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! Nov 10 2017


If you park outside at night (like I do), I’m sure you ran your windshield wipers a time or two this morning to clear off that first little accumulation of snow we’ve had this fall.  You can thank a Birmingham, Alabama woman named Mary Anderson – not for the snow, but for patenting the first “window cleaning device for electric cars and other vehicles to remove snow, ice or sleet from the window”, on this day in 1903.  (Unfortunately, her patent expired before the idea caught on, and she never made any money from her invention.)

Different viewpoints, same conclusions.

As you’ve probably realized, I pull in articles and insights from everywhere.  Of course, every author writes from their own experience, but it’s uncanny sometimes how people with vastly different perspectives on education come to similar conclusions.  This article was a case in point – while it was written from a homeschooling parent’s perspective, I was quite literally able to post it to our Facebook page with just a single edit to better explain a key belief that we hold here at Imagine!, namely, that high school should be an opportunity to begin living life, and not merely preparing for it.

“There is simply life”

The story was about a 10 year old girl, and the question adults love to ask all kids (I think they just don’t know how else to make conversation) – “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Her daughter’s answer was brilliant: “A baker, but I already am one.”  Is this just the naiveté of a child who has helped in the kitchen a few times, or is it an accurate answer? Kerry writes:

Baking brings my daughter daily joy and fulfillment while also helping to nourish her family and friends. She writes a baking blog, sharing her recipe adaptations and advice. She reads cookbooks, watches cooking shows (The Great British Baking Show is a favorite), talks to other bakers–both adults and kids–to get ideas and tips. She learned this all on her own, following her own interests, and quickly outgrowing the library children’s room cookbook section to the adult aisles.

She has unlimited access to the kitchen. She has abundant opportunities to visit the library and explore the Internet for real and digital information to help her in her craft. Her work is also incredibly valuable. I have never made a pie from scratch but she makes them all the time, bringing them as frequent desserts to gatherings and special events. The market price for her delicious, seasonal pies would be steep.

A [traditionally] schooled child, who might bake just as much after school or on weekends, likely wouldn’t answer in the same way.  Most children have accepted that “‘real life’ starts after. It starts after all the tedium, all of the memorizing and regurgitating, all of the command and control.”  While we can certainly have future goals and ambitions that we work towards – such as scaling up a talent for baking to become the means of earning one’s living – the young baker’s reply rejects the artificial separation between “preparing for life” and “living” that we have baked (!) into our educational mindset.

What if instead of focusing on after, we focus on now?  What if living, and learning, were synonymous?  What if instead of segregating kids from the real world during school, we actively encouraged opportunities that meaningfully include them in it?  What if “our job is not to prepare our children for who they will become, but to help them be who they already are”?

My daughter is a baker because she bakes. She is also many other things. To ask what a child wants to be when she grows up is to dismiss what she already is, what she already knows, what she already does. Will she always be a baker? It’s hard to say. Will I always be a writer? I think so, but who knows? Will any of us always be who we are now?


In closing….

Thanks for reading.  Do you know someone who might be interested in Imagine!, especially for 9th grade next year?  Please ask them to fill out our Enrollment Interest Form!


TGIF! Nov 3 2017


Happy November, and welcome new readers Brenda, Rachel, Amy, and Mikayla!

No additional updates this week on our facilities due diligence, but remember, these things take time. Here’s a few thoughts and shares from the past 7 days.

Free food and free feedback.

So, I got to be a bit of a mooch on Wednesday night.  It was a bit ironic to stumble upon Facebook event for a “Parent Focus Group” around education.  But, since I’m 1) a parent, 2) not averse to a free meal, and more importantly, 3) very interested to listen in on other local parents’ opinions about education on someone else’s dime, I happily signed up.  (I also wanted to learn who was behind this – an existing school, another new school startup, a community group, or something else completely?!?  Turns out it was an existing school, and we’ll say a private school in Muskegon County is specific enough for this tale.)

Other than humorous bits where our hosts were schooled on how Tri Cities parents think (yes, the bridge is a thing, Grand Haven peeps really won’t commute more than 15 minutes to anywhere), what struck me most about the conversation were all these unreconciled dichotomies that parents are struggling with.  For instance, a parent felt that having a large number of opportunities was really important, by allowing more kids a better chance to find their interests and passions.  But the same parent lamented a lack of downtime, heightened busy-ness and stress, and a lack of family time too.  Other things mentioned were a desire help students’ find their calling – but at the same time, not pressure them to “pick something” at a young age.

For me, the related thread between these two examples of trade-offs is scale.   On the one hand, too many opportunities are just too big.  Want to play sports?  Better train year-round and join a private league if you want to make varsity.  (Not true in every case, but certainly legit for the more competitive ones.)  Many extracurricular activities are oriented around the goal of being the most excellent at what they do.  Very few are oriented around giving kids exposure, a try, or time to dabble.  So, they tend to be big – more practice time, more involved, more commitment.  On the flip side, since we do value exposure and want kids to “try things”, there are another whole set of experiences that are too little, too shallow.  Take a career quiz.  Do a job shadow.  Now, “what do you want to be when you grow up?” In those cases, the activities are too small – and when you push a large number of kids through small-sized experiences they usually become meaningless, bureaucratic, or both.

If instead you can meet each student as an individual, and help them build a path that starts in the playful dabbling of “I wonder if I’m interested in this” but then supports them to seek more experiences as their interest grows, it keeps things at just the right scale for that individual – neither requiring that any one interest become their all-consuming “thing”, nor wasting their time with one-size-fits-all ‘drive-by’ experiences.  Then we can help every kid to find their talents and passions, while maintaining a balance of doing and simply being – taking downtime for self-reflection, balance, and yes, mental health.

Learning Links

From EdWeek (paywall), “Educators have the unique opportunity to shape the next 2017-11-03generation of adult listeners by modeling effective listening with their current students. Teachers and administrators often claim we encourage students to advocate for themselves. But, the question is: When students advocate for themselves are we actually listening?”  Here were their seven tips (hint – replace “student” with “your child” and you’ll see these work equally well for parents!):

Keep an open mind and assume positive intent.

Be present, (as hard as it may be) and don’t multi-task when talking to students. If a student approaches you at an inopportune time, offer another time to talk and follow-through on that meeting.

Ask unbiased questions (Can you tell me more? What makes you think that? Why did that happen?) rather than leading questions (Did you hear what I said? Did you forget again?)

Respond to student responses with additional questions rather than statements (What would happen if you did that? What does that look like to you?)

Try not to take student comments about expectations or assignments personally, (when will we ever need to know this?) and refuse to become defensive. Instead, ask questions to try to understand the impetus for why students make such comments. Look at the comments as suggestive feedback. Maybe something can be done.

Don’t be quick to offer a solution. Instead, collaborate with students to problem-solve.

Seek to understand your students before you ensure their understanding of you.


In closing….

Thanks for your interest, excitement, and support of what we are doing.  The student interest forms keep coming in, particularly those looking to join our 9th grade in the fall.  That’s great news, helping demonstrate the desire and need for this new high school option!



TGIF! Oct 27 2017


Let’s do a quick Q&A edition this week.  Here are answers to a couple of questions I’ve received over the last two weeks or so.

So where is the high school going to be?

So just to clarify, we haven’t signed anything and it will take another couple of months to determine if the site we are investigating is going to work out.  Here’s what I can tell you so far: The site is located in the tri-cities of Grand Haven / Spring Lake / Ferrysburg, and is fairly central to all three communities.  It’s bigger than we need in the first year (and potentially a little bigger than we even will need at full capacity) – but, there is the possibility of co-locating with another interested tenant and we are exploring how that could work out. It offers the possibility of leasing rather than purchasing and could be made ready for use as school at minimal investment. If all these stars align (minimal renovation to meet code, lease versus buy, and sharing the space) this would all help to keep our start-up costs much lower.  That reduces our fundraising burden AND it means more of the money we will need to raise can directly impact our future students – purchasing the furniture they will work in, the technology they will leverage, the books and materials they will use, etc… and less of it needed just to update mechanical aspects of the building itself.

[From a student]: I heard we’ll be able to try out different jobs at your school.  Could I try out being a photographer?

I actually get this question a lot (well, fill in any of a dozen different careers at the end!) And my answer is usually both liberating and scary for teens.  The liberating part is that they don’t have to worry that their interest won’t be “on the list” because we (the adults in the building) aren’t going to be picking out internships for the students.  The scary part is, they will be.  But as I told this young lady on Wednesday, we’ll help with all the preparation necessary to identify, approach, and secure an internship and they definitely CAN do it.

Learning Links

There were a few good articles lately all relating to how traditional grading practices get in the way of actual learning.  From author Stephen King, “That fearlessness always comes when a kid is writing for himself, and almost never when doing directed writing for the grade.”   And another piece on how tough it is for students to work for learning, as opposed to doing work for a grade.

In closing….

Do you have a question I didn’t answer today?  Just reply to this email and I’ll respond either personally or in the next TGIF (or both).


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.