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I’m Gonna Change the World: Project 180, Day 156


So excited to introduce “Project Change the World” today. This is but another culminating task that creates a kids-in-their-moments opportunity for me to witness and cherish as our time together comes to a close for the year. I have devoted Mondays and Tuesdays as work days for the project. We will continue to deliver speeches Wednesday through Friday until all are complete. Below is the introduction that I will share with the kids today. I am eager to see what they dreams they will seek to turn to realities. I eager to see them stretch their minds and discover their creative and imaginative capacities. In earnest, I believe they can change the world. I want them to believe that, too.

Project Change the World

When I better the world, I make a difference.

When I make a difference, I change the world.

So, I’m gonna do it. I’m gonna change the world.  

General Overview and Guidelines

Your culminating task for the year is to come up with an idea and plan for bettering the world. Your plan can have a local, national, and/or global impact, but it must be something that somehow betters the world–big or small. You will compete against other teams in the international “Change the World” Summit in June.

  1. Create a project for bettering the world.
  2. You may work as an individual or in teams of two, three, or four but no more.
  3. You must develop a project plan/proposal (see specific guidelines below).
  4. You must present your project to the class.
  5. You will compete for the following awards of distinction: Most Original, Most Creative, Most Inspiring, Most Ambitious, Most Impressive Impact, Best Project Title, Best Logo, Best Slogan, Director’s Choice

Project Guidelines

Ideas are great, but ideas without plans never get very far. So, using the guidelines below, you will develop a plan for making your idea a reality. In an effort not to put any imaginative or creative limits on your idea, I am asking you to think beyond any present time or resource limitations that may present themselves. Remember, you are developing a plan; you are not necessarily putting that plan into action, though some plans may indeed be ready for action during the project. However, many of you will develop plans best left to some future time when you have the necessary resources. Dream big, but think realistically. The goal here is to create an actionable plan for bettering the world.

  1. Project Title: Please begin with the word “Project.” Project You Matter, Project Feed Forward, etc.
  2. Project Mission Statement: Here you will define and present the project goal.
  3. Project Logo and Slogan: This will mark the beginning of marketing your project. Think catchy. But also, think about communicating purpose.
  4. Project Plan: Here your job will be to create a comprehensive, realistic plan for your project. You need to think, “turn idea into reality.” More specific requirements for this part to follow.
  5. Proposal Letter to the “Change the World” Board: Here you will write a letter to the Board, pitching your plan, seeking a spot for the presentation round of the competition. Spots are limited. Letters must not exceed 250 words. Your goal here is to catch the attention of the Board, so they invite you to the presentation round.
  6. Presentation: If (when) you are invited to the summit, you will need to begin thinking of a compelling way to present your project. More specifics to follow as we get closer to June.

Happy Monday, all. So excited to get this project underway. Man, I love kids.

Sometimes It’s Too Much: Project 180, Day 155

Back at it today. We have a full complement of speeches scheduled each period. I can’t wait. I’ve said it a million times, and I will likely say it a million more, I love witnessing kids in their moments. For me, beyond the massive amounts of monetary compensation I receive for this job, there is nothing more rewarding. I purposefully end the year with speeches and presentations, for it provides the perfect opportunity for the kids to make final and lasting impressions. It becomes my last and, in many respects,  most memorable experience with my kids. Love it.

But for a few, it does not end with “happily ever after.” For a few, it abruptly stops with “the end.” No triumphant moment. No beautiful crescendo. No exclamation-pointed finale. Nope. A few never get on the stage. Collin (name changed) is one of those few this year. He will not deliver a speech this spring. He has chosen not to. Oh, he’s not being defiant or even resistant. He’s being real. For him, the glossophobia is too real. I know this. I have seen him struggle–truly struggle–with the practice opportunities, so when he came to me, barely able to speak or breathe with tears threatening, and told me he couldn’t do it, I was not surprised.  And so, I just simply looked him in the eyes and said, “Okay, Collin. Okay.” I patted him on the back, and he returned to his seat.

I had a decision to make. I, too, am making final, lasting impressions. Some may suggest that I have not helped this young man by letting him off the hook. There may be some truth there. But I am not convinced that making a kid do something that he is truly afraid of is going to really benefit him either. He wrote his speech. He participated in the practice opportunities. He made progress. I am not going to undermine that by making a power play at this point. His time will come when he’s ready. He’s not ready. For him, right now, it’s too much. I believe that. I honor that.

Fortunately, most of my kids are ready. And I know this because they have made a choice. I have told them since the beginning that I am not going to make anyone give a speech. It is their choice. It is an opportunity to grow. Either they will take the opportunity or they won’t. Commitment, not compliance is the path here. And I am beyond proud that most of my kids have committed. There is no grade to force compliance. There is only choice to prove commitment. I am proud that I have been able to get kids to commit to their growth in an area for which most find real fear. Proud of that.

Happy Friday, all.

Playing Hooky: Project 180, Day 154

With many of my kids taking the AP World History exam today (yet another test), I decided to take a day. I’ll  get an appointment that I’ve been putting off out of the way, and make a date with my bike for a long ride. And I will definitely find a nap. Love my naps.

Speeches went well yesterday. SBA scores are still trickling in. Only waiting on 16 more. Kids are rocking it so far. Excited to share the results and my thinking around them.

Happy Thursday, all. Sorry for the short post this morning.


Panel of Wisdom: Project 180, Day 153

Held another teacher panel last night for my college kids. That makes 15 panels over the last 5 years. So grateful to have colleagues who are willing to support the next generation of teachers. It is always the highlight of the quarter for my education students who are just entering the program at Eastern Washington University. It’s kinda cool that three on the panel were former students in the same class. I was proud to have them sitting on the other side of the room, sharing their own early wisdom. Thank you Ms. Root, Ms. Frucci (former student), Ms. Alderete (former student), Ms. Tamura (been on all 15 panels), Mr. Arensemeyer, Ms. Hatcher, Ms. Hoerner (former student), and Mr.  Picicci (not pictured) for your passion and dedication to our profession, inside and outside your classrooms. You made the quarter for 18 young, soon-to-be teachers. Thank you for your wise words.

In other news, all my kids are finally done with the ELA part of the SBA this year. And as numbers continue to trickle in (I have results for 65 of 84 kids) I am so pleased with the kids’ performances. I am eager to share percentages, but I am going to wait until I have all 84 in. Hopefully by the end of the week.

We will begin speeches today. Excited to see kids in their moments.

Happy Wednesday, all. Hope you find some sunshine today.

When Paths Cross: Project 180, Day 152

Why We’re Gradeless


Read an inspiring and affirming article by Aaron Blackwelder yesterday, “Why We’re Gradeless,” (link above). He and Arthur Chiaravalli have begun a blog, Teachers Going Gradeless, and I am beyond thrilled to have access to their great minds and to benefit from their helpful resources as I continue my own gradeless journey. I became connected to Aaron, another Washington State teacher, through Twitter. And though our connection has been brief and our experiences limited, he came to me at a pivotal stage of Project 180, a stage where I am looking back over my own journey this year in anticipation and preparation for next year. I look forward to continuing our connection around this important topic into the future.

It’s been a lonely journey, and it’s been nice to find companions out here on the trail. Thank you, Aaron Blackwelder, Arthur Chiaravalli, Gary Chu, Jen Doucette, Tish Mullen, Dean Haakenson, and Katie Budrow for your insight and wisdom. It brings some comfort and gives some hope to this weary traveler. Thank you. And another thank you to Aaron for presenting an opportunity to possibly share some of my Project 180 journey on your blog. Looking forward to it.

Happy Tuesday, all.


I Believe: Project 180, Day 151

Belief matters. I use my belief in students to drive and shape their beliefs in themselves. And that has certainly been at the core of Project 180 this year. When I gave my kids an A, I was saying, “I believe in you. You can and will learn this year out of commitment, not compliance.” And while commitment has taken many forms this year, traditional compliance has been non-existent. And though we still have 29 days to go, there are some indicators that my belief has made a difference.

First, some preliminary SBA results have already begun to roll in. With results from a little over half of my kids in the database, I am thrilled with our success; the kids have already exceeded my expectations. I am reluctant to share numbers at this stage, but I should be able to by week’s end. Suffice it to say, I am very happy with the results.

Second, on a whim, I changed things up a bit for the practice speeches on Friday. Wanting to test personal commitment to growth opportunities, I told the kids that they did not have to participate in the day’s practice round. I told them they had an opportunity to grow from experience and feedback, and if they wanted to capitalize on it, the podium was open. And one after one, the kids stepped up. It was perhaps a crowning moment on the year. Here were kids doing what they perhaps hate and fear most–public speaking–for the sake of growth. Of course, not every kid got up and some needed some cajoling from their peers, but most seized the opportunity. Not sure there is much that is more fulfilling than that. I believe. So they will believe.

Happy Monday, all.

Kids Rock: Project 180, Day 150

I cannot believe we are down to 30 days! Crazy. Yesterday was a great day in 211. The practice speeches went splendidly. As I have shared numerous times, kids in their moments is what I live for, and yesterday provided lots of mini-moments. Kids never cease to amaze me on so many levels. Favorite moment yesterday: Dylan, one of my quiet, brilliant lights finally got up to do his practice round. He was certainly facing fear, and past experiences reminded all of us that his speaking in front of his peers was a particularly tough task for him. But he got to the podium, started…then, stopped. I was sure he was going to walk away, but he stayed, compelled by a chorus of “You got this.” He made it through the rest of his speech, actually getting more comfortable as he went, even making decent eye contact. Immediately, afterwards, Tate’s hand shot up and she shared, “Dylan, you always say you’re nervous, but you never look it.” Dylan was surprised by this. And I chimed in sharing that we often feel more nervous than we look. I was proud of Dylan yesterday. But I was equally proud of the 29 supportive peers around him. Man, I love kids. Next week, Dylan and others will no doubt struggle to face an audience as they deliver their real speeches, but I want to believe that our intentional practice will make the struggle a little less daunting. Kids. Moments. Doesn’t get any better.

Happy Friday, all.

Look into My Eyes: Project 180, Day 149

Speech practice today. Yesterday, the kids wrote some brief pieces (100-word paragraphs) to deliver so they can practice eye contact. The goal here is to connect visually with the audience, attempting to make eye contact with each member. This is not easy, especially for inexperienced speakers. But it’s an essential element for engaging an audience.  And the only way that we can get better at it is to practice and get feedback. So, we are going to practice. And we are going to give and get feedback.

Each kid will go twice. The process here is to get more practice, but it’s also to have another shot at it after feedback. After each kid speaks, as an audience, we will give both general and specific feedback. For general feedback, we will simply indicate our response to “visual connectedness” with our fingers, a quick visual for the speaker. 3 = felt visually connected. 2 = felt somewhat visually connected. 1 = did not feel visually connected. For specific feedback, we will give some verbal responses regarding our perceived visual connection with the speaker. The goal, then, is for each kid to take into account what he/she learned from the feedback, using that information to improve in the next round. Growth is the goal here. I do not expect the kids to be Ted-Talk caliber speakers after this exercise, but I do expect them to improve, to grow.

What’s more, I expect them to apply their growth in practice this week to their performance opportunities next week. I hope for most that the biggest takeaway–and something over which they have a great deal of control–is the importance of preparedness. They cannot transform themselves into polished speakers in the span of a couple of days. But they can through intentional, diligent practice reach a level of familiarity with the text that will put them into a position to more effectively employ the six elements of effective speaking. I tell them that, at minimum, they must read aloud a text ten times to become familiar. I encouraged them to do that for today’s practice. My hope is that many did not. No, I’m not keen on their failing today to fail; rather, I am keen on their failing today to succeed next week. Today, my kids will be brave. Today my kids will struggle. Today my kids will grow.

Happy Thursday, all.




Selfish Syrie: Project 180, Day 148

Next week many of the kids will face their toughest challenge of the year. They will have to face an audience of their peers. I can’t wait. No, I do not revel in their anxious discomfort. But I will marvel in their moments to come. They will face their fears. They will grow. They will shine. And I will have the best seat in the house when they do. I live for it.

Yesterday, I revealed this in an unexpected way to my kiddos. Haley, Chromebook in hand, twinkle in her eye, came to me asking me to read her finished speech. She was obviously proud and pleased with the final outcome. I told her, “No.” Confused, crestfallen, she tilted her head and locked my eyes with a “What gives, Sy?” Noting her hurt, I quickly tried to explain.

“It’s selfish, Hale. It’s not that I don’t want to read your speech. I do. It’s just that…well, I live for your moments. I live for your opportunity to rise and shine next week, kiddo. If I read your speech today, it will diminish the experience for me next week. I want to experience it all at once. The first time. One time. Your beautiful moment. So, please understand my not reading your speech is not my being lazy or shirking my responsibilities. It is my selfish trust that you will rise to the moment, that you will face your fears, and in that, you will truly shine. Of course, if you must have me read it now, I will, but I am reluctant to do so, kiddo. I will help you with specific parts or answer specific questions, but please don’t make me spoil the moment.”

And, she obliged. We continued to talk. She did seek feedback on a few specific elements, but she did not cajole me into reading her full speech. Of course, by now, the entire class had heard bits and pieces of the exchange, so I saw an opportunity to make the same pitch to all my kids, explaining again my need for their moments next week.  And I used the same Haley-exchange to explain my selfish stance to all my other classes yesterday.

Today, we are going to engage in an activity to practice making eye-contact when speaking.  Below, I have included the Speech Feedback form that I will use next week to assess the kids’ performances. Can’t wait.

Happy Wednesday, all.


Speech Feedback Self-Assessment


Teacher Assessment


3 = Confident

2 = Somewhat Confident

1 = Not Confident

3 = Hit the Target

2 = Near Miss

1 = Far Miss

Content Elements
Purpose: Achieve Identified purpose(s)
Tone: Convey Identified tone(s) 3 2 1 3 2 1
Introduction: First impression 3 2 1 3 2 1
Body: Compelling information 3 2 1 3 2 1
Conclusion: Last Impression 3 2 1 3 2 1
Time: Hit target time 3 2 1 3 2 1

Speaking Elements

Poise: Appear calm and confident, avoid distracting behaviors 3 2 1 3 2 1
Voice: Speak every word clearly, use the right volume for the space. 3 2 1 3 2 1
Life: Express passion and emotion with your voice. 3 2 1 3 2 1
Eye Contact: Connect visually with the audience, look at each audience member. 3 2 1 3 2 1
Gestures: Use hand motions, move your body, have an expressive face 3 2 1 3 2 1
Speed: Talk with the appropriate speed–not too slow, not too fast, use pauses for effect and emphasis. 3 2 1 3 2 1



Back to Center: Project 180, Day 147

A year ago, I began scheming and dreaming. I wanted to make a bold move against tradition and convention in our public schools. I wanted to challenge the status quo, especially in the area of grading. So, I devised a bold plan. I wanted to challenge the perception that kids won’t do, that kids can’t learn without grades. In earnest, I believed differently, so I decided to take grades off the table. And though I knew that I would have to push the pendulum past center, I never expected to shove it clean to the other end.

My initial plan did not include giving everyone an A. It was a late development stemming from my learning that my plan of giving everyone a “pass” may prove problematic for college entrance and scholarship opportunities, so I went with plan B. I decided to take grades completely off the table by awarding an A to each student so as to make the focus learning, not simply earning.  But I also sought to call attention to my approach by making a radical move, a move that I was certain would warrant strong opposition from my peers, opposition that would hopefully lead to a deep dialogue around grading practices and policies. However, astonishingly, that opposition never manifested as I thought it might. Not even a little bit. And I’m not sure why. I have my guesses of course, but I’m not certain that airing them will matter now anyhow, so I will let them lie. It’s time to move forward. It’s time, as I planned all along, to let the pendulum swing back to center.

Next year’s plan for grading is currently under development. I have taken what I have learned thus far from the 146 days of 180 and begun to construct an approach that still bears the core principles of 180 but presents a far-less radical approach to rebuffing convention and tradition. Oh, there’s still plenty of “rebel” in it–I’m still me, but it is not so crazy as not to discourage others from joining the journey. In fact I am honored to announce that the other sophomore LA teachers Jenna Tamura and Maddie Alderete have already signed on to creating a unified approach to grading for all tenth-grade language arts courses, regular and honors. I am so excited to collaborate with these exceptional educators. They have been staunch 180 supporters from the beginning and now they are jumping on board. I will reveal the plan over the coming weeks. The swing back to center has begun. Excited. Truly.

Happy Tuesday, all.


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