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Month: May 2017 (page 1 of 3)

Out Here on the Frontier: Project 180, Day 167

Yesterday, I offered a glimpse of our grading plan for next year, asking for feedback, and I was pleased to have fellow gradeless frontiersman and Washington State teacher Aaron Blackwelder pose a few questions about our work. Thank you, Aaron. I have attempted to address your questions below. I am not sure how well I did, and I probably wandered a bit, but it was a great opportunity to walk through our thinking. Sorry it’s so long.

As I working through this lengthy explanation, I was struck by how much thought we frontiersmen and frontierswomen put into our work in an attempt to improve teaching and learning in our classrooms. And I also thought about those critical of the movement, and I wondered how frequently those folks post their work and seek feedback. When is the last time a traditional grader made public his policies for scrutiny? Ever? But, I guess if he were to do so,  he’d have to join us out here on the frontier, where things are hard won. But that’s why we are here out on the frontier. We believe that nothing worthwhile is easy. We believe that there exists a better way. And we embrace the hard work necessary to build a better world for those we serve. We are frontiersmen.

Happy Wednesday, all. Big shout out to all my fellow frontier men and women. We can do this. We are doing this.

Q1: At what point do you determine if a student can simply make up/revise work to meet proficiency to earn credit or require him repeat the class? My colleagues and I are currently wrestling with this concept now.

Great question. We, too, grappled with how to address this issue in our approach. Here is our present thinking around using SBA results for students to demonstrate proficiency and earn credit when they have not done so within a grading period.

Our Must-Meet standards will closely align with the high frequency, emphasized targets found on the SBA. For instance, CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.9-10.1, “Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text,” is central to the SBA. It is also central to our classrooms. Focus Standard #4: “I can integrate cited text evidence into my writing to support my thinking.” With that in mind, when a student passes the SBA, we will have measure of confidence that he/she has satisfied our requirement for the Must-Meet standard. At present, SBA scores are still linked to graduation, so we feel this is a fair trade. Of course, if the SBA scores are delinked from graduation, we will have to rethink this.

Must-Meet “proficiency” must be demonstrated on Performance Opportunities, formal opportunities designed to demonstrate proficiency with the standards. While kids may always make-up/revise Practice as a means to make progress, this will not be considered for Must-Meet proficiency. Of course, this means that we will have to recreate some Performances so kids have continued opportunities to demonstrate proficiency.

Our district does not allow students to retake classes. If students fail a class, then they have an opportunity to retrieve credit in our after-school or summer-school credit-retrieval programs. However, the other grade 10 teachers and I do not necessarily have a lot of faith in this being a fair trade, which is another reason for why we settled with the SBA. Since kids will not have an opportunity to be with us again the following year, we were forced to find an acceptable alternative for them to earn credit once they have left us.

We anticipate very few students being in this boat. Must-Meet means high expectations. And this is as true for us as it is for our kids. So, just as we set must-meet expectations for them, we will also set high-support expectations for ourselves, which requires a concerted effort to provide the necessary supports and opportunities for the kids to achieve proficiency. Our goal for each term is that every kid demonstrates proficiency with the Must-Meet standards. For the few who do not, we, again, think passing the SBA is a fair trade.

 But, that said, and this is not something that we will necessarily advertise, we did discuss that there might be some situations where we can and will make some exceptions. For instance, if a kid has met 3 of the 4 Must-Meet standards and is really close with the fourth, then we imagine personalizing a plan for them to demonstrate proficiency either the next semester if they are still with us, or the next year as long as we are able to create the right conditions with the next year’s teacher. But this is where we felt like we were beginning to wade into the mud, which is why we settled with the SBA plan. We wondered here, too, if we would then let the kid self-select a grade or if he would just get a “Satisfactory.” And again, it started to feel muddy, so we settled with the latter. What’s more, we figured that the few who do actually find themselves in this boat will  be more worried about earning credit than selecting a grade.

Q2: Why differentiate between “Near Miss” and “Far Miss” if either is going to require a student to make up/redo/revise work? Do you have clear descriptors of the two levels?

Another good question. Couple of things going on here with our thinking. I’ll do my best.

We have found “Near Miss” and “Far Miss” to be student and parent friendly. But we have also found it to be teacher friendly, allowing our professional judgment to come into play with each individual performance, more fluidly addressing the things that don’t always fit neatly into rubric cells. Really, we only provide clear, descriptive criteria for the target. From there, with each attempt,  we want kids to know how close they are to the target if they don’t hit it. The articulation of this through feedback calls attention not only to the target but also to what needs to happen to help move them closer to the target. The distinction between “near’ and “far” relies on professional judgment, which is supported by the language in the target descriptors. Again, the goal here is to help kids see where they are in relation to the target.

Skyward, our online grading system, is our most consistent, continuous form of communication with parents. Because there will be no “grades” to report all semester, we want a consistent way to meaningfully communicate progress to parents. Regardless of whether the “redo” is required or optional, we want to communicate to kids and parents where the attempt landed.

For Practice, we want parents to know the level of completion. Our hope, here, is that parents and kids begin to see a connection between practice and performance. And while we would never penalize a kid for incomplete practice, we do hold that practice is generally consequential to one’s performance. Thus, by keeping record of completed practice, we believe we help provide a piece of history of sorts for kids to reflect on as they analyze their learning journeys over the term, hopefully making a connection between practice and performance.

For Performance, we want parents to know how kids are performing relative to the standards. Our hope, here, is that parents utilize performance scores as a catalyst for either making contact with us and/or encouraging their child to actively seek retake opportunities. We really need parents to be partners, so our hope is that we provide a simple but meaningful way to communicate progress.

We are striving for consistency. Admittedly, “near” and “far” fit Performance better than Practice.  Certainly, “near miss” and “far miss” more clearly connect with the idea of hitting a target, but as for Practice and completion, the connection is less clear. Still, we believe it works, and we ultimately settled for consistency over clarity. We are gambling that parents and kids will “get” that, for completion, a near miss indicates “mostly complete” and a far miss indicates “mostly incomplete.” It’s not perfect. But it’s what we’re going with for now. If it doesn’t work, we will change it.


Sneak Peek: Project 180, Day 166

Here is a preview of our grading policy that we will implement next year in all sophomore language arts courses, both regular and honors. Of course, the Focus Standards will vary some between regular and honors courses, but our grading approach will be uniform. And while we certainly do not claim to have arrived at “the” way to grade, we do feel as if we have come up with an approach that more accurately communicates student growth and proficiency. We are excited to learn and grow with our kids next year, and we feel that this is a great launching point to do so. We would love any feedback that you are willing to offer.

Biggest change from Project 180? I am no longer handing kids an “A” as they walk through the door next year. Why? Well, it was never my intention to continue down that path. My giving an “A” this year was what I felt to be a necessary, radical move to take grades off the table and swing the pendulum to the opposite end, calling attention to the myriad issues surrounding traditional grading practices. I wanted to discover if kids would work, if kids could learn without the threat of a grade hanging over their heads. And while my anecdotes and SBA results (96.5%) are not scientifically conclusive, they do point to the possibility that we can step away from tradition, that we can take risks and kids can still learn.

But next year will be different. Following a hunch and advice from Aaron Blackwelder, I decided to let kids self-select and defend grades at the end of a term. I wish now that this is what I had done this year, but we live and we learn. And I learned a lot this year. Another factor that influenced my decision to abandon the “gifted A” was that I wanted to provide a path for others to follow, and for most it was a leap too long, so I closed the gap, and others can now follow with more confidence. More to come on how this year has influenced the path ahead, but for now, I am pleased to announce that my grade-level team has joined the journey to turn grading upside down. Welcome aboard Jenna Tamura and Maddie Alderete.

Happy Tuesday, all. A special thank you to Aaron Blackwelder for his courage and wisdom.  And another special thank you to Jenna and Maddie for their hard work and dedication.

Cheney High School Grade 10 English Language Arts Grading Policies


The tenth-grade ELA teachers at CHS utilize a non-traditional grading approach. Our desire is not only to provide a system that more accurately communicates achievement and progress but also to provide a system that empowers students to take greater ownership and responsibility over their learning. The details of our approach are outlined below.

Focus Standards

Each semester there will be 10 – 12 Focus Standards adapted from the Common Core State Standards that will be at the center of our work for the grading period. 4 – 6 of the Focus Standards will be designated as “Must-Meet” standards.

Must-Meet Standards

Each semester there will be 4 – 6 Must-Meet Standards that students must meet to earn credit. If they do not demonstrate proficiency by the end of the grading period, they will be given an Unsatisfactory until they demonstrate proficiency with these standards.  Students will earn credit once they meet Washington State Proficiency Levels on the Smarter Balanced Assessment at which time their grades will be changed to Satisfactory, giving them credit for the course with no effect on their GPA.

Final Grades

Students who meet the designated Must-Meet Standards will select and defend a grade at the end of the term. Students will present their grade selections and evidence (see below) during an end-of-term conference with their teacher. The students will answer two central questions during the conference.

  1. What evidence do you have that you met the focus standards.
  2. What evidence do you have that you achieved growth with the focus standards?

Students who do not meet the designated Must-Meet Standards will be given an Unsatisfactory until they demonstrate proficiency (see above).


Our grading approach relies heavily upon evidence that students collect over the term to demonstrate proficiency and growth with the term’s focus standards. Students will maintain an “evidence portfolio” that houses all major assignments and assessments. These documents will be the necessary formal evidence for students to defend their selection of grades. However, this is not the only form of evidence that students may use to defend their selected grades.


Skyward will be used as a means to report progress. Progress will be presented in two ways:  Completion and Performance.

Completion will be used to report on practice. It will be presented with a 3-point scale.

3 = Complete. 2 = Near Miss. 1 = Far Miss. 0 = Missing

Performance will be used to report on proficiency. It will be presented with a 3-point scale.

3 = Proficient. 2 = Near Miss. 1 = Far Miss. 0 = Missing

Mid-term Grades

Mid-term grades are simply a formal progress report. As with final grades, students will select and defend a grade, but unlike the final grade, there will not be time for a conference. However, there will be a formal mid-term progress report, which students will complete and share at home. A parent signature will be required.

Key Terms

Proficiency – demonstrates success with standard

Growth – demonstrates continued progress with standard

Mastery – consistently demonstrates progress above standard

Practice – informal feedback opportunities designed to develop the skills necessary to achieve proficiency with the focus standards

Performance – formal feedback opportunities designed to demonstrate proficiency with the focus standards

Satisfactory grade – Under teacher discretion, a student may be given an “S” (Satisfactory) grade that awards credit for the class, but does not impact a student’s GPA in a positive or negative way.  If a student progresses through a class and displays effort and adequate understanding of content, but due to a variety of circumstances, would not be able to earn a passing grade, an “S” grade may be given.  (Cheney High School Grading Policy)

Unsatisfactory grade – Under teacher discretion, a student may be given a “U” (Unsatisfactory) grade that does not award credit for the class, but also does not impact a student’s GPA in a positive or negative way.  If a student does not progress through a class, display reasonable effort, and adequate understanding of content, a “U” grade may be given.  A “U” grade may be changed to a letter grade, including an “S” grade, when a teacher determines that a student has adequately completed the class.  (Cheney High School Grading Policy)

I Reject Your Reality: Project 180, Day 165


“Ironically, neither this narrower grade distribution nor a century of research and experience in scoring students’ writing seems to have improved the reliability of the percentage grades assigned by teachers. Recently, Hunter Brimi (2011) replicated Starch and Elliott’s 1912 study and attained almost identical results. Brimi asked 90 high school teachers²who had received nearly 20 hours of training in a writing 3 assessment program²to grade the same student paper on a 100-point percentage scale. Among the 73 teachers who responded, scores ranged from 50 to 96. And that’s among teachers who received specific professional development in writing assessment!

So even if one accepts the idea that there are truly 100 discernible levels of student writing performance, it’s clear that even well-trained teachers cannot distinguish among those different levels with much accuracy or consistency.”

–Thomas Guskey


As I begin to look ahead, I must look back. And as I look back, I begin to recall the myriad reasons I began Project 180 in the first place. And so, as the year continues to wind down and the Project prepares to pause, I will begin to reexamine some of the “why’s”of 180. I will present them in no particular order.

I Reject This #1: There exists no-real evidence to support traditional, percentage-based grading practices.

The Case Against Percentage Grades

It is what I have called education’s dirty little secret. And what’s sad is that it’s a lie that most educators unwittingly perpetuate because no one taught us differently. In truth, traditional percentage grades have been in play so long that few ever really question their effectiveness, and what’s more, in most cases, we simply use them because they were used on us.

Most outside of education, I believe, assume that there exists a standard uniformity to grading practices in our public schools, that there is a tried-and-true system in place to ensure accuracy, objectivity, and reliability when it comes to grading. It’s a lie. For the most part, teachers grade how they want to grade, enjoying an incredible amount of autonomy. Most of us only took a 3-credit course on assessment in college, which only–if it all–presented a broad stroke of the grading landscape across a sparse canvas, a canvas that we were then forced to fill on our own to survive, which resulted in our necessarily reverting back to how we were graded, leading us to make things up along the way. That, in a nutshell, is the expanse of teachers’ grading expertise.

Deep down I think I knew this a long time ago, but in the absence of any real answers or help, I conformed to the system because it was there. And I am not alone. I know others, many others, who, too, have struggled with traditional grading, wondering, really, if it was helping or hurting learning in their classrooms. And finally, after stumbling across standards-based grading, the 15 Fixes, and other alternative views of grading practices, I started to shed my traditional robes, seeking to make changes in my classroom that made better sense when it came to responding to student work and reporting student achievement. Last year, I reached my breaking point, and decided to wholly reject the status quo, seeking to call attention to the lie.

I gave every kid an “A” at the beginning of the year. I did it to take grading off the table, completely off the table, so the focus would have to be learning. I did it on a hunch that kids will work without grades, that kids can learn without grades. I did it to call attention to and raise the alarm over the BS in traditional grading practices. I did it to swing the pendulum too far the other way, so perhaps we could eventually come to a balanced rest in the middle. I did it to reject traditional grading practices. I did it because I was tired of looking at the absurd grotesqueness of a naked emperor. I did it because I believe we can and have to do better.

And to that end, the pendulum has already begun to swing back the other direction, as I seek to refine my grading practices from what I have learned this year. But I will never go back. Never. And though this year’s journey with 180 is near its end, my crusade has just begun.

Happy Friday, all.

Teamwork: Project 180, Day 164

Yesterday, after several early-morning meetings, Ms. Tamura, Ms. Alderete, and I put the finishing touches on the document that outlines our unified approach for grading next year. And while I am pleased with the product, which I will share in the coming days, I am more proud of the process. We three work really well together. We share a genuine love for kids, a common vision for learning, and a undying devotion to progress. Armed with these shared attributes, we dive willingly and deeply into our work. And though we get along famously, often finding our work interrupted with fits of laughter, we just as often have tough, candid conversations, which frequently lead us to disagreement. But we have learned to embrace those moments as necessary steps in our collaborative journeys, seeking compromise, finding middle ground.

And our recent work has certainly been a testament to the strength of our personal and professional relationships. Case in point, one of the cool features of Google Docs is that keeps track of your revisions; even cooler, you can watch the Draftback, a “video” of all the changes you’ve made along the way. Our current document, ended up with 5,585 revisions. One, this is an indication of the time we spent. Two, this is an indication of the careful work that we put into this endeavor. I am so lucky to have these two awesome vibes in my tribe. They are selfless, dedicated, passionate educators, who above all else, are willing to put up with and follow my crazy. Couldn’t do it without you, ladies. So proud of the work we’ve begun. So excited by the years of work that remain.

What’s next? This morning we will set to work on our Google Slide presentation for rolling out our plan and vision to kids next year. We will present our work to the administrators and counselors before year’s end, so they have an opportunity to see our vision and offer input. Excited to continue this journey with my tribe.

Happy Thursday, all.

For Them: Project 180, Day 163

Best job. Tough job. It is especially tough this time of year.  But despite the challenges, teachers lead blessed lives. Not sure I could/would do this job if not for the kids. They keep me young. They keep me inspired. They keep me striving to better myself and education every single day. And while I am so looking forward to summer’s rest, I am also dreading the days ahead without they who lift me up. For them, I would teach all year. For them, I would teach for free. For them, I would challenge the world. For them.

Happy Wednesday, all.

The Loser Test: Project 180, Day 162

Got interviewed again yesterday. No flattering, make-me-look-better-than-I-really-am video included. No preparation. No anticipation. I was put on the spot.

Walking back from the office during my prep yesterday morning, I was hailed by Tony, Tony the Tough, Tony who is as likely to glare at me as she is to smile at me. But that’s the nature of our relationship, has been for nearly three years.

“Got noodles?”

Some of you already know this, but for those who don’t, I feed kids. I started having food available on occasion to now having a full-fledged project called Feed Forward, through which, with the generous help of our community, I am able to feed dozens of hungry kids each day.

“Uh, yeah, I think. Haven’t looked yet, but if I don’t, I have some out in my truck. Let’s go look.”

Turns out there were a few, but they were all beef. And Tony wanted chicken, so I told her to wait, and I hopped out to my truck, grabbing the now near-daily supply.

“Here you go, Tone.”

“Thank you,” she smiled. And the interview began.

“Why don’t you think I like you, Sy?”

Taken off-guard. “Oh, I know you like me, but I also know that I have a knack for irritating you. And so that’s how I find you most days–irritated. So I play along.”

“Well, I like you.” 

“I know, and I like you. But this is weird, Tone.  I’d rather say, ‘good morning, loser’ than exchange pleasantries with you. That’s who we are.”

“Do you like–really like–being a teacher?”



“‘Cause they overpay me to make fun of kids.”

“No, really, what’s so good about it?”

“Well, kids fill my cup every day. They make me happy. They keep me young and hopeful. And so, I try to make a difference for them.”

“You do. You are.” As she moved to the door.

“Thanks, loser.”

“Whatever, loser.” 

Interview over. Back to normal with Tony after a brief Twilight Zone episode. I know that some will raise a brow at my calling kids losers. I get it. My job is to build them up, not break them down. And so, ‘loser’ may not be the best choice of words. But I have used the “loser test” for years. I use it to gauge the strength of my relationships with kids. I figure if I can call them loser without their getting hurt or offended, then I am in. It’s really about trust. They know–they trust–that I am not being mean. They know, in albeit an odd way, that I am really saying, “I am fond of you.” Again, I know that some will scoff at such logic, but it works for me. And I think those who know me best know that there is nothing more important than relationships in my classroom. Of course, I don’t call all kids losers. And I certainly do not begin the year calling kids losers, for I have not yet earned their trust. But every year, for now over twenty years, I have utilized the loser test. That’s a lot of years. That’s a lot of losers. Love every one of them.

Happy Tuesday, all.




Keepin’ it Real: Project 180, Day 161

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

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

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

The Injustice of Parents on Social Media

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brilliance: Project 180, Day 160

So many great moments yesterday. I want to share two.

For the speeches, the kids had to select an injustice to address. We loosely defined injustice as a wrong to be righted. It could be personal or universal, past or present. The kids then had to prepare and present a speech. And while the text of their speech certainly carries some significance, in truth the primary purpose of the task is to get kids to step up to the podium, face their fears of public speaking, and say something–to be a voice, to be heard. Yesterday, two kids’ voices in particular still reverberate and echo in my mind. They spoke. We listened. I can still hear them. They became voices in our little speck of the vast universe. Bright lights in endless space.

Dylan. All spring long in practice, he has struggled to face his fear of speaking. And yesterday–the day–he stood atop a precipice, and for one brief frozen moment, I thought he wasn’t going to be able to muster the courage, but as time resumed, he leaned into his first step and made his way to the podium. But even then, deep breaths and head shakes beset him, and I grimaced, willing him strength with nods of reassurance. And then the chorus began. “You got this, Dylan. You got this.” His peers, his community, hoisted him up, smiling and nodding. And then, he took one final breath, opened his mouth, and a masterpiece tumbled out. He not only did it; he did it beautifully. Truly. He spoke of the injustice of poor parenting in our society, calling on his peers to take the charge seriously when their time came. Such a wise young man, a young man I have gotten to know through his masterful essays this year, a young man who found his voice yesterday. Moment indeed.

Haley. Haley’s entire speech is below. She gave me permission to publish it this morning. To begin, Haley is perhaps the most obnoxiously optimistic, genuinely gregarious person I know. Her infectious smile and attitude extend as infinitely as her long blonde curls. She is such a force. She does not make an impression. She is an impression. As such, she has made a huge impact on me this year, and I have gotten to know her quite well. But, as I learned yesterday, I didn’t know her as well as I thought. None of us did. Out of trust, as she intimated in the preface to her speech, she shared a deep, personal part of herself, calling attention to the injustice of the quick labels that we place on the people around us without ever really getting to know them. She also invited mom to class. Who does that? Haley. Only Haley.

And so, with mom, a few friends, and another teacher as part of her entourage in the audience, she stepped to the podium, smiled her impossible smile and spoke to the world. And for four minutes, we all sat in wonder as we witnessed a masterful, beautiful performance from the young lady we all thought we knew. Truly a momentous moment. My heart soared for Haley. It soared for kids. It soared for humanity. Kids are truly amazing. Truly.

Happy Friday, all. More speeches today. More brilliant lights. Lucky man.

Who am I? (pause) The goofy, tall, blonde haired girl who can not stop smiling. (pause)

Smiling every day. Rain or sun. Monday or Friday. (pause) Even on the days where I forgot to

brush my teeth, you will still see that smile stretching from ear to ear. (pause)

But a smile is merely just a sticker placed on the face. (pause) A bit of cover up to hide the pain. (pause)

Many of you may or may not have already created this assumption of what my life may look like.

While I don’t know what that picture you have painted in your mind for me is, I do know that it is probably all wrong.

So, instead of letting you think that I am a teenage girl with a great life and all rainbows and unicorn frapuccinos, let me give you just a small glimpse into my past.

As a child I went through many things children are not suppose to go through. (pause)

While some children were out playing with their daddies, I didn’t see my “daddy”. (pause)  

Some may have been picking around their dinner wishing it was something else, while my mother would go without dinner in order to make sure I got something to eat.

For some, the smell of their grandma’s perfume filled their noses, for me, the smell of cigarette smoke crawled into my nostrils.

For some, birthdays were the best day of the year. For me, it was a reminder that I was the result of a teenage romance gone wrong. (pause)

For most children the the most painful thing they experienced was falling and scraping their knee.

My biggest pain was not my loneliness, or even my broken heart.(pause)

My biggest pain was listening to my mother cry and cry at night when no one was around. (pause)

The sound of her cry still lingers in my head. I will never get it out. It is stuck in there like glue.(pause)

The day we left was the greatest decision my mom ever made. My “daddy” didn’t agree.

As he grabbed my mother’s arm so hard it broke, the idea of never getting out of there seemed so real.

Grabbing her purse, choking her, ripping me out of her arms. There was nothing she could do to make it stop.

I screamed and reached for her. I wanted my mommy. (pause)

I do not know why….but…. I do know that it is by God’s grace that my mother and I are together today.

The sound of my screaming must have been the only thing that stopped this man from going any further.

Somehow in that moment of anger, the man whom I called daddy all my life became a man to fear.  (pause)

My childhood is merely stories, not memories. (pause)They have begun to disappear.

Unfortunately all I feel and remember is pain. Maybe it is because I don’t want to remember, or maybe I really cannot remember.

The small amount of memories I do remember are not ones that I like to think about; however, they are what make me who I am today.

I am not up here today to seek sympathy from all of you. Everyone goes through crap, and the crap I went through is not even close to the amount of crap some kiddos have been through. (pause)

I share these things with you in order for you all to see that behind the curls and pale skin lays a strong, confident girl who won’t let her past define her. (pause)

So when I ask “who am I”, the answer is Haley Rae Pemberton. (pause)

The goofy, tall, blonde haired girl who cannot stop smiling. (pause)

But now you know that smile represents something more. (pause)

I am not just a goofy, tall, blonde haired girl, but I am a broken, and damaged little girl.

I have been through a lot, and I have more to me than just that girl who is always happy.

That smile represents life. (pause) It represents my triumph.(pause) It represents how lucky I am to be here in front of you, living a healthy and lovely life. (pause)

We all have a story. (pause)

Tate is so much more than just the rodeo girl.

Luke is more than just the tall athletic guy.

Walter has more to him than just his humor.

Believe it or not, but even my bio dad had a long story of pain and suffering behind that drug-addicted, abusive face I grew up knowing.(pause)

We all have something behind the image that we work so hard to create for our peers.

For all you know the girl sitting right next to you could have been abused and beaten as a child and ripped out of her own home to go live with strangers. (pause)

Or the boy you pass by in the hall who is always wearing a black sweater with his head down, is shamed at home for his “lack” of manliness.

Our peers could be starving, harming themselves, abused, in pain.(pause) But we would never know because we don’t bother to get to know the real human beings that they are.(pause)

Unfortunately so many people these days go through this kind of thing.

They get a label from someone who doesn’t even know them that sticks with them whether they like it or not.

I stand here today in front of you with no smile. No cover up. No hiding.  Here I am. (pause)

This is the part where I say we should stop labeling and figure our lives out and yada yada. But this time I leave you with this one idea. (pause)

Before we fill out the name tag for another person, let’s take a step back and have a little sympathy for our peers.

I am not going to say we need to go out and get to know the personal side of every single person in this school.

But can we come together to be less quick to hand out a label to a person and instead give out smiles and high fives and compliments. (pause)

Because for all we know the Regina George of the school could be painting on a smile everyday to hide the pain no one knows about.  Thank you.

Life’s a Roller Coaster: Project 180, Day 159

Peaks and valleys. Heavy heart today. I will be attending a dear, nearly lifelong friend’s father’s funeral this afternoon. Hard to go from the high of the past few days to the low today. As my fellow teachers know, one of the bigger challenges of the job is turning off the outside world, so we can be fully present for our little critters. I will do my best. Of course, when we have relationships with our kiddos, they can be powerful supporters. They really are awesome little creatures.

Continuing with speeches today. Experienced some powerful moments yesterday. From a young black woman sharing her hopes and fears to a young gay man expressing the liberation of a revealed identity, we were struck to the core. Powerful stuff. Powerful kids. Powerful moments.

Happy Thursday, all.

Pep in My Step: Project 180, Day 158

Morning, all. Yesterday was a super day for me. Project 180 was validated–to a degree–by this year’s SBA scores. NEWESD 101 and STCU honored me with the above clip in their “101 in 101” campaign to honor previous ESD 101 Teachers of the Year. At times, Project 180 has been a long, hard journey, and yesterday I felt like things were finally coming together. It felt good. It came at the right time. It put some pep back in my step.

But, as those who know me best will attest, I am not one to rest for long. Much work remains. And with this year wrapping up, I am already charging ahead into next year, eager to take what I have learned and improve on it. And I am excited that I have picked up a couple of travel companions in Jenna Tamura and Maddie Alderete, my grade 10 team, to journey forth with me next year. In an earlier post, I had mentioned that we were collaborating on a unified grading approach at level 10 next year, and the work is well underway. We three have committed our early mornings for the rest of the year to roll up our sleeves and put our heads together to create and refine a grading approach that truly fosters both proficiency and growth in our classrooms. I am lucky to have two such partners with whom I can dig into this transformational work. We will share our plan by year’s end.

Back to speeches today. Kids in their moments, even more pep to my step. Gonna be another super day. Happy Wednesday, all.

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