TGIF! Feb 2 2018


Stay healthy, everyone.  My oldest child is home with the stomach virus, and my youngest two get a long weekend since their school will be closed for illness Monday.  Tails you win, heads I lose?

Facility update

We are still waiting on the final answer to our fire inspection application on our primary potential location.  We did turn up an inkling of possibility on a second site which we are investigating.  We fully understand that it’s now February and as a board we will be making decisions about our Fall opening timeline very soon.  We will keep you posted.

Learning Links

Who wouldn’t want responsible students? They listen in class, take notes, and complete their homework on time without nagging. They are easy to teach… But responsibility comes with a price.  A price paid in engagement, personal goals and expectations. Responsible students have taken ownership of their teachers’ and parents’ agenda – to get good grades and be a “good student… Responsible students are easy to teach, but they are like a two-dimensional cut-out of their true potential. Agenic students [students with agency] are not only easy to work with, but a joy, and have ownership of reaching the potential inside them. Perhaps it is time to stop seeing responsible students as a blessing and start recognizing them as a problem of a different kind.

Read more here: The Problem With Responsible Students

Listening to Nicole’s impassioned and detailed presentation on the Puerto Rican debt crisis and its impact on the island’s healthcare system, it was easy to forget a high school senior was addressing a group of 100 students and teachers.

Nicole’s story was a personal one. She has family members on the island who deliver and receive health services, and she described her cousin’s personal struggle as a doctor who could have gone to the mainland United States to practice medicine but strongly desired to stay in his native homeland despite the economic difficulties. Nicole’s engagement and mastery of the subject matter was evident to everyone in the room as she skillfully wove together her personal story with facts, policy issues and a vivid picture of the political and economic environment of the island.

How does a school engage a senior and the entire learning community, especially in late April when seniors are close to exams and all students are grappling with spring fever and the not-too-distant target of summer?

Read more here: How Senior Capstone Projects Let Students Research—and Present—Their Passions

In closing….

You’ve probably heard by now that Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow.  But TIME reports that ol’ Puxsy Phil has just a 39% accuracy rating.  Here Are 8 Other Groundhogs That Predicted Spring.  Here’s hoping!!!


TGIF! Jan 26 2018


Playing with a little bit different format this week – one good short story and a conversation starter.  We may not do every issue this way but I hope you enjoy today!

Extending School Far Beyond the Classroom Walls

James Lawrence planned to open his own welding business after his 2017 graduation from the Robert W. Traip Academy in Kittery, Maine. Last year he spent part of his school days at the local technical center, learning welding, preparing to make his vision for his future a reality. He didn’t have time for an art class in his schedule, but the credit was required for graduation.

So James, a duck hunter interested in learning to carve wooden duck decoys, took advantage of his school’s expanded learning opportunities program and got the art credit outside of the classroom. With the help of a family friend who was an experienced duck decoy carver, James worked on the project after school and on weekends, ultimately convincing his school’s art teacher to count it toward his graduation requirements.

Read more here: The Hechinger Report Future of Learning series.

James Lawrence, a 2017 graduate of the Traip Academy in Kittery, Maine, holds wooden duck decoys he made for an art credit his senior year.

Conversation starters

  • Should it matter where or how a student learns, as long as they can demonstrate their learning?
  • If school is supposed to open up opportunities for students, why are “schedule conflict” stories like James’ so common?
  • Should these opportunities be limited to only students with scheduling conflicts?  What if a student wanted to pursue an unique interest during the school day?

In closing….

I’ll post this to our Facebook page as well, feel free to share your replies to these conversation starters there!


TGIF! Jan 5 2018


Happy 2018! Here are a few interesting articles to get your mind back into the swing of school after the holidays.

Student Agency is key

The tricky thing with being innovative is that if you try to measure success by the same old yardstick, it will usually push you back to the same old ways of doing things.  Consider this:

The challenge with implementing personalized learning is that it can be done authentically, with substance, or inauthentically, with only the form… Advocates for personalized learning emphasize that it is about the whole child and a new way of teaching. Personalized learning… require[s] a significant shift in teacher mindset and a giving up of control to students so that they can take ownership of their learning, learn deeply, and be intrinsically motivated. All of these can become co-opted by traditional teaching methods in the implementation.  … So how do you know if your personalized learning initiative is working? You could focus on test scores, but there is a problem with that being the metric that is measured. When you focus on test scores as the thing that is measured, teachers will receive feedback on their success/failure based on the test scores. This will incentivize them to move away from a path and a new mindset that feels risky to one that is comfortable – teaching to the test. They may maintain the “form” of personalized learning, but the “substance” will be lost. The implementation moves into a negative spiral of increased pressure to increasing test scores leading to inauthentic implementation of PL, leading to less improvement in test scores.

But there is another metric that drives a positive cycle: student agency. …Student agency is the canary in the coal mine – when student agency is dead, student learning is stagnant and inauthentic. When student agency thrives, so do students and their learning.


Modern apprenticeships offer path to career – and college.

No longer an either-or proposition, students plan apprenticeships then college on the way to the workforce:

In Colorado, there’s a nascent effort to use apprenticeships to give high schoolers work experience, and to do so in high-wage, high-demand career fields. At the end of the apprenticeships, which last three years, students have on-the-job experience, a useful credential in hand and one year of college credit. They also earn about $30,000 in wages over the duration of the program.


In closing….

Thanks for reading, more next week!



TGIF! Oct 6 2017


It’s Friday, the early morning edition!  Heading to Grand Rapids to enjoy Art Prize with my oldest today, and grateful the rain looks like it will stay away.

In the meantime, let’s have a little fun.

Eventually, everything connects.

Quick quiz:  What do the following two images have in common?


The first is the Eames Lounge chair, and the second is a popular game for your smartphone.  The link between them is the quote above – “eventually, everything connects” – attributed to famed Hermann Miller designer Charles Eames and appropriated as a catchy tag line on the title screen of the Two Dots game.

The quote kept coming to my mind in the past few weeks as I would read various articles related to education innovations, because so often, everything DOES connect.  Not just in the obvious sense of connections across the curriculum or how science is linked to art is linked to history, but at the heart of how we “do” school.  Project-based learning doesn’t fit well in a 45 minutes class period.  There’s no time for teachers to be advisors when they also teach a traditional load of classes in a traditional bell schedule.  Each piece that you want to innovate on is connected to, affects, and is affected by some other piece.  You have to look at the connections.

I’ll give you an example.  This article from the Harvard Graduate School of Education discusses the growing need for interpersonal skills in the workplace, and in the conclusion offers takeaways for high schools to implement, such as group projects and “long-term project-based work, in which students work as a team, receive feedback, and revise together”.  But the article starts out lamenting (as a humorous hook, I’m sure) the typical response of students when group work is assigned – the gripes, the groans, and in particular, the frustration with teammates: “He’s not doing his work!”  What’s the missing piece between the value of group work in theory and the reality in schools?  It’s the assessment.  If the group work is assessed conventionally and for a traditional “grade” then that grade IS the students’ objective.  Any inherent value in the work, any attempt at authenticity through, say, a final presentation, is lost to the game of ensuring the work maximizes the potential score.  So, we can’t talk about project-based learning without talking about authentic assessments.  “Eventually, everything connects.”  The same is true for all the other elements of a school’s design.

Here’s the full quote:


That’s one reason why Imagine! West Michigan is different.  We’re looking at the connections, and it’s those connections – how we organize time and space, how we conceive the role of teachers and staff, how standards are still met but in radically different ways, how students interact with one another, and how we set, achieve, and evaluate goals, and how all of these are related – it is these connections, even more so than the details of each element alone, that allow us to create a superior learning environment.

Learning Links

Here’s an article unpacking the difference between students who take ownership (“the work”), and those who are compliant (“the grade”).  Which quality is more important for the 21st century?

In closing….

We continue to press forward in exploring potential school buildings.  Keep your fingers crossed! We still want to hear about any locations you might know of, so keep your ideas coming. Together, we can make this a reality. If you are interested in making a financial gift, please visit for our mailing address and tax information.  Your help is truly appreciated.


TGIF! Aug 4 2017


You know we’ve had a nice long run of warm summer weather when you forget to even look at the forecast – and are surprised by thunderstorms and cooler air!  With a little taste of Fall in the air, can you spare a few extra minutes for a longer read this morning?

DIY Scaffolding

No, we are not building houses today. J If you are not familiar with the term scaffolding in education, here’s a short intro (credit for much of this post to the Alliance for Self-Directed Education and author Je’anna Clements, writing from the perspective of self-directed homeschoolers):

We’re all familiar with scaffolding. Everywhere buildings are constructed or repaired, we see the network of platforms and poles that support the work crew, giving them access to their current work areas. Sometimes artists use scaffolding, too. Michelangelo needed scaffolding to get him to the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. He would have also needed scaffolding to support him as he climbed around and hacked into the enormous chunk of marble that became the statue of David. The advantage of using scaffolding is that it helps you climb higher than you can currently stand. It gives you support and access to expand on your previous achievements.

This brings us to the concept of ‘scaffolding’ in education. The idea is that a teacher or facilitator provides the learner with clues, cues, models and tools to extend their learning beyond current mastery into what Vygotsky termed the ‘Zone of Proximal Development’.  In conventional education, scaffolding is used in a way that closely parallels physical scaffolding: exact plans are in place. Scaffolding is created in advance and is carefully pre-designed. The teacher ‘knows’ exactly what the learner is ‘meant’ to achieve and provides standardized scaffolding that actively guides the learner to produce that precise result.

If instead, we take the approach of “follow the child”, we realize that scaffolding needs to have an “outside the box” approach.  Je’anna, again:

Conventional scaffolding limits and contains the process to that which can be reached by the pre-designed scaffold. When your whole scaffold is in place, that’s it. That’s where you can go. It is a very literal kind of ‘box’. Even if you don’t follow that exact plan, even if you decide to get creative, once your scaffolding is up, you can only build within the area contained by the scaffolding. Conventional scaffolding restricts what you can build, and how wide it can go.

When we build scaffolding around each learner, one step at a time, it “can become a more complex structure. It can go up, it can go down, and it can go upside-down… Self-evolved scaffolding can go sideways, taking learners into lateral zones of proximal development rather than only along vertical paths.”  Note she says, “self-evolved”, which is where the article really got interesting.  Because, as she notes, scaffolding doesn’t have to be something that is provided by another.  We are all capable of building scaffolding; in fact, we do it all the time.  Consider an infant cruising the along the furniture versus scurrying in a walker.

It can be fascinating to watch self-directed learners with scaffolding explicitly in mind. They have so many different ways to get what they need. Often, they use scaffolding in a completely conventional way. Self-directed learners do sign up for courses and classes, read textbooks, and follow recipes, tutorials, and all kinds of readily available instruction… They also use ad-hoc teachers or guides. Self-directed learners ask someone else, who they believe knows the terrain. Again, the difference here is that they choose their scaffolding supplier. Instead of having to rely on a designated teacher, they can go to the source that best fits their need in the moment. Often, a self-directed learner will get a few steps from one guide, then a few steps from another. Freedom of association is a critical resource in a self-education process. (This is also a key part of the value of a rich learning community as opposed to a socially limited learning environment.) In addition to seeking out an external guide and ‘borrowing’ the scaffolding they provide, the intact confidence of self-directed learners means they are able to use inner guidance, too.

Whether the infant cruising or the self-directed teen learning, if the role of the adult is not to build the scaffolding for them, what is it?  Two things: relationships, and environment.  A close and supportive mentoring relationship gives each teen a trusting adult to ask questions of and hear feedback and even challenges from.  And the environment needs to allow access to things that can be used as scaffolding.  Imagine the infant learning to walk again – what if there were no furniture in their space, nothing of the right size or shape to utilize to pull up or cruise on?  The same with our teens and our high school environment – we must provide what Maria Montessori called the “prepared environment” – ensuring the tools, resources, and access are available, from materials and spaces and technology to access to courses (college and others), connections to community members and organizations from theater troupes to makerspaces… in short all the people, places, and things students can use to build a personalized scaffold from their current capability to the next.  And, the process of self-directed learning – of “building your own scaffold” – itself is perhaps the most critical skill our kids will need in the future! Je’anna again:

This kind of organically evolving scaffolding itself displays “out of the box” thinking, but it also facilitates further “out of the box” thought. A highly creative approach to learning strengthens creative muscle, facilitating more creativity. There is no person alive today who can reliably predict what even the most common career options will be in 2050. In 2050, my son will be 45 years old — in the prime of his productive working life. Will he be clearing up space junk? Will he be mining asteroids? Will he grow micro-greens and slug protein three miles up on a skyfarm? Will he be an inter-species translator? Or interface with robotic gear operated by nuances of eye-blink, or conscious modulation of heart-rate variability? Or will the only remaining careers for humans, be in arts and entertainment? If so, what will that look like in 2050? Virtual-reality-dream engineering? Probably, he will be doing something I cannot even fantasize. Possibly, he may need to help invent what it is that he does.

It seems clear to me that the best I can do to help him prepare for that unimaginable future is to support his self-education capacity. Help keep intact his ability to evolve his own learning scaffolds. Flexible, organic, self-evolved learning scaffolds are what our children most need now. A rich environment with plenty of peers and a wide range of approachable adults. An environment of trust and respect, where children learn to honor their bliss and follow their intuition.

Boxes — limited scaffolds that teach our children to follow only safe, known paths — are no longer merely limiting. Given the rapid-change years that our children face ahead, they could be detrimental.


Learning Links

Please see our Facebook page for more learning links.  I think this TGIF is already long enough!!

In closing….

It should be absolutely beautiful for Grand Haven’s Coast Guard Saturday events tomorrow. Locals, enjoy the parade, fun, festivities, and fireworks!


TGIF! Apr 28 2017


The first draft of our application to become a charter school has been written, minus a couple of appendices I’m wrapping up.  Woot woot! Now we get as much feedback from our trusted advisors as possible before submitting.  But things are coming together!

Back to the beginning

After writing up the school’s charter application, I feel like all the parts and pieces that have been jumbling together over the past 18 months are a bit clearer now, especially on how they fit together.  Sticking to the philosophy that “why” you do anything is the most important question, I’d like to take the next few newsletters to build up a coherent answer to that for all of you, from why to how.

Part 1:  What’s the Goal of High School?

Well, that’s a big question.  And it’s not a question that has a single, clear answer. But if you start with the very simple observation that high school wraps up at precisely 18 years old, the age of adulthood in our society, then it follows pretty naturally that the goals of high school ought to have something to do with the goal of become an adult.

What is adulthood? Part of it is physical maturity, but time has a way of taking care of that with little intervention on our part.  The other big piece, for humans as well as all mammals, is achieving independence to meet one’s own needs, rather than having those needs met by one’s parents.  But unlike all other mammals, humans have a hugely diverse range of possibilities as to what form that independence might take!  So in addition to growing into their adult bodies, and finding a way to become independent, people have a third element to figure out, and that is what sort of person you want to be and what sort of life you want to have.  So adulthood = physically mature, socially and economically independent, and self-aware.  How does this happen, and what role does school have in this process? Stay tuned.

Learning Links

24 credits and a D-minus average aren’t good enough, Washington Monthly on the transformation of a Connecticut high school from traditional learning and grades to mastery (aka competency) education.

A national teacher of the year on her most radical teaching practice, Chalkbeat on trust and responsibility, starting with one’s most basic needs.

In closing….

Thanks for reading, especially since our TGIF came out so late this week!  Glad I still got your eyeballs. Have a great weekend!


TGIF! Apr 14 2017


Welcome back to those who traveled last week.  April finds the Imagine! team continuing to write (or perhaps, “assemble”!) our charter application.  We are also working on our community and business outreach; we had a very positive meeting with the Chamber of Commerce late last month, and we are now planning a dialogue session with local business leaders for early May.  Like the spring flowers, our seeds are starting to sprout!!

A couple good links from the last two weeks:

It’s more than “Hands-On Learning”

As more schools are experimenting with alternatives to the traditional lecture, you hear more about “projects” and “hands-on” learning.  But it’s important to look closely because not all project-based learning is created equal!  For example, is the work open-ended or closed? In the real world, there is almost always more than one way to do something.  Does the work make a difference in some way? In the real world, work meets a need – for the individual doing it or for someone else. If the “project” gets thrown out once completed, it was probably just an assignment in projects-clothing.  From this older MindShift piece:

You can have students do laboratories and hands-on activities and learn nothing, because they are following the cookbook and going through the motions without having their brains on. The word ‘hands-on’ is overused and abused.

Learning in an Atmosphere of Self-Discovery

From Education ReImagined, this 9th graders’ reflection on the transition from a traditionally-taught school to a learner-centered environment, and how the latter better prepares her for life outside of school:

Outside of the classroom, I won’t just wait around for someone to teach me how to do every job I need to perform and then memorize it. I will have to learn to work with people collaboratively that are very different than me and come up with fresh ideas on a daily basis. Pike Road School has helped me realize this need and continues shaping me to be successful in the real world. Even though I’m still coming out of the shell that was created in my previous schools, I’m excited to see what’s to come during the rest of my time at PRS. I can’t wait to discover who I will become!

 In closing….

Thanks for your continued support, Likes, Shares, and conversations.  Happy Easter!