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! 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! Jun 23 2017


Happy third day of summer… yes, the days are now officially getting shorter! (But hopefully that helps those with younger kids get them to bed a bit earlier.)

Can high school be more than the sum of its programming?

You may have seen the paper on Tuesday announcing a new partnership for manufacturing education at Grand Haven High School.  There was a quote near the end of the article which said “the P.R.I.M.E. partnership will provide students with another opportunity to succeed and find their passion.”  At Imagine!, we talk a lot about students finding their path in life, and on the surface this sounds similar to GHHS’s goals.  But the difference between our educational models isn’t in the “What” that we respectively offer, it’s in the “Why” and the “How” we each do it.  Grand Haven has an internship program, a co-op program, an early-college program, a CTE program, and now a manufacturing program (not to mention the “regular” college prep program and for good measure, a credit-recovery program.)  What a menu!  But there are three gaps in how these are implemented that prevent these learning opportunities from truly allowing students to find their path.  The first is that these programs “dabble”.  In most cases, they don’t begin until 11th grade; in most cases, they are a limited part of the school day (one or two periods or perhaps a half day at best).   Why do they merely dabble?  Because of the second reason – these programs add, but never subtract.  All (or nearly all) of the traditionally taught classes must still be taken.  The clear majority of time is dedicated to the traditional model; only when the traditional credits earned in the traditional way are met, is there time to do other things.  The third and final gap is the lack of personal guidance and feedback.  Attending an information night on a specialized program and then signing up for it at course selection time, or perhaps having a 15-minute advising session with a guidance counselor to whom you are one of a 400+ student caseload, is minimally helpful to figuring out who you are and what you want to do in life.

At Imagine!, our vision is to support students as they gain the knowledge and experience to construct (for themselves!) a life of meaning and purpose.  It’s all based on design thinking – a supportive, iterative process of trying things out, reflecting on them, and then deciding how to adjust course and what experiences, development, and learning are needed next.  When you then align your educational model to that vision, everything about the school experience changes.  And the prominence of relationships, the use of time, and the commitment to putting each student at the center of their own learning change everything for the learner.

Other schools in our area are innovating by adding to the menu. (It’s the Golden Corral, now with unlimited shrimp!)

We’re aiming for a wholly different dining experience. 😉

Learning Links

I posted the first of several “learning spark” videos on our Facebook page this week.  Head on over there to check out a video from High Tech High on how they change the classroom and expectations that students think for themselves – starting on Day 1 of ninth grade.  Please leave a comment sharing your thoughts!  (Not a Facebook user? You can access the video directly here.)

In closing….

Thanks – as always – for taking time in your day to read this newsletter.  Are there any topics you’d like to see covered over the next few weeks? Drop me a line and let me know!


TGIF! May 19 2017


Happy Friday morning!

I hope to see you THIS Wednesday (May 24) at Loutit District Library in Grand Haven, 6:30pm in Program Room A, to share more about our school with you and to hear your feedback!  Please contact me with any questions about this event.

Help Promote!

If you belong to any parent, school, or social groups please share our Facebook event! We would love to see some new faces next week as well as our loyal TGIF supporters. J

Why to How: Part IV

To recap: Part 1 – Becoming an adult entails physical maturity, the ability to live independently, and the development of own’s own identity as a person.  Part 2 – The way teenagers construct their adult selves is by trial and error; testing the world and getting feedback. Part 3 – Modern schools ought to recognize this, and provide supportive environments that allow teens to gain this kind of accurate, real-world feedback.

So how do we plan to do this?

The first key is student ownership.  If independence is a goal, then we need to foster it.  That means pushing decisions closer to students and engaging them in the process of how people within organizations make decisions.  Did you read the article last year about the interns who submitted a petition to their employer to change the dress code?  Perfect example of not having any context or experience on how to engage appropriately and as expected in the “real world”.

The second key is related to the first, and that’s the personalization of learning.  The most important decisions young people need to make are those that relate to the forming of their identities – who am I, what do I want to be?  Within the broad graduation requirements (set by the state and required of all public schools), students will have the maximum flexibility to design their Personal Learning Plans (PLPs) to meet their academic and vocational interests and needs.

We’ll unpack the last two keys next week.

 Learning Links

“Finding purpose in life is more challenging today than for previous generations of young people… Just some 20 percent of high school kids can be categorized as purposeful, the rest vary between being motivated but lacking a plan, being active but lacking direction, and being neither active nor forward-thinking.”  [But,] “You can’t write the script of life for your child.”

“Suppose that, instead of just providing personalized pacing, we fully personalized the learning. We abandon the traditional linear curriculum entirely in favor of projects and problems that are meaningful, authentic and interesting to our specific students. Further, we let the students figure out the solutions largely on their own with peers, working in a safe and supportive environment we create.”

In closing….

See you Wednesday evening at 6:30!!


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! Mar 31 2017


And Happy Spring Break! Short and sweet newsletter this week.  New readers – links to our blog (past newsletters), Facebook page, and website are all in the footer.  Please check them out – and thanks for subscribing!

College, Career, and Life Ready

I have been thinking about this phrase a lot this week, probably because it’s included in about every third education headline that comes across my Facebook feed.  (Such as this post.  And this one.)  The truth is, the phrase is bugging me beyond belief.  First of all, it’s a little insulting – are not our high school students living, right now?  Life does not begin at college graduation!  And second, I think the order is all wrong.  If we unshackle our teenagers to live lives of meaning and purpose now, then we enable the experiences and self-discovery they need to find a possible career. And, then, the decisions about post-secondary education become much clearer.

Innovations HS – Salt Lake City

Another cutting edge public high school for your reading pleasure.  You’ve likely heard the debate about high school start times – one the one hand, teens changing sleep cycles argue for later start times, yet sports and other obligations (not to mention district bus schedules!) push for earlier times.  Innovations High implemented flex-time – yep, choose your own schedule.  This is something I’ve actually thought of in our design, but thought it was too far-out to be workable.  I’ll be studying Innovations more closely!  Love all the ideas popping up around as communities really are re-imagining high school.


In closing….

Next issue in two weeks!  Enjoy your Spring Break.