TGIF Oct 20 2017

Dear friends,

I began writing our usual Friday newsletter this morning only to learn a friend passed away last night after a 10 month battle with an extremely rare form of cancer.  While I never met Rebecca in person, she has been a part of my life for fourteen years, along with an amazing group of women whom I met on a silly online bulletin board for first-time pregnant moms. From that pure-chance beginning we’ve all shared and supported each other on a near daily basis, through good times and difficult times.  Needless to say, I’m struggling to say much about education or schools today.

Rebecca was devoted to her family, passionate in her faith (she and her husband lived in Poland as missionaries for a number of years), and always had a word or a gesture to comfort a friend.  She leaves behind her adoring husband Daniel and three beautiful sons: Benjamin, Aaron, and Samuel. (Her son Andrew – Aaron’s twin brother – died in infancy in 2006, so this sweet family has already experienced much loss.)

Please keep them in your thoughts and prayers today.



TGIF! Oct 13 2017


Happy Friday the 13th!  We continue to explore potential locations – did a walkthrough of one facility this week and proceeding with due diligence.  Nothing we can publicly announce yet and still much work to do, but please keep your fingers crossed!

Since I’ve been digging through the fire code much of today, we’ll keep this TGIF short and sweet with just a couple of learning links:

HS Stress and Anxiety

From the NY Times this week:

For many of these young people, the biggest single stressor is that they “never get to the point where they can say, ‘I’ve done enough, and now I can stop,’ ” Luthar says. “There’s always one more activity, one more A.P. class, one more thing to do in order to get into a top college. Kids have a sense that they’re not measuring up. The pressure is relentless and getting worse.”

It’s tempting to blame helicopter parents with their own anxiety issues for that pressure (and therapists who work with teenagers sometimes do), but several anxiety experts pointed to an important shift in the last few years. “Teenagers used to tell me, ‘I just need to get my parents off my back,’ ” recalls Madeline Levine, a founder of Challenge Success, a Stanford University-affiliated nonprofit that works on school reform and student well-being. “Now so many students have internalized the anxiety. The kids at this point are driving themselves crazy.”

Life Skills Matter

From a (British) research study published yesterday:

Essential life skills such as confidence, motivation, resilience and communication are associated with better academic outcomes and better prospects in the workplace, and there is an increasing emphasis on their value, given labour market trends towards automation. While ‘character’ has traditionally been a focus of British private school education, provision in the state sector has been patchy, and it is only recently that a concerted move has been made towards prioritising life skills education for all children.

There is wide recognition of the importance of such life skills, with 88% of young people, 94% of employers and 97% of teachers saying that they are as or more important than academic qualifications. In fact, more than half of teachers (53%) believe that life skills are more important than academic qualifications to young people’s success and 72% believe their school should increase their focus on teaching life skills.

In closing….

Thanks for your continued support!  Please continue to share our mission with others!


TGIF! Oct 6 2017


It’s Friday, the early morning edition!  Heading to Grand Rapids to enjoy Art Prize with my oldest today, and grateful the rain looks like it will stay away.

In the meantime, let’s have a little fun.

Eventually, everything connects.

Quick quiz:  What do the following two images have in common?


The first is the Eames Lounge chair, and the second is a popular game for your smartphone.  The link between them is the quote above – “eventually, everything connects” – attributed to famed Hermann Miller designer Charles Eames and appropriated as a catchy tag line on the title screen of the Two Dots game.

The quote kept coming to my mind in the past few weeks as I would read various articles related to education innovations, because so often, everything DOES connect.  Not just in the obvious sense of connections across the curriculum or how science is linked to art is linked to history, but at the heart of how we “do” school.  Project-based learning doesn’t fit well in a 45 minutes class period.  There’s no time for teachers to be advisors when they also teach a traditional load of classes in a traditional bell schedule.  Each piece that you want to innovate on is connected to, affects, and is affected by some other piece.  You have to look at the connections.

I’ll give you an example.  This article from the Harvard Graduate School of Education discusses the growing need for interpersonal skills in the workplace, and in the conclusion offers takeaways for high schools to implement, such as group projects and “long-term project-based work, in which students work as a team, receive feedback, and revise together”.  But the article starts out lamenting (as a humorous hook, I’m sure) the typical response of students when group work is assigned – the gripes, the groans, and in particular, the frustration with teammates: “He’s not doing his work!”  What’s the missing piece between the value of group work in theory and the reality in schools?  It’s the assessment.  If the group work is assessed conventionally and for a traditional “grade” then that grade IS the students’ objective.  Any inherent value in the work, any attempt at authenticity through, say, a final presentation, is lost to the game of ensuring the work maximizes the potential score.  So, we can’t talk about project-based learning without talking about authentic assessments.  “Eventually, everything connects.”  The same is true for all the other elements of a school’s design.

Here’s the full quote:


That’s one reason why Imagine! West Michigan is different.  We’re looking at the connections, and it’s those connections – how we organize time and space, how we conceive the role of teachers and staff, how standards are still met but in radically different ways, how students interact with one another, and how we set, achieve, and evaluate goals, and how all of these are related – it is these connections, even more so than the details of each element alone, that allow us to create a superior learning environment.

Learning Links

Here’s an article unpacking the difference between students who take ownership (“the work”), and those who are compliant (“the grade”).  Which quality is more important for the 21st century?

In closing….

We continue to press forward in exploring potential school buildings.  Keep your fingers crossed! We still want to hear about any locations you might know of, so keep your ideas coming. Together, we can make this a reality. If you are interested in making a financial gift, please visit for our mailing address and tax information.  Your help is truly appreciated.


TGIF! Sep 29 2017


Good morning and happy return to fall.  We continue to look at different building options for the high school and while our hope is to purchase a suitable existing facility (or really cheap land!) we also want to look for a contingency plan to get up and open with our initial class of 9th graders.  This would be a couple-of-classroom-sized space we could use for the first year (or two).  If you are a member of a community, civic, social, or religious organization that has some spaces that sit unused during the weekdays, we would be interested in learning more about potentially leasing that space.  The #1 clue that the space might meet school building code requirements is if it has a newer sprinkling system. So, look around as you go through your week this week – our school’s first home may be sitting under your nose!  We just need to hear about it!

See below for a few thoughts on why we need to see this school come to be, in the first place.

Purpose at the center

Our mission is to support each of our students to construct a life of meaning and purpose, and this mission is built into the heart of our school design.  This is an opportunity students in traditional high schools don’t often get, as Mind/Shift pointed this week in Helping Teens Find Purpose: A Tool For Educators To Support Students’ Discovery

“For you to have a sense of purpose you need two things: One, you need to know what’s important to you and what you care about,” Cook-Deegan said. “And two, you need to know how your work is going to have consequence in the world.” Many high school students go through four years of school doing exactly what they are told to do. The work often feels divorced from the real world — a prescriptive set of “shoulds” that adults say will lead to a happy life. But for many students, the end goal of all that work — college or a career — is a hazy future, not a tangible one.

The article goes on to point out two key structures that help bring purpose into focus for students – Advisories and Real World Experience. Learning in real-world internships allows students to test drive “possible futures” for themselves, and the support of their Advisor helps them to make sense of those experiences and grow in their understanding of their own talents and passions.

Cause and effect

I think the other reason for the “hazy future” problem is that our traditional schools, to the degree they address developing purpose, get the sequence backwards.  From another great piece, How to Help Teens Find Purpose:

“Young people do not usually develop a specific purpose and then go become an expert in that thing. Rather, they are exposed to something new that helps them develop their own sense of purpose. In short, in most cases experiences lead to developing purpose, not the other way around.”

Most people (4 out of 5 according to the Stanford Center on Adolescence) don’t have a clear vision of where they want to go, what they want to accomplish in life, and why.  And that’s OK.  But what’s not okay is telling 80% of young people to mimic those 20%: just pick something you think you can be passionate about, then go to college and study that thing, then get a job and make a career out of it.  (I’m not sure that works for the 20% all that well either.) We need to give kids a different roadmap:

“Most people do not have that one thing they are passionate about—that singular motivator that drives all of their life decisions and infuses every waking moment with a sense of purpose and meaning. (If you’ve found that studying the mating habits and evolution of mollusks from the Cambrian period until the present day is your purpose for living—we salute you. Charles Darwin spent thirty-nine years studying earthworms; we salute Charles Darwin.) …[But] most people are passionate about many different things, and the only way to know what they want to do is to prototype some potential lives, try them out, and see what really resonates with them. Once you know how to prototype your way forward, you are on the path to discovering the things you truly love.”

Our school model provides for that prototyping, and starts young people on their life’s journey so that graduation is just another step, not the end of the road.

 In closing….

Thanks for reading.  Please share our newsletter, and share our story with people you meet!


TGIF! Sep 22 2017


Happy first day of Autumn!  Wipe the sweat from your brow and raise a glass of iced lemonade to toast the changing of the seasons. And after watching the kids play soccer tomorrow morning – assuming games aren’t cancelled due to the heat index – you can head over to the state park and drop your beach blanket down in between the snow fences! Tip: if you’re looking for ice cream, I know the Dairy Creme at Chinook Pier is open through Sunday.

But no complaining.  This is fuel for the soul before La Nina punches us in the gut in a couple of months.  (Get your skis tuned now!)

Real Innovation

From EdWeek (paywall) this week:

Google founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page aren’t shy about sharing the secret of how they came up with new products like Gmail and Google News: They allowed the company’s engineers to be creative. To be exact, they allowed their engineers to spend 20 percent of their work time on their own innovative passion projects… What if our K-12 schools believed in students the same way that Google believes in its engineers and universities trust their professors? What if we had that same faith in our students’ talents and capabilities?

Several years ago, as a middle school teacher at a Title I public school in New Haven, Conn., I told my 8th graders that for one period per day, they could spend time solving a problem they cared about instead of doing traditional schoolwork. Doing so changed my classroom: After years of teaching standards, I began teaching students.

We started by brainstorming students’ concerns about the world. They noticed that TV cameras rolled into the neighborhood when there was a murder, but not when good things happened. They were concerned about police brutality and a lack of trust between officers and teenagers. They worried about how the media portrayed young people, particularly young people of color like themselves, as uncaring rather than as the impassioned and curious people they are.

We then worked together to create standards-based projects that addressed those concerns. We developed the same skills students in other classes were learning, but we did so for real reasons. We built a website where they researched and reported their own stories for an online audience, responding to events in the news and paying attention to what the news overlooked. We designed a campaign to reduce stereotypes of officers and teenagers that students presented at the local police academy. We started a neighborhood museum at our school to celebrate the stories of our community.

… None of this was for a grade or because I, as their teacher, told them to. Instead, they did it because they could—and because they wanted to. Though I have since left the classroom, I still hear about the ways my students are making a difference at their high schools.

The traditional method of mass education starts with a curriculum and fits it to students’ needs. Too often, students’ interests exist separately from school, and they complete assignments for their teacher’s eyes only. Personal passion is too often missing from our classrooms.

As teachers, we should approach education the other way around: by starting with our students and then shaping a curriculum around them. When we give our students real responsibility to tackle problems connected to their interests, they flourish.

Learning Links

A few more pieces on innovation:

From Getting Smart, Why Factory-Model Change Won’t End the Era of Factory-Model Schools.  As Albert Einstein said, ““We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.”

Shared on our Facebook page: Why more and more high schools are acting like start-ups: “Mission statements about innovation are a lot more common than the real thing. The most successful schools do more than get tablet computers in the classroom — they rethink instruction altogether. At Leyden High Schools in Franklin Park, Illinois, ninety percent of all tech-support tasks are now handled by high schoolers. Students are encouraged to develop business plans for startups and use school facilities to videoconference with mentors in the business world.”

In closing….

Find yourself some pumpkin spice sunscreen and go enjoy this crazy weather!


TGIF! Sep 15 2017


We’ve had a few long newsletters in recent weeks, so how about a short and sweet one?

Update update

(The title above was a typo as I searched for the right adjective.  Then I decided I kind of liked it as is – so here’s our ‘update update’.)

Summer is always a slow season in the education arena, and this one was no exception.  However, with the new school year fired up we are making some good progress as we approach the end of the quarter!  The two big things on our radar are facility and fundraising.  On the former we are working to nail down our location – vetting the feasibility of our frontrunner in terms of availability, zoning, cost, timing, and terms. On the fundraising front, we will be meeting with the Grand Haven Area Community Foundation next week and we very much look forward to their assistance and advice as we kick off that very important aspect of our school-founding journey!

Heard in the community…

I attended a meeting earlier this week which was held to solicit a wide variety of feedback to inform a local nonprofit’s upcoming strategic planning process.  In attendance were representatives from other non-profits with a variety of missions, local governments, local schools, etc. It was a big, diverse group.  It was amazing how, despite all the potential social issues facing our community, one of the top themes that emerged from the conversations was youth social and emotional health.  I look forward to reading a complete summary of the feedback they gathered; I think it will be helpful to our organization as well!

Learning Links

Speaking of mental health, a reminder that we all need time to daydream:

In closing….

What topics should we cover in the coming weeks?  Feel free to drop me a line with your questions and suggestions, to make this newsletter the most relevant to you!


TGIF! Sep 8 2017


For all those who sent kids back to school this week, let’s cheer that again: T G I F !  Here’s wishing everyone extra rest and recreation this weekend after conquering yet another change of season.

Point of view

Anytime you are outside the norm, you have a totally different perspective.  (Somewhat irrelevant example – we don’t have cable.  Every time I stay in a hotel, I’m kind of blindsided by the commercials.  “What? When did that come out? Do people really buy that?”  Whereas, if you see these same ads daily, I’m sure you don’t even notice them.)  Anyway, having been in Montessori for most of my kids’ schooling, I don’t “live” in a traditional school model, so when I encounter it, it’s usually a bit of a shock and awe experience.   Let me share a couple of those recent eye-opening moments on the unfortunately oh-so-ordinary.

Fly on a wall…

It was a quote across my Facebook newsfeed this morning that sparked these recollections.  “…my career in education began as a teacher at a Detroit public school.  In this traditional system, we would frequently bribe our students into doing whatever we needed them to do. We praised them for doing what should have been natural human behavior. We taught them that school was boring and a chore, but if you go through the motions, you get a prize.”


Flashback, Wednesday evening.

I attended the open house a local traditional public middle school.  Considering the kids have been in school for all of 2 days, and that each teacher sees approximately 150 students, you can’t as a parent expect much more from the experience than the chance to put a face with each teacher’s name and get a small idea of what each of their classes will be like for your child.  At least, that was my expectation – have your kid walk you through their schedule, quick introductions with each teacher, listen to them describe their class for a few minutes, move on.  Then there was ‘Bonnie’.  We saw her in two different classes, and both times the routine was the same: she introduced herself approximately sixteen times, repeating her child’s name like a hammer to the poor teacher who of course cannot yet recall this student by name (or face, as her child was not with her).  She monopolized the teacher for several minutes with this name game, then halfheartedly apologized for doing so before reminding the teacher – one last time – her name and her child’s.  I thought she was an aberration, until I saw at least three other parents doing the same thing.  None of them had their kids with them.  I think they literally marched down to the school to make sure THEY KNOW WHO WE ARE.

As much as I wanted to laugh, or possibly cry, over Bonnie and her ilk, upon reflection it makes a lot of sense.   If the point of it all is to get those good grades, and teachers hold the keys to the grades, these moms were looking for every edge in the “competition”.  (Thought I’m not sure they succeeded.)


Flashback, two weeks ago.

I was chauffeuring two ninth graders and an eighth grader just a few days after they had received their class schedules for the upcoming year.  As the older two advised the younger on his new teachers, I was surprised by the conversation.  I expected comments like “he’s strict” or “she’s so boring” or maybe even, “that was a pretty interesting class”.   Instead, 100% of the comments made had to do with how each teacher graded and what work was necessary to earn those grades.  It wasn’t about the experience (good or ill), it wasn’t about how their time was going to be spent or squandered over the next 9 months, and is certainly wasn’t anything about learning.

“We taught them that school was boring and a chore, but if you go through the motions, you get a prize.”

How well that kindergarten lesson has been learned.  It’s time we offered our high schoolers an alternative.

Learning Links

Quick apology to my local Facebook followers – I really fell of the wagon with posting this week as my own family got back into the back-to-school routine.  Rest assured we’ll be back to our usual schedule of postings next week, and thanks for your patience!

In closing….

If you find yourself at home this Friday evening, consider tuning in for XQ America’s #ReThinkHighSchool special, airing at 8pm simultaneously on ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox and online.  You can check out the trailer here.

Have a wonderful weekend!