceptance.” –Kasia

“I agree with all three of the above. As the school year draws to a close, our want for summer is getting stronger and our motivation for school weakens. My mom has always told me within the month of school ending, “This is the final stretch, I know your motivation for school has dropped, and you have summer on your mind, but you can’t stop now. Keep going! Don’t give up. You can do this!” I think it’s really great that you’re trying your hardest to not hold our hands through this. Some teachers say it’s for the real world and no one will be holding your hand, but I think starting in high school, it also shows the student that “Hey, you can do this on your own, and you’ll be okay.” I’ve had to be in the similar situation with my younger freshman and 8th grade friends, to not hold their hand all throughout the year, but to instead, to be there if they fall and help them back up. You’ve helped me realize over the year to check my time management/productivity skills, and while I’ll still probably be having late nights doing work for classes, I can still try and do them to the best of my abilities. Thank you. You’re doing a great job, Sy! Keep it up!” –Ash

“I completely agree with Hannah. As the year starts to come to and end, my motivation starts to dwindle a bit. Syrie, not wanting to hold our hand is a good way to let us be our own motivators in this stressful time in the year. The words of encouragement and help you have given us has just made this process easier and it hasn’t felt like we are alone in this! While my procrastination will most likely be stressing me out in the next few days, it is also my way of coping with lots of projects to get done! That is my motivation. Thank you for wanting us to push ourselves in these last few weeks of school!” –Peyton

“Syrie! I believe in your not wanting to hold our hands right now. And it is making me a better student. I personally am more of a student that needs some of that “encouragement” to keep on going especially right now. This year is almost up and I’m lacking motivation, but I’m pushing through and yes I know “we can do it.” Lots of work needs to be done and yes sometimes having a rubric is nice but also pushing us to figure it out on our own is a good skill for the future to have.” –Hannah

“Personally I am not surprised that you have interest in this talk and would like to change education Sy, from what I’m familiar with you are a movable person and receive a lot of respect in this community. I’m just wondering though, what are you going to change? You and Ken Robinson (and some students) want to get education out its personal death valley, but where will you take it to? A tropical forest with a lot more vegetation and life? If education needs to change and isn’t the best it can be right now, how are you proposing it can reach that level? Also, rain brought life to that dead valley, not a factor that was already included. You live in the same world us the rest of us, it’s not a rare thing to contact you. The flowers were already at the bottom of the valley, hidden because of lack of water. But students exist already here, what can you provide that’s new? How will you change education, what do you think needs changing, and is it that you think education is awful right now? Why is not perfectly fine to you?” –Kali

“I know it’s hard to let go of our hands Syrie, but you’re doing a good job. I know how hard it is to not come to the rescue. My younger brothers start middle school and high school next year, and it’s hard to not come to their rescue every time they have a problem. For 11 and 13 years, if they had a problem, they came to me for help and I have to start letting them go. Just keep doing the great job that you are! All of your students will benefit in some way from you not helping us each step of the way. Some, it’ll make them realize that they are growing up and need to pull their act together. Others, it’ll make them realize how important time management is and yet others will learn some other lesson from this experience. Keep doing what you’re doing, and you will change the world of education.” –Amarise

“Ever since i was small, my teachers would hand me projects or papers with everything to do. They give me a place to put my name, the date, and a title. They even go the lengths to tell me how to title a paper so it’s correct. All i have to do is look something up in a book. Then when i was nearly seven-teen i pop into the class of a crazy English teacher who has a interesting perspective on life. He actually gives me the reins and let’s me find things out on my own. All i got to do is tell them what i’m doing. Make sure it follows the lines, and then show it. Syrie is a magnificent teacher. This is his first time doing an honors class and he’s been a experimenting scientist doing a bunch of concoctions, but when it comes down to it. I find it lovely how he teaches.” –Holly

“Along the lines of being told what to do and being programmed to just follow directions that were given since we have entered our school lives, I think that we have been programmed since birth. All our lives we follow directions from our parents and older people. We have to ask for permission on almost everything we do and we’re told that until we are 18 we are not old enough or mature enough to make our own decisions. So now we are in Mr. Syries L.A. class and we are all of a sudden given the responsibility to choose whatever we want and there are almost no directions or guidelines to follow. True to what we’ve been taught all out lives, we need to ask permission, we understand the concept that we can choose what we want but we still need to get the reassurance that you are okay with what we chose. I don’t believe you have failed either, I just believe you have work with what we have been taught our whole lives.”


“As a student and a child, I know that parents can get overwhelmed and slightly crazy when it comes to their child in school. But then you have the teacher that wants to do the best they can for their students. While not all teacher succeed in this, they still try. This often creates issues with parents, only because every person is different and has different ideas of good education. As a teacher, this is not new information to you. But my point in saying this is that what I personally think really matters is you trying to do your best for your students. The parents may not always be happy with your methods but the parents are not the ones that you see everyday. They are not the ones that depend on your teaching. Even though your mind may wander to what the parents want, does that truly matter? I would rather have teachers focus on their students and what they think is best rather than the parents. Though parents are in charge of making sure their child grows up right and is a functioning human being. But it is the teacher’s job to make sure that the child has a proper education.” –Keegan

“Syrie, I do not believe that you have failed. I do however believe that you do not understand why it is so difficult for us to accept that we are free to do as we wish in your class. We have always been told what to write, how to write, what’s right to say and what is wrong and even how to say it. So, when you give us free reign to do a project on something we actually enjoy and care about we are cautious. Its not that you have failed us or have not gained our trust. We just can not believe that a teacher is not controlling our thoughts and work, it is not you though, it is what has been programmed into us since the beginning of our school lives. You have not failed, you have simply begun to open our eyes to a more open learning system and it took us longer than you expected for us to accept the system.” –Kaila

“I feel as though I’m just dragging through school, my only motivation I have really ever had to get good grades is just so my mom doesn’t get mad at me. I know that even with honors/AP classes I could have a 4.0 GPA. But I don’t have an incredible drive to do that. I know I do have a great work ethic when it comes to working out everyday, and striving to become an elite athlete. I wonder why I just don’t have the ability to work through school. So I wonder Syrie will this new grading system have the potential to elevate my education to an elite status? –Jacob

“Grades are a huge part of any education. I want to go to college and that requires good grades and even more so if I want to be a college athlete. But when every class I have grades different how do we know how much I know? People around the country have different learning standards. How can we try to keep a fair society if some people are not getting the same education or are being graded differently? Every week I come home and hear my mom who is a teacher talk about the crappy standards she has to teach and how every teacher she works with has lower standards than she likes to have for her students. I have always wanted to do something in education and everyday I see the unfair grading scales being used, my mom told the other day changing these unfair grading ways and useless standards would be a great job for me. The more I have thought about what my mom said the more aware I have become about our school´s policies. I think what you are doing with the grades for your next couple groups of students will bring the change needed for schools! We need to have more even standards throughout our country.” –Meghan

“This TED talk speaks truth, I agree 100%. For your students to thrive they have to have different environments sometimes you may need to “water” some a little more than others. I believe that by giving every student an “A” next year you may be giving students that normally don’t get this chance, a chance to thrive instead of worrying if they will fail. I know from personal experience because of this last year that sometimes, if you miss a lot of school, you thank god for just letting you pass. I was and still am scared to death of having to re-do some classes. I was a 3.7 GPA student, so for me to worry if my D will drop or will go up is not normal to me. So in all I think you’re doing a great thing Sy; you’re giving kids a chance to thrive and succeed.” –Tyger

“I love your first sentence, You can’t change it, unless you change it. You have to have the guts to change it. You can’t wait for someone else to come along. You will keep waiting and waiting and nothing will change. Amarise made a good point. You have to be patient. You will keep trying to change it but you can’t expect everything to change in just one day or in a week. Sometimes you have to wait years before seeing even the smallest change. Keep working each day, keep building your rocket ship!” –Nika

“That’s a very inspiring TED talk I see why you got encouraged and excited about it. I truly think it’s great how much you care for your current and upcoming students and how well you’re showing you care. You are constantly putting in effort to make our lives as students better. As a student who has had teachers that don’t try to make learning fun and interesting it means a lot to see you looking for new ways to make our student lives better. Always coming up with new ideas to better the future. I’m excited to see what the future holds. Thank you for everything you have done for my education.” –Lelie

“Mr Sy,
As this week of teacher appreciation draws to a close, I felt I couldn’t, with good conscious, not send some form of message to you. Coming into this year, all I saw school as was a game. A game that I played very well, but one that didn’t really mean anything to me. As a young child, learning was my greatest passion and my favorite pastime. However, the education system in place in our nation has, in part, taken away that gift of love for learning from me. School has become about having an A at the end of the year. As the year has gone on though, you have begun to re-instate that curiosity and love for learning in me. By making me consider the true value of school and what I should truly be getting out of it, you have helped me shed the tunnel vision I’ve had regarding school. At first I was resentful of your class next year, for I felt cheated that I would not benefit form your ‘giving A’s’. Then I realized that by discussing your reasoning behind this crazy experiment, you indirectly made me think about how I perceive school and what it really means to me. You’ve helped me begin strive for education again, not for a letter on a piece of paper. You’ve helped me start to love to learn again. So thank you for this Sy. Thank you for giving me one of the greatest gifts I have ever received.” –Anya

Happy Monday, all. Sorry for the REALLY long post.


tough LOVE: Morning Minutes, May 20, 2016

“The truth is the educational system has created [a] lack of confidence with its command-and-control environments. Students are given rubrics and study guides. They sit through mini-lessons and endless modeling. All this hand-holding creates a passive and paralyzed student body. If we want to end this cycle, we are the ones who have to change.”

–Michael Matera from, Explore Like a Pirate: Engage, Enrich, and Elevate Your Learners

To begin, I don’t believe Mr. Matera means to suggest that we throw out rubrics, mini-lessons, and modeling in our classrooms. I do believe he means to suggest that we use them intentionally and necessarily in such a way that we propel and then support kids on their own journeys, letting go of their hands, even when we don’t want to.

To continue, my kids have nearly reached the peak of Mt. Stress this week; they are clinging, clambering, crawling–and complaining–their ways to the top of their own ascents, their own destinations. The stress is palpable but it is not paralyzing. It’s close for some, but I am monitoring it closely, and I am ready to step in and help, but I am resisting the urge to too quickly come to their aid. And that is not easy. It’s not easy to watch my kids struggle, to see them stressed. At times, every fiber of my being wants to “helicopter” in and save them, but I don’t. I resist, shouting words of encouragement from the sidelines, offering help where and when I can, but I cannot carry them to the top. They have to go it alone, or they will not have the satisfaction of placing their flags atop their own peaks, triumphant over their own struggles, now stronger to face the next range in their respective journeys.

I began “hell week” by saying to each class, “We can do this.” And I’ve said it every day since. Yesterday, required additional assurance, as Avery in third period informed me that I would have to remind her several times over the period that she could do it. So, every five minutes or so, I cheered her on, telling her she could do it. Of course, I’d like to believe that my cheers fell on more ears than just Avery’s.

To end, today and this weekend will place my kids in a heightened state of stress as they struggle to complete all that is due on Monday. But I know they’ll survive. And while I’d like to come off as the tough-love character I am pretending to be at the moment, in 219 there’s always the “I-accept-late-work-with-no-penalty” lifeline available, and some of my kids will need to grab hold of it this weekend. Yeah, real tough guy, huh? Sorry, I am trying to change, Mr. Matera. Really, I am. But it’s hard to let go of their hands.

Happy Friday, all. Have a nice weekend.


The Messy Middle: Morning Minutes, May 19, 2016

“It is literally neurobiologically impossible to think deeply about things that you don’t care about.”

–Dr. Immordino-Yang, from Emotions, Learning, and the Brain


“Hey, Sy, can I do my project on…”

“That depends. Is it of genuine interest to you? Do you really care about it?”


“Well, there you go. Go for it. If you don’t care about it, what’s the point? I am not the guard at the gate of your interests. Project on, kiddo. Project on!”

With pursuits and projects wrapping up for the year, this conversation has been part of the daily dialogue in room 219. And while I am thrilled to engage my kids in conversations about their pursuits, I am also disheartened by them when they go as such, for after nearly a year with this bunch, they still don’t trust me. And I fear I have failed. No, really. Despite “interest” being a consistent beacon on the horizon of their experiences in my room this year, they still don’t truly trust that I am giving them the reins, that I am giving them the freedom to learn. They still look to me to dictate the learning in the room, when I really only want to support the learning in the room.

Of course, I probably should neither be surprised nor too quickly claim that I have failed, for I am up against a formidable opponent–the command-and-control approach to education that my kids have been subjected to for years. I have to remind myself that trust doesn’t happen overnight, and it’s hard to unlearn and escape the paths of their pasts. So maybe, if I can get past feeling sorry for myself, I should take heart in the fact that maybe they distrust me less, and that there is hope, that I have, in some small way, succeeded.

Yesterday,  I presented the book ends of a re-imagined day next year, and I also spoke to the “middle” and the challenge that it will present in a re-imagined realm.  And while I have a long ways to go in regards to transforming and making completely different my kids’ experiences next year, I believe I have discovered a starting point, illuminated by the quote at the top of the page. In fact, quite literally, it will serve as a signpost to guide our journey next year as it will be posted at the front of the room as a reminder of what learning can, of what learning should be.

So, as I look ahead, the middle will most likely manifest itself in the form of project-based learning, where kids are compelled and challenged by their own emotional connections to their own learning pursuits, pursuits that place me in the passenger seat, not the driver’s seat. Of course, this will neither happen easily nor quickly. It will be messy, but maybe we can make messy beautiful by year’s end. Maybe. Or maybe I am just crazy. Why am I doing this again?  Oh, too late now, Syrie. You created the mess.

Happy Thursday, all.



Building Rocket Ships: Morning Minutes, May 18, 2015

I cannot change it if I don’t change it. By now, my readers know how I feel about the status quo, the ritual rut that represses change, clawing and clinging from the deep crevasses of convention, threatening and thwarting those who would champion change. So, I have to break free. I have to resist the rut. I have to change the landscape and the story. And that, I am finding is no small task. Indeed, it is surprisingly–annoyingly–difficult to re-imagine education, to move away from that which has always been done.

But move I must. I don’t want my kids’ experiences in my room to be simply different next year. I want them to be completely different. I want to transport them to a new world –“build a rocket ship and fly it far away.”  And while I may not have the ability to build a rocket ship, I am trying earnestly to find the ability, the imagination to create a new world for my young galactic travelers.

Thus, beyond profiles and standards, I have begun to ponder culture and community in this new world, elements that will shape how kids feel and interact in my room. And though they are not as imaginative as I’d like, here are a few emerging thoughts on how I will shape that world.

First Five

Time is precious in education. Truly. When one really considers the amount of time he is allotted to serve a kid, he discovers he is barely a blip on the radar. Consequently, we have to use what little time we have to make the most of our opportunity. Now, of course, maximizing time and efficiency is nothing new in education. In fact, it’s at the center of the factory model, prompting among other things,  a “giving-them-hell-from-bell-to-bell” mentality that strives to shove as much “education” down our kids’ throats as possible–a maximum efficiency model. But, as Sir Ken Robinson would remind us, education is not an industrial system; it is a human system.  As such, then, to make the system more human in 211 next year, we will begin by interacting with each other, and we will call it the “first five,” five minutes during which we will connect with each other in a variety of ways, seeking to build culture on the basis of that which matters most: the people in the room. Still valuing and using time, but valuing and using time differently.

Last Lines

Reflection will be a key component in the success of our project next year. Actually it may very well be the component. So I will make it a centerpiece of all that we do, day in day out. One idea that I have percolating, is an exit task of sorts where kids have to write and share their last line as a memoir of their day. To make it both novel and simple, I will borrow from the six-word-memoir model, where kids have to write in exactly six words their reflection of their day in 211. Each day will conclude with our once again engaging on a human level.

These ideas, then, establish the book ends of our day, and now I will begin to work on the middle. With the ends taking roughly ten minutes (five minutes each), that leaves me with forty-five minutes to re-imagine, to reinvent education. Maybe I can buy a rocket ship.

Happy Wednesday, peeps.


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