TGIF! Dec 15 2017


It’s sure looking like Christmastime outside – so we’re sharing an awesome present from our friends at Most Likely To Succeed!

The question everyone’s been asking

After we hosted a screening of the education innovation documentary Most Likely To Succeed (trailer here) in Grand Haven back in 2016, both people who attended and those would couldn’t have asked, “Where can I rent or stream this movie?” Until now, the answer to that was “Nowhere.”  (Well, I shouldn’t say that.  If you wanted to pay the $395 screening fee just to watch in in your own living room, I suppose you could… but most of us wouldn’t.) Well, that’s going to change – yup, Most Likely To Succeed is coming to your living room, for FREE, for a very limited time.

Why are they offering to stream the film now?

In short, after a 2-year run most schools and organizations who are interested and capable of hosting a public screening have, and most people who have sought out the film have had the opportunity to see it. Since the point of the film is to spark conversation and interest in a different way of educating our kids for the 21st century (particularly at the high school level), it’s time to move the conversation into more intimate spaces and reach more people. From the flimmakers:

Many ask why the film isn’t on Netflix, iTunes, etc.  Well, its purpose is to spark community discussion and bring people together in the aspirational goal of helping their school. To make it easier for people to see, though, we’ll soon be launching a Committee of Ten (C10) offering, letting anyone rent the film for a modest price and share it with up to nine colleagues.  The idea?  Use MLTS to spark discussion and help assemble your own C10 to turbo-charge progress in your community.

Here’s the best part:

As a thank you for all you’re doing to advance education, I’d like to offer you early access to our C10 offering.  Over the holidays, you and your family can watch Most Likely to Succeed at no charge.  Also, you can share your link with up to nine others, and get your own Committee of Ten off to a running start to make 2018 extraordinary for your community.

Here’s how to host your own screening for friends and family this December.

#1. Fill out this form to register for a streaming link to the film.

#2. Pick a day and time to gather friends and family together – between December 16 and January 2 – to watch the film.  (Consider inviting at least one person who might not know about Imagine! West Michigan!)

#3. Watch the film together, and discuss!

#4. Share!  Encourage your guests to share the link with others (up to 9 people total, valid only through January 2), and if they want to know what’s happening here in West Michigan, point them to Imagine’s Facebook page or website or just forward them a TGIF!

#5. Give us feedback.  Whether your group was large or small, please take a moment to fill out this short survey and let us at Imagine! West Michigan know how it went!


In closing….

Don’t miss this exciting opportunity!  I’m looking forward to watching the film again, and I’m already trying to figure out who to invite to my own viewing party!


TGIF! Dec 8 2017


Welcome, winter!

High School Update

We are proceeding with State inspections for a potential site in Ferrysburg.  This is super-exciting, but also not a slam dunk: while we are hopeful that the space in question will be deemed suitable for a high school, we also know bureaucracy can be fickle – so we kind of hold our breath and wait for now.  Bureaucracy is also SLOW (hmm, maybe we should reconsider holding our breath!) – so if it seems like we don’t have a lot of news to share here in the next few weeks, it’s because we are waiting, waiting, waiting.  Keep those fingers and toes crossed for now!

Learning Links

Personalized learning all over the blogosphere this week!

From the 74, on personalized learning and technology (and equity and a few other themes too!):

I visited a school — I was in England, south of London, a school there that had been a failing school. What they had done was unbelievable. They had completely transformed the school using a personalized learning model, and all of a sudden, all their graduation rates were up, they had students that were engaged. It was just one of these unbelievable stories.

I was talking to the teachers, and they sort of looked like zombies. They were all falling asleep, they were all yawning. They showed me this room, and after school every day — it was all on paper, sitting there with paper and pencil — they would literally redesign and adapt the learning experience for the kids for the next day. So they were there until 8:00, 9:00 at night doing this very difficult manual process. And I was like, “Why do you keep doing this to yourselves? This is crazy.” And they were like, “We are watching this transform the lives of these kids, how could we possibly stop?” And I said, “Yes, I take that point, but there are also some ways that you could enable this.”

I share that story because when people say, “Do you need technology to personalize learning?” No, but if you want to get some sleep at night, then yeah, you actually do need some tech to help take it to scale.

From a Medium post on the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative:

From settings as various as inner-city Chicago to the decks of naval ships, comes increasing evidence that when education is truly “personalized” — when it is genuinely tailored to the needs of the student — the shift can be profound, blowing away the expected “bell curve” that dictates a handful of failure, a bit of excellence, and a bunch of mediocrity in between.

In each of these cases, the not-so-secret ingredients included:

  • an intense focus on the individual strengths, aspirations and needs of each student
  • a willingness to redesign the learning environment and experience to meet those needs
  • a deep understanding of the strategies and practices that would be most effective
  • a belief that dramatic outcomes were possible.

That, in short, is a description of the education all children deserve, but few are privileged enough to receive. And that is what we are seeking to change: to take the kind of focus on individual needs and support that define privilege and make it available to all — to make equal opportunity real.

In that effort, we strive to hold two ideals in tension: boldness and humility. It will take boldness to reimagine what’s possible for students, radically elevating beliefs about their potential. Yet it also takes humility to recognize that what we describe as personalized learning is an extension of what Maria Montessori was doing a century ago. And while there are more questions to answer and new science to bring to bear, this work is not simply about invention — it’s also about listening to and engaging students and teachers in designing their own solutions while connecting effective practices that exist today in the classrooms of great teachers all over the world.


In closing….

Stay warm, enjoy the snowflakes, and have a joyous weekend.



TGIF! Dec 1 2017



Thank you for your donations, Facebook shares, and support of our Giving Tuesday fundraisers.  In total, you donated $1,055 in just over twelve hours!  All processing fees were waived so 100% of those donations will flow through to us.  And, we will receive an as-yet-unknown financial match – bringing our total to hopefully right around $1,500.  (There is a lot of speculation right now as to what time the $2 million in matching funds was exhausted. Best guess right now is that it was around 9am, unfortunately.)  We are so grateful for your support!


I heard from a few of you that you missed Tuesday’s opportunity, and wanted to know how you could still help.  Our tax-exempt information and mailing address for donations by check is on our website’s contact page.  For donations by credit card, debit card, or PayPal (no fees for the last one!) we also have a link to our PayPal donations site.  Or click right here to make your one-time or recurring donation today!

Learning Links

Sometimes I’ll read an editorial and think, “wow, that’s harsh”.  This was an example over this past week.  Here was the quote that struck me:

Today’s school system results in three general patterns of high school graduates: 1) students who peak in high school and live off the social capital they created as students, often not attending college, failing out, or coasting; 2) students who finish high school, go to college, and then establish a career that’s either unfulfilling or doesn’t have longevity in today’s shifting workforce; and 3) students who are far more ready to contribute to society in meaningful ways with or without college, whose motivation and ideas come from somewhere else, and while the system may nurture them, it is not always the reason for their success.

At first I thought – it can’t be that bad!  So I thought back to my last high school reunion (if that’s a fair sampling) and most of the attendees really did fall squarely into one of these three patterns.  There were plenty of folks from Bucket #1, busting their butts to make ends meet in relatively dead-end jobs.  There was a whole collection of college-educated people with financially successful but unfulfilling careers who were making mid-life career changes – Bucket #2.  There were a fair number of people who had experienced job loss and were back in school to retool for another career – again, Bucket #2.  Then there were the ones who “didn’t amount to much” by the yardstick of high school, who were now running their own businesses or succeeding in other less straightforward paths – Bucket #3.  There were 50 people in that room at least… I can picture one who was doing what he went to college to do, and was happy and successful at it.

I still think the quote is harsh.  But I also think the author may be more right than we want to admit. And even if not – we can do better.  There is too much passion, too many hopes and dreams in those teenage years to squander them in the artificial bubble of high school.


In closing….

Thanks again for your phenomenal support this week.  You are appreciated!



TGIF! Nov 17 2017


In six days, we’ll sit down for turkey, feasting, and thanks-giving.  I am truly grateful to you for your continued support.  2 ½ years ago, Imagine! was just a crazy idea I just couldn’t bat aside.  But today, when I look at the names of our future ninth graders, or when I drive by the place I hope we’ll call home next year, it’s already so much more.  And it’s each of you that has made that possible – if you didn’t want (need!) this school, it would have remained just an idea.  A good friend said the other day, “It’s no longer ‘build it and they will come’ – they’re coming, and you’ve got to build it.”  Mission accepted.

Enrollment interest

Speaking of that list of future ninth graders – if you have a son our daughter considering Imagine! for next year (as a 9th or 10th grader only), and you haven’t filled out our enrollment interest form, please go to to make sure we have you on our list.


Education Reimagined kicked off their annual conference for learner-centered education, SparkHouse, yesterday in Washington, DC.  Lots of Big Picture Learning students representing!  Checkout the tweetstorm that ensued on the question of “what makes an environment learner-centered?”  Adults have so many filters, so many models they (over)use to try and define these things.  The kids’ answers were pure.

What if I like structure?

Here was another great question mentioned during this event’s Facebook Live recap – “What if a kid sees school-centered education as the way they enjoy learning? What if they like the structure and the subject-by-subject nature of it?”  I hear this often, too, from parents – but the beauty of a learner-centered environment is the inherent choice: you have a choice to learn in the way that works for you.  If you like a lot of structure, you’ll learn to set up a structure for yourself. If you like more traditional learning methods, you’ll learn how to figure out where to access them. But learning to take ownership of your own learning is a skill that will be yours for the rest of your life.

Learning Links

Why wait to learn and do? (video clip):

On communicating better with your teenager –


In closing….

No TGIF next week.  Wishing you a joyous Thanksgiving Day with friends and family, and a restful long weekend.


TGIF! Nov 10 2017


If you park outside at night (like I do), I’m sure you ran your windshield wipers a time or two this morning to clear off that first little accumulation of snow we’ve had this fall.  You can thank a Birmingham, Alabama woman named Mary Anderson – not for the snow, but for patenting the first “window cleaning device for electric cars and other vehicles to remove snow, ice or sleet from the window”, on this day in 1903.  (Unfortunately, her patent expired before the idea caught on, and she never made any money from her invention.)

Different viewpoints, same conclusions.

As you’ve probably realized, I pull in articles and insights from everywhere.  Of course, every author writes from their own experience, but it’s uncanny sometimes how people with vastly different perspectives on education come to similar conclusions.  This article was a case in point – while it was written from a homeschooling parent’s perspective, I was quite literally able to post it to our Facebook page with just a single edit to better explain a key belief that we hold here at Imagine!, namely, that high school should be an opportunity to begin living life, and not merely preparing for it.

“There is simply life”

The story was about a 10 year old girl, and the question adults love to ask all kids (I think they just don’t know how else to make conversation) – “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Her daughter’s answer was brilliant: “A baker, but I already am one.”  Is this just the naiveté of a child who has helped in the kitchen a few times, or is it an accurate answer? Kerry writes:

Baking brings my daughter daily joy and fulfillment while also helping to nourish her family and friends. She writes a baking blog, sharing her recipe adaptations and advice. She reads cookbooks, watches cooking shows (The Great British Baking Show is a favorite), talks to other bakers–both adults and kids–to get ideas and tips. She learned this all on her own, following her own interests, and quickly outgrowing the library children’s room cookbook section to the adult aisles.

She has unlimited access to the kitchen. She has abundant opportunities to visit the library and explore the Internet for real and digital information to help her in her craft. Her work is also incredibly valuable. I have never made a pie from scratch but she makes them all the time, bringing them as frequent desserts to gatherings and special events. The market price for her delicious, seasonal pies would be steep.

A [traditionally] schooled child, who might bake just as much after school or on weekends, likely wouldn’t answer in the same way.  Most children have accepted that “‘real life’ starts after. It starts after all the tedium, all of the memorizing and regurgitating, all of the command and control.”  While we can certainly have future goals and ambitions that we work towards – such as scaling up a talent for baking to become the means of earning one’s living – the young baker’s reply rejects the artificial separation between “preparing for life” and “living” that we have baked (!) into our educational mindset.

What if instead of focusing on after, we focus on now?  What if living, and learning, were synonymous?  What if instead of segregating kids from the real world during school, we actively encouraged opportunities that meaningfully include them in it?  What if “our job is not to prepare our children for who they will become, but to help them be who they already are”?

My daughter is a baker because she bakes. She is also many other things. To ask what a child wants to be when she grows up is to dismiss what she already is, what she already knows, what she already does. Will she always be a baker? It’s hard to say. Will I always be a writer? I think so, but who knows? Will any of us always be who we are now?


In closing….

Thanks for reading.  Do you know someone who might be interested in Imagine!, especially for 9th grade next year?  Please ask them to fill out our Enrollment Interest Form!


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! Oct 27 2017


Let’s do a quick Q&A edition this week.  Here are answers to a couple of questions I’ve received over the last two weeks or so.

So where is the high school going to be?

So just to clarify, we haven’t signed anything and it will take another couple of months to determine if the site we are investigating is going to work out.  Here’s what I can tell you so far: The site is located in the tri-cities of Grand Haven / Spring Lake / Ferrysburg, and is fairly central to all three communities.  It’s bigger than we need in the first year (and potentially a little bigger than we even will need at full capacity) – but, there is the possibility of co-locating with another interested tenant and we are exploring how that could work out. It offers the possibility of leasing rather than purchasing and could be made ready for use as school at minimal investment. If all these stars align (minimal renovation to meet code, lease versus buy, and sharing the space) this would all help to keep our start-up costs much lower.  That reduces our fundraising burden AND it means more of the money we will need to raise can directly impact our future students – purchasing the furniture they will work in, the technology they will leverage, the books and materials they will use, etc… and less of it needed just to update mechanical aspects of the building itself.

[From a student]: I heard we’ll be able to try out different jobs at your school.  Could I try out being a photographer?

I actually get this question a lot (well, fill in any of a dozen different careers at the end!) And my answer is usually both liberating and scary for teens.  The liberating part is that they don’t have to worry that their interest won’t be “on the list” because we (the adults in the building) aren’t going to be picking out internships for the students.  The scary part is, they will be.  But as I told this young lady on Wednesday, we’ll help with all the preparation necessary to identify, approach, and secure an internship and they definitely CAN do it.

Learning Links

There were a few good articles lately all relating to how traditional grading practices get in the way of actual learning.  From author Stephen King, “That fearlessness always comes when a kid is writing for himself, and almost never when doing directed writing for the grade.”   And another piece on how tough it is for students to work for learning, as opposed to doing work for a grade.

In closing….

Do you have a question I didn’t answer today?  Just reply to this email and I’ll respond either personally or in the next TGIF (or both).