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! 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! Sep 1 2017


I wish each and every one of you a relaxing and fun Labor Day weekend, and all the best to parents and kids heading back to school. Here are a couple of “challenges to conventional wisdom” for you to ponder about this thing we call school.

On the difference between school and summer camp

Blake Boles in The Art of Self-Directed Learning writes:

“School taught me how to memorize a fact until Friday and alter the margins on an essay to create a higher page count; camp taught me how to figure out what I want, take the initiative, conquer my fears, own my victories, and learn from my failures. To my teenage sensibilities, the annual ratio of camp to school didn’t make sense. Why didn’t I go to camp most of the year and then head off to school for a couple months to learn grammar, algebra, and whatever else camp didn’t teach?”

On teenage brains

Katherine Williams, author and mom of two (now grown) Self-Directed learners, recently wrote on the ASDE blog about the various studies you have probably read showing that teens develop the emotional, impulsive parts of their brains ahead of the rational prefrontal cortex.  She writes:

“Science and academia are working to understand the disconnected neurology of teenagers. There are tons of scans and studies telling us that American teenagers aren’t fully inhabiting their prefrontal cortices. And what a relief! This news is so easy to hear. It takes all the pressure off our schools, our parenting, and our culture. …[T]eenagers aren’t justifiably angry and given to the kind of impulsivity and craving for freedom we might expect of released prisoners. [T]eenagers are sub-brained pre-adults. It’s nature, not nurture. Phew! Just look at the scans…”

Do you feel the set-up coming?  She goes on to point out that that virtually every scientific study you have ever read about teens (at least in the U.S.) is in fact a study of teenagers under the influence of our current (traditional) model of schooling – simply because that is how the vast majority of kids are educated.  Here’s the punchline, and it’s a zinger:

“Consider a 2016 study from Brown University, “Infants Use Prefrontal Cortex in Learning,” published in the Journal of Neuroscience. This study has shown that infants make consistent use of their prefrontal cortex. If infants are employing the same neurological tools as adults in learning, it may be that scans of [traditionally] schooled teenagers have measured the extent of brain damage inflicted on teenagers in our culture.”


In closing….

Hope I rattled a few of your own assumptions – talk these ideas over with your kids, spouse, nieces or nephews this weekend!


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!