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Course Correction: Project 180, Day 83

A little heavy-hearted this morning. After too much deliberation, I have decided to make some midpoint adjustments to Project 180.  And though I know I will no doubt disappoint some that I was unable to continue the good fight or “soldier on,” I am not giving up; I am not quitting. I am adjusting. Trust me, it breaks my heart to not see it fully through, but I believe, in the end, I am making the best decision for my kids, for I am giving them the option to find success in the way that works best for them, even at the cost of compromising my principles.

Here is the letter that I will send home today with my kids.

Dear Parents/Guardians,

We live. We learn. After much consideration and reflection on my current approach to grading, I have decided to provide an option for those who desire it. It was not a decision lightly made, for I earnestly believe in what I am doing, but I also acknowledge that, for some, Project 180 has not provided the necessary motivation for them to grow and succeed. In the end, I want all kids to grow, and if some need a return to tradition for that to happen, then I am willing to make adjustments to my approach.

But that’s not as simple as it seems. First and foremost, I made a promise. I promised all my kids that I would give them an A, no matter what, and while I am not necessarily going back on my word, for that offer still stands, I do feel like my sincere sentiments then are shallow sentiments now. And that will take me some time to reconcile–with the kids and with myself. Second, I will now have to juggle two different approaches, which is fine, but it will take more time and effort. But if that’s what’s required, then it’s time and effort well spent. Third, I am compromising my convictions. I really do believe that we must and can do education better. I do not believe that we should maintain the status quo because of its familiarity. And while it does not sit comfortably with my spirit, my convictions are ultimately secondary to the primary concern: supporting kids. All kids.

And so, I offer a choice, a choice that needs to be a family decision. In that regard, I hope this is something that you and your child consider carefully. I would hope that it would be an opportunity for your child to reflect back on his/her performance this past semester, letting that somewhat guide the decision moving forward. As many know, the Project 180 approach has been successful. Many of your children have taken ownership and responsibility for their learning through the 180 opportunity, and I hope in earnest that  you allow them to continue to be successful as they continue down this path. But ultimately the choice is yours. For those who choose to return to tradition, I completely understand, and I welcome your decision. Again, if it will help your child grow, then that’s all that really matters. Truly.

Thank you for your time and attention with this matter. Thank you, too, for allowing me to live, learn, and grow. If you have any questions, please email me at msyrie@cheneysd.org.

____ We would like to continue with the Project 180 grading approach for spring semester.

____ We would like to change to a traditional grading approach for spring semester.

Student Name (print): ____________________________________________

Student Signature: ____________________________________________

Parent/Guardian Signature: ____________________________________________

Please return by Monday, January 30, 2017

Gotta admit, I am feeling a wee lost at this juncture in the journey, but I’ll get back on track. In moments like this, I have to trust my compass: kids. The dial directed me here, and I am going to trust its direction. I am sorry for disappointing any of my faithful. I hope you find some sense in my decision. I will continue to fight and soldier on for what I–we–believe in; the front line has just shifted a bit. Turns out to be a battle with many fronts. The journey continues.

Happy Monday, all.

At a Loss: Project 180, Day 82.1

Well, shortly after publishing yesterday’s post, I learned that the 2-hour delay turned into a cancellation. So, now I am really at a loss as to what I am going to do about the Memory Projects with so little time left. Truly. Still have not made up my mind. Feel like it’s going to be a lose-lose either way. Kinda waiting to see if the semester’s finals schedule is going to change. Apparently, we will be discussing just that at a staff meeting this morning. Ugh.

Happy Friday, all. Trying to find the silver lining.

Fuel: Project 180, Special Post

“I have noticed through Facebook that you have been active in trying to make education better. I just wanted to let you know that if more teachers had the same mind set and goals as you then education in America would be exponentially better. I would like to thank you for doing your part to make a difference.” –Tyler Hilzendeger (former student)

Confession. I want to quit. Every day. Oh, I hide it, keep it close, but it’s there. And while most days it is easy to suppress my more emotional, irrational urges, there are other days that it pushes me to the edge, and I am vulnerable. Of late, stuck in my head wondering and worrying over grades, I have found myself backsliding in my convictions that I am on the right path, making myself open and vulnerable to the doubt upon my shoulder. But then. But, then, someone meddles. It’s as if some cosmic force is at play, and he/she pulls me back from the edge with his/her encouragement. And I am able to brush it away, again standing tall, resolute in my belief that my journey is worthy.

Yesterday, Tyler became my most recent meddler. Out of the blue, he messaged me the above words, and I wanted to share them, not so as to pat myself on the back, but rather to honor their import, their impact. Thank you, Tyler. Your message could not have come at a better time. It was just the fuel I needed to fill my depleted tank. Truly. Thank you.

Plans: Project 180, Day 82

Unfortunately, things don’t always go as planned, so when they don’t, we have to adjust and modify; in short, we have to roll with it. Our snow day yesterday, kinda messed things up. We are at the end of the semester, and we are on a tight schedule to wrap things up before then. And now a day later and shorter, we will be scrambling to get our Memory Projects done on time. Beyond losing time, we have now also lost a valuable resource in computer access. As a department, we share Chromebooks and the other classes’ needs are no-less important than ours, so there is little flexibility–understandably. So, we will…

Wait, just found out that we are on 2 hour delay. Now we’re really in a tight spot. Hard to roll with it, when the wheels fall off. Dang it. Oh, well. Nothing we can do about it. We’ll do what we can. Most importantly, I don’t want to over-stress the kids. I do have control over that.

Happy Thursday, all.

Project 180, Snow Day!

See ya tomorrow.

Day Trip: Project 180, Day 81

Operation Project Memory this week, but first a small side trip, a day trip into the blogosphere. Weeks ago, the kids selected topics for their independent learning projects, and one of the first major components was to create a blog for their respective topics. At the time, though I was prepared to take whatever time was necessary, I didn’t anticipate that it would turn into a yearlong project, which is what it looks like it’s becoming. And while, I am comfortable with extended, even really-extended timelines, it’s not always so comfortable for the kids. To  be sure, they are accustomed to the factory-line approach, the get-through-the-content approach to learning. So when we don’t exactly rush through and on, it feels a little strange to the kids, a lot strange for some. And while it is not my goal to make things “strange,” it is most certainly my goal to make things different.

Back to the side trip. But first a little more of the backstory. The kids have produced 5 or more blog posts in the past weeks. Each post must have a title, an image, 200 words or more of text, and it must also contain evidence of various writing craft elements that we have been working on: hooks, parallel structure, figures of speech, etc. Recently, they’ve also taken on the additional duties of finding, reading, and summarizing topical articles and providing weekly reflections about their posts. I have not visited a single blog, nor have I read a single post. By design.

This type of writing is what we ELA teachers like to call “readable” writing. It, unlike daily writing, is meant to be read by an audience. It has to be readable–audience ready. But too often that audience is limited to the teacher who is more a default reader than an authentic reader. So, to do different, I have taken myself out of the audience. The kids’ peers will be their audience. Oh, I will eventually be a reader, but that will come later. For now, I want the kids producing something out of interest for a real audience, not out of compliance for the default reader in the room. In the 180 classroom this approach is somewhat out of necessity. The 180 classroom is already different, so I have to continue different. There is no grade for accountability, so for something like this, I have to rely on the accountability of audience and the motivation of interest. And that, too, like long timelines, is not always familiar or comfortable for the kids. They want transactions. Sorry to disappoint them. For now, they will have to settle for inviting others to view and comment on their blogs and reporting on that to me through a reflection. That can be their transaction.

Happy Tuesday, all. Have a great short week. Come on spring!

Go on. Go on, Change the World: Project 180, Day 80


Officially started the Memory Projects yesterday. Kids, in teams of 2, 3, or 4, have to create something that honors the memory of the Holocaust. And, already, I am so impressed with their energy and creativity. I had the fortune to sit down with the teams yesterday as they pitched their ideas to me, and I am blown away and humbled by the genius of their ideas. Am blown away, too, by the degree of their motivation and commitment to a project with no grade lingering in front of them. It was interesting to see some of my otherwise less-motivated kids spark to life yesterday, sleeping giants awakened by something that interested them, something that mattered to them. Wish it were so for everything that we did.

I will share the projects when they are done. Will they change the world? We’ll see. They have already changed it in 211. They have already changed it for me. So proud and excited. Kids rule. Best job in the world. Luck man, I.

Happy Friday, all. Sorry for the short post, slept in a bit and running late. Have a great weekend.

Guilty: Project 180, Day 79

Some day it’ll happen. And they’ll find me. Broken. Bent beyond recognition. A fatality by flexibility. I’ll have bent too far.

One lives. One does. One thinks. One wonders. One worries. I am one. And so, I worry. I worry about my flaws. I worry about my flaws as a father, a husband, a friend, a son, a person, and far too often I worry about my flaws as a teacher. And while my list beneath that particular hat is long, presently I ponder one practice, one habit I cannot break, cannot escape. Flexibility. Am I too easy? Am I a pushover? Am I too forgiving? Am I making a difference? Am I ruining lives?

I don’t think that it’s that I really believe those things, but I find them in my head, and so, I have to accept that on some level they are real, for they are present. And, as they are present, they make me especially vulnerable to doubt. And, then when the doubt creeps in from the outside, well…one worries.

Gifted A’s aside, I forever find myself being overly flexible, manifesting itself in my giving more time, more chances, more options, more of anything at my disposal. And though by now I have come to generally accept that after 20 years that’s just who I am as a teacher, it does not mean that I am free from the worry that I bend too much. Still, when I worry further and reach deeper into the core recesses of my belief set, I find that perhaps when one endeavors to create a realm of possibility for his students, flexibility becomes a necessary by-product. If I am going to sell “possible,” then I have to produce possible. I have to be flexible. So I am.

To that point, the two-day in-class final became, for many, a four-day in-class final, and for some that still has not been enough. So, what does Captain Flexibility do? He lets those not done, take it home. Bye-bye in-class final. Hello take-home final. Am I crazy? Maybe. But if the kids are motivated to finish, to do their best, and I stand in the way, am I still peddling possibility? I have to give them more time. After all, in the 180 classroom, it’s not about the grade. There is no reason to cheat. It’s about learning. And if learning requires time, a commodity I possess, then I will freely distribute it. We know that kids have to be motivated. It’s 60% of the 180 Formula.  My 60% is my being dedicated. To my students. My students need time. I have the flexibility to give them more time. I will give it. It’s who I am.

I also can and will give options. Had two more boys “own” that they had not read Night, wanting to know if they, too, could then possibly use one of the movies for their essay. Of course they can. No, I am not happy that they failed to read the book, but if there is an option to salvage the situation and provide a learning opportunity, then I will grant it. They–though unable to find it for the book, have found some motivation to do, to learn. And when learning is still possible, I will be flexible.

In the end, when they do find me broken from bending too far, I may well do some time in teacher purgatory, guilty of my sins, but I’ll take my chances. No choice, really. It’s who I am.

Happy Thursday, all.


Risky Business: Project 180, Day 78



Relationships require work. They are not things that magically materialize. They are things created and sustained through work. Hard work. And as with any job, there are the less-seemly, the less-pleasant aspects that sooner or later must be done. I tackled such a task recently.

It had been a long time coming. 75 days in fact. And though I cannot put my finger on what finally triggered my response, it happened, and it was long overdue. I finally called them out. I finally took the necessary risk.

John and Mike (names changed) for the better part of the year had managed to do very little. I knew it. They knew it. Not sure their parents knew it–really knew it, but it was time to face the reality. It was time for a hard conversation. It happened during the second day of the Night final last week. As most know, the kids were able to seek help and get feedback on the final. As such, all of the sudden, John and Mike were awakened to the fact that they couldn’t easily skate outta this one; they’d have to produce something. And they seized the opportunity to get help, which was great, until help quickly turned into “write my paper for me, Sy.” One, it was obvious they had not read the book. Two, because they had not done any of the practice essays, they had no clue how to proceed independently. Three, they were taking valuable time away from peers who had actually read the book and completed the practice. Four, I found it distasteful that they were trying to BS an essay on Night. And so, enough was enough. Time for the hall.

And so, we sat and had a real–a tough–conversation. I will spare the details. But I took a risk. I bluntly called them out, and I made them mad. I had to. I told them as much. I told them that if that’s what it took, I would pay the price. When the dust finally settled, I offered an opportunity, an opportunity for them to redeem themselves, to salvage something from the predicament we found ourselves in. It was too late to read Night. But they had both seen the movies–this I knew. So, I presented them the opportunity to use one of the movies with the same prompt for the final. I told them that I wanted the introduction in hand Monday. They delivered.

Years from now, Mike and John will likely forget the details, but I hope they remember the moment. And, when they do, I hope they do not remember it as “Syrie made me write the essay.” I hope they remember it as “Syrie gave me a chance.” I will remember it as “Syrie took a chance, a risk,” I hope it’s one that pays off in the end–for all of us.

Happy Wednesday, all.

We Teach Kids: Project 180, Day 77.1

While this does not perfectly capture my thinking, it did resonate with me this morning as I was wandering through the Twitterverse. Words matter. What we say or sometimes don’t say has an impact on our young  spirits. And, above all, our words should communicate to our kids that they matter most, not content, not test scores.

Last night, I began another new quarter at Eastern with kids who are just entering the education program. And though my course title is technically “Classroom Management,” I took a new approach last night and changed it, giving it the unofficial-but-better title, “Classroom Culture.” And while it may simply be semantics, success in the classroom is not about managing kids; it’s about creating culture, a culture where kids can thrive and succeed socially , emotionally, and academically. I tell my Eastern students, in a sense, “management” really comes down to how you want kids to feel when they enter your room. And that takes work. It takes an intentional, I-am-going-to-make-you-feel-like-you-matter approach. And that means, content becomes a secondary consideration. Of course, that does not always readily resonate with all my just-entering the program students. Oh, I don’t think it’s that they neither understand nor accept the notion; rather, I think it’s simply that they hadn’t thought of it in those terms before.

Managing a classroom is an incredibly complex undertaking. It is not as simple as teacher teaches and students learn. Recently I heard the claim that a teacher makes more decisions than a brain surgeon, and while I don’t know if that’s exactly the case, I do make an inestimable number of decisions in my day, and only a fraction of them involve content. Most of them center around the social and emotional development and well-being of my kids. And I get that some think that it shouldn’t be that way, that we should just whip the kids into line and make them learn, that we should set aside the touchy-feely aspects and get down to basics. I get it. But that’s not how it works. Classrooms are cultures, not factories. Kids are people, not products. And the strength of any culture is measured by the disposition of its individuals. As creators of culture, teachers must make kids the priority; the content in a healthy classroom culture will take care of itself. As is often said in ed. circles, “They don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” Kids first. Content second. This is the first, key consideration in creating and maintaining a healthy culture in the classroom.

Happy Tuesday, all. 2-hour late start today. For any who are keeping track, I called this day 77.1 because of our cancellation yesterday. Have to make sure I end on 180.

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