TGIF! Feb 16 2018

Dear Constant Readers (hat tip, SK):

We’ve made some amazing strides towards opening a truly innovative learner-centered high school this fall.  We have a clear vision, a proven model, interest from authorizers, and enthusiastic parents and students – and that is awesome.

But we don’t have a school facility, and we don’t have enough money to open.

Let me be clear – I’m not just saying that we aren’t ready to open this fall. I’m saying that I don’t at present see a way to open the school, period.  I have been working on this dream for three years; the last two years full time (and unpaid).  I promise you, I remain as passionately dedicated to Imagine today as I was at the beginning.  But if I’m brutally honest with myself, I know we haven’t made sufficient progress towards a facility or raising startup funds.   We’ve run down a lot of promising but ultimately dead ends, and while there may be paths we haven’t tried yet, I know I’ve exhausted my skills and resources, and that of our small board of directors.

I am incredibly thankful to have had the opportunity to go on this amazing journey.  Your stories, your needs, your dreams for your kids and our community have touched my heart.  The students and teachers I got to meet who are doing this kind of education were inspirational and will impact me forever.  No law, no regulation stands in the way of changing the high school experience in way that quite frankly could change the world.  I couldn’t pull together the resources to do it from scratch. But the only thing stopping everybody else is the curse of “how we’ve always done things”.  You’ve seen a better way.  Keep fighting for it, wherever you end up.

In humble gratitude,



“In a gentle way, you can shake the world.” – Mahatma Gandhi


TGIF! Feb 2 2018


Stay healthy, everyone.  My oldest child is home with the stomach virus, and my youngest two get a long weekend since their school will be closed for illness Monday.  Tails you win, heads I lose?

Facility update

We are still waiting on the final answer to our fire inspection application on our primary potential location.  We did turn up an inkling of possibility on a second site which we are investigating.  We fully understand that it’s now February and as a board we will be making decisions about our Fall opening timeline very soon.  We will keep you posted.

Learning Links

Who wouldn’t want responsible students? They listen in class, take notes, and complete their homework on time without nagging. They are easy to teach… But responsibility comes with a price.  A price paid in engagement, personal goals and expectations. Responsible students have taken ownership of their teachers’ and parents’ agenda – to get good grades and be a “good student… Responsible students are easy to teach, but they are like a two-dimensional cut-out of their true potential. Agenic students [students with agency] are not only easy to work with, but a joy, and have ownership of reaching the potential inside them. Perhaps it is time to stop seeing responsible students as a blessing and start recognizing them as a problem of a different kind.

Read more here: The Problem With Responsible Students

Listening to Nicole’s impassioned and detailed presentation on the Puerto Rican debt crisis and its impact on the island’s healthcare system, it was easy to forget a high school senior was addressing a group of 100 students and teachers.

Nicole’s story was a personal one. She has family members on the island who deliver and receive health services, and she described her cousin’s personal struggle as a doctor who could have gone to the mainland United States to practice medicine but strongly desired to stay in his native homeland despite the economic difficulties. Nicole’s engagement and mastery of the subject matter was evident to everyone in the room as she skillfully wove together her personal story with facts, policy issues and a vivid picture of the political and economic environment of the island.

How does a school engage a senior and the entire learning community, especially in late April when seniors are close to exams and all students are grappling with spring fever and the not-too-distant target of summer?

Read more here: How Senior Capstone Projects Let Students Research—and Present—Their Passions

In closing….

You’ve probably heard by now that Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow.  But TIME reports that ol’ Puxsy Phil has just a 39% accuracy rating.  Here Are 8 Other Groundhogs That Predicted Spring.  Here’s hoping!!!


TGIF! Jan 26 2018


Playing with a little bit different format this week – one good short story and a conversation starter.  We may not do every issue this way but I hope you enjoy today!

Extending School Far Beyond the Classroom Walls

James Lawrence planned to open his own welding business after his 2017 graduation from the Robert W. Traip Academy in Kittery, Maine. Last year he spent part of his school days at the local technical center, learning welding, preparing to make his vision for his future a reality. He didn’t have time for an art class in his schedule, but the credit was required for graduation.

So James, a duck hunter interested in learning to carve wooden duck decoys, took advantage of his school’s expanded learning opportunities program and got the art credit outside of the classroom. With the help of a family friend who was an experienced duck decoy carver, James worked on the project after school and on weekends, ultimately convincing his school’s art teacher to count it toward his graduation requirements.

Read more here: The Hechinger Report Future of Learning series.

James Lawrence, a 2017 graduate of the Traip Academy in Kittery, Maine, holds wooden duck decoys he made for an art credit his senior year.

Conversation starters

  • Should it matter where or how a student learns, as long as they can demonstrate their learning?
  • If school is supposed to open up opportunities for students, why are “schedule conflict” stories like James’ so common?
  • Should these opportunities be limited to only students with scheduling conflicts?  What if a student wanted to pursue an unique interest during the school day?

In closing….

I’ll post this to our Facebook page as well, feel free to share your replies to these conversation starters there!


TGIF! Jan 19 2018


Super-short TGIF this week – our family is taking a little up-north vacation weekend with friends, doing some skiing at Caberfae.

Here at Imagine! we are still waiting for final word on the building and brainstorming backup plans.  Thanks to those I’ve had conversations with this week for bouncing around ideas with me!  Thoughts?  Feedback? Concerns? Questions?  Shoot them my way!!

Have a great weekend everyone.  I promise you a ‘real’ TGIF next Friday.



TGIF! Jan 12 2018


 This week we are going back and forth with the state regarding fire safety inspections on our potential location.  More news once we have something definitive to share.  Keep those fingers and toes crossed for us!

Here are a couple of stories we highlighted on our Facebook page this week:

Real World Contributions

We’ve featured Idaho’s One Stone before, but this story highlights how their students are leading design thinking sessions for local businesses – and totally holding their own teaching adults twice their age.

“There is no longer a ‘gentleman’s C’”

Edutopic highlights examples from around the US that we may be seeing the end of 100 years of letter grading.  Transcripts are starting to change, and this move to competency-based learning “gets kids focused on doing their personal best on meeting or exceeding standards rather than getting a better grade than the kid next to them.”

In closing….

Thanks for your continued interest and support.  As we roll into 2018, is there something you’d like to see us write about in a future TGIF?   Hit “reply” and give me your suggestion!


TGIF! Jan 5 2018


Happy 2018! Here are a few interesting articles to get your mind back into the swing of school after the holidays.

Student Agency is key

The tricky thing with being innovative is that if you try to measure success by the same old yardstick, it will usually push you back to the same old ways of doing things.  Consider this:

The challenge with implementing personalized learning is that it can be done authentically, with substance, or inauthentically, with only the form… Advocates for personalized learning emphasize that it is about the whole child and a new way of teaching. Personalized learning… require[s] a significant shift in teacher mindset and a giving up of control to students so that they can take ownership of their learning, learn deeply, and be intrinsically motivated. All of these can become co-opted by traditional teaching methods in the implementation.  … So how do you know if your personalized learning initiative is working? You could focus on test scores, but there is a problem with that being the metric that is measured. When you focus on test scores as the thing that is measured, teachers will receive feedback on their success/failure based on the test scores. This will incentivize them to move away from a path and a new mindset that feels risky to one that is comfortable – teaching to the test. They may maintain the “form” of personalized learning, but the “substance” will be lost. The implementation moves into a negative spiral of increased pressure to increasing test scores leading to inauthentic implementation of PL, leading to less improvement in test scores.

But there is another metric that drives a positive cycle: student agency. …Student agency is the canary in the coal mine – when student agency is dead, student learning is stagnant and inauthentic. When student agency thrives, so do students and their learning.


Modern apprenticeships offer path to career – and college.

No longer an either-or proposition, students plan apprenticeships then college on the way to the workforce:

In Colorado, there’s a nascent effort to use apprenticeships to give high schoolers work experience, and to do so in high-wage, high-demand career fields. At the end of the apprenticeships, which last three years, students have on-the-job experience, a useful credential in hand and one year of college credit. They also earn about $30,000 in wages over the duration of the program.


In closing….

Thanks for reading, more next week!



TGIF! Dec 22 2017


As we draw 2017 to a close and welcome 2018, I would like to extend my appreciation to each and every one of you, for your role – large or small – in Imagine! West Michigan’s high school initiative thus far.  I hope you’ve found these weekly TGIF emails informative and interesting, and most of all I hope they’ve helped you to think more deeply about what you value and hope for in the education of your children, grandchildren, students, future colleagues, and fellow citizens.  Are you a more recent subscriber? Check out our blog archive.


Surprising insights from Google:

The ultimate data company crunches the data… and finds 7 of the 8 top characteristics of success at Google are soft skills. STEM expertise comes in dead last.

Read more here: The Surprising Thing Google Learned About its Employees and What it Means for Today’s Students


From Tacoma, WA:

The learning setting was breathtaking — so much so that I wondered why we visited a [high] school that could not be replicated even within Tacoma, let alone in other communities. I urged my tour guide, a sophomore girl with an interest in engineering and a passion for robotics, to tell me what made this school special beyond the setting. She didn’t miss a beat. The real differences to her were the structure and the staff.

  • Students are trusted: They move freely between buildings across the park following individually designed schedules.

  • Known: Incoming freshmen join a multi-grade advisory group of about 20 students who meet weekly with their sponsor and stay together throughout high school.

  • Supported: They can schedule time to talk with any teacher about any topic, personal or academic.

  • Challenged: Encouraged to find their passion and then pushed to explore it and master it.

  • Accepted: By their peers and the staff, for who they are.

  • Held accountable: But forgiven when they make mistakes.

Read more here: Educating the Whole Child Isn’t Just Jargon – Here’s How It’s Done


See you in 2018!


from all of use at Imagine! West Michigan.  Our weekly newsletter resumes January 5th!

TGIF! Dec 15 2017


It’s sure looking like Christmastime outside – so we’re sharing an awesome present from our friends at Most Likely To Succeed!

The question everyone’s been asking

After we hosted a screening of the education innovation documentary Most Likely To Succeed (trailer here) in Grand Haven back in 2016, both people who attended and those would couldn’t have asked, “Where can I rent or stream this movie?” Until now, the answer to that was “Nowhere.”  (Well, I shouldn’t say that.  If you wanted to pay the $395 screening fee just to watch in in your own living room, I suppose you could… but most of us wouldn’t.) Well, that’s going to change – yup, Most Likely To Succeed is coming to your living room, for FREE, for a very limited time.

Why are they offering to stream the film now?

In short, after a 2-year run most schools and organizations who are interested and capable of hosting a public screening have, and most people who have sought out the film have had the opportunity to see it. Since the point of the film is to spark conversation and interest in a different way of educating our kids for the 21st century (particularly at the high school level), it’s time to move the conversation into more intimate spaces and reach more people. From the flimmakers:

Many ask why the film isn’t on Netflix, iTunes, etc.  Well, its purpose is to spark community discussion and bring people together in the aspirational goal of helping their school. To make it easier for people to see, though, we’ll soon be launching a Committee of Ten (C10) offering, letting anyone rent the film for a modest price and share it with up to nine colleagues.  The idea?  Use MLTS to spark discussion and help assemble your own C10 to turbo-charge progress in your community.

Here’s the best part:

As a thank you for all you’re doing to advance education, I’d like to offer you early access to our C10 offering.  Over the holidays, you and your family can watch Most Likely to Succeed at no charge.  Also, you can share your link with up to nine others, and get your own Committee of Ten off to a running start to make 2018 extraordinary for your community.

Here’s how to host your own screening for friends and family this December.

#1. Fill out this form to register for a streaming link to the film.

#2. Pick a day and time to gather friends and family together – between December 16 and January 2 – to watch the film.  (Consider inviting at least one person who might not know about Imagine! West Michigan!)

#3. Watch the film together, and discuss!

#4. Share!  Encourage your guests to share the link with others (up to 9 people total, valid only through January 2), and if they want to know what’s happening here in West Michigan, point them to Imagine’s Facebook page or website or just forward them a TGIF!

#5. Give us feedback.  Whether your group was large or small, please take a moment to fill out this short survey and let us at Imagine! West Michigan know how it went!


In closing….

Don’t miss this exciting opportunity!  I’m looking forward to watching the film again, and I’m already trying to figure out who to invite to my own viewing party!


TGIF! Dec 8 2017


Welcome, winter!

High School Update

We are proceeding with State inspections for a potential site in Ferrysburg.  This is super-exciting, but also not a slam dunk: while we are hopeful that the space in question will be deemed suitable for a high school, we also know bureaucracy can be fickle – so we kind of hold our breath and wait for now.  Bureaucracy is also SLOW (hmm, maybe we should reconsider holding our breath!) – so if it seems like we don’t have a lot of news to share here in the next few weeks, it’s because we are waiting, waiting, waiting.  Keep those fingers and toes crossed for now!

Learning Links

Personalized learning all over the blogosphere this week!

From the 74, on personalized learning and technology (and equity and a few other themes too!):

I visited a school — I was in England, south of London, a school there that had been a failing school. What they had done was unbelievable. They had completely transformed the school using a personalized learning model, and all of a sudden, all their graduation rates were up, they had students that were engaged. It was just one of these unbelievable stories.

I was talking to the teachers, and they sort of looked like zombies. They were all falling asleep, they were all yawning. They showed me this room, and after school every day — it was all on paper, sitting there with paper and pencil — they would literally redesign and adapt the learning experience for the kids for the next day. So they were there until 8:00, 9:00 at night doing this very difficult manual process. And I was like, “Why do you keep doing this to yourselves? This is crazy.” And they were like, “We are watching this transform the lives of these kids, how could we possibly stop?” And I said, “Yes, I take that point, but there are also some ways that you could enable this.”

I share that story because when people say, “Do you need technology to personalize learning?” No, but if you want to get some sleep at night, then yeah, you actually do need some tech to help take it to scale.

From a Medium post on the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative:

From settings as various as inner-city Chicago to the decks of naval ships, comes increasing evidence that when education is truly “personalized” — when it is genuinely tailored to the needs of the student — the shift can be profound, blowing away the expected “bell curve” that dictates a handful of failure, a bit of excellence, and a bunch of mediocrity in between.

In each of these cases, the not-so-secret ingredients included:

  • an intense focus on the individual strengths, aspirations and needs of each student
  • a willingness to redesign the learning environment and experience to meet those needs
  • a deep understanding of the strategies and practices that would be most effective
  • a belief that dramatic outcomes were possible.

That, in short, is a description of the education all children deserve, but few are privileged enough to receive. And that is what we are seeking to change: to take the kind of focus on individual needs and support that define privilege and make it available to all — to make equal opportunity real.

In that effort, we strive to hold two ideals in tension: boldness and humility. It will take boldness to reimagine what’s possible for students, radically elevating beliefs about their potential. Yet it also takes humility to recognize that what we describe as personalized learning is an extension of what Maria Montessori was doing a century ago. And while there are more questions to answer and new science to bring to bear, this work is not simply about invention — it’s also about listening to and engaging students and teachers in designing their own solutions while connecting effective practices that exist today in the classrooms of great teachers all over the world.


In closing….

Stay warm, enjoy the snowflakes, and have a joyous weekend.



TGIF! Dec 1 2017



Thank you for your donations, Facebook shares, and support of our Giving Tuesday fundraisers.  In total, you donated $1,055 in just over twelve hours!  All processing fees were waived so 100% of those donations will flow through to us.  And, we will receive an as-yet-unknown financial match – bringing our total to hopefully right around $1,500.  (There is a lot of speculation right now as to what time the $2 million in matching funds was exhausted. Best guess right now is that it was around 9am, unfortunately.)  We are so grateful for your support!


I heard from a few of you that you missed Tuesday’s opportunity, and wanted to know how you could still help.  Our tax-exempt information and mailing address for donations by check is on our website’s contact page.  For donations by credit card, debit card, or PayPal (no fees for the last one!) we also have a link to our PayPal donations site.  Or click right here to make your one-time or recurring donation today!

Learning Links

Sometimes I’ll read an editorial and think, “wow, that’s harsh”.  This was an example over this past week.  Here was the quote that struck me:

Today’s school system results in three general patterns of high school graduates: 1) students who peak in high school and live off the social capital they created as students, often not attending college, failing out, or coasting; 2) students who finish high school, go to college, and then establish a career that’s either unfulfilling or doesn’t have longevity in today’s shifting workforce; and 3) students who are far more ready to contribute to society in meaningful ways with or without college, whose motivation and ideas come from somewhere else, and while the system may nurture them, it is not always the reason for their success.

At first I thought – it can’t be that bad!  So I thought back to my last high school reunion (if that’s a fair sampling) and most of the attendees really did fall squarely into one of these three patterns.  There were plenty of folks from Bucket #1, busting their butts to make ends meet in relatively dead-end jobs.  There was a whole collection of college-educated people with financially successful but unfulfilling careers who were making mid-life career changes – Bucket #2.  There were a fair number of people who had experienced job loss and were back in school to retool for another career – again, Bucket #2.  Then there were the ones who “didn’t amount to much” by the yardstick of high school, who were now running their own businesses or succeeding in other less straightforward paths – Bucket #3.  There were 50 people in that room at least… I can picture one who was doing what he went to college to do, and was happy and successful at it.

I still think the quote is harsh.  But I also think the author may be more right than we want to admit. And even if not – we can do better.  There is too much passion, too many hopes and dreams in those teenage years to squander them in the artificial bubble of high school.


In closing….

Thanks again for your phenomenal support this week.  You are appreciated!