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The Messy Middle: Morning Minutes, May 19, 2016

“It is literally neurobiologically impossible to think deeply about things that you don’t care about.”

–Dr. Immordino-Yang, from Emotions, Learning, and the Brain

“Hey, Sy, can I do my project on…”

“That depends. Is it of genuine interest to you? Do you really care about it?”


“Well, there you go. Go for it. If you don’t care about it, what’s the point? I am not the guard at the gate of your interests. Project on, kiddo. Project on!”

With pursuits and projects wrapping up for the year, this conversation has been part of the daily dialogue in room 219. And while I am thrilled to engage my kids in conversations about their pursuits, I am also disheartened by them when they go as such, for after nearly a year with this bunch, they still don’t trust me. And I fear I have failed. No, really. Despite “interest” being a consistent beacon on the horizon of their experiences in my room this year, they still don’t truly trust that I am giving them the reins, that I am giving them the freedom to learn. They still look to me to dictate the learning in the room, when I really only want to support the learning in the room.

Of course, I probably should neither be surprised nor too quickly claim that I have failed, for I am up against a formidable opponent–the command-and-control approach to education that my kids have been subjected to for years. I have to remind myself that trust doesn’t happen overnight, and it’s hard to unlearn and escape the paths of their pasts. So maybe, if I can get past feeling sorry for myself, I should take heart in the fact that maybe they distrust me less, and that there is hope, that I have, in some small way, succeeded.

Yesterday,  I presented the book ends of a re-imagined day next year, and I also spoke to the “middle” and the challenge that it will present in a re-imagined realm.  And while I have a long ways to go in regards to transforming and making completely different my kids’ experiences next year, I believe I have discovered a starting point, illuminated by the quote at the top of the page. In fact, quite literally, it will serve as a signpost to guide our journey next year as it will be posted at the front of the room as a reminder of what learning can, of what learning should be.

So, as I look ahead, the middle will most likely manifest itself in the form of project-based learning, where kids are compelled and challenged by their own emotional connections to their own learning pursuits, pursuits that place me in the passenger seat, not the driver’s seat. Of course, this will neither happen easily nor quickly. It will be messy, but maybe we can make messy beautiful by year’s end. Maybe. Or maybe I am just crazy. Why am I doing this again?  Oh, too late now, Syrie. You created the mess.

Happy Thursday, all.



7 Replies to “The Messy Middle: Morning Minutes, May 19, 2016”

  • Sy, I do not believe that you have failed. I understand how that could be running through your mind and how difficult it must be to put up with us, but you’re trying and that’s all that matters. I do believe however that it might be somewhat confusing or difficult for you to understand why it is we sometimes fear the word freedom when it comes to class work. When you give us freedom in your classroom we look at you to dictate the learning, we don’t always look at is as you’re supporting our learning. I think that’s why what you’re doing is important, it’s opening our eyes and making us realize that life doesn’t always come with instructions. You won’t always be there to hold our hand when it comes to school work, we have to let go at some point.

    Keep up the good work Sy! 🙂

  • It’s hard stepping out of that “hand-holding” stage when it comes to our work. Personally I am a perfectionist. I am used to doing exactly what is asked of me, especially from my teachers. I may constantly ask for guidance or “if this is okay” because in the end I strive for that good grade and the teachers approval. All my life I have been told exactly what to do and basically given a rubric for everything. Now that I am in control of something, my mind fills with ideas, but also worries if any of those ideas are acceptable. Therefore, I go to you for guidance. I realize that we need to learn on our own and have faith in ourselves but at the same time that’s stepping way out of our comfort zone, worrying on “am I doing this right?” I do not think that you have failed us, but I believe we are in a state of shock. We have never been given the chance to choose our own path in learning and now that we have, we are worried, and our first instinct is to go to you for acceptance.

  • Ever since i was small My teachers would hand me projects or papers with everything to do. They give me a place to put my name, the date, and a title. They even go the lengths to tell me how to title a paper so it’s correct. All i have to do is look something up in a book. Then When i was nearly seven-teen i pop into the class of a crazy English teacher who has a interesting perspective on life. He actually gives me the reins and let’s me find things out on my own. All i got to do is tell them what i’m doing. Make sure it follows the lines, and then show it.

    Syrie is a magnificent teacher. This is his first time doing an honors class and he’s been a experimenting scientist doing a bunch of concoctions, but when it comes down to it. I find it lovely how he teaches.

  • I was really touched by Kaila’s comment. The honesty and sincere words, I felt were very thoughtful. I felt that her words were saying, “we hear you, we are listening, can this be for real?” Kaila stated that, “eyes were beginning to open to the idea of change, time, understanding,the need to believe that change to change something that has always been. Here is some food for thought, we can learn so much from our kids (students) if only we listen. Time to add some frosting.

  • Syrie, I do not believe that you have failed. I do however believe that you do not understand why it is so difficult for us to accept that we are free to do as we wish in your class. We have always been told what to write, how to write, what’s right to say and what is wrong and even how to say it. So, when you give us free reign to do a project on something we actually enjoy and care about we are cautious. Its not that you have failed us or have not gained our trust. We just can not believe that a teacher is not controlling our thoughts and work, it is not you though, it is what has been programmed into us since the beginning of our school lives. You have not failed, you have simply begun to open our eyes to a more open learning system and it took us longer than you expected for us to accept the system.

    • Along the lines of being told what to do and being programmed to just follow directions that were given since we have entered our school lives, I think that we have been programmed since birth. All our lives we follow directions from our parents and older people. We have to ask for permission on almost everything we do and we’re told that until we are 18 we are not old enough or mature enough to make our own decisions. So now we are in Mr. Syries L.A. class and we are all of a sudden given the responsibility to choose whatever we want and there are almost no directions or guidelines to follow. True to what we’ve been taught all out lives, we need to ask permission, we understand the concept that we can choose what we want but we still need to get the reassurance that you are okay with what we chose. I don’t believe you have failed either, I just believe you have work with what we have been taught our whole lives.

  • You have stated a beginning and an end, it reminds me of putting two cookies together with frosting, some of it oozes out. Making it a sticky mess, but you can clean it up. Use less frosting , or no frosting, make changes in the recipe, thicken it up. You have to remember that change takes trials and errors along the way. Failure and discouragement will always be part of this, don’t let these words be your tormentors,beat them. You have the beginning and the end, you will also find the filling to go between the two.

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