Getting Unstuck: Rule Number 1

The first rule of starting a school: surround yourself by incredible, gifted people.

We are continually reaping the benefits of following rule number one. Last week, one of those incredible and gifted people gave us a gift. A book called The 4 Disciplines of Execution.

There are times when we get so stuck in our own heads, we can’t get out of our own thinking and gain a different perspective. I’ve felt mired in this spot for the past few months. I can clearly see that something needs to happen to keep us moving forward, but I couldn’t see what that next step was. I felt like every decision that was being made kept us going around in circles rather than moving forward. This book has felt like clouds breaking and I feel optimistic that we can keep kicking butt and changing the world. Happy day!

The 4 Disciplines of Execution isn’t a cure-all, but it has given me a fresh perspective on the problem that’s been staring me in the face.

Matthew and I achieved our first Wildly Important Goal by starting Anastasis. Our goal: to treat every child with dignity as a unique individual. We found a dream team of educators. We stepped away from one-size all curriculum and a one-size fits all assessment system. We do the inefficient EVERY SINGLE DAY to ensure that we are dignifying our students. So much of what we have done is innovative. We have charted new courses. We’ve stepped into the unknown. Somewhere along the way this innovation became the new normal. It’s often hard to remember that what our kids experience is vastly different from what kids in other schools experience. What a great problem to have!

Choosing the next Wildly Important Goal has been difficult. I think this is probably a common problem for entrepreneurs. Everything feels equally important because we see the vision of what is to come. The trouble is that when everything is the most important, nothing can get done. Hence the spinning in around in circles. We are choosing to fight every battle at once instead of focusing first on the battles that will help us win the war. This is not a revolutionary idea, but when I read it last night it was like the little GPS in my brain connected and announced, “recalculating.”

If every other area of Anastasis Academy remained at its current level of performance, what is the one area that would have the greatest impact? That is the question I’m asking as I focus in on our next Wildly Important Goal.

I can’t help but parallel the stuck place that I’ve been to the stuck place that many educators operating within a system find themselves. As a teacher, you can clearly see the shortcomings of the system. You may feel trapped and limited by that system. What if today you asked yourself, “if every other area of my classroom remained at its current level of performance, what is the one area I could change that would have the greatest impact?” What Wildly Important Goal could you make on behalf of your students? Could you change the way you assess? The way that you teach? The way that you use classroom space? The way that you talk about assessment? The classroom relationship dynamics?

Choose one thing.

“The sun’s scattered rays are too weak to start a fire, but once you focus them with a magnifying glass they will bring a paper to flame in seconds.”

What is your goal for your classroom?  What one thing can you do to focus your efforts that will ignite a fire?

“To achieve a goal you have never achieved before, you must start doing things you’ve never done before.”

Go out and focus on the Wildly Important!

Thanks for the book Matt!


Becoming Fully Alive

|Originally posted on|

Big, sweeping changes don’t seem to happen overnight, as quickly as we might like.  Thirty, forty, or a hundred years go into those sweeping changes: race relations, animal testing, women’s rights, recognition of addiction as a disease.  And yet, in each case, there was a turning point.  Those handful of pivotal moments when someone(s) decide it must be different and that in this moment in time, change will begin.

For me, this pivotal change happened in October of 2010.  Two years ago.  That moment of “it must be different” led to a school. Anastasis Academy.  In many ways, Anastasis feels like it happened over night (we started a school in 4 short months!) and in other ways, it feels like it will take years before the vision of Anastasis is realized.

Sweeping changes happen over time.  Often, they are hardly noticeable as they are happening.  This explains the 5-year-old, struggling through their ABC’s who is ‘suddenly’ reading.  When did that happen?!

People often ask why I don’t write more about Anastasis.  The whole process has been incredibly organic and hard to describe to someone who isn’t seeing it unfold with me.  I can tell you about students who are becoming fully alive and discovering that they love learning.  Until you see this happen before you, until you hear the students talk about it, it is really a weak representation of what is happening.  Here we are in year two. In a lot of ways, it has felt like a harder beginning.  This is strange in light of what happened last year…starting a school in 4 months from a place of zero.  I think it feels harder because the vision of what could be is being more fully defined and dreamed up each day.  There is this sense of frustration that it isn’t here yet.

The change is hardly noticeable as it’s happening.  It is organic and creeping.  Sometimes I overhear students talking animatedly about figuring out ratios, and exclaiming over learning what portion of the population lives on less that $1.25/day, the change is happening.  The vision is being realized one moment at a time.  These kids are becoming fully alive.  Those teaching them are doing the same.  We hear parents describe what we do to others.

This is community.

This is family.

This is church.

This is Anastasis.

This is the beginning of sweeping change, where students can be fully alive and learn how to properly manage their freedom.

So, we will go on wishing that we could already see the full realization of this vision, but we will also rest in the hardly noticeable moments of change in this journey.  We will appreciate the moments in time that keep everything from happening at once.  We will rejoice as we watch it all unfold in it’s perfection. We will wait anxiously for the day when this type of learning is available to children everywhere in the world.



***While we wait, consider joining in this mission to help students be “fully alive” in their learning.  Donate and spread the word about the Learning Genome Project.  This is the vehicle we will use to share this vision with ALL children.

The obligation to desert mediocrity: Waiting for Robin Hood

If nothing else, Education Nation and Waiting for Superman have spurred some renewed dialogue and passion about the issues of education.  As an educator, I haven’t been thrilled with the public dialogue.  It is all about what is wrong in education but doesn’t look at what is actually wrong with education.  What we get from the media are the surface level problems: bad teachers, not enough money, not enough standards, not enough accountability.  While these problems do exist in education, they are not THE problem with education.

There is currently a force of great mediocrity in this country…it’s called education.  Eduction has become mediocre because it is easy.  Maintaining the status quo and focusing on the surface level is easy to do.  It makes us feel like we are taking action because we are busy.  But, there is a marked difference in busyness and action.  Right now education is stuck in a cycle of busyness.  The surface level problems are talked to death, some decisions are made that are going to “change everything”; some new standards are implemented, more tests are issued, teachers are held more accountable.  And yet, we are in the exact same boat discussing the exact same problems as Dewey, Piaget, and Papert.  Why is that?  Mediocrity.  As a society, we refuse to look into the deeper problems in education; we refuse to ask the hard questions.  Those that don’t have easy answers; those that require something of us.  It is a lot easier to point the finger and say that the problem is bad teachers than to look at our family structure and ask if there is a problem with the way that we are raising kids.  It is a lot easier to put standards and tests in place and force kids to memorize facts so that we can pat ourselves on the back and make ourselves feel good when they have reached the level we have deemed appropriate.  If real change is what we are after in education, we are going to have to break free of mediocre.  We have an obligation to break free of mediocre. Politicians aren’t going to do it.  The media isn’t going to do it.  They are in the business of maintaining mediocrity.  If we want to desert mediocrity and do better for kids, we who see what real change is required of education must journey that road.

The media may have society talking about education and thinking about the problems of education, but they are leading people to believe that education has simple problems and simple solutions.  They aren’t really requiring anything of viewers.  They aren’t in the business of improving education.  They are in the business of viewers.  Fear and shock value sells.  Tears sell.  They don’t really aim to change education, they aim to change their ratings.  So then, it is up to us.  It is still up to us.  We have to be the change we want to see.  This is happening every single day in schools around the world.  Teachers are doing what they know is best for kids.  Not because someone told them they have to, but because they know it to be the right action for kids.  This isn’t a new phenomenon.  As I have stated before, I had some truly revolutionary, incredible teachers growing up.  They didn’t settle for mediocrity.  They didn’t settle for what they were told.  There are those who are challenging the neat mediocre borders of education every day.  They don’t teach to a test and focus on standards.  They are heretics, in the business of kids.

We don’t need Superman to save education.  We need Robin Hood.

We need educators who are willing to do what is right for kids regardless of the system they find themselves in.  We need educators who will spread those transformational stories.  Who will keep doing the right thing, not because they are told to, but because it is right.  The beautiful thing, the incredible thing, is that  we already have these Robin Hood heretic teachers who do the right thing for kids every day.  We need those stories to spread.  We need to begin offering those stories to the world.  We need to help the public see and understand that there are difficult challenges facing kids and education. They are multifaceted and involved.  But, we also have educators working on solutions. We also have incredible people challenging the status quo.  Those are the stories that need to be shared.

I often make the mistake of becoming overly optimistic about the state of education.  I fool myself into believing that the education problem is nearly extinct.  I believe this happens because I am constantly surrounded by the Robin Hoods of education.  I am immersed in the world where teachers engage in professional development willingly, who discuss the hard problems weekly, who share the fantastic ways that they are transforming education.  I forget that not everyone lives in this world.  I forget that most people don’t.  Can we bring them into this world?  We can invite parents, fellow educators, policy makers, etc. into this world.  The problem?  They aren’t interested in it.  It feels too much like work, they have their own passions and worries to concern them.  I was reading Seth Godin’s blog this morning and catching up on his posts.  I came across one that is clearly directed at how to market a product better but had me thinking about how to market education better.  Seth says:

People may need to lose weight but what they demand is potato chips.  If you want to help people lose weight, you need to sell them something they demand, like belonging or convenience, not lecture them about what they need.

Education Nation, Oprah, and Waiting for Superman are not delivering anything that education needs.  They are selling what education demands (mediocrity).  We need to take a real look at what it is education needs (more Robin Hoods) and figure out how to sell society something they are demanding.  Right now we are lecturing.  No one is listening but us.

So my fellow Robin Hood, here is what I am suggesting, let’s figure out together what it is that society demands of education, and then let’s sell them what they need based on those demands.  Maybe it is as simple as sending every single blog post about what incredible things you are doing in your classroom to your local newspaper and news station.  Maybe it is as simple as changing the way you communicate with parents, maybe your students should do the communicating.  What ideas do you have? What changes can we make today to desert this cycle of mediocrity?

I have a dream…

Somewhere along the line, the focus of education and schools shifted the wrong direction.  Schools and policy makers have become obsessed with curriculum, and assessments, and data, and money, and the latest tool for the classroom.  Where is the obsession and passion for creating rich learning environments for every student?  We live in a society where everything is individualized and personalized.  We can get a burger made just the way we want it. We can get computers built to our exact specifications. We can personalize our cell phones with ringtones, wallpapers, and skins. And yet, in this world of customization, one thing that we fail to customize and personalize is education.  Kids enter the classroom and are taught the same way day in and day out. They sit in seats, in rows, filling out worksheet after worksheet and then, they take a test. The programs that do allow students to do something different are being systematically cut due to budget difficulties (P.E., Art, Library, Music). Is it any wonder that when kids are asked what their favorite part of school is, they answer “lunch and recess”?  What does this say about the state of our schools?

What is the purpose of school?  Why do we mandate that our kids be sent to school?  I believe that our answers would be largely similar, to prepare students for the world that they are living in, that they will find themselves living in.  If this is our purpose we must ask ourselves, are we meeting it with our current school structure?  I submit that we are not.  Our students are not being prepared for the world that they will find themselves in, our students are being prepared for the world that their great-grandparents lived in.

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 have created Dreams of Education as a place to record these dreams, to act as a dream catcher. I hope that you will join me on this journey and share your own dreams of education.  I have a strong belief that when those passionate about education join together, it will become an unstoppable force. Together we will change the face of education, making dreams a reality.  Dream with me, won’t you?