Let's Change Education

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Month: September 2016 (page 1 of 3)

Opportunity: Project 180, Day 22


Good morning Monte Syrie,

Thank you, again, for submitting your presentation information for the Washington Teachers’ Conference. The selection committee has completed their task of creating the schedule for all the presentations. You will be presenting at the eastside conference site on Saturday, November 5th. As you know, the eastside conference site is at Westwood Middle School located at 6120 S. Abbott Road (Spokane 99224 in Cheney School District).

Here is the schedule for the day:

  • 8:00-8:30         Registration, Continental Breakfast
  • 8:30-9:45          Concurrent Sessions A
  • 10:00-11:15       General Session with Dr. Flint Simonsen
  • 11:15-12:00        Lunch and Exhibits
  • 12:15-1:30          Concurrent Sessions B
  • 1:45-3:00           Concurrent Sessions C

We would like you to present twice during Concurrent Session A & C for 75 minutes each session

Pleased to share this news with everyone. WSASCD, Washington State Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, is sponsoring the conference, and I will get an opportunity to share our journey with a wider audience in November. I am so pumped and grateful for the chance to tell Project 180‘s story. Can’t wait to share the news with my kiddos. Of course, they won’t be as thrilled as I, but hopefully they find some excitement in this awesome opportunity. After all, they are the stars.

Speaking of stars. Awesome day yesterday.  Chasing theme even farther down the path, the kids–for no better way to adequately explain it–breathed life into learning. With a steady, brains-a-whirring, buzz they animated the activity with a diligence I have not seen in my twenty years. No, really. There is something supremely satisfying about kids doing something, not for the sole sake of satisfying a requirement, but rather for the betterment of themselves. And I think that’s what I felt. Truth. Authenticity. Commitment. No pretense. No BS. No compliance. It was real. Just that–it was real. I think–maybe–they trust me. That might be a little premature (it’s only been 22 days). But I think that’s what I felt yesterday. Trust. Man, and I gotta tell ya, it feels good. Really good. Really good.

Anyway, happy Friday, all. Thank you for your continued support. Means the world to me. Have a great weekend.



Spirit: Project 180, Day 21


As many know, it is homecoming week at CHS, and spirits are high. I got roped into–well, my mouth got me roped into–wearing this little number yesterday. Not sure it helped the spirit as much as it created visual trauma for my kids and colleagues. Poor people. Probably scarred for life. Hard to unsee this. Thank you Ms. Tamura and Ms. Alderete for calling me on my bluff yesterday morning, making me get into the spirit–this tight-fitting spirit–and letting me be part of the squad. I owe you. No, really, I owe you.


Time for a ten-day update. Every ten days, I will share some of my observations, worries, wonders, struggles, and successes for the project.

  1. Observation. Kids learn more by doing than listening. I am talking much less–much less, and that has been a hard and unexpected transition for me. I like to talk, and going into this, I did not anticipate that I would turn it over to the kids as much–or as early on–as I have. My general role now basically includes giving direction, clarifying information, and providing feedback on performance. The kids are doing the heavy lifting, and I think it’s making a difference. I’ll keep watch.
  2. Worry. As we ramp up for the first assessment, I worry about how the kids will respond to my feedback. Will they truly embrace it as part of the learning process and as a necessary component of growth mindset, or will they take it personally? I hope, hope, hope that it’s the former. I hope the fact that it is not about the grade and all about growth is the difference. I have already found it less-worrisome than before when I give feedback on practice, but I still worry about how it will play out with an assessment. We’ll see.
  3. Wonder. I wonder how informed my kids’ parents really are. I have sent home letters, hosted an open house, and sent home the first round of learning logs to be signed and returned. I want to believe that the majority know about the project, but I am skeptical about how communicative my kids have been with their parents. After 20 years, I have come to know that parents’ signatures on documents is not necessarily an indication that they actually read the documents. Hmmm. I wonder.
  4. Struggle. So, I am still struggling with the fact that some kids–seemingly–would rather have the familiar, traditional, transactional learning experience over the experience that P-180 offers. And while I know it is hard to break from tradition and the comfort of the familiar, I struggle with this. In truth, it teases me to temptation–calling me back to the familiar, the traditional, the transactional approach of the past–when the kids seem unaffected or impressed  with the new approach. But I won’t give in. It is only a few kids, and I hold to hope that they can still be swayed to embrace the new. Hope. It’s all I have.
  5. Success. Kids are working. They, this far in, continue to diligently dive into the work. Yesterday, in their first substantial team quest, most dug deeply into the work, collaborating on a level that impressed and inspired me. It’s not perfect yet, and some demonstrate more diligence than others, but by and large, the kids are working hard. I want to believe that it’s out of commitment and not compliance. With A’s in hand, they don’t have to do the work. They choose to do the work. So far, they are still choosing to do it. And that for me is no small accomplishment. It keeps me on the path.

Happy Thursday, all. Have a cheerful day. Mine won’t be quite as cheerful as yesterday, but rumor has it that I’ll be making another appearance tomorrow at the pep-con, performing a cheer with the rest of the squad. Might be I feel a sick day coming on.

Weary Traveler: Project 180, Day 20

Twenty days in and this traveler is tired. Woke up at 3:00 and thought to get twenty more minutes of slumber, but that turned into two hours and twenty minutes….oops.  So, the post will be short and sweet this morning. Sorry.

Today will be a kid-busy learning day in 211. They will have the period to complete a “Team Theme Quest,” using a chapter from Paul Fleischman’s Seedfolks. As I mentioned a few days ago, determining theme is one of our super standards, and this will be one of our first steps down the path towards proficiency.

Our work will begin with the kids discussing the  Learning QUESTion, “What does our ability to discover and discuss themes in literature reveal about us as readers?” They will, then, begin their quest of using a theme-identification tool to discover and present the theme from the chapter, “Gonzalo.” My role will be limited to answering clarifying questions only. Other than that, the kids are on their own. I am excited to see them struggle and shine. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Again, a thousand apologies for being remiss in my duties this morning. On the plus side, you don’t have to read my ramble for very long today. Happy Wednesday, all.


Voices: Project 180, Day 19

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The Voices Within

Yesterday, the ears behind The Voices Within “listened.” The kids read their peers’ comments and my responses from last week’s feedback. In what now has become if not common, at least consistent, practice in 211, the kids ran the information through the So/Now-What? filter, producing posters such as those pictured above. My goal here is to get the kids to embrace their reactions to information as a key step on the path to understanding. But I don’t want their reactions to simply and only be knee-jerk responses. I want them to process and then react. For that, then, we employ the What (What is the information I just encountered?), the So-What (Why does it matter?), and the Now What (What I am going to do with it now?) approach to most of the information we encounter. I even require the kids to use this approach with their daily learning reflections. What did I learn? Why does it matter? What am I going to do with it? Of course, the bigger goal is for them to adopt it as a personal filter in their daily lives–now and later, so when they encounter information, they process, they think before they react. Wonder how many adults in our society may have benefitted from this approach last night during the debate?

Anyway, steering wide of that, I was generally pleased with the kids’ reactions. I think many discovered the value in the opportunity to have a voice, and I think, too, many found appreciation in the fact that I will listen, that their peers will listen. Sadly, some did not seem to find the value, but I have to remember that this isn’t necessarily business as usual for them, and it will take some getting used to–for all of us.

My Own Voices Within

For the first time this year, my old friend doubt surfaced unexpectedly, whispering, taunting, “You will fail.” And whether it was just Monday or the fact that some of the kids still seem reluctant to embrace 180, he found me, and I listened. I doubted. And though I eventually shrugged him off, he lingered longer than I would have liked, curbing my enthusiasm, dampening my spirit, both of which I cannot afford to be without with such a long road ahead.

Today will be better. Already is. But it threw me for a bit of a loop yesterday. Damn the doubt.

Anyway, happy Tuesday, all. Super tired today. Great class last night, but it zapped me, and I have another round tonight. Wife told me I’d get my sea legs back soon enough. Helps that she never doubts me. Helps a bunch.


A Different Hat: Project 180, Day 18

Another Hat

Today, I don a different hat. This evening I will resume teaching classes at EWU. This is my 5th year of consecutive quarters of teaching classroom management in the education department. As some know, last year in preparation for Project 180, I placed the many hats I wore at CHS and in the Cheney School District on a shelf so as not to be distracted with additional duties during the project. My teaching at Eastern was the one exception. On one hand, I love it. I find it very satisfying and fulfilling. On the other hand, as a veteran classroom teacher, I think I offer something of value to those making their first step into the realm of education. I am in the classroom every day. And I bring to the table many successes and more failures from my first 20 years of teaching, successes and failures that I endlessly reflect on as I make my way to be better each day. And it is through this that I hope I can help my young aspiring teachers begin to find their ways, themselves as they begin their own lifelong journeys. This quarter I will be teaching two sections, one Monday and the other Tuesday. Excited to resume this part of my professional journey. I find it a comfortable hat.

Busy Week

CHS will be a busy place this week as it is Homecoming.  So many things going on, and while I will be mindful of that, we still have work to do. Lots of work to do. Thus, 211 will be a busy place, too.  Here are just a few things from our experiences this week.

  1. Learning logs come in today. Before submitting them to me. The kids will share a profile strength and a “work on” with their teams. The goal here is to create and continue the dialogue about the habits and behaviors of learners. They will also share a selected learning story with their peers. I think it’s critical for learners to reflect; in 211 I aim to make it absolute, automatic, and authentic (triple-A approach to reflection). Part of making this happen is creating opportunities for learners to share with and learn from other learners.
  2. The Voices Within. Those who caught Saturday’s post saw the kids’ comments from the past week and my responses to them. As I mentioned in the post, I will provide hard copies for the kids to read and discuss in their teams, asking them to apply our So-What?, Now -What? filter to the information. This will take the form of a Quick QUEST today. My greatest hope here is that this process will encourage even more to contribute to our classroom community by sharing their thoughts and concerns as we continue to grow and evolve into a culture that is more responsive to its learners. But this will only happen if the learners find and share their voices.
  3. Kids will continue and complete their hook practice that we started last week. They are doing these on the Chrome Books, which we only have access to twice a week, so we have to extend things out when necessary. Some kids are still wrapping up reading/writing stories, too.
  4. Super-Student Standard #1. “I can determine the theme or central idea of a text.” Though we have already made slow, subtle steps in this direction, this week we will pick up the pace, increasing our strides, intently focusing on this target. That said, it will be long, ever-present process as we work towards proficiency and sophistication with this particular standard through a gradual release of responsibility. With that in mind, the kids will work in their teams this week, applying what they learn to the individual anchors (essays of the week) I help them set last week.  We are in no hurry. Remember, I have pledged that we will hang our hats on these ten standards. Learning takes time, lots a time.

A Smile

Wanted to share a quick smile that caught me by surprise Saturday afternoon. A long-time reader, and supporter from afar, sent me a day-making email, thanking me for my work. Kendra Knutsen, a second-year math teacher from Connell High School, reached out, wanting me to know that she appreciated the work and philosophy behind P-180. Here are few of her remarks that struck a chord with me.

First, I need to thank you for everything you are doing. You inspire me every day to do the best I can for my students.
Third, I have been meaning to email you for quite some time, but honestly I have so much to ask you I did not know how to put it into an email. But now I decided I had to tell you that I keep talking about you in my masters classes at Whitworth. Actually it’s more like bragging (sometimes it feels like I know you since Maddie told me so much about you). So many of the discussions/problems/questions we talk about in my classes I can respond to using ideas and thoughts from you.
I am borrowing/stealing your independent learning projects, but I call mine passion projects. The first round of presentations are next week. I am excited and nervous to see what the kids do. They keep asking me, “So what are we supposed to do?” They have no idea how to handle freedom of choice. And it kills me. We are creating robots who only do what we say and jump through the hoops necessary to graduate. My quote board currently says “De-robot your mind”. You are de-roboting the minds of your students.
Really, I just wanted to thank you for what you are doing in education and for your students. I am working on moving in the direction that you are, but since it is only my second year of teaching I am taking it one step at a time.
Thank YOU, Kendra. You truly made my day, and you have motivated, inspired me to work even harder to make a difference. Thank you.
Happy Monday, all.

The Voices Within: Project 180, September 24, 2016


Morning, all. Here are the comments the kids left me this week. As long as their remarks were appropriate and generally relevant, I promised to publish them. I am going to call these posts “The Voices Within,” because that is how I want them to be regarded. As the true inside participants in P-180, the students have a unique, important perspective, and I want their voices to be heard. My initial thinking was to simply present their comments, but then, later, I decided I would provide a response to each. Their comments are in bold. Anonymous is not one person. As far as I know, each is a different student, but I will refer to all as “Anonymous.” The comments with identified names are done with permission by the individual. My comments are in regular text.

Next week, because most of the kids don’t read my blog, I will provide a hard copy of the comments and responses so all the kids can see, talk about, and reflect on the words of their peers. I hope my doing so will encourage even more of them to participate in this important dialogue.

I love this new system, it makes learning much more fun and relaxed, but I am not the biggest fan of the essay of the week. I love the idea, but it would perhaps be better if they were assigned about mid-week, and we had the weekend to work on it. –Anonymous

Anonymous, hopefully the new Friday-to-Friday approach helps with the EOW. Glad you are generally enjoying the new system.

I think it’s a good idea personally, but there’s gonna be people who take advantage of it. –Kelsey

Kelsey, sadly, you are probably right that some will take advantage. Glad you aren’t.

In my opinion, having the A is a great idea; however, it takes great deal of discipline for me to actually do my homework/assignments. I already have the A, so why do the work. I have to constantly think about growing and that’s what motivates me to do the work. –Lily

Lily, glad that YOU are discovering your OWN motivation. Really, isn’t that the only true motivation there is?

The essays of the week will help increase my writing abilities; however, one essay every week will be hard to juggle because of my other classes require homework every night. By Thursday, I am extremely tired and beat. –Anonymous

Anonymous, hopefully you also find the Friday-to-Friday approach helpful.

Syrie is a really cool guy. He’s very relaxed, but at the same time, we get stuff done. Project 180 is a grand idea (although maybe it should include 180 Skittles). I can make a mistake in class and learn from it and not feel bad. Learning happens in classroom 211. –Elliot

Elliot, thanks for appreciated but unnecessary kudos. I will work on the Skittles. Glad you aren’t worried about making mistakes.

I think this class is great. I get to read and mess around but also get stuff done. –Anonymous

Anonymous, sounds like you have found some balance.

This class has been educational and philosophical. It’s made me think about my actions. –Anonymous

Anonymous, glad you are thinking. Nothing wrong with that.

My emotions play a big part in this class because of QUESTions. A day ago I wanted to cry because we were talking about injustice about #BLACKLIVESMATTER movement and it just really pains me that I couldn’t HONESTLY express what I thought and no one will understand me.–Anonymous

Anonymous, I find this deeply troubling, I wish I had a little more context and clarity with your situation. I wonder why you felt that you could not honestly express your thinking. Please consider talking to me about this personally, so I can better understand and help. I am not okay with your feeling this way. I promise to protect your anonymity.

Great class. Love expressing my literature. –Anonymous

Anonymous, love that you love it.

What’s odd about Project 180 is that the class homework is still rather stressful. We get an essay every week, a story to annotate weekly, and every two weeks we have to write a story about our learning, but every day we just talk in class about why we do P-180. I am not complaining, But as a high achieving student, I want to do all of the work to make sure I don’t walk out of this class at the end of the year with nothing new. Therefore, I end up stressing over it nonetheless. I love the practice, but I do not think I will end up doing it all. This class has taken a load off my back already by letting me focus on the other AP/Honors classes I have signed up for. All in all, I love the “auto-A” set up, even if it still comes with some stress. 

While P-180 makes it easy to pass, it still has a negative that may not have been brought up yet. In the grade book, seeing an A means you are doing well and will most likely pass any exams, but with Project 180, it takes away that safety feeling. We don’t know how well we are doing altogether anymore. Not just individual assignment feedback, but all of it. I no longer know if I would actually pass a state test. –Anonymous

Anonymous, I lost a little sleep over this one. First, I hear and appreciate your thoughtful, valid concerns. Second, I would like a chance to set your mind at ease with the following considerations.

  1. It’s early. We are only 17 days in, and I know that we have been slow to get to the meat of things in the curriculum, but I am doing that by design. I really feel the need to create culture and build community around the principles of 180 before we charge too far down the path. The “tougher” stuff, if you will, is on the way, and what I hope you find is that I have been leading you there all along, and also, I hope you find that how we have been doing it makes a little more sense once we are there.
  2. I hope, too, that as we move farther down the path, you experience less stress in the present and worry less about your being prepared for the future. Please know that I care deeply about your future, and I will do all that I can in the short amount of time that we have to get you where you need to be by year’s end. Maybe talking with some juniors who are in AP this year about how prepared they felt after my class last year would be of benefit.
  3. I understand your concern about the state test at the end of the year. It is high stakes, but I would ask you to trust that I will help put you in a position for success when it comes. Last year, 93% of my honors students passed rather easily. I expect no less for you and your classmates. In fact, I expect all to pass this year. Anything but, will be hard for me to swallow.

Please know how much I value your feedback. I am thankful that you had the courage to share your important concerns with me. This type of feedback helps me grow. Thank you.

I love it! It’s a great way to turn education upside down because grades are put aside and teachers can get their students to have a different mindset about homework, which is, homework is just practice to help you learn, not just something you turn in to get a good grade. –Vivian

Vivian, love that y0u are seeing practice in a different light; this is exactly how I want you to see it.

“So, what’s next?”  This is the question you asked me after my success with writing an effective hook. This simple, yet challenging question has given me an opportunity. I can take this question and treat it like every other teacher’s comments, or I can do something with it. The fact is, I have never gotten a comment from a teacher that is this meaningful. This single question is my motivation to show you that I can do more. So now, I will sit down and write more hooks. I will not settle for one good hook type, but seventeen good hook types, and every time I am successful, I will ask myself, “So, what’s next?” –Haley

Haley, I could not be more pleased by what you have done with my simple question, especially in the context of Project 180. You already have an A; you can already produce an effective hook; but instead of resting on this stage of your success, you have found an opportunity to build upon it. That, my young friend, is what growth is all about. So glad you discovered the true intent of my feedback. Bravo.


Whodunit?: Project 180, Day 17


Yesterday a mystery showed up in 211. Five bags of groceries were delivered during 4th period, and though I believed I had some thoughts on whom the mystery provider might be, I was wrong, and I still don’t know who perpetrated this anonymous, generous act of incredible kindness. Because of you, hungry kids will have food for days, and when kids aren’t hungry, they can better focus on their lives and their learning. You just made a huge, immediate and long-term difference in the lives of some kids who will hopefully have an opportunity to give back and pay forward in their own future communities. Kindness is a contagion, an infection, an epidemic with no cure once it grabs hold. Thank you for starting, spreading the bug. I am honored and humbled by your actions, and I am proud to share this community, this home with such a selfless mystery hero. Thank you.

Feed Me

There have also been some other deliveries made that have provided sustenance over the past few days in 211. Last week I pledged that I would create a feedback box for my kiddos, so they could reveal an insider’s view of Project 180, a view that I promised to publish–good, bad, or ugly. Well, the comments have begun to trickle in, and I will proudly publish them on Saturday. However, I wanted to let one out of the box early, for I wanted to show you and the kids that my giving them a voice also means that I am giving them an ear. My ear. I will listen. Yesterday, I listened.

“I love this new system, it makes learning much more fun and relaxed, but I am not the biggest fan of the essay of the week. I love the idea, but it would perhaps be better if they were assigned about mid-week, and we had the weekend to work on it.” –Anonymous

I shared this anonymous comment with all my classes yesterday, seeking additional input on the essay of the week. After establishing that getting rid of the essay was a non-negotiable, I opened it up for discussion, discovering that many kids shared the same sentiment, revealing to me that their weeks are so crammed full that if they could have a weekend, it would make their lives a little less stressful. So, together, we decided that now, instead of the assign-on-Monday-and-collect-on-Friday model we would adopt an assign-on-Friday-and-collect-on-Friday model. Works for me. Works for them. Of course, what I’m still struck by is the fact that though I will take it at anytime with no penalty, the kids still get worked up about getting stuff in on time, which I believe ultimately is a testament to their commitment to their own learning, to their own growth. They know they have the A, but they persist. How can I not be struck by that?

Keeping the A

As I have shared, there is only one possible path to losing the A in 211. The kids’ A’s will turn into P’s (passes) if they and their parents don’t sign and return the incremental progress reports. They don’t have to complete them, but they have to sign them, signifying  that they are taking ownership of their learning. And while the progress reports will take various forms over the course of the year, the most common will be the two-week learning logs on which the kids will provide a self-assessment and reflection. Today the kids will complete their first learning logs which are comprised of 15 habits/behaviors of learners, indicating where they are on the scale, supporting their positions with evidence. In addition, the kids will capture three learning experiences from the past few weeks and relate the story for each, revealing the experience’s impact on their growth as learners. They will then share all this with their parents over the weekend and return it to me signed by them and their parents on Monday. Can’t wait to see how this goes. Can’t wait to read their stories. I will share some with you next week.

Wow. What a week. Thank you for your continued support. I am humbled. Happy Friday, all. Have a fantastic weekend.




That’s not in the Curriculum: Project 180, Day 16


So, yesterday, as a follow up to our “help” discussion, I wrote the above words on the board, imploring my kids to make my day by asking me for help and giving me feedback. And, for fun, when they did, I would dramatically place my hand on my heart, breathe in deeply, and exhale, “I am full, my heart is full. You need me.”  And for the rest of the morning, the theatrics continued as we wandered along the path, doing the day’s work. My heart full. My smile wide. My eyes bright. A day made brilliant by the shining suns in my midst. But my day did not last, and just like that my heart emptied, my smile fell down, and my eyes dulled, for sometimes an ask for help is more than we can bear, more than should be, more than we are. Here’s the story.

She was standing just inside my door. It was the beginning of the passing period between 3rd and 4th. A former student, now a junior, her eyes were downcast, and immediately I was transported back to her freshmen year when life dealt her some tougher cards, a hand that she did not play well, a hand which ultimately ended in her expulsion. And it was with an “oh-what-now-kiddo” worry that I approached her as I sought her downcast eyes, making contact as I asked what was up. This was our conversation.

Her: Sy, you know that store-sign thingy that’s down in the office, the one that says you have food?

Me: Yeah. (thinking crap, I don’t have any food at the moment)

Her: Well (her eyes finding the floor again), I don’t get free-and-reduced anymore, and mom doesn’t get paid until Friday, and we’re outta food, and…

Me: I have an apple I can part with, but it’s down in the staff room, and I can probably round up some other stuff, too…

Her: It’s just for today. Anything would be great.

Me: Come back after 4th, kiddo, and I will have something for you.

Her: Thanks, Sy.

What’s disturbing is that I’m not all that relieved that it was hunger instead of trouble that brought her to my door. Of course I am thankful that she is not in trouble, but I am unsettled, deeply unsettled, that she–and she is not alone–has to come and ask for food. FOR FOOD. I wonder if it feels like begging. I wonder about what this must do to her young mind, her spirit. Of course, I can never know. But, I should never have to know. Kids shouldn’t be hungry ever. EVER. And at school, their only hunger should be for knowledge. But that is simply, in too many situations, not the reality. We do have hungry kids, kids who struggle through their days with worries bigger than homework, fears larger than a mark on a report card. In our country.

I so want to get political right now. I so want to point to the trivial matters upon which we heap ideological hate and waste when we have hungry kids. I wonder how many kids we could feed on the money from failed presidential campaigns this election year? But I’ll keep my wondering to myself, else I poke the political bear.  I’ll move on to bigger, more noble things. I’ll move on to teachers.

My story is neither unique nor special. Happens all the time. And teachers live it every day. We help kids in ways that transcend test scores, in ways that exceed the scope of our curricula, in ways that we did not prepare for in college. It’s what we do. We have hearts bigger than our bank accounts. We have dreams bigger than our realities. We do it because we know no other way. I am proud to work with so many under-appreciated heroes, heroes that helped me help a young lady in need yesterday.

After settling my seniors 4th period, I scrambled from room-to-room seeking extra food to put together a lunch. And graciously, selflessly, Mr. Martin, Ms. Tamura, and Ms. Alderete contributed to the cause, and we put together a pretty decent lunch, which I put in a lunch sack along with the note below. Lucky to work, to serve with so many great people.

And the story ends. Nothing overly dramatic or climactic. She came to get her lunch, thanked me humbly, and went on her way. I don’t know if she ate last night. I don’t know if she will ask for help today. I don’t know if she will stay out of trouble and stay in school all year. I don’t know who the next kid will be. But I do know there will be a next kid. And I do know that we’ll help. And I do know that teaching is more than curriculum. So much more.

Happy Thursday, all.


Help: Project 180, Day 15


I have long believed that we teach kids, not content. In fact, though I never do it, I have always wanted to reply when asked what I teach with, “I teach kids.” But I never do. I always say that I teach high school English. In part I worry that people won’t get it, but I also wonder if they would find it flip, find it sarcastic, but nothing could be further from the truth. No flippancy in that remark. I teach kids. English just happens to be the subject matter that occupies much of the space in our work. I teach kids. Yes, I help them grow in the arena of reading, writing, speaking, and thinking, but I also  help them find themselves and their places in their world. And it’s reciprocal, for they, too, help me along my own path as I continue to discover again and again myself and my place.

Yesterday, in an effort to teach my little wonders, I tried to put a notion in their heads. I tried to get them to think differently about asking for help. Sadly, in school, needing help is often perceived as a weakness, as a sign of “dumbness.” This seems especially true for honors kids, for they often have a strongly-fixed mindset in this, and help becomes taboo,–something to be avoided, not embraced. I aim to correct this misguided thinking, especially as we continue to learn about and develop our growth mindsets.

As such, in 211, we have come to put a lot of stock in the idea of “yet,” and the power it brings to progress, the bridge from “I can’t” to “I can.” What I want my kiddos to understand is that “yet” by design necessitates help. Yes, dogged determination and persistent practice are essential elements, but they alone are not always enough to move us beyond our struggles towards “can.” We need help. There is no shame in that. There is wisdom in that. I want my kids to discover that wisdom. Here is a snippet of a conversation from yesterday.

Me: Does learning require questions?

Them: Yes. Of course.

Me: Are you learners?

Them: Yes.

Me: Then you should have questions, right? Should teachers have answers?

Them: Yes and Yes.

Me: Learning something new or working on something that is difficult requires help, yes?

Them: (Nods)

Me: Good. Today’s learning is generally new and certainly difficult, so do what you are supposed to do, ask for help, and I will do what I am supposed to do, give help.

Proud of my attempts to inspire their neediness, I turned them loose on their task, and they…wait for it…didn’t ask for help. Fail. But not really. I know from past experiences that the “no-help” trend is tough to buck, so I will be patient and remain diligent in my deeds to change what’s sadly become standard in too many classrooms: the horror of help. Maybe if I let them know that the number one way to make my day is to ask me for help, they’d ask. Nothing pleases or energizes me more. Maybe if I let them know. Maybe they would do that for me. Maybe.


So on a silly whim yesterday, I got a notion in my head to add some novelty to our work. It requires having seen the movie The Princess Bride to appreciate it perhaps. And, fortunately, most of the kids had, so I believe it worked for them. Anyway, I provided kids with the name tags below to wear as they worked on hooks.



Again, it will likely be lost on those who have not seen the movie. Either way, I was happy that the kids found some fun it. Two of my more theatrical boys even helped me create two video clips of their reciting the lines on their name tags–in perfect character, but unfortunately, the videos wouldn’t load this morning. Sorry Ralphe and Mekhai.

Happy Wednesday, all. And, as ever, thanks for tuning in. It, too, makes my day.



A Visit from the Outside: Project 180, Day 14

Ten Hut!

Had visitors yesterday. Unplanned. Had no idea they were coming. Oh, I learned late that the new superintendent would be in the building yesterday morning, but I did not know that he and one of our assistant principals would stop by and stay for nearly a half hour watching the learning in 211. Of course, visits are not unusual at CHS. In fact, they are quite common, and while my room is no stranger to administrative walk-through’s, it was the first visit with Project 180 underway.

As such, always happy to engage others in conversations about the goings-on in my room, I jumped at the chance to talk with Rob and Ray about our learning community. The kids were already on one of our daily “Quick Quests,” in search of “Sweet So-What’s” and “Thoughtful Themes,” so that freed me up to share some of our story. Of course, it also shed light on the the engagement and activity of my kids, kids working and learning with no grades dangling in front of them, kids who were working to learn. Indeed, I could not have been more pleased with the real, unrehearsed buzz of my busy bees as I talked about them and our journey with the bosses. Perhaps worth pointing out is the fact that the new superintendent Mr. Roettger had no idea about Project 180 and the fact that he was in a room full of sophomores with guaranteed A’s for the year, a fact that I did not reveal till near the end of the visit, proud to point to my kids, energized and engaged, not for the sake of a grade but for the sake of learning and growing. Proud moment.


So every day in 211 begins with an entry task we call “connections.” It is an intentional activity designed with a few purposes in mind. One, it’s a consistent start-at-the-bell part of our day. The kids know to have their writer’s notebooks out at the bell. Two, it is daily, low-stakes writing practice, an opportunity to move ideas to paper. Three, most importantly, it gives us an opportunity to learn about our community as kids share their responses with various members in various ways. Here is the basic process.

  1. A writing prompt is projected on the screen (some fun, some serious).
  2. Kids get 2 minutes to write (continuous writing, not writing to get done).
  3. We share our writing (partners, teams, whole class, etc.).

Nothing fancy, but something important to building and maintaining our classroom community. Yesterday, I added a twist. I joined. To make it more novel, I used a six-sided die to roll and determine which group I would join for the activity. There are five groups, so if I rolled a one, I would go with group one, a three with group three, and so on. A six would make it my choice. Really, it was my plan to join all along, but I kept letting clerical duties (taking attendance) get in the way of more important matters–connecting with my kids. Attendance can wait. Connections first.

Today, We Write!

Excited to dig into the work today, for today we don our writers’ hats and practice the craft of writing. Using the hook resource sheet I provided them with yesterday, the kids will practice all 18 hook types. I was so pleased to find so many of the kids truly grateful for the resource, with many exclaiming, “This is exactly what I needed.” Music to my old ears.

And so, today, we write, not for the sake of the product, but the power of the process, a process designed to make my kids believe they are writers. Of course, some already have that belief, but for the ones who don’t, it gives them a chance for now to pronounce and live by the words, “I am not a writer…yet.” Yet. Ne’er a more important word existed.

Happy Tuesday, friends. Thank you for your continued support.


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