Do. Reflect. Do better. Repeat.

Do. Reflect. Do Better. Repeat.

This is a Mantra of Monte Syrie, a Washington English teacher who recently decided to challenge conventional thinking and disrupt the grades driven system by giving each and every one of his Cheney High School students an “A” in his English class before a single word was written or spoken.

With over two decades of teaching experience in his pocket, Monte decided to disrupt tradition and take grades off the table. Completely. He literally handed every student a wooden “A” on the first day of the school year, and true to his word, delivered an A to every student transcript at years end. Project 180 was all about exploring growth over grades. The big question became: Will there be any learning?

Would students work? Could students learn without the threat of grades hanging over them?

By removing grades, Monte gave his students the freedom to grow without fear of failure. They were given ownership of their learning. Choice. But also, responsibility. Many students flourished, some spluttered, a few abused the opportunity they were given. Throughout it all, his students owned the experience. And, to my awe and admiration, Monte blogged about all 180 days of the journey (save for a few sneaky snow days). When it comes to writing, I am an excellent PE teacher. Check out Monte’s far more succinct summary of project 180 and his recent article about Uncomfortable Truth about Grades.

It was never Monte’s intention to continue with the automatic “A”, and he has already outlined a “select and defend” type system for next year (similar to what we are trialling in class). His wish was to swing the pendulum as far as possible from the grades driven stress associated with his level of schooling and highlight some of the problems associated with traditional grading.

This was fascinating reading and I’m grateful that Monte took the time and had the discipline to record and reflect on the entire journey. What I have found is that there is no road map for where I am attempting to go. There are lots of useful resources and helpful voices, but ultimately, our experience will be shaped by us. I truly believe that empowering student voice and choice is the way forward for us. No turning back now.

Our City of Glacier Park project is underpinned by 3 main ideas:

  1. Empowering student voice.
  2. Providing choice through PBL & Design Thinking.
  3. Focusing on growth over grades

Something is starting to happen in our classroom. What it is, whether it is sustainable, I’m not sure yet. But it is starting to feel like we have turned a corner…

Finally, I really like this checklist I lifted from Monte’s blog. It almost feels like a daily checklist for my job at the moment. Other teachers I’ve spoken with seem genuinely interested in what we are trying to achieve, but most want to know what I’m doing with my time if not explicitly teaching and grading? Well, this:

I’m trying lots of different strategies, systems, tools, and content at the moment. We are far more process driven than content at this point. I’m trying hard to be the ‘lead learner’ in our classroom. Lots of success and failure. Daily. I constantly feel like I need to do better, but first I have to do.

Do. Reflect. Do better. Repeat.

Originally published at on June 20, 2017.