Let's Change Education

Challenge. Discover. Lead. Change.

Month: June 2016

Handshakes, High-Fives, and Hugs: Morning Minutes, June 10

Goodbye. Hate it. Always have. Makes me sad. This will be my twentieth end-of-the-year goodbye to a group of kids, and despite the numerous times I have done it, it’s never easy.

So, today, I will say goodbye, giving the kids the option of a handshake, a high-five, or a hug. I also  tell them that they will always be “one of Syrie’s kids,” telling them, too, that I don’t really know what that means other than if they need something in the future, they can come to me–as long as it’s not money or a place to live. . .well, maybe lunch money. Beyond that, I got their backs. Always.

This group will always hold a special place in my heart, as they will be the ones who were with me when I came to this crossroad in my career, giving me the means and the courage to take a different road, which I believe in the end will make all the difference.

Thanks for the great year, crew. I will miss you all.

Readers, thank you, too, for all your support and encouragement. I am excited to begin and share my new journey with you next year. Have a great summer. I will check in periodically. Peace.


Got Nothing: Morning Minutes, June 9, 2016

So, been sitting here for some time, and can’t think of anything to write, so I am gonna give myself permission to use this as a trial run for summer break, when I will not post each morning. Tomorrow, the last day of the 2015-2016 school year, will be the final Morning Minutes–forever. Oh, I will post every school morning next year, but it will have a new name, which will most likely be alliterative. But that’s probably not a surprise to anyone. Got all summer to think up something clever.

Anyway, happy Thursday, all. Sorry for the lame post this morning. Well dry. Battery dead. Tank empty. Page blank. Muse missing. Ah, there’s my alliteration.


Running out of Steam: Morning Minutes, June 8, 2016

Morning, all. Tired today. Running out of steam, and believe it or not, I’m running out of words. Need to recharge the ol’ batteries. Need summer.

I know some think that we teachers have the easy life, with summers off, etc. Yes, it is nice to have summers off–really nice, but it is also really necessary. I think one of the things that those outside the profession don’t always understand is the sheer amount of energy that teaching requires. I could not do what I do year round. I could not be “on” round the clock, round the calendar. It just simply takes too much, and it takes a toll, so when June rolls around, we, as the kids, are done. We’re tired. But it’s a good tired, a satisfying tired. It’s what makes it the best job in the world. We love it, and I think the public sometimes mistakes our love as evidence of easy. There is nothing easy about teaching. Ever. But, true, too, nothing worthwhile is ever easy, and nothing is more worthwhile than teaching.

For me it has been a whirlwind year that has brought many changes, the biggest being this blog and the resulting plan to turn things upside down. When this–a challenge from a student–all began, I really had no idea how it would go or where it would lead, but I am so pleased that it turned down the path it did, sending me on an adventure that has yet to really begin. I have a lot of planning to do this summer, which won’t allow for full recharge/recovery, but I am excited to focus fully on Project 180. Sharing updates with you along the way.

As such, though I will not be continuing with Morning Minutes into the summer, I, with some advice from my lovely wife, will post weekly updates. My fear is that I will lose some followers over the summer without the daily posts, but I need a break, and I suspect many of you do, too. My hope is that I can regain a following next fall, especially since if all goes according to plan, I will actually start walking, instead of just talking.

To date, there have been 141 posts, 376 comments, and 17,689 views on my blog. I am not sure how that stacks up in the broader blogosphere, but I am darn proud of the progress we have made in our first six months. “Our” being the key word here, for I could not do this without you all. Thank you so much for the continued support and encouragement you have given me. Our relationship gets me up in the morning–early in the morning, as I daily seek to share some insight and shed some light on the changes that I feel we must make in education. Thank you for keeping me on my toes. Thank you.

Happy Wednesday, all.


Walking the Walk: Morning Minutes, June 7, 2016


Yesterday, it was my turn to deliver my injustice speech. I thought–hoped–that maybe with the craziness of the end of the year the kids would let me off the hook, but that was not the case. So, Sunday morning, I wrote my speech. Our speeches, as many of you know, had to address an injustice. I chose to speak to the injustice of the status quo, using my plan to radically change my grading approach next year as the backdrop, attempting to reveal the “why” behind my crazy.

I delivered my speech four times yesterday. We caught it on film during fourth period, and I posted it on Facebook (link below). I have also included the script–as delivered. The kids made me give a target time, and they insisted on filling out the PVLEGS feedback forms, too. I was pleased with how critical they were of my performance, sharing such things as “gestures seemed forced” or “relax and be more confident.” They also shared some warm and fuzzy sentiments. Some were just tickled that I said the word “ass.” Twice. Kids.

Anyway, wanted to share. Not sure how I feel about the video. Always tough and weird to see and hear myself on tape. Glad it’s behind me. I was more nervous than I thought I would be. But, importantly, I shared that with the kids, so they understood it never really gets easy; we just learn to manage our nerves, but that only comes from experience. I am so glad the kids and I shared this powerful experience. Truly felt it was a triumph for all.

Feeling a little guilty about being a year late on my “give-all-an-A approach,” I awarded a 100% to each kid who delivered a speech (only one didn’t). In truth, it’s the least I could do for these lovely little souls. They have been perfect partners in my tentative experiments this year. Truly, I owe them more than I can give them. They have given me the courage to bend my own trees. I only hope that I have inspired them to bend their own.


Ask Me Why

Ask me. Go on. Ask. Ask me why. Ask me why I do what I do. And I will speak. I will seek to answer what you would know.

But be careful, for “why” is a stick with two ends, a piercing probe sharper by far than the blunt weapon of “what.”

And you, my friends, you are well-acquainted with “what.” True. You picked him up long ago. We dropped him before you as you crossed the threshold of your education.

Of course, “why” was there, too, but he fell in the tall grass when we dropped him, and we let him lie, hoping he remained hidden from view, and you, distracted, did not see.

But for the better we believed, for why is poky and sharp, better for kids not to play, with that which is dangerous. And with that, “what” became enough.

Didn’t it? Every day. Every day, you walk in here. And every day you ask me, “What are we doing?” But you never ask me why.

Is it that you are afraid? Is it that you don’t care? Or is it that we hid it so well that you never learned to dare. Why? Why won’t you ask me why?

Is it simply that you are young? Or, is it more? Maybe it is more… because even the adults in the building seem to find little comfort in the why of things.

No, it’s true. As a staff, we have established norms to follow when we interact with each other.

What? Adults need rules for engagement? Oh, my young friends,  if only you could see a staff meeting.

Indeed, one of our staff norms is, “Seek to understand.” Apparently, “why” was not readily found by us either when we entered our education. Funny that we have to have a rule for digging into the why of things. But why?

Is it that we, too, are afraid? Is it that we, too, do not care? Both, I suspect.

And so, I wonder. I wonder about next year. I wonder if the “What is Syrie doing?” Will also come with the “why?” Will they seek to understand? Can I make them understand?

Friend or Foe, it will not be easy to explain, for it runs counter to the very “what” of our existence in education, but I, discontent and disturbed with that what asked why, and, then, I asked why not?

And that has given me the courage to proceed, to turn upside down that which no longer makes sense in my search to understand. And though it would not suffice, I, when pushed to explain, would prefer to lift from the page a piece from Bradbury, which aptly intimates the very why of my crazy.

“I hate a Roman named Status Quo!’ he said to me.

‘Stuff your eyes with wonder,’ he said,

‘live as if you’d drop dead in ten seconds.

See the world.

It’s more fantastic than any dream made or paid for in factories.

Ask no guarantees, ask for no security, there never was such an animal.

And if there were, it would be related to the great sloth which hangs upside down in a tree all day every day, sleeping its life away.

To hell with that,’ he said,

shake the tree and knock the great sloth down on his ass.

And that is the essence. I wish to knock education on its ass. With great impudence, I wish to land the sloth flat on his back and make him suffer for the lie that he is, for the damage he has done, and for the apathy that he has aroused, kicking him again for good measure, releasing my rage, Banging my staff on the Bridge of Khazad Dum, crying, “YOU SHALL NOT PASS!”

But I will not. I cannot. For the savage in me will win no friends, and so I will simply, humbly share that I wish to learn, patiently and prudently explaining my journey to those who will listen. And that, my friends, is the “why” of my next year.

But, too, I wonder about your next years. I wonder if “what” will be enough.

I wonder if you will be content to hang upside down on the lower, more stable branches of “what,” or if you will seek the higher, more dangerous limbs in the top, daring to bend the tree with your “why’s?”

So, go on. Ask me. Go on, ask. Ask me. Ask the world. Ask why. Be not content with the “what” of things, else you become the sloth of the world.

And while I truly regret that I cannot gift you an “A,” this year, I can instead offer you a word. WhyI wish I could give you more.




Happy Tuesday, all. If anyone’s bored, we could use some help cleaning up the sticky note mess in 219 today.





Sticky Notes: The Video




And…they made the video.

Last Laugh: Morning Minutes, June 6, 2016

F37B2B3F-9776-401D-BB5C-D63ED3E0AC2B 503CFD88-CE19-4493-82A7-1FFC02672EA4 0EFE6297-883F-456D-82F7-40406CFCE640 FD694A8D-A025-4798-A53C-74982815D7F3 CD7B60DB-79D6-4B6B-B909-916388F96A0A 5A2FD3CA-8D63-4CD8-8AE8-610C3924BCC1

So, early Saturday morning, I stopped by my classroom to grab some papers to grade, and this is what I discovered. Transfixed by the sheer enormity of the task, I panned around the room, laughing and laughing, as I took in the spectacle of 5,400 sticky notes. Yes, they got me. They really got me.

Apparently, right after I left Friday afternoon, 10 sneaky young ladies got access to my room and spent  the next 2.5 hours delivering my “present.” And though they created a colossal mess, they brought joy to an old man’s life, and I’m sure, too, their peers will get great joy out of the fact that I got punk’d when they see the sight today. So, too, will their peers benefit from the inspirational and humorous notes they left on each student desk, made secure with tape. My favorite is below.


Thank you, Anna, Rachel, Megumi, Anya, Maggie, Eva, Lucy, Zab, Addy, and Allissa for bringing the fun. I will remember this and each of you fondly. You win. I will give you the last laugh–the best laugh. Thank you.

Last week! Last Monday!! Today, the kids are making me deliver my speech. Hate when they make me walk the walk. Funny. I’m kinda nervous. Just wrote it yesterday. Didn’t really practice. Now I know how the kids feel. I will share my speech in tomorrow’s post.

Happy last Monday, all.


Giants Among Us: Morning Minutes, June 3, 2016

By now, I am sure you are tired of hearing about the incredible week I’ve experienced in 219. Bad news. I am not done. Good news. The week is over.  So, then, I will quit gushing about my kids after today. Promise…well, unless something happens today that I just have to share tomorrow.

This story began a long time ago and has a long backstory. As such, I will skip most of the prologue and jump into the action, the drama that took place as Kali (short for Akourakali) began high school two years ago. In a rare turn of events, I ended up with a section of ninth-grade language arts, and Kali, whose sister was a former student (there’s the long backstory) ended up in my class. He may, if memory serves, even have transferred in, so he could be in my class. I was happy to have him, and he was happy to have me, and I believe he and I both hoped to develop as strong a relationship as I had had with his sister.

Well, after the first trimester, though I found the kids lovely, I discovered that I really didn’t love the curriculum, and when an opportunity to swap my LA 9 for an LA 11 came up, I took it. Of course, I waited till the last minute to tell my lovelies, offering some official sounding reason for why the administration needed me to teach eleventh grade. But, in short–in truth–I lied. The kids groaned. I was flattered. I told them that I would get them the next year in tenth grade. They understood. We moved on. Well, everyone, but Kali. He stayed after. He was pissed. He called me out.

“So, you’re abandoning us?”

I tried to level with him, rationalizing my decision, thinking that the truth would set us both free. But, in the end, the truth hurt. And Kali, vowed not to talk to me for the rest of the year.  And he kept his vow, minus the few times I tried to engage him in the hall over the year, and he reminded me that I had abandoned him, and he wanted nothing to do with me. Truth’s hurt, I learned, can cut both ways.

Flash forward to this year. In another unanticipated turn of events, I ended up with four sections of LA 10 Honors. The kids, whom I had told could be in my LA 10 class this year, would now have to take honors if that were to happen. A few did; most didn’t. Kali, after the first week transferred in. Surprised but elated–we could now patch things up, I welcomed him, asking him if he was sure about his choice. And he told me he wasn’t sure because he didn’t trust that I wouldn’t abandon him again. Ouch.

So, finally, we began our–full–year together, a year that has been a challenge on many levels. For me, it was a challenge to undo the damage in our relationship. For Kali, the class itself was a challenge as he struggled to keep up with the work, resulting, even, in our having a discussion at semester as to whether or not he should transfer into my one section of regular LA 10. We decided he should stay, and now, due to recent events, we know we made the right decision.

First, though I don’t think I am supposed to share this with the public yet, Kali scored a 4 on the state assessment (the highest level). I was so proud of him and so excited to share his success with him. It was not the last time I would wonder, “Who is this kid?”

Yesterday. Dragging his feet, Kali, made his way to the podium. I had asked him to go earlier in the week, but he hemmed and hawed, and finally, yesterday, he had no choice. He had to go.

The kids have to indicate a target time to me at the beginning of their speeches (They have to be within 15 seconds, short or long to get full points. It makes them practice). Kali, coolly, maybe even confidently, called out 2:20. Good. Short, I thought privately. Better for him and us if he’s not prepared. But Kali wasn’t just prepared; he was brilliant.

In 2:24, the sleeping giant woke and rocked our worlds, calling out the injustice, the fraud in humanity’s empty claim that all lives matter, shedding light on the atrocities that occur daily around the world that never get our attention, that should get our attention if all lives matter. When he finished, we sat in stunned silence, but only for a moment as I shouted emphatically, “WHO ARE YOU?” I continued, telling him I was so pissed at him that I wanted to punch him. For how dare he hide on me, on us, on himself all year long. “WHO ARE YOU, YOUNG MAN?” I shouted again. “WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN?”

Kali is a big kid. Big. But yesterday I truly discovered the size of this young man. He is a giant. And his performance yesterday served as a humble reminder to me that there is a giant in each kid. But we let their giants sleep. We have to wake the giants. Giants aren’t meant to sleep. Giants are meant to stomp around and make some noise.

As he handed me his speech, I grabbed him and gave the giant a hug, a hug that I had needed for a long time. Later, he stopped by because he’d heard that I had been talking about him to my other classes. “You proud of me, Sy?” Yeah, Kali, I am proud of you, immensely proud of you.

Happy Friday, all.




Ridin’ the Pine: Morning Minutes, June 2, 2016

“A teacher is one who makes himself progressively unnecessary.”

–Thomas Carruthers

A simple truth. One that I did not always understand. One that I did not always accept. Tough to wrap one’s mind around the idea that he doesn’t really matter. Especially, this one, for he has never comfortably worn the humble hat. He has thought–or at least once thought–that he was necessary, absolutely necessary. But as one learns, one grows, and now this one, realizes more than ever that the best moments in 219 do not happen when he’s the quarterback; rather, they happen when he’s on the bench, a seat that’s gotten more comfortable of late, a seat that for the last two days has been the perfect perch for the incredible game that’s been played out by a group of all stars.

Truly. The kids have performed beyond my wildest expectations. And it has had NOTHING to do with me. Oh, I lent a hand here and there, giving feedback when sought, giving some big-picture direction, giving some encouragement along the way, but in truth what the kids have produced and now delivered was on them–all on them. As I mentioned earlier, I really only provided two things in this process: choice and audience. I gave some general guidelines and soft deadlines, but I prescribed no process. It occurred organically, first by accident and later by design. And now I realize that I had made myself progressively unnecessary, and that made all the difference because when I wasn’t there to call each and every play from the huddle, the kids had to take over and “win” the game on their own.

What’s cool about now looking back is that each kid–given the freedom–discovered his/her own process. And while I am still a little uncomfortable revealing that for many I had barely any input at all, I realize that that discomfort is only growth. Yesterday, Sarah delivered an exceptional piece on her own personal discovery of the justice of gender fluidity and how it has helped her through the agonizing age of adolescence. I didn’t even really know what Sarah’s speech was about until she opened her mouth yesterday. It was incredible and I had nothing to do with it. It feels like I am admitting to malpractice, maybe negligence, but she succeeded without me.

This is not to suggest that I simply let my kids wander around aimlessly for the past four months. I just let them wander enough to discover when they needed me. And some have needed me a great deal, as I have conferenced with them and helped them through multiple revisions of their speeches, but it has been different for each kid. Eva, I believe, probably wrote her sixth–maybe seventh–separate speech last night because each of the previous–though I have suggested they are great–has not quite been “the one” for her. So I let her wander some more. I hope she discovered gold last night. Ben, wrote an oh-my-gosh-the-emotion-is-palpable piece on the injustice of divorce, sharing his own heartbreaking story to an audience that he designated as people who would likely marry some day, warning them of the responsibility of their vows, especially if they had children. I only gave Ben a nudge. He succeeded without me. And the list goes on, a list of growing evidence that I am merely a minor player after all. And that’s okay. My spot on the bench is warm.

Happy Thursday, all.


A Rough Start: Morning Minutes, June 1, 2016

“Hey, Sy. So, I and a few others were doing the math, and it looks like if we decided not to deliver the speech, then that would only be a 20% penalty.”

Crap. Really? This is how the “crowning moments” are to begin in 219 this year–kids opting out because they see an easy out? What are you gonna do next year, “Super Syrie,” when there will be a permanent passive path?  Hello, Doubt. Wondered if you’d visit me this morning. Wind. Sails. Gone. Just like that. 

“So, you’re not gonna deliver your speech?

“Maybe, it’s only twenty points.”

That is how my day started yesterday. The bell hadn’t even rung, and the moment was dying on the vine right before my eyes. Unnerved, annoyed, afraid, I told the kids to get their stuff ready while I took attendance. And while I did have to take attendance, what I really needed to do was think and compose myself. I needed to make a thirty-second decision on how I was going to save the withering, soon-to-perish plant, which I had hoped to feed us for the remainder of the year. So, I collected myself and gave it some water, hoping to revive the moment. This is what I said.

“So, Jacob and a few others brought to my attention that they did the math, and if they decided not to deliver their speeches, their grades wouldn’t suffer much. And they are not wrong. But I would hope by now, that it would no longer be about the grade. I would hope that it would be about the moment, a moment that you have put weeks into preparing for, a moment that you selected because it mattered deeply to you. That’s what I would hope would drive your decision, not some silly points.

In the end, I am not going to make you do anything you don’t want to do. But I think you if you opt out, you are missing out on an important opportunity, an opportunity to shed light on an issue that matters to you, an opportunity to grow as a learner, a speaker, a person. So, you make the choice. It’s yours to make. I refuse to hold points over your head to make you do something. This is your chance to make a choice, to make a final impression.”

Okay, so I may have laid the guilt on a little thickly, but I was desperate. And, good or bad, I have learned that guilt can work. Fortunately, it did here, and if it hadn’t, I am not sure what I would have done, for there was no plan B.  I got lucky. Jacob and his co-conspirators signed up to be the first ones to deliver their speeches this morning. I am proud of their choice to face their fears and make an important final impression. And really, even though it was a difficult moment that put me to the test, I know that in the end, it was their fear talking, and I won’t take it personally. But it was hard not to initially. I am glad things turned out. And I am pleased to share that the day only got better, and many crowning moments took place. I would like to share one in particular.

Last Friday, Avery–some of you will remember her as the girl who needed a steady stream of “you-can-do-this pep talks–came to me and said that she didn’t think she could do her speech, that it was too personal, and that speaking in front of people was too hard. I told her she could. I told her she had to. Having worked with her on her speech, I knew she had a powerful message that others needed to hear, a message that would/could make for a truly momentous moment for this young lady and her peers. Her topic dealt with self-image/esteem and her own personal struggles and successes with this difficult issue.

Worried that she had become resolute in her decision not to share her speech, I told her that she had created a gift that she had to share with the world. I told her that when her peers looked at her, they assumed that she had her act together, and for her to share that she had struggled with the same issues as everyone in the room, could be as transformative for us as it was for her. She had to share. It was bigger than her. She couldn’t keep it to herself. We left it at that.

Yesterday, as third period began, she would barely make eye-contact with me, shaking her head when she did. So I acted quickly, and she reluctantly agreed to go  fourth out of the six for the day. Still, I wasn’t sure, but we moved on, and then it was Avery’s turn. Handing me my copy on her way to  the podium, she refused to give me a high-five, muttering “no” as she walked by. Here we go. If she bombs, she will hate me for the rest of my life. What have I done?

And she began. She and her voice shook for four-and-a-half minutes, she barely held back tears, and more than once I thought she was going to step off the stage, but she saw it through to the end, and we all knew by then that we had witnessed something special. Truly.

As she walked back by me, she gave me a weak high five as I looked to her for some reassurance that she was okay. And we moved on. Fortunately, Alan, true to form, gave us some much-needed comic relief with his speech after the heavy moment from Avery’s. At the end of the period, I gave Avery a shout out for her bravery, letting her and the class know that she had made my year. I was so proud of her, proud of all of them for seizing this opportunity to grow.

At some point during the day, Doubt excused himself, passing quietly from my mind as kids nailed speech after speech after speech. The day, despite two tense moments, was everything I hoped it would be. Of course, it was made so even more, when Avery came to thank me a few periods later for making her go, for making her grow.

Happy Wednesday, all. Sorry for the long-winded story this morning.



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