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.