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! 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 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!