Let's Change Education

Challenge. Discover. Lead. Change.

Page 2 of 30

Air in Their Sails: Project 180, Day 117

This caught my eye this morning. Made me think of my quest to cultivate a culture of possibility. As I am wont to say, often the only difference between possible and impossible is a teacher’s decision.  And more often than not, those decisions involve our perceptions. Of course there are things out of are control, and there always will be. We cannot change a kid’s home situation. But we cannot let what we cannot control outside our room control what goes on inside our room. We have a choice. In everything a choice. We can feed apathy. Or we can feed hope. The latter presents possibility. The former, made manifest in the list above, presents excuses that shred the sails before they ever catch wind, stranding us in a sea of impossible, listing without purpose, existing without hope.

As captains of our ships, we chart the course. We hoist the sails. Let’s just make sure that when we do, they can catch the wind, hold the force that our kids can be. Can be. If we let them be. Think possible. And it will be.

Happy Tuesday, all. May your sails catch a favorable wind.

Culture of Comfort: Project 180, Day 116

Yep. This is what I want for my kids. And while I cannot claim that my classroom is ideal for every kid who walks through the door, I can claim that I make a concerted effort to make it so. Of course, that is no small task, for each kid is different, and meeting his or her needs is a unique challenge. As such, it is perhaps an impossible mission, but if one stays the course, making an honest effort towards his goal, then even his failure is his success because he tried.

At present, I am trying to move the needle with public speaking. I am trying to provide opportunities for kids to face their fears and become less uncomfortable. Of course, I began this back on day one. It started the moment they walked through my door 116 days ago. It started with my first interaction with them. It started with their first interactions with each other. From day one, we began creating the culture in which we would live for the coming months. And it is now within that culture–a mix of intention and chance–that we find ourselves finding the courage to face that which we fear. Of course, I want to believe that the comfort the kids find in our culture has made this task a little less daunting. I want to believe that if asked, my kids would say that feel comfortable in my room. Comfortable to be themselves. Comfortable to struggle. Comfortable to accept a challenge. Comfortable to ask for help. Comfortable to be uncomfortable. If this is even mostly true, then I am comfortable. But because it will never be fully true, I will never be fully comfortable,  and, thus, I will continue to chase what I desire.  A room for all. A place for each.

Happy Monday, all.


Help! I am Surrounded by Glossophobes: Project 180, Day 114

Yesterday, we began facing our fears. Apparently, nearly 75% of the world’s population suffers from the fear of public speaking, but the kids’ and I didn’t need statistics to back up what we already knew to be true. Kids, people, rarely embrace the opportunity to stand and deliver to their peers. In fact, they generally hate it.  And yesterday, the kids reminded me of that.

Of course, I didn’t need much of a reminder, for even though it has now been nearly thirty years ago, I remember all too clearly–and painfully–the “F” I took on a speech in 11th grade because I was too afraid–really, just unprepared–to stand in front of the class. Mrs. Amsden was terribly disappointed in me. Heck, I was–still am–disappointed in myself. But the fear was real. So, I do not dismiss it out of hand when my kids share their fear and reluctance to speak publicly. But, I do not let them get out of it either. It’s important. And it’s one of those things that one cannot simply get better at without doing. So we do it, but we do it differently.

Last year, upon posing the question, “Why are people so afraid to speak?” I had a huge Aha! moment when Danica broke it down for me.

“Here’s the deal, Sy. You guys give us one or two major presentations/speeches per year; you make it worth a gazillion points; you give us a rubric that requires a Ted-Talk level of performance; and you don’t give us any real support. You just expect perfection. And then you wonder why we generally suck, and why we generally hate it.”

Ouch. Knife in. Couple a twists. That one hurt. But it hurt because it was true. And at that moment, I vowed to never again “score” a kids public-speaking performance. Oh, I would certainly give feedback, but I would not penalize them with a grade for facing their fears, for trying to grow. More importantly, I vowed to give them lots of opportunities to practice with feedback, so they were less-anxious during the real performance. Consequently, as some will remember from last spring, I had the pleasure of witnessing many great speech performances, many of which I shared with you. And so, this year, I am taking a very similar approach, hoping my kids grow in this important area by diminishing their own anxiety with speaking publicly.

And so, yesterday, the kids had their first of many to-come opportunities of standing and delivering in front of the class. They had to prepare 5 statements that revealed some of their beliefs, values, convictions, and/or ideals. Killing two birds, I had them produce a simple sentence, a compound sentence, a complex sentence, a figure of speech, and a threepeat. They had to publish each statement in marker on printer paper. Then they had to select one of two options for presenting: share without speaking, or share with speaking. In addition, as they took the stage, they had to share their anxiety level by indicating  a number with their fingers. 1 = low/no anxiety. 2 = moderate anxiety. 3 = high anxiety.  And we got to work. We got about halfway through the roster, and today we will wrap it up. No Ted Talks. But the kids got up and they delivered. Baby steps. Fear is not overcome at once. It takes time, and it takes some trust. I have some trust building to do in this particular arena. Thankfully, last year, Danica helped show me the way.

Happy Friday, all. Have a great weekend.


Missing Muse: Project 180, Day 113

Morning, all. Experiencing a rare moment this morning. Not finding much to write about. Oh, there’s plenty going on in class. Even have some good Twitterverse graphics to share, but not finding my flow today. Doesn’t happen very often.

Been thinking a lot about next year, and as I do, I am weighing carefully whether or not I will go gradeless. At present, the scale is balanced. There are reasons why I should. There are reasons why I shouldn’t. That said, I will continue to contemplate and ruminate as the journey continues, but as of right now, there is no certain path.  Of course, some important factors still remain in regards to how effective the project has been, and they will play a significant role in my final decision. One will be the results of the state testing. Another will be the final, end-of-the-journey feedback from the kids. And while neither will fully reveal nor decide the matter, both will weigh heavily in my decision.

Speaking of the devil. State testing is right around the corner. There are some interesting things going on in the state right now, House Bill 1046, which “delinks” testing from the (ACA and ICA) graduation requirement has passed the House chamber and is now in the Senate. And though I am still educating myself on what the implications of this may be, I am pleased that there has been some official progress with how we approach and/or connect standardized testing and its data with graduation requirements.  Every year, I find it harder and harder to not more strongly resist and speak out against the madness that is standardized testing.  For now the saga continues, and I will do my part to prepare my kids for their current reality. But it rankles.

All right, that’s all I got. Alas, my trusty muse eluded me this morning. Happy Thursday, all.

Be the Change: Project 180, Day 112

“Project Feed Forward is an investment in tomorrow. One kind act a time. One kid at a time. Feeding kids. Building character. Investing in the future.”

What began simply as an idea to provide some snacks when I could for kids who were hungry has grown into a project to not only fill kids’ bellies but also build their characters. Each day, dozens of kids access my cabinet to get Cup Noodles or granola bars. The cost? Please and thank you. As the project has grown, it has surpassed my capacity to keep my cabinet stocked. Fortunately, many from the Cheney community have stepped up and helped keep the project going with their generous donations. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

Recently, former CHS student Alexa Shaw, who is now a senior psych major at EWU, contacted me to get involved with the project, expressing that she and some of her peers wanted to participate in a community-service project, and my project was right up their alley. Of course, I eagerly welcomed her participation. The project is bigger than I. Way bigger.

Last week, I was also thrilled to learn that community-involvement hero Jessica Deutsch had floated my project idea to STCU, who may be able to help. Still waiting to hear back on this. Either way, I am humbled and inspired by the community work and support people like Jessica and organizations like STCU provide.

What does this have to do with 180? Well, if one can accept that notion that the purpose of education transcends academics, then he/she understands that education is also about preparing kids to be contributing, productive members of society. This spring, after the standardized-testing saga is over, the kids are going to come up with their own “make-a-difference” projects, projects that will impact the local, national, and/or global community. As with the academic side of things in the classroom, one of the most important roles I can play is model. And just as I model writing for my kids, I model that each can strive to make a difference. So, I share my models, my projects.

Project Feed Forward is one of three projects that I have going right now. I also have Project You Matter and, of course, Project 180 in play. All three projects began with my seeing something that I wanted to change, so instead of just thinking about it, I went for it. I want to use my projects to empower the kids to do the same. At the risk of being cliche’, I want them to see the need for a change, and I want them to be the change. No, nothing to do with language arts necessarily, but a lot to do with finding a place, a purpose. If my kids leave me with that, then I will feel like I have made a difference.

Happy Wednesday, all.

“He Loves Me” Project 180, Day 111


Been on a feedback kick lately. As I look back over my years of grading student work–grades without comments, grades with comments, and comments without grades, it is the latter which sits best with me. It is the approach that feels most right, and apparently there is some evidence to back it up (see article). Grades get in the way of learning. They perpetuate a culture of transaction, where the grade, not the learning, becomes the goal.  In the past,  before 180 and some of my other efforts to do learning differently, I would witness time and again–to my utter disappointment–kids skipping over my comments just to find the grade. If they saw an A, “He loves me.” If they saw anything less, “He loves me not.” And despite my efforts to steer them to the growth-encouraging comments, they could not see beyond the alphabetical symbol that said everything and nothing at once.

But now, with 180, I have experienced a shift in how my kids receive and perceive feedback. No grades to distract and detract. Only comments, comments packaged in one of two ways: things to think about, and things to celebrate. And while I cannot speak precisely to what my kids feel when they get my feedback, I want to believe that either package communicates the same thing: “He loves me.” No winners. No losers. Just honest conversations about where each is in his learning. And I want to imagine that in those shared moments of our learning discussions, they hear me because they trust me. But that trust does not happen over night, nor does it happen by accident. To be sure, it takes lots of time and lots of intention. Of course, for some kids it takes even more time and more intention, and for some it won’t matter how much time and effort I spend, they still won’t fully trust me, won’t fully hear me. But it is not due to a lack of trying on my part. I can’t control everything. But I can control how I interact with my kids. I can control how I treat them.  And I believe how I treat them is how they will trust me.  Consequently, I believe many do trust me.  And I am proud of that, for it took no fancy, pre-packaged, evidence-based approach; it simply took interacting with my kids: meeting each where she is, treating each as if she matters. Nothing fancy. A simple approach that costs only time and effort. An approach that is available to all. Always has been. Always will be.

Happy Tuesday, all.

No Feedback, No Learning: Project 180, Day 110


Well, it is unlikely that P-180 will lead to an ideal world. But it may very well lead to ideas for a better world–at least in education. And though it would be folly to suggest that it would be a significantly better world, it is possible that it may be a little better. In the glacier that is education, any movement is movement, and movement is progress. In education, we’ll take what we can get. For we have moved little in a century. Glacial indeed.

The P-180 classroom relies heavily upon feedback to drive progress, to drive learning, for there are no grades. It is at the center of my interactions with kids. And it has certainly been at the center of my recent and continuing conferences with them, as I give them feedback on their performances. And while this feedback will help them, “empower them” on the upcoming SBA and/or placement test for those seeking the Running Start option at EWU, there is something bigger at play here. Growth requires feedback. No feedback. No growth. But kids–heck, people–do not always readily or eagerly accept this, for it requires judgment. And, thus, we are reluctant to cozy up to feedback; in truth, we tend to avoid it.

If nothing else happens in my 180 classroom this year, my greatest hope is that kids learn to seek and value feedback as a vital component for learning. I hope in the absence of grades, they come to learn that grades are neither always the best motivator for nor always the best indicator of learning. I hope they see this. I hope they demand this from their teachers moving forward. That is empowerment. They have not only the right but also the responsibility to demand feedback from their teachers. Grades alone don’t cut it. If there is no feedback, if there is no opportunity to apply new understanding, then there is no learning. Anyone can give a grade. Grading does not make the teacher. Feedback is what separates the effective from the ineffective. We have to give our kids actionable feedback if they are to learn. The absence of grades has opened my eyes to the power that feedback has in learning.  And, even if I ultimately swing back to a standards-based approach, I will carry with me what matters, what has to be the focus: feedback. There is nothing else.

Happy Monday, all.





Malpractice: Project 180, Day 109

Can’t do it without kids. Beyond the obvious that the job requires students to fill the seats, rests the notion that without kids to recharge our batteries every day with their indefatigable energy and dauntless spirits, we could not sustain that which is necessary to do the job.  And so, I look to my kids every day to give me the hope and energy I need to meet the challenges of this unparalleled profession. And some days, I make a very intentional, necessary effort to draw deeply from their power reserves, for I need it. And that comes in the form of Community Circle.

With the desks pushed to the wall and the seats arranged in a large circle around the room, we sit and talk for the period. I present a prompt or question and we go around the circle as each has an opportunity to respond. Of course, the kids always have the option to pass. No one is ever forced to share. The questions are both fun and serious. The goal is to have an opportunity to learn about our community. I learn about the kids. The kids learn about each other. And the kids learn about me. We laugh. We disagree. We find commonality. We discover differences. We empathize. And sometimes we cry.

Here are some of the questions/prompts we explored yesterday.

  • Share a nickname.
  • What do you wish parents better understood?
  • What do you wish teachers better understood?
  • If you could have a conversation with your younger self, what advice would you give?
  • When’s the last time you cried?
  • What traits do you look for in a friend?
  • Finish the statement, “We cannot be friends if…”
  • Name a song that would be in your all-time top-five playlist.

Learned a lot yesterday. No, we didn’t advance academically, and yes some of my colleagues believe I wasted a day, but they’ve been telling me that for years, and yet I continue to waste time with my kids, impudently committing malpractice. Someday I will be a better teacher. ‘Til then I’ll ramble along the rebel road. But I’ll make a deal. I’ll quit when the kids no longer follow. Cross my rebel heart.

Happy Friday, all.

Slow and Steady: Project 180, Day 108

Moved a little farther down the road yesterday. Looks we have settled into a pace of 5 conferences per hour. No, not setting any speed records, but we are moving ahead–slow and steady.

Above are some images of my sitting down with some of my kiddos yesterday. Here are the steps that I follow for each conference.

  1. I provide a general overview of what the  conference will entail.
  2. We each pull up the letter on our Chromebooks. Love Google Docs.
  3. I provide each kid with a form. On one side is the SBA rubric. On the other side are two columns: “Things to Think About” and “Things to Celebrate.”
  4. We then read through the letter together. As we go, I offer feedback, and the kids write down my suggestions in the “think-about” column.
  5. Next, we flip the form, and with a highlighter in hand, I mark where I believe they fall on the rubric, providing a brief rationale, which draws largely from our conversation in step 4. I also provide a tentative, unofficial indication of how I think they will perform on the SBA based on what I see in front of me.
  6. Finally, we flip the form one last time, and together we find things to add to the “celebrate” column. I make the kids go first and then I add what I believe is worthy of celebration, too. This final step is very intentional. I always want our interaction to end on a positive.
  7. I thank the kiddo. Place the form in his/her portfolio and get ready for the next.
  8. Repeat steps 1 – 7.

Each conference takes roughly 10 minutes. And though the process is the same, the content of each varies by kid. And that is what I love the most. I have to meet each where he is. Differentiation at its purest perhaps. Love, love, love it. And I am beginning to believe that the kids are finding value in it, too. Well, at least, they seem not to hate it.

Brief pause today. We have half days for conferences, and so this 1st, 2nd, and 3rd periods’ Friday,  and since it’s, then, the first Friday of the month, it’s Community Circle time. Yes, that will delay our conferences, but the letters will be there when we get back to it on Monday. Today, the members of the community, not the work of the community, will take center stage. Another intentional decision. Another important decision. Can’t teach them if I don’t know them.

Happy Thursday, all.

Baking Cake: Project 180, Day 107

The recipe.

1 table

2 chairs

1 teacher

1 student

2 Chromebooks

1 SBA Argumentative Rubric

1 “Things to think about” column

1 “Things to celebrate” column

2 pens

1 highlighter

29 other quietly engaged students

10 minutes

Result. Learning.

At a pace of roughly five conferences an hour, we set to baking learning cakes yesterday. And though the ingredients are mostly uniform from one cake to another, the most important ingredient, the student, makes each cake unique; there is no mold. And that makes for beautiful baking.

Said it a million times, and I’ll say it a million more: the most satisfying, the most impactful thing I do with kids is conferencing. It’s  also the most exhausting. It takes an immense amount of energy to sustain a dynamic dialogue–holding their eyes, pushing their limits, protecting their mindsets, honoring their persons–kid after kid, period after period, day after day. And at the end of those days, I am drained to my core. Yesterday, lingering as he oft does, Ralphe responded to my dramatic, out-loud, sigh as the room cleared for the day.

“Mr. Sy, I hope that conferencing doesn’t stress you out.”

No. No, Ralphe. It just wears me out. It makes me tired. But it’s a good tired.”

“Good. I’m glad. ‘Cause it’s important. That interaction.”

Yes, Ralphe. It is. It’s important.”

“See you, Mr. Sy.”

“See ya, Ralphey.”

Only one day in, and already I am so impressed with the kids’ letters to the Board–on both sides of the fence. Madison’s argument against the movies remaining in the curriculum was so compelling that I told her I was experiencing a tinge of guilt for showing the movies, and I also told her, in jest, that I was hesitant to send her letter to the Board in fear that they may side with her. But, for as many successful, hit-the-target letters that I read yesterday, there are many that are not quite there–yet. But they will be eventually.  And that is the beauty of the conference. It’s not only a celebration of arrival, but also, it’s equally a celebration of progress, of moving forward, of growth. Having “arrived” or not, I want each kid to feel their potential, to yearn for “yet,” because there’s always more road around the bend. We never really arrive. We chase next. We chase yet. Can’t imagine a better way to sell that to my kids than face-to-face.

Happy Wednesday, all.

« Older posts Newer posts »
%d bloggers like this: