Learning is vulnerable, community needed #edreform

Community is important. I would argue the MOST important.

And yet, when reformers talk about how to make education better, community never even enters the conversation. Standards (to make us equitable), testing (to make sure we are hitting the mark), technology (will solve all of our problems!), rigor (because, don’t we all want to describe learning as rigid and unmoving?!).

We are just beginning year 5 at Anastasis Academy. Magic. Lightening in a bottle. I wish everyone could see what happens here (incidentally you can come to our February conference for a peek). It is difficult to put into words the incredible moments that have become our “normal.” As I reflect on what it is that makes our school so different, I’m increasingly convinced that it isn’t the place, it’s not the technology we have access to, it isn’t that we’ve ditched tests/grades/curriculum. No, what makes this place incredible is the community. It is Who We Are (our first inquiry block every year). It is detox week. It is the way that we intentionally focus on building community first. It is the way we work so hard to help our students (and teachers) understand who they are.

Each of our students (and yours, too) is unique. They have unique gifts and talents. Strengths and weaknesses. Fears. When we talk about education, we must start here.

Learning is vulnerable. It puts us in a place of true vulnerability, we don’t know, we are explorers. We may look foolish at times. Because learning is such a state of vulnerability, we must have strong community in order for learning to thrive.

Too often, education has been focused on what a student isn’t.

They aren’t a strong reader.

They aren’t good at math.

They struggle with writing.

They don’t measure up.

When we start with Who We Are, we invite students to change that focus. We invite students to see all that they offer. The things that make them AWESOME!

This week I’ve again been reminded about how incredible Anastasis teachers are at building community. In one of our intermediate classes, students were “speed friending.” This is an exercise where students pair up and have 2 minutes to talk with each other. The only rule: no small talk. They aren’t allowed to talk about things like favorite color, food, where they live, etc. I had the privilege of walking in on the middle of this Speed Friending exercise. Boys and girls matched up for 2 minutes before they move on to the next student. Every single group was having really awesome conversations. Kids were animated. Smiling. Learning about each other. There was a lot of laughter and exclamations of “me too!” Their teacher joined in as well.

In the class next door, a jr. high class, community was being built by sharing ‘war’ stories. “Everyone has to tell a story about how they got a scar…or when there was a LOT of blood. Who wants to go first?” Students sit in a circle and hands instantly shoot up. Stories that begin, “this one time…” get shared. It’s like being around a campfire at happy hour (minus the fire and drinks). Everyone participates, they all ooh and aww over each other’s stories. Each new story reminds the others of another “this one time…”. The caveat: they are only allowed to share one story. “We don’t have time! Guess you’ll have to tell that story during lunch!” Instant camaraderie. Community built.

Today, day 2, I stopped by the Jr. High classroom. They’ve just started into A Wrinkle in Time. Soon, they hit the word “tesseract.” None of them knew what it was or had a good guess about what it could be. Their teacher stopped and said, “all right, we are going to the prototype lab. You’re going to get in teams and build a tesseract, you can do some research, but then your goal is to build a model that you can use to explain it to the rest of the class. You’ll also come up with a hypothesis about what is going to happen in the book. When you’re finished, you’ll share with the class.”

The kids researched and got to work building. Working together to solve a problem. Looking through materials and options and coming up with BRILLIANCE! They had a limited amount of time, limited resources, and still weren’t quite sure how it related to the book they were reading.

Learning is Vulnerable  Learning is Vulnerable  IMG_3007  Learning is Vulnerable

The results were dynamite. I mean, really quite well thought out and well designed. The kids gathered back in a Genius Lab to share their final product. Each group shared their understanding of tesseract. It’s a 4th dimension that might exist…but we can’t really understand even what it is or what it means because we can’t see it. The last group was composed of 3 boys. One new student, one student who has been with us from the beginning, and one student who is dyslexic and struggles greatly with reading. Our long time student began the presentation by describing his understanding of the second, third, and fourth dimension. He did a great job of helping describe that which he didn’t really understand. Next, our “struggling student”:

“Well actually, I believe that tesseract, this 4th dimension, could be related to black holes. When I was in Mrs. Weissman’s class (2 years ago) I studied black holes. Light collapses and if our bodies went in a black hole, they would be crushed. Everything gets crushed in a black hole, including time. Some people think that if we went in a black hole, we could go really quickly from one place to another, like I could move from far away to here in, like, a second. Teleportation. It’s like time stops existing.” He then picks up the book and points to the cover, “I think that this picture here is depicting this.”

It is at this point in his presentation that exclamations get yelled out, hands thrown up in the air and squeals rise. “Oh my gosh!!! That is what is happening in the book, he figured it out!” “That is why it is called a Wrinkle in Time!!” “Oh my gosh! We have to keep reading…”  All kinds of inferences and predictions and excitement ensued. This “struggling” student is THE hero. Even better, his teacher from 2 years ago gets to witness the whole thing, she has stopped by while her students are at recess. It’s like all learning is connected. It’s like we planned this brilliant moment…only we didn’t, not really. This is the beauty of community and inquiry.

Our new student adds additional brilliance and insight about how this new vocabulary could be connected to the story they are reading.

Day 2. Chapter 1.

Tell me where in your curriculum that moment happens. What test reveals the absolute brilliance of the “struggling” student that is now the hero that classmates look up to? What standard would have connected learning about black holes with this moment in a Wrinkle in Time? What technology leads to this moment? What ‘rigorous’ program allows for a new hero?

The truth is, that moment happened today because yesterday (and every day) we took the time to build community. We had fun together so that today, the second day of school, everyone felt comfortable presenting, getting excited together, and cheering each other on. All of that takes the kind of vulnerability that is only possible when camaraderie is fostered.

How do we build community? In all kinds of way. We start every year with detox week. Identity day. Ice blocking. Experiential learning/camping trips. Dance parties. Daily walks to start our day. Mentorship. Daily whole-school Metanoia. We do life together Every. Single. Day.

What should reformers be focusing on? Community. Who We Are.

As my friend Wes often says, “we can’t begin with what we are, we have to know who we are.”

Could not agree more!

Manifestations of Educational Dreams

When I started Dreams of Education, I couldn’t have anticipated the direction my career would take. At best, I thought this would be a place to dream and connect with other like-minded educators. Starting a school where those dreams come to life? Nowhere on the radar. Now, 4 years into the journey of starting a school, I want to share the living dream with you.

The 5 Sigma Edu Conference is the avenue to do just that! February 20-22, 2015 we are inviting you to come see the manifestations of all the dreams shared here. We want the information spill-over that inevitably happens when people come together. We want our hunches to collide. Come tinker with us. Let’s declare discovery together! We are providing the place where innovative ideas can collide and change the face of education.

Education conference

Thank you for the role you’ve all had in shaping and challenging!

Redefining success


To laugh often and love much

To win the respect of intelligent people

and the affection of children

To earn the appreciation of honest critics

endure the betrayal of false friends

To appreciate beauty

To find the best in others

To leave the world a bit better

whether by a healthy child,

a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition

To know one life has breathed easier

because you have lived.

This is to have succeeded.

[Attributed to Elisabeth-Anne Anderson Stanley]

Last week, two Anastasis alumni visited us after school. “It feels so good here. It’s like I can actually breathe.”- Lexi

Wow. What a statement! We’ve heard this before. It may have been worded differently, or expressed through actions, but the sentiment is the same. Anastasis is a place to breathe easier.

Yesterday I was reading “Start Something That Matters” by Blake Mycoskie (chief shoe giver at TOMS), in it he tells the story of Frederick W. Taylor.  Taylor wrote a book called “The Principles of Scientific Management” that became the bible for the industrial age workplace. Unfortunately, this thought process bled into the education system as well. Mycoskie writes:

“Fundamental to his theory were the following ideas: Workers are inherently lazy and do not enjoy their jobs. Managers should break down work into the smallest possible tasks and supervise and control everything their workforce does. Workers should be paid according to their performance over a set amount of time. Workers are most productive when driven by monetary incentives.”

Look familiar? How many students have you heard lament that they have to come to school? Do your students count down to breaks? Do they live for unexpected days off? How many teachers talk about how lazy their students are in the teacher’s lounge?

How do your classrooms look? Do teachers routinely break down every task and project? Is every single learning objective prescribed by teachers and then supervised and controlled so that it looks perfect? I can’t tell you how many curricula I’ve looked through where this is rampant. I can’t tell you the number of primary classrooms I’ve been in where every shape for the project is pre-cut out of construction paper and the goal is to make it look exactly like the example the teacher made. No freedom, no exploration. No trust that students have the ability to learn and be curious on their own.

How about the belief that workers (students) must be driven by monetary incentives? That sounds like the current grading system to me. “If you don’t comply, you will be punished by an F.” If you play by our rules, your parents can be the proud owners of a “my student is an honor student” bumper stickers.

Is there anything more dehumanizing than this method of compliance? This method guarantees one thing: students who don’t want to be at school, and have the same shallow understanding of the world as all of the other students in the system.

As I was reading this, I was sitting in Starbucks watching a new round of employees being trained. The trainer has given each employee a piece of paper with a script of what they should memorize during the training. He walks them through the steps of what their day should look like over and over. As he does this, he quizzes each of them. He walks them over to the condiment bar, “You need to change out 3 things every time you are here. Whatever is low, you will need to restock. Check the creamers, if they seem low you will need to change them.” Then he asks a 20-something girl a question, “Why do you think it is important to check the creamer and change it often?” This poor girl absolutely froze. She didn’t bother to look down at her sheet to find out if the answer was there (I’m sure it was). She looked like a deer caught in the headlights. In my mind I was silently screaming at her, “FOOD safety! Bacteria and food born illness if you leave it to sit all day.” She said none of these things. Instead the trainer got a blank look and, “umm, I’m not sure.”

I’m convinced that this is the outcome of an education system that lives by, “The Principles of Scientific Management.” Because the answer had not yet been given to her, she had NO idea how to answer the question. Not even a guess. I’ve never worked at Starbucks, but I could use enough deductive reasoning and thought to connect the question with a reasonable answer. At the very least I would have frantically searched the sheet my trainer gave me for a clue.

It makes sense to me when alumni come back and say, “I feel like I can breathe here.” At Anastasis we give students freedom. Then we teach them how to properly manage that freedom. We show them the beauty of curiosity. We help them ask questions and search out answers. We engage them in discussion. We restore humanity. The alumni student went on to explain that the pace feels frantic in their high school. “But it’s not like it is frantic because we are learning more, it is like all of this information for the sake of information. I grew so much more here because you guys actually let us explore and be interested in things.”

As an educator my heart rejoices that they can recognize what we have done for them. But for these girls? I’m sad for them. I’m sad that they aren’t daily in an environment where their humanity is honored. I’m sad that they are going through the motions to get the grades to move into the next system.

How do you define success in your classroom? Do you look to test scores, how many of your students have made honor role, how many students turned in their homework on time?

At Anastasis Academy we define success differently. We want to laugh and love much. We want to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children. We want to appreciate beauty of learning. We want students to find the best in everyone they meet. We want to leave the world better. We want to grow things we can eat and share the bounty with others. We want to redeem the social condition, restore humanity. We want kids to breathe easier.


Meaning in the Journey

|Kelly Tenkely|

I always enjoy reading Seth’s Blog.  His posts push me into new thinking and often have me making connections to what we do within education.  His “Tool vs Insight” post was no different, below is an excerpt:

How is your vocabulary? It’s a vital tool, certainly. Do you know these words?

a, after, and, as, die, eternal, first, gets, gun, have, in, is, job, life, me, mouth, my, pushing, saying, step, that, the, to, Tyler, waiter, you.

How about these?

a, am, and, anywhere, are, be, boat, box, car, could, dark, do, eat, eggs, fox, goat, good, green, ham, here, house, I, if, in, let, like, may, me, mouse, not, on, or, rain, Sam, say, see, so, thank, that, the, them, there, they, train, tree, try, will, with, would, you.

The first list contains every word in the opening lines from Fight Club, the second is the entire word list from Green Eggs and Ham.

Knowing something (vocabulary) is not the same thing as engaging art and meaning.  You can know each of the words listed above.  You can even identify each of their definitions on a multiple choice test.  Then what?  Without adding meaning to these words, they are pretty uninspiring, meaningless even.  But use some imagination and creativity, and suddenly those words tell a story.  They take us on a journey and suddenly the words matter.  Knowing isn’t enough.  A store house full of facts is pretty useless if students are never asked to actually engage them.

Inquiry is beautiful because it is in the journey of learning that meaning is created.  It is about curiosity, helping kids discover what they are interested in. Not only does inquiry act to engage, it’s actually been proven to be a better entry point into learning.  A Stanford research study into learning as a process revealed the following:

“We are showing that exploration, inquiry and problem solving are not just ‘nice to have’ things in classrooms,” said Blikstein. “They are powerful learning mechanisms that increase performance by every measure we have.”  Pea explained that these results indicate the value for learning of first engaging one’s prior knowledge and intuitions in investigating problems in a learning domain – before being presented with abstracted knowledge. Having first explored how one believes a system works creates a knowledge-building relevance to the text or video that is then presented, he said.”

Inquiry doesn’t make the facts (vocabulary) the focus, but rather gives meaning through the journey, the story, and the art. This can seem a rather obvious conclusion but it is fascinating how many schools strip away the journey to focus on the facts.  This is largely driven by policy and testing that requires the focus to be on the sound bites (facts) of learning at the expense of engaging the journey.  While this approach may result in some great data points that make us feel like we are improving our schools and doing the best for kids, at the end of the day it is an enormous disservice to children. Knowing vocabulary is not the same as experiencing meaning, and story, and art within words. I want children who can engage the world. Who are passionately curious about the world around them and want to dig deeper and add meaning.

Is this photo interesting?  Is it worth engaging?

Dreams of Education






How about this one?


Dreams of Education









Photo by: http:/

The first picture is a small portion of the second picture.  When we view something narrowly, we can miss the point entirely.

Too often curriculum narrows down a student’s view of a topic so much that there is nothing left worthy of engagement.  What they end up learning is very specific and doesn’t offer them any context.  Inquiry does the opposite, it gives students something interesting and worthy of engagement.  It shows them a fuller picture that urges them into a place of curiosity.

During our professional development time this week, I asked Anastasis teachers to engage the idea of inquiry.  To consider the role of the teacher, the role of the student, and the role of content within inquiry.

Role of the teacher within inquiry…

  • To be a learner- within inquiry, one of the most essential roles of a teacher is to first be a learner and to be transparent with that learning.
  • Within inquiry, teachers don’t limit learning by beginning with the end in mind.  Sometimes when the teacher has a very specific goal in mind, the rich learning experiences that could occur get sidelined because it isn’t the goal the teacher had for the learning.  For example, our students are learning about agriculture in kindergarten-first grade.  Typical standards for this age group would limit students to identifying parts of a plant and understanding that plants share similar characteristics.  While these are worthy learning goals, it limits the students by only expecting a minimum.  Our students were interested in germination, photosynthesis, and fascinated by the embryo within a seed.  Why limit?
  • To model curiosity and good questioning- students don’t always know how to indulge in their curiosities.  Many times they are so used to being asked closed questions (questions with only one answer), that they don’t know how to be curious by asking open questions (questions with multiple answers, or no concrete answer).  This has to be modeled for kids.
  • To be guides of learning- within the inquiry classroom, teachers are not directors of learning the way they are in a traditional setting.  The role of the teacher here is to be a guide for the learning.  It is being aware of when, and how, students may need direction and guidance.
  • To allow for students to own their learning- sometimes this means getting out-of-the-way of the learner.
  • To be aware- teachers must constantly be aware of and recognize student needs in the learning process.
  • To provide opportunities and help make connections- students don’t know what they don’t know.  It is a teacher’s job to orchestrate opportunities and offer materials that will provide the circumstances where students can explore and discover.
  • To come alongside students to help them learn how to think, NOT what to think.
  • To offer exposure to experts and experiences- as amazing as our teachers are, they can’t be all things to all children.
  • To facilitate students with understanding context and help them with discernment.
  • To offer opportunities for collaboration (both within the school and outside of the school).
  • To value a culture of thinking and curiosity.
  • To value student voice.

Role of learner…

  • To be open to questioning, exploring, experimenting and problem solving.
  • To be willing to fail, and work through the failure (failing forward).
  • To make connections between previous and new understanding.
  • To collaborate with others.
  • To be a risk taker.
  • To be constantly reflecting and re-evaluating.
  • To actively think, not just fact find.
  • To be open to other perspectives and ideas.
  • To be contributing citizens now.
  • To be learners in order to achieve rather than just achieving learning.

Role of content…

  • Content must be evolving, not rigid or stationary. (Boxed curricula is stationary, it doesn’t allow for evolution as students interact with it.)
  • To be applicable, valuable, and transdisciplinary.
  • To allow for student ownership over learning (not predetermined outcomes).
  • To meet social, academic, and personal needs of each student.
  • To be limitless in the learning it allows.
  • To provide the necessary conditions for students to question and experience their learning.
  • To be flexible and transient.
  • “Well, first thing you have to do is to give up the idea of curriculum. Curriculum meaning you have to learn this on a given day. Replace it by a system where you learn this where you need it. So that means we’re going to put kids in a position where they’re going to use the knowledge that they’re getting. So what I try to do is to develop kinds of activities that are rich in scientific, mathematical, and other contents like managerial skills and project skills, and which mesh with interests that particular kids might have.”- Seymore Paperet

Educational psychologist Vygotsky said that, “children grow into the intellectual life around them.” (Vygotsky, 1978, p.88) It is important for educators and parents alike to consider what kind of intellectual life we are providing for children to grow into.  Is it a life full of factual soundbites?  Or is it a life full of experiences, problems to solve, curiosities to indulge, and meaning to discover?  Learning must be approached much more like a journey and less like a finish line.

The vehicle for this journey: inquiry.

40 Days to Personalized Education: A call to action

*** If you need the cliff notes version of this post, skip down to the Call to Action section!

Last year I had a “hunch” about learning…specifically about curriculum.  That hunch turned into a full-fledged idea and a mission to do better for kids.  Everywhere.  Along the line I met some truly incredible people who taught me things I didn’t know how to do before.  Like wire framing (thanks @ianchia), and pitching ideas (thanks @houseofgenius), and how to go about picking up programmers (thanks@toma_bedolla).  Now I’m ready to share the culmination of all this work with you.

This isn’t just a post to tell you about what I’m doing, it is a call to action for everyone (yes, even you).  It is a request for you to join me in this mission in whatever form that may take.

I have a vision: to make personalized learning a reality for EVERY child. 

I know, it is big.  It is also doable.

For those who are new to following me, here was my original “hunch” written here,Dreams of Education:

“The problem with curriculum and textbooks is that they complete thoughts.  Curriculum and textbooks give the impression that learning has an end.  That when you have made it from cover to cover, the job is done.  I know in my own schooling this was true, I thought that school was teaching me what was important and that anything outside of the curriculum wasn’t important or relevant to my life…wouldn’t they have included it otherwise?  How did curriculum get this way?  Well, people realized that there was no possible way to cover every facet of learning, so they stripped it down to what they thought was important.  The problem? What is important to you may not be what is important to me.  What’s more, something that is very important to me may have been cut all together so I don’t even get the chance to know that it is important to me.  Humans tend to like things that are definable, we like things that we can put into a neat, orderly box and carry out in a predictable way.  It feels safe and manageable.  This is what led me to the following hunch:

What if curriculum was more flexible?  What if curriculum/schools/learning looked more like Pandora.  If you aren’t familiar with Pandora, it is an online radio station that plays the music that it thinks you will like.  You type in an artist or song and it creates a customized radio station just for you.  It is remarkably accurate.  Pandora almost never gets it wrong for me.  It is like they have a direct line to my brain and can predict what song I would like to hear next.  When it is wrong, I can give the song a thumbs down and it apologizes profusely for the error and promises never to play that song again on my station.  The other thing I love about Pandora: I can have multiple radio stations.  Because sometimes I really couldn’t think of anything in the world better than Frank, Dean, and Sammy; but other times  I also want a little Timberlake, Whitestripes, or Bangles.  What if curriculum looked like that?  What if learning happened as a result of typing in one subject or topic that a student was enamored with and a completely personalize learning journey began playing out for them?  What if students were led through a journey that was completely customized?  What if they had several stations mapped out for them?”

I believe this is possible.  I believe it is within our reach to create a completely personalized learning experience to every unique child.  I believe that we can honor humanity instead of treating our kids like widgets in a factory.  I believe that teachers should be teachers, focused on the needs and development of the child instead of teaching the masses through scripted curriculum.

This is The Learning Genome Project.

The Learning Genome Project will empower teachers and parents to become engineers of learning by providing each individual student the exact content they need, at the exact moment they need it.  The Learning Genome will enable students to explore the process of inquiry, experimentation, discovery and problem solving.  Instead of learning how to pass the next test, we will enable students to construct meaning and learn how to transfer that meaning to new life context.  At the hub, the Learning Genome is a platform that aggregates resources and, using a series of algorithms, provide recommendations of the BEST resources to meet the individual learning needs of a specific child.  The Learning Genome creates those serendipitous moments of finding just the right learning tool to meet the needs of children at the right time.

Much like Pandora finds that perfect piece of music, the Learning Genome will find the perfect piece of learning material to aid the student in learning.  The key to the Learning Genome’s success is crowd sourcing.  I will be drawing on educators around the world (that’s you!) to help me tag curriculum, books, lessons, videos, apps, websites and other educational content.  This collection of tagged content lives in the centralized ”cloud” and wil allow users around the world to find and access materials that best suit student needs.  By gathering information about the individual student’s learning style preferences, multiple intelligence strengths, social/emotional levels, interests and passion, the Learning Genome can help teachers to create customized learning maps for each individual.  This portion will be free. Every child deserves a unique learning experience.

In addition to the Learning Genome Hub (the aggregate), the site will include a complete Student Information System, planning tools, e-portfolios, e-learning, individual learning plans, assessment and blogging tools.  All of these will work seamlessly together for you go-to for learning and planning.

Changing the world here.

Call to Action

So…how can you help?  I’m glad you asked!

1.  Learn more about the Learning Genome at indiegogo.

2. Please consider investing in this mission (see the awesome perks that includes below).

3.  Blog about the Learning Genome with a link back to the indiegogo campaign (be sure to link to those posts you write in the comments below!)

4. Tweet about this project…a lot.  Let’s completely take over the Internet with tweets about the Learning Genome and taking over education for kids! Please make sure to link back to the indiegogocampaign so that others can learn about it! Use the hashtag #standagain (because after all, we are helping children “stand again” in their learning)

5. Offer your time as a Learning Genome Content tagger or beta tester

6.  Mention us on Facebook and like us on Facebook!

7.  Did I mention spread the word? Seriously, that is SO helpful!  You never know who might see that tweet and drop a couple thousand (or more) to make this project go!

8.  Time is of the essence.  I have 40 days starting NOW to make this happen.  eeek!  I need your help!

So, what are the perks to helping with this project?  

$5  gets your name on the Learning Genome Change Makers page.  You are changing education. That makes you a big deal.  I want everyone to know what a big deal you are!  I know many of you don’t think that your $5 can do anything.  Wrong.  According to my cluster map, I have hundreds of thousands of visits to this blog.  If each of you pitches in…we all win fast!

$10 Remember all those cool Bloom’s Taxonomy posters I made?  This campaign is now the ONLY place you can get them.  These are 8.5″ x 11″ versions of the poster.

$30 Learning Genome beta tester. You get the inside scoop and ability to play before ANYONE else.  I know, pretty cool.

$60 EXCLUSIVE A full size large-format print of my Bloomin’ Peacock mailed to you.  That awesome little Peacock looks even better large.  Did I mention this is the ONLY place you will get a big version of this?

$500 Even more EXCLUSIVE  you get all of my Bloom’s re-imagine posters in the large format.  Perfect for your classroom, library or as a gift to your favorite teachers.

$1000  My Searching for daVinci webinar for your school.  What better way to spend your professional development dollars than learning how to create a daVinci like culture of learning at your school?  Worth it!

$5000 For my corporate friends who want to see their logo in lights as a company that supports education and changing the world.  If you have an education company, The Learning Genome Project will be the place to be seen.


We have $85,000 to raise.  It sounds like a big number.  We can do it together.  I figured if I am going to lean on crowdsourcing to transform education, the funding should be crowdsourced too.  How awesome will it be to join together as an education community to say, together we transformed the way learning is done.  We changed things for every child in the world.  Yeah, it’s big.

From out of the dust, dreams #invisiblechildren

In preparation for our next Parent University at Anastasis Academy, I’m re-reading Seth Godin’s education manifesto “Stop Stealing Dreams.”  In the manifesto, Seth proposes the following question:


“Does the curriculum you teach now make our society stronger?”

For the first time in my 9 year education career, I can say, “yes!”  Of course I have to preface that with, we don’t really teach a “curriculum” in the traditional sense of the word.  Instead, we have inquiry topics that give us a rough guide for learning and the Common Core standards that ensure the basics are covered.  (And I do mean basics. Have you read through them all?  They are underwhelming to say the least.)


I found the following to be all too true in curriculum:  “There’s no room for someone who wants to go faster, or someone who wants to do something else, or someone who cares about a particular issue. Move on. Write it in your notes; there will be a test later. A multiple choice test.”


When I was dreaming of a new kind of school, I knew that it couldn’t be tied to a one-size-fits-all boxed curriculum.  I have yet to meet two children who are identical.  We are all unique, we all have interests and passions. We all have our own set of gifts and weaknesses.  To measure every student against a predetermined “completely educated student” model isn’t going to work. Why is it that we keep pushing this idea that every child should look the same upon exiting their formalized schooling?  My guess is that we do it because we are lazy, because it is easy to take something that is measurable and create a system around it.  Only, humans aren’t easily measured are they?  I feel like every standardized test score should come with an asterisk next to it that explains the intricacies of the score.  “This score is misleading because….” Followed by the multitude of reasons that the score doesn’t really offer an accurate picture at all.


At Anastasis, we aren’t in the business of measuring kids against some antiquated idea of educational perfection.  Instead, we are in the business of dreams.  We work to teach kids to be brave and connected.  We help kids realize their passions and go out into the world with empathy.  I’m considering adding the following quote from Seth’s manifesto in our staff handbook:


“We do not need you to cause memorization. We need students who can learn how to learn, who can discover how to push themselves and are generous enough and honest enough to engage in the outside world to make those dreams happen.” -Stop Stealing Dreams


It’s one thing to believe these ideals and it is another completely to live them every day.  To be brave enough as a school to stop the madness even as we are asked about standardized testing, curriculum, and grades.  I’m proud of our little community for their bravery.  I’m proud of the way they support and help each other through those times when they aren’t feeling so brave.  I’m proud of them for sticking with us when they can’t point to endless standardized data to back up their claim that their child is learning.


Every 5 weeks, we get together as a school community for Anastasis Serves.  This looks a little bit different each block based on what we are working in our inquiry unit, what needs the community has and what opportunities are available to us.  One of our incredible parents organizes Anastasis Serves.  She works hard to take into consideration what the kids are learning, and what they could do as a school community that would grow us as global citizens.  This block seemed to have some major divine intervention.  One of our teachers, Lance, has a ministry called Impact Edventures. Through the ministry, he had been in contact with the Watoto Children’s choir and worked to get them to join us at Anastasis.  Words cannot express the tremendous blessing this was for our community.  The Watoto Children’s choir is a program whose mission is to rescue an individual, raise each one to be a leader, and ultimately rebuild a nation.  The group from Uganda began as a result of an enormous population of orphaned and vulnerable children and women in Africa.  Many of the children that make up the choir have lost one or both parents to war and HIV AIDS.  Watoto provides a home and stability for these children and tours around the world to spread awareness of the conditions and hopes in their country through song. This is an incredible group of children and adults.  Each child in Watoto has the opportunity to travel the world and sing in the choir only once.  Upon returning home, the children train the next choir who will travel.  You can’t help but fall in love with these children and have your heart-broken over the stories they share.  They have seen tragedy, but what our students noticed more than anything was the unmistakable joy that these children have.  They are thankful, loving and happy.

Denver Post 2012

View the video of Watoto with our students here.
@Michellek107 prepared our students for the Watoto’s arrival by teaching them a welcome song in Swahili.  Our students sang to the traveling choir to welcome them to our school and community.  I do believe they were impressed with our attempt!  They helped us pronounce and enunciate some of the words and taught our students to dance.  It was an incredible morning of cultures colliding and an opportunity for our students to realize that children are children no matter where they are from.  All of the children ate lunch together and played together.  Anastasis families volunteered as host families for the Watoto children.  The Watoto choir put on another performance in the evening and many of our families made a special trip back to school so that they could spend more time with the incredible group.  It is hard to put into words the blessing that this day was for our community.  (To see more pictures of our day, check out this article in the Denver Post.)

This is learning.  This is what education is about.  Connections.  Collisions of human stories.


One of the things that the Watoto children taught us was about what their lives would look like without Watoto.  Some of the children shared their pasts as child laborers.  This is where that divine intervention I mentioned earlier came full swing.  The parent who organizes the Anastasis Serves days does so months in advance.  This Anastasis Serves day was to happen the day that Watoto left us.  The topic: Child Laborers.  This was an unusual Anastasis Serves because our students weren’t necessarily “serving” others.  Instead, the goal was to help students understand what child labor is and to help build empathy.  We used Red Card Kids Lesson 5 on Child Laborers as a guide for our day.  All of our students, 1st-8th grade, gathered together for the day.  We began by talking about the “work” that our students do at home, or a job that they have had.  We briefly discussed laws in the United states that permit children who are 15 and older to work as long as the jobs do not risk their health, safety, or moral development and don’t interfere with their attending school.  We asked students why they thought these laws existed.  Currently, more than 200 million children between the ages of 5 and 15 work up to 14 hours a day instead of attending school.  It is easy to talk about child labor, watch a video, listen to some statistics and promptly walk away unchanged.  We didn’t want this for our students.  We wanted them to really understand the hopelessness, anger, and resignation that these children feel.  We planned out a simulation of what it means to be a child laborer.


Each student was given a situation card.  The card described the new identity the students had for the day.  They learned what their home life was like, what struggles their family was currently facing and what their job was to be for the day.  Each student was given a hammer, protective eye wear and a brick.  For the next 30 minutes, students used the hammers to break the bricks into sand for our imaginary road.  There was absolutely no talking, no breaks, no water, no mercy.  If a teacher saw a student slow down, they would yell at them to pick up the pace and threaten to lower wages.  You could see the frustration and anger in the students eyes at the unfairness of the situation.  We didn’t let them stop if they started to get a blister or their arms got tired.  We were mean. When we were finished, the students had to collect all of the sand and gravel into buckets and haul it to the dumpster and then were marched silently back to their classroom.  Teachers decided what the wage would be for the work.  It wasn’t always a fair  wage based on the work done (fair being $0.35 total). Some hard-working students only received a dime.  Students were asked to go back to their situation cards and decide how they were going to spend their money.  They could use the money to pay rent, to pay for rice to feed their family, or a small toy at our makeshift store.


The empathy for those children they had played with the day before was enormous.  Anastasis students of all ages talked about the injustice of child labor.  Asked questions like “why don’t they just rebel?”  Got teary eyed as they realized many of their favorite brands employ child laborers.  Vowed to change the world.


I was amazed and proud of our students. They took the simulation seriously and honestly considered what life would be like if they couldn’t go to school. If they broke bricks 14 hours a day for $0.35.  What would happen to them physically if this was their life. Asked hard questions about what happened if a child became disfigured as a result of their job.  They jumped to each others aid when a bucket got accidentally dumped and needed to be gathered again.  This day was culture building.


This look into child labor happened on a half day leading into our spring break.  Incredibly, the kids didn’t just leave the hard day behind them. Instead they worked together to start a movement.  @leadingwlove’s class created this site and are working to make LSGW a 501c3 foundation.  Here is the note they added as a result of the child labor day:


To Anyone with a Willing Heart & a Compassionate Spirit:
Here at LSGW, we are starting a Revolution, a movement to make a change in the world, to respond to the needs of people with compassion and justice! We challenge you to join us in the fight to end the injustice that plagues the people of this world. We hope you will be moved to make a difference.
Welcome to the official site of LSGW**, Let’s Save God’s World Foundation. Our purpose is to reel in the next generation of changemakers. God has blessed us with many resources and materials to begin this new and exciting project. We hope to work along side all of you in our exciting journey to make God’s creation a better place. Please check out the advertising campaign that the students in Mrs. Lauer’s class have put together to promote our cause, and spread the word!
**LSGW is an educational non-profit foundation and an official middle school learning process at Anastasis Academy in Lone Tree, CO. 100% of donations and fundraising go to the cause!
Enjoy and Make a Difference!
– Written by Lexxi, Jake, and Mrs. Lauer


I believe that these are the children who are going to change the world.  These are the children who are going to put an end to child labor.  These kids are generous enough and honest enough to make those dreams a reality.


This is the reason I can confidently answer “yes” to Seth’s question, “Does the curriculum you teach now make our society stronger?”

What Dreams May Come: A Sneak Peek into Anastasis Academy

It’s a pretty incredible thing to see dreams come to fruition.

For me it started with an obsession and passion for creating rich learning environments where every student was recognized as an individual. In that first post I wrote:

“I have a dreams of education. I have dreams of the way that schools should look. I have dreams of kids who find their passions. I have dreams of schools as rich learning centers.”

I had dreams of stripping the “vanilla” away so that passions could emerge.

Dreams of ditching that boxed curriculum that we call an education and watching the factory model fade into the rear-view mirror.

Dreams of ending the practice of viewing teachers (and students) as expendables.

I had dreams of schools that were beautiful, that were designed with students in mind.

Dreams that education would stop looking so much like the McRib.

Dreams of breaking free of the box, of valuing students and teachers,  of using the right tools, of a school where a student’s inner da Vinci can break through, of a school that customizes learning.

I shared dreams of more fabulous failures.

The dreams started trickling into reality in March of this year (2011).  In March I started getting some hints that these dreams weren’t really all that far-fetched.  By May I had officially started a school.  In August we opened the doors to Anastasis Academy with our first 50 students in 1st through 8th grade and had hired a dream team of 5 truly incredible teachers to lead them.  In four short months we went from dreams to reality.

At Anastasis Academy, we lease space from a church building throughout the week.  We have our own wing with classrooms, a playground, a gym and a kitchen.  All of our furniture is on wheels.  This makes it easy to adjust space daily based on needs, it is also a necessity since we use shared space.  Twice a week we move all of our belongings across the hall into a storage room (if I’m honest, this is the part we could do without!).  We can’t complain about the space.  It is pretty incredible!

You will notice that we don’t have rows of desks.  No teacher’s desk either.  We have space that kids can move in. Corners to hide in, stages to act on, floors to spread out on, cars to read in.  We are learning how to learn together, learning how to respect other children’s space and needs, learning how to discipline ourselves when we need to, learning how to work collaboratively, we are learning to be the best us.

You won’t see a worksheet at Anastasis. We use iPads.  That isn’t to say that we ONLY use iPads, in fact, you’ll often see us building, cutting, pasting, writing on a whiteboard/chalkboard and even paper.  We do a lot of blogging, a lot of reflecting, a lot of Evernotting, a lot of cinematography, a lot of discussing.

Every morning we start with a 15 minute walk outside together…as a community.  We invite parents and siblings to be a part of our morning walk. Occasionally we have the dogs join in on the fun.  After the walk we come inside as a whole-school for a time of devotions. Again, this is a time for us to build community, to foster the culture we want for our school.  Families are invited to join us every morning.  We always have at least one family and, many times, multiples.  We pray with each other and for each other. We have hard conversations and funny conversations. We think together and challenge each other.

Matthew West joining us for devotions!

Our inquiry block is a time for hands-on transdisciplinary learning.  This is my VERY favorite time to walk through classrooms.  It is incredible to see the joy in discovery.  It is incredible to have a second grade student with dyslexia discover an app to make stop motion animations, teach himself how to use it and proceed to stand up before 7th and 8th grade students to explain how stop motion works.  I wish I could bring you all through the building during this time.  Every time we have a visitor the students pause long enough to describe what they are doing, the learning that is happening. I often have to pick my jaw up off the floor. These kids are amazing.

We have no curriculum. At all. Zip. What did we do instead? We hired the very BEST teachers we could find.  We gave them a base level of skills that we wanted students to have- an outline if you will.  We used the Common Core Standards as our baseline.  We don’t use the standards like most schools do. We use them to make sure that our students have the building blocks and foundations of learning in place.  And then we let our students and teachers GO. The standards are not a weight we are tied to, they are the underpinnings that make it possible for us to soar and take our learning anywhere.  When you look at the Common Core standards they are pretty underwhelming.  I’m glad they are! They provide us with just enough momentum to propel us forward and then off we go on a journey of learning!  We also have our big inquiry questions in place.  From there, we go where the learning takes us, bunny trails and all.  It is pretty fantastic.  Today one of our primary students came out to see me and said, “Look at this boat I found in this new library book. Can I try to make it?”  My answer: “Absolutely! What materials do we need?”  Together we made a list of all the materials I needed to pull together for him.  Tomorrow he will build that boat he is fascinated with and find out if it works the way he has planned.  That is learning!  Tell me what boxed curriculum allows time for that to happen? None. That is why we don’t have it.

In the afternoons we have more “content” area subjects (i.e. math and language arts).  In the primary grades this means students building the skills they need to support their inquiry.  In the intermediate grades this means honing those skills for better communication and more thorough inquiry.  Again, we don’t work from a boxed curriculum. We find the lessons, approaches, and materials that work for the individual student.  Sometimes this means working with manipulatives, sometimes it means exploring measurement outside, and sometimes it means using an app.  It changes daily based on the needs of the students.

We have mixed age level classrooms.  We do this for a lot of reasons.  Most importantly, it is good for older and younger students to work together and learn from each other; it is vital that a child be able to work at their developmental level and progress as they are ready to; and it deepens inquiry when students with different perspectives work together.

Once every five weeks we invite the parents to join us for Parent University.  This is a time for us to help parents understand this new way to do school.  Detox, if you will.  It is a time for us to show parents what best practices in education look like, why grades aren’t all they are cracked up to be, why play is important.  It is a time for us to think and laugh together. It is a time to get questions answered.

Also every five weeks, we hold a “Meeting of the Minds”.  This is a parent/teacher/student conference where we all get together and set our road map for the next 5 weeks.  Students write goals with the help of their teacher. They have ownership over what they have done the last 5 weeks and tell mom and dad what they have planned for upcoming 5 weeks.

Every Friday we have a learning excursion or an opportunity for an “Anastasis Serves”.  Learning excursions are field trips all over the place that help students start to recognize that learning doesn’t just happen when we are at school.  Learning happens everywhere we are and, if we are paying attention, all the time.  Anastasis Serves is a time for our students to give back to the global community.  Sometimes this is a door-to-door scavenger hunt for donations, sometimes this is learning about orphans around the world, or packaging cookies and letters to send to our troops.

We don’t do grades, we do assessment all day every day while we learn.  We don’t do homework, we pursue our families and passions at home.  We don’t do worksheets, we do interesting (sometimes frustrating) work. We don’t do boxed curriculum, we do on-demand learning.

We do mistakes. We do community. We do collaboration. We do messy. We do play. We do fun. We do technology. We do learning.

How do we do all this? We have a 12 to 1 student teacher ratio (or less).  We have incredible students, parents and teachers.  We have stinking smart board members who are invested in our success and trust our judgement calls.  We set our tuition at $8,000 (per pupil spending in our district) to show that even though we are private, this can be done in the public schools.  We started with nothing…well almost nothing, we had dreams.  There was no capital raised, no fund-raisers, no huge donation. We started the beginning of the year at $0 and put blood, sweat and tears into it.

This is not to say that we have it all figured out, that all of our students are perfect, that all of our staff or families are perfect. We are perfectly imperfect as every school is. We have days when the kids are BOUNCING off the walls, we have disagreements, tired teachers, stressed parents, a founder who has occasional melt downs (that would be me), students who need extra love and support, tight budgets, parents who demand different, scuffles, sniffles and band-aids…lots of band-aids.  There is nowhere else I would rather be. No other group of people I would rather work with. No other students whose germs I would rather share. This is my dream.

There are moments throughout the day when I am stopped in my tracks by the realization-this is my dream.