Show me the money – teaching financial literacy – Episode 16

Football coach yells to players on the field
Bill Daniel yells a play direction to football players on the field.

Stepping into his classroom you might see “organized financial chaos,” as an excited Bill Daniel, Boone High School’s National Academy of Finance Magnet director, teaches his students what it means to be financially literate.

Teaching amortization schedules on loans to credit to savings accounts to investments to retirement accounts to asset allocation to how to title an asset, whether it’s a car of home, when you buy it, Bill wants to equip the students with the knowledge they need to make sound judgements.

Bill’s program teaches his students applicable skills. His senior finance magnet students become certified with the IRS to prepare tax returns for local citizens. Others work in the Addition Financial – Boone Branch learning the day to day functions of a bank.

Learn about the program, his teaching philosophy and so much more listening to this episode.

Want to know more? Read our Q&A and you’ll see why he’s won so many awards for excellence in teaching.

Appetite for Instruction: Tell us about Wise! What is it and what does the award mean to you? 

Bill Daniel: W!SE stands for working in support of education which is a nonprofit organization that provides financial education to students throughout country. I built a relationship with their leadership team a few summers ago through attending Columbia University’s Cowin Financial Literacy Program. After learning about our magnet program, they offered to allow our juniors to take their financial literacy certification free of charge. We have now tested our students the past two years and I am pleased to share that we have not only had a 100% pass rate in both years, the average student score has been  95% with one student being recognized with a $2,000 scholarship (2018) for his performance on the exam, which is very impressive when you consider that W!SE only awards five scholarships annually to students throughout the U.S. On top of all of that, for the second consecutive year, Boone High School has received their prestigious Blue Star Schools award. This year, I was recognized with their Gold Star teaching award recognizing the top teachers in the country for their work in financial education.

As far as what it means to me, I have always been a teacher that is forward thinking and not someone that is content with past accomplishments. One of my favorites sayings is “what’s next?” and what I mean by this is, what can I do next to improve our magnet program? Simply put, the award is validation that I have recently able to create a new learning experience that benefits my students.

AI: Describe the IRS Tax Service you and your students provide? 

BD: 17 years ago, I entered into a partnership with the IRS, one that would afford kids the learning opportunity of a lifetime. BHS was the first school in Florida and the second in the country to help the IRS expand their free tax services for lower-socioeconomic families. For six weeks, our junior level students are immersed into the country’s tax code and trained on how to prepare tax returns that involve such things as itemized deductions, business expenses and capital gains & losses. The students have to pass a three-part certification exam with at least 80% proficiency before they are allowed to sit with a client. Historically, we average between 115 and 150 tax returns a year for the community. Our students volunteer during their lunch shift to electronically prepare and file the return. Over the years, I am pleased to say that we have a repeat customer base of approximately 30 families, with some driving as far away as Lake County and Brevard County, annually. In addition to saving our customers close to $30,000 a year in combined tax preparation fees, the best part of the entire VITA experience is getting to watch a 17 year old prepare a tax return for a family that is dependent upon them for assistance. It’s quite empowering for the students because so many of our students take what they learn in the classroom, when it comes to all things finance, for granted. They feel everyone knows about savings, credit, asset acquisition, investments, taxes and so one. And then they are confronted with the realty that many adults lack an understanding of the basic concepts that we teach every day. Our tax service is a way that our campus can give back to a community that takes such great care of our school, and numbers aside, it is that giving back element, that opportunity to help someone else in need, that is truly the most remarkable part of the entire experience for our students.

AI: Speaking of taxes, financial literacy is important to you. Tell us a few things you think students need to know before leaving high school? 

BD: My approach to financial literacy is to equip each child with his/her very own financial tool box. From taxes, to savings, insurance, buying a home or car, renting an apartment, buying stocks, bonds, mutual funds, credit, preparing a budget, planning for retirement or generating an estate plan, I want all of my students to have the ability to either (1) make an informed decision on their own or to (2) have the knowledge to be able to ask the right questions of a professional that they may work with at some point in the future. I share with the students all the time, the school of hard knocks has a costly admission fee. Procrastination or ignorance in not knowing what your alternatives are can be expensive. For four years, we get to have meaningful discussions that leave an indelible imprint on kids’ lives. Financial literacy is so transformative when it is taught early on to a child. Realizing all of this is what drives me each day.

AI: What other types of innovative learning activities have you developed at your school? 

BD: In addition to operating the tax site for the past 17 years, our program has operated an Additions Financial Federal Credit Union on campus for the past nine years and also has partnered with the Independent Insurance Agents of America’s since 2006 to allow the students to participate in Project InVEST; a nationwide insurance simulation that teaches key risk management principles.

Through Project InVEST, Academy of Finance students have been awarded $179,000 in the last 13 years. Other activities that the students enjoy is our annual elevator speech contest, the 15 minute mock interview with local professionals that concludes our resume, cover letter and job search unit, creating your own stock market index and tracking it against the marker for a month, having students research a particular stock in relation to the S&P 500 in order perform a 5-year linear analysis to determine the stock’s risk, having students work with actual clients to prepare a five-page college funding analysis that projects what it will cost to send their child to one of three schools of their choice. Each student additionally provides their client with a six-page magazine with recommended strategies that can make paying for college easier. We are responsible for the FloridaStudentSaves website that provides a wealth of information for students; a site that is sponsored by the Florida Prosperity Partnership.  And last but not least, taking the seniors to NYC to visit one of the oldest and largest private equity firms in the world. 

AI: You have had some great academic results from these projects, tell us about those.

BD: I have been fortunate in my career to be recognized with numerous awards (listed in bio below). While these are some of the awards I received, the academic results that mean the most to me deal with the fact that 95% of my graduates have gone on to a 4-year university, been accepted by the top universities in our nation (most recently one of my seniors was accepted by MIT where I have another graduate working on his doctorate in engineering), receiving graduate emails every month thanking me for how prepared they are for college and or life, or reflecting upon our 99.4% 12-year AP Macro pass rate where the students average score has been a 4.4 or our 13-year AP Micro pass rate where 96.4% of the students have passed with an average score of 4.2. Only 17 students of mine have not passed an AP Econ exam in the last 13 years. It’s statistics like that that mean a lot more than trophies for national awards because what has developed over time is a culture of success where this year’s class is trying to outperform those classes that have come before them. Graduates continually come back and speak with the students, sharing their personal struggles while also providing testimony as to how their lives were made better for their high school experience. It’s these little moments that matter the most, not the dust collectors that adorn the room.

AI: How do you make meaningful connections with your students?  

BD: First off, I have to make it perfectly clear that I have never really thought of myself as a teacher. I laugh at the fact that I have no formal training as a teacher, I do not speak education, in fact, educational jargon either confuses me or scares me depending on the day, nor do I have a whole lot of classroom rules or policies.

No bones about it, I became a teacher so that I could coach high school football and it is with that same mentality that I approach my classroom responsibilities. I have to be a motivator, a cheerleader and a psychologist to get kids to believe in me and follow me because my success is dependent upon the decisions and actions of 14 to 18 year old students. Just like on the field, I am very demanding, always in search of WOW and I’m honestly not easily impressed. I want kids to understand that everything they sign their name to is their best effort and nothing less will be expected. To make connections with each class, I have to bring a tremendous amount of energy and enthusiasm to every discussion.

The cornerstones of my philosophy lie in three areas: energy/enthusiasm, an extensive knowledge of my trade so that I can adapt quickly to a child’s line of questioning, and the ability to create heightened expectations for kids. Every student will tell you that my classes are not easy and that is by design. My goal is to teach them to run faster down the hill each day. If you have ever tried to that, you know that many times, you are going to fall. When students fall, it’s my job to pick them up, and to be supportive. What I have found is that if a student realizes I am right there with them on the hill, also falling, they are more willing to accept what I am asking of them over time. A graduate once told me, freshmen in your program are unconsciously incompetent. They don’t know what they don’t know. Sophomores are consciously incompetent. Juniors are unconsciously competent. And seniors, as they leave for college, have figure it out, being consciously competent. The student shared with me, had you not been there along the way, I would not be the student that I am today. 

AI: Many teachers tell us classroom management is key, do you have any tips or tricks you find most useful? 

BD: As I said, I don’t have hardly any rules for my students, only expectations. My classroom is set up as a “Meritocracy” where everything is based on merit. Those who do the best, score the highest, and everyone else is compared accordingly. My goal is to challenge the top students daily because in doing so, everyone benefits. I strive to teach students to graciously compete to improve, and then sit back and give the kids the room to interact with information and knowledge. They get to experiment with it, synthesize new learning with previously learned concepts, and ultimately develop and grow in their understanding. Students do not have to raise their hand to speak, when they wish to participate, the simply chime in. I don’t want to develop a classroom mentality where there are dos and don’ts; I want them to learn how to be comfortable in an open discussion, where tangent discussions can be developed based upon individual inquiry because that is the type of climate where students thrive. My approach is more office-oriented where students are the active participants in the room, wanting to speak and share their ideas. In the business world, this type of environment is called teamwork and I am the person tasked with leading that team.

AI: What does innovation in education mean to you? 

BD: Innovation, to many these days, would strictly involve the use of technology in the learning process. While I have always incorporated technological applications into our program, many of which I have personally created, innovation (to me) means something completely different. It means adapting from one year to the next to meet a student’s needs or an entire class’ needs. It means continually evolving when it comes to your craft. I have never been a teacher that looks at his 180 day calendar and says, ok, it’s day 95, I need to go to my computer or filing cabinet and find today’s lesson and teach it the same way that I always have. I cannot do this. Can you imagine always teaching a lesson the same way. Let’s say that you have a teacher that has taught for 27 years and has never deviated from their instruction. To me, that’s not 27 years of experience teaching the concept. That’s simply teaching 1 lesson 27 times.

You may not believe this, but I completely reinvent every lesson each year, never teaching a unit in the same exact manner or fashion that I did in the past. It doesn’t matter if I have been successful in the past because each new year brings a new set of challenges. From a coaching perspective, every year, you have a new team that has to run its own race. In the classroom, there’s no difference. Different classes have different strengths and weaknesses and I have to be the one that must adapt to get the best out of my students. That’s innovation.

Four people pose for a photo
Upon receiving the National Magnet Teacher of the Year award, Bill Daniel poses with an award.


Bill Daniel teaches at William R. Boone High School where he has been the director of the Academy of Finance Honors Magnet Program since the program’s inception in 1996. He teaches all four grade levels of the program: financial accounting, financial management, personal finance and AP micro & macroeconomics. He is also the recipient of numerous education honors, which include:

  • 2019 W!SE Gold Star Teaching Award
  • 2015 Magnet Schools of America National Magnet Teacher of the Year
  • 2014 Queen Smith Award
  • 2014 Institute for Financial Literacy EIFLE National Educator of the Year
  • 2014 OCPS District Teacher of the Year – Top 5 Finalist
  • 2012 National InVEST Teacher of the YearIndependent Agents & Brokers of America
  • 2010 FCEE Charles Harper AwardFlorida Council on Economic Education
  • 2009 VISA Innovative Educator
  • 2005 Walt Disney World Top Teacheriffic Award

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