TGIF! Aug 18 2017


If you don’t recall, or perhaps you weren’t a subscriber at the time, but our core purpose at Imagine! West Michigan is to help our students to gain the self-awareness and experience necessary to create a purposeful life.  That’s why we talk so much about how to create opportunities for kids to figure out who they are, what they want to do and try out paths to get there.  And while every high school will talk about career preparation (in the context of “college preparation” and sometimes with a nod to “life preparation”) we believe in young people living their lives now – not waiting for them to start.  Not only is this the best preparation anyway (“you can’t steer a ship that isn’t moving”) but figuring out what you want to do with yourself is not the “once and done” endeavor of our parents, but an iterative process our kids will find themselves managing through again and again.  I figure, learning how to do that young, and with support, is a great place to start.

So having said that, now I’m going to bash on STEM.  Apologies in advance.


A word about STEM Education from Teacher Tom

Teacher Tom is Tom Hobson, a teacher at a wonderful cooperative preschool in Seattle.  He blogs at, and back in March he wrote a post about STEM, a topic it turns out he is somewhat uniquely positioned to have an opinion about.  As it turns out, his wife is the CEO of a software company:

Earlier in her career she was an automotive executive and has held senior positions in several technology-based businesses. She is, as she realized to her delight not long ago, one of those much sought for rarities: a woman with a successful STEM career. That said, she studied languages at university. That’s right, languages, not science, technology, engineering or math, yet here she is today running a technology company.

Science, technology, engineering, and math, or STEM as they are collectively called in the contemporary lexicon, has become an emphasis for our schools both public and private. The idea is that those legendary “jobs of tomorrow” will require STEM skills and so we are feverishly “educating” our children to be prepared for their future roles in the economy. Setting aside the hubris embodied in the assumption that anyone can predict what jobs our preschoolers will grow up to hold, science, technology, engineering and math are important aspects of what it means to be human and fully worthy of exploration whether or not one is going to one day require specific employment skills.

When my wife was a preschooler, no one envisioned computers on every desktop, let alone on every laptop. The internet hadn’t even made an appearance in science fiction novels. And we all carried dimes in our pockets just in case we needed to make a call on a public phone. Today she is the CEO of a software company by way of the automotive industry by way of the jobs that her study of languages made available to her when she stepped into the workforce. The problem with predicting what specific “job” skills our children will need in the future is that we can only guess, because it’s not us, but the children themselves who will invent those jobs, just as my wife has invented her own STEM career.

So the “bash” on STEM isn’t really against STEM, but against the hubris that teaching say, computer programming, is the be-all and end-all answer to prepare kids for a changing economy.  The truth is that we don’t know what the future will hold.  But it’s also true that every one of us has an amazing collection of gifts and talents, very few of which we get to express in traditional models of schooling.

Rather than guess at what the future might need, knowing we’ll most certainly wrong, I’d advocate for finding ways to apply what we are really good at today, then continuously adapt.  After all… if it turns out you hate programming, how much worse to also find out later in life that “guarantee” of a good career, wasn’t?

Too often, we spend years thinking we are “dumb” or narrowly defining our “skills” only to find out later on that our more quirky talents are often the most precious.


In closing….

As always, thank you for reading and for your support.


TGIF! Aug 11 2017


Last week was quite a long post. We’ll keep it shorter today by just sharing a few links from our Facebook feed over the past couple of weeks.

If you prefer not to use social networking, but are curious about the articles we share and post on our page, you can view all our posts publicly without having a Facebook account.  Just browse on over to

College application insanity

“High schools need to realize that, while students amassing millions of dollars in scholarships and hundreds of college acceptance letters seems like an accomplishment, the outcome for many students is the total opposite. Too many students end up not going to a school that is the best fit for them, taking on piles of debt, and dropping out with no workforce experience. The goal should be that each high school student will graduate having a grasp on their career path (and experience in that field), scholarships to the school of their choice (full rides or little to no debt), and be confident in where they will be spending the next four to six years of their life.”

Work-based learning for credit in Vermont

“I just thought it was really awesome to have the chance to explore your interests in ways outside the classroom setting and gain skills that may actually be useful in the workplace,” Eurich said. “Because it’s really hard to gauge that just by taking classes similar to a career.”

A lesson from preschools – how to prepare kids for an AI economy

“A big challenge — and one he said is essential to preparing children for a labor market in which routine and individualized tasks are being automated — is making sure this style of education is not lost in higher grades, when teachers turn to lecturing and standardized curriculums… learning to work in groups and be creative – and that this problem you’re facing today looks like a problem you faced in a different context a year ago – is a process that is very hard for artificial intelligence to replicate.”

In closing….

Thanks for reading, and have a great week!


TGIF! Jul 28 2017


Lots of good discussion about internships this week as we continue to talk with local businesses.  What kinds of preparation will 14- and 15-year-old students need to be ready to contribute at a professional level?  What kinds of jobs, roles, or projects could businesses see our high schoolers performing?  We hear the same things over and over again – employers need critical thinking, problem solving, and communication!

How can students prepare for internships?

It turns out, preparing for and acquiring an internship is a process with almost as much benefit as the learning that comes from the internship itself!  At Acton Academy, advisors support students to find and secure their internships on their own.  Here are some nuggets from their process:

1. Digging deeply into your gifts, activities that bring you joy and deep burning needs in the world to create a prioritized list of apprenticeship possibilities.

2. Writing a compelling introductory email to a business owner you see as a hero or role model, asking for a short phone call to explain the Acton apprenticeship model.

3. Crafting a phone pitch explaining how apprenticeships work, including a promise to show up early, work late and do whatever it takes to add real value, and asking for a chance to meet in person.

4. Creating an in-person pitch, where you ask for a chance to prove yourself.

5. Learning to manage a portfolio of apprenticeship possibilities, just in case your first choice runs into logistical problems.

6. Negotiating a contract with your employer and parents to make sure goals and promises are clear.

7. Having a plan to add value in the first few days and a way to capture the lessons you learn.

8. Following up with thank you letters and a request for a reference letter.

Learning Links

Elon Musk – the importance of Why to learning

Todd Rose – high school dropout turned Harvard professor on why no one anywhere is average – and why education needs to change to reflect that

Benefits of Social/Emotional Learning – in life and in academics too


In closing….

And today it begins… welcome to Coast Guard Festival everyone!  Get out and enjoy this crazy vacation in our own backyard.



TGIF! May 26 2017


Wow!  What a great event Wednesday night.  I thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to share our school design with you, see your excitement and most importantly take time to answer your questions and hear your feedback.  Given all the end-of-school-year activities, concerts, sporting events and more, there were many people who told me they were interested but could not attend.  Should we do this again?  August perhaps?

Info Night download/debrief

If you couldn’t make it to our information night, I will make the presentation slides available next week. After sharing more details from parent and community feedback, the bulk of the conversation was sharing what this high school will include!  Our breakout groups chose to deep dive on internships, motivation, and advanced coursework/college credit.  I will spend some time over the next few weeks answering more of your questions on those topics, and more, in these pages.  Let’s start with…


Many of you have seen the vet video I’ve posted previously.  But one question that was raised was, “what about younger students, what kind of internships can they do (legally and capability-wise)?”  You also asked about how internship mentors and teacher-advisors stay in contact and how the internships tie into academic learning.  This short video answers many of these questions.

Why to How, Part V

New subscribers can read the first four segments, which traced our “why” to “what” to “how”, on our blog. Last week we dove into the first two keys of our “how” – ownership and personalization. Here’s our final installment in this series, wrapping up the last two keys of how we deliver on our vision for each student to gain the knowledge and experience they need to construct a life of meaning and purpose.

The third key is relationships.  Our relationships define our culture and are central to our mental health and happiness.  By limiting the size of the school to about 200 students, we ensure that everyone knows and is known by everyone else.  We organize the school into multi-age (9th/10th and 11th/12th) “crews”, made up of 18 students and one teacher-advisor.  By staying with one crew and advisor for two years, deep relationships develop as peers and adult coach and support one another.  Students at schools using an advisory model always use the same word to describe their crew – family.  And students will have to work at developing and managing these authentic relationships – skills that are critical for their future, both in the working world and more importantly in their interpersonal lives.

The fourth and final key is real-world experience.  This is how, within a relationship-based culture of ownership and personal development, kids are truly able to make the leap from childhood to adulthood.  By engaging with adult society – through substantial internship programs beginning in 9th grade, through Impact Capstone (our 4-year service project), and through real responsibility in the micro-economy that is the school itself – kids are able to learn and test real skills in real situations. This gives them the all-important feedback they need about what behaviors work out well and which ones not so well; what kinds of activity and environments allow them to be the best version of themselves, and which leave them drained and unfulfilled.  And, it gives them a sense of purpose and value, to have shown – to themselves and others – that they can contribute to the world in way that is meaningful and valuable.

 Learning Links

This piece on stress and learning shows that you can’t just slap on more open-ended problems in an otherwise traditional environment.  When it’s still about grades and other extrinsic markers of performance, there’s a shock factor as students try to figure out how to “be right”.  Lots to think about here.

Do you want to learn more about Big Picture schools? Here’s a quick overview from their website.

In closing….

Welcome to those who are new to our mailing list.  Look for a “TGIF” every Friday in your inbox.  Feel free to forward on to others who may be interested!


TGIF! May 12 2017


It is nice to finally be enjoying sunshine and warmth here in West Michigan. If you haven’t already heard, please see below for important information on our upcoming Information Night for parents, students, and community members!

High School Info Night – May 24, 6:30pm, Grand Haven’s Loutit District Library, Program Room A (downstairs)

This information night will allow us to share in more detail our plans for Imagine’s new high school, informed by the valuable feedback many of you shared during our parent interviews in January/February.  On Wednesday, May 24 this one-hour (max) session will include both an overview and Q&A on the school design, our project timeline to open by Fall 2018, breakout sessions for adults and for teens to share feedback and input, and finally the opportunity to (we hope!) sign your name to our “intent to apply” list so we can begin to quantify the strong interest we have already heard from you in our conversations!  Please “Like” and “Share” our event on Facebook (if you are a Facebook user), hit that “Going” button to let us know you will be there, or, just give a quick reply to this email to RSVP.  Feel free to forward this invitation to others, as well!

Why to How: Part III

In my last two posts (here and here), I talked in some depth about this whole process of growing up.  In short, just as the infant needs to experiment with his environment to understand the causes and effects that characterize the physical world, so to the adolescent needs to test himself in the social world which includes the economic, social, and civic aspects of society.  With less time and fewer opportunities to do so outside of school than in generations past, we propose that a 21st century high school must make these opportunities an explicit and non-trivial part of each student’s education.  What opportunities? Establishing and maintaining individual relationships (socialization at school is NOT a bad thing; in fact, it’s one of the most important things!), coordinating and collaborating with others in groups and organizations (much more robustly than in just doing “group projects”, but instead encompassing significant student ownership and real decision-making), performing authentic work with real economic value, and engaging with the community at large.  All of these kinds of experiences allow adolescents to make significant gains in growing in self-sufficiency and self-identity, in the low-stakes high school years, and under the guidance of trusting adults who know him or her well.  When we don’t include these kinds of experiences in high school, we not only provide false feedback (as I talked about last week), but we push too much of that growing up process to the post-high school years, leaving our older teens to construct their “adult selves” in a college environment that is higher stakes and rarely offers trusted adult partners to assist them.

Our vision for every student is this: “That they will gain for themselves the knowledge and experience needed to construct a life of meaning and purpose.”  And our job? To support them in every way possible in that heroic journey.

 Learning Links

Week-long internships in middle school? Heck yeah!

Teens need for adult mentors

In closing….

Enjoy that sunshine!  Happy Mothers’ Day!



TGIF! May 5 2017


Happy Cinco de Mayo!

Part II of “Why to How”

We left off last week with the idea that high school probably has some purpose related to kids growing up and becoming adults, and that becoming an adult means (in addition to the obvious physical maturation), that one can be socially and economically independent from their parents (at least in theory) and has some identity of themselves as a person.

So, our next question is, how does this growing up process occur?  What do kids need in order to be able to do it?  If you think about very young children, who needed to learn to walk, and talk, and about a million other things, you see they learn by experimenting.  They try – over, and over, again – until they persevere in working out exactly the way to hold their bodies to take a step, or arrange their lips and tongue to form a word.

Teenagers actually do the same thing with respect to figuring out who they are, and how they can take care of themselves.  When a teen suddenly changes his hair, or clothes, or even hobbies – it’s a social experiment.  (And it’s not personal, parents – YOU have forged this child’s identity up to this point, because of all the choices you’ve made for him before he was old enough to choose for himself.  That’s not a bad thing, that’s just reality. And so, in order to move beyond an identity of being “your child” – to figure out his own, independent identity – the first and most obvious personality to try out is whatever is NOT you. Sorry…)

What about social and economic independence?  While teens may not reach this stage at 18, they certainly must begin to chart a course towards it.  So, somehow, they need to figure out what that course might be.  What do I want to do for work? How do I get there? Can I take care of myself, now and in the future? Do I understand how the structures and organizations of the adult world work – how to open a bank account, or register to vote?  Can I get along with other people? There’s some set of knowledge and skills that are important – both in practical living, and as preparation to engage in both civil society and the working world.

I will leave you with a compliment, and a harsh assessment.  My compliment is that most schools are doing a decent and improving job with helping students gain the knowledge and skills they need in life.  The canon of knowledge that is expected is becoming ever-more practical and meaningful, expecting more thinking and less memorizing, and schools are following suit in their instructional practices.  Schools and community organizations are also trying to include practical life skills, like personal finance. That’s all good.  My harsh assessment is this:  schools are utterly ignoring the negative effect they are having on the development of students’ identities.  Why do I claim this?  Because developmentally, these teenagers are experimenting.  If they experiment with different ways of being and living, different ways of acting, thinking, and communicating, against the artificial environment of a traditional school, they are failing to get any meaningful feedback.  Worse, they are getting contrary feedback.  For example, if a student tries on an obedient personality of following instructions exactly and trusting in the wisdom of their teacher, they will receive positive feedback in the school environment.  Now, what happens when that student enters the workplace, and discovers their boss can’t tell them how to do their job?  That the problems they need to solve don’t have just one right answer? That having the boss’s approval isn’t nearly enough to be successful, and that they need to consider the impact and opinions of many other stakeholders? Now, in the higher stakes “real world”, he’s got to take that new feedback in and try to readjust who he is, in order to be successful in this new environment.

Just as babies can’t learn to walk if they are immobilized in artificial devices like walkers, teenagers can’t learn how to be adults if they are immobilized by their school environments.  I believe that’s why today, so many feel that young people don’t really grow up until they go to college, or after.  It’s not that they are too young in years, it’s that we’re preventing them from engaging in those meaningful, real experiences that allow them to discover themselves, and their abilities.

So how would you design a school that recognizes and supports these natural processes? More next week.

Learning Links

More next week… the above ran WAY longer than I intended.  Thanks for humoring my philosophical essay – I promise I’ll keep it shorter next week!

In closing….

Thanks for reading!



TGIF! Oct 23 2015


Welcome to our new readers!  I am excited to share with you more about our vision for a different kind of high school for the Tri Cities.  If you would like to see previous issues, they are now posted on our website.

Latest News

I had the opportunity to introduce our ongoing efforts at a meeting of the Walden Green Montessori School’s Families & Foundation (parent’s group) on Tuesday evening.  I’m pleased to share that several people attending asked to be added to the newsletter, and I held a small-group “Coffee Hour” just this morning for further discussion and dialogue.   Please consider joining me for a “coffee hour” or “happy hour” over the next couple of weeks.   I would love your input – times and locations are listed here:

Learning Journey

The next key theme of successful learner-centered secondary schools is the importance of Real Work: learning through internships, entrepreneurship, and service.  The most comprehensive example of this is at the Big Picture Learning Schools, which make internship experiences the central element of their schools’ educational design.  Students spend 10-12 hours, two days per week working under the guidance of a mentor to complete authentic projects with deep investigations.  These projects are connected to the student’s interests and meet real needs of the mentor.  This video, from the San Diego MET, shares how they do it.

(Click on image to go to You Tube.)

Changemakers Coaching

Here is a summary of the listening and conversational practices from Otto Scharmer’s Theory U, which I’ve been describing over the past few weeks.  We’ll dive into some new topics starting next week.  For now, just let these ideas sink in, and please continue to practice them mindfully!  We are seeking to make a big change in our community, and what may be exciting to one person could be threatening to another. Good listening goes a long way.

I may start out by…

Downloading: I seek to reconfirm old opinions and judgments; I hear what I want to hear.

When I open my mind, I can then listen…

Factually: I notice differences.  I am open to new data that may disconfirm my old opinions.  I leave the conversation with new information.

When I open my heart, I can then listen…

Empathically: I make an emotional connection. I can see through another person’s eyes.  I leave the conversation with a new perspective.

When I open my will, I can then listen…

Generatively: We are able to collectively create something new – a thought, or idea, or connection – that did not exist before. I leave the conversation a changed person.


Thank you to those I have shared empathic and generative conversations with this past week.