Dreams

Do you want to form an alliance with me?

In March of 2010, I wrote a blog post that ended up connecting me and amplifying good in ways that I couldn’t have imagined, the title of that post: Do you want-to form an alliance-with me? (Best when spoken like Dwight’s character in the TV show the Office…American version).

https://getyarn.io/yarn-clip/embed/10a0aa37-f334-436c-9e70-eaec5c97266e?autoplay=false  Anyway, it was this blog post that originally showed me the power of connection. This bloggers alliance introduced me to some of my very best education friends around the world. The alliance is the reason I fell in love with inquiry, the reason that I was able to see education from new vantage points. It made 2010 an exceptional year of growth and learning. Today, I invite you to start a new alliance with me, allow me to explain below (Originally posted on KT’s Blog):

 

SMLXL

It was 2010, when I first saw “Where Good Ideas Come From” by Steven Johnson on YouTube. Soon after, I’d read his book by the same title. For me, this video will always be titled “When Hunches Collide,” because it is this idea that has so resonated with me. It was this moment of pivot when I recognized the power of collective intelligence. In school we learn about a lot of incredible characters in history. Inventors, explorers, accidental geniuses. All of their stories are told as if they are in a vacuum. They seem super human, like they possess something spectacular, and rare. With this video was the recognition that nothing happens in isolation, rather, it is when ideas have the opportunity to collide with other ideas that big things happen. Innovation isn’t about solo genius, it’s about collective genius.
I saw this first hand following this blog post “When Hunches Collide.” Inviting others to dream with me, voicing the impossible suddenly made it possible. Collisions started happening regularly and suddenly it felt like everything was connecting. Starting a school wasn’t something that I thought I would do. I didn’t have the resources, the experience, the courage. But when you put your ideas out there, when you invite the collision of ideas, things suddenly feel more doable. A tribe rallies, makes you believe in impossible things. A year after writing this post about hunches colliding, I was months into running a school that I founded. I was seeing my dream realized. I was seeing that innovation is actually collective problem solving with those in my tribe adding their unique experience and point of view. Injecting honesty into my dreaming.
In the day-to-day of running a school, things become much more practical, much more one-foot-in-front-of-another. I find myself doing the things that must be done and my dreaming becomes much more localized. In the summer months, I have a different cadence to my days. My to-do list is as long as ever, but the different pace gives me the room to let my mind wander, read the book that I’ve been inching through at a better pace. Each year, I start a new notebook. A “common place” book where I write down quotes I come across that I want to remember, take notes on the books I am reading, and let my mind wander. These notebooks are always at the ready. As I was writing some quotes and thoughts in this year’s notebook, it struck me that I don’t often go back through the notebooks and re-read my thoughts. I guess I just like knowing they are there if I need them. I spent the rest of the afternoon reading through my notebooks from the last 6 years (back to the start of Anastasis). All of those things that inspired me along the way were once again packing a powerful punch. How could I have captured all of this and not gone back to remember?!
It was through this process that the idea for KT’s Place was born. I needed to unleash some of these ideas, give them space where the hunches that I was having could collide. I wanted a place where I could extend the invitation to solve problems together. A place where your gifts, and talents, and worldview could collide with mine and others. A place where I remember that I shouldn’t expect to do any of this in a vacuum. Know that this is a place of willful naivete. This is a place where I am choosing to close my eyes to the thought that these dreams are impossible. I’m impatient to see dreams realized (mine and yours!). When we work together, possibility exists that did not exist before. That is powerful!
I believe that:
  • We are better/stronger/braver together than apart.
  • We all have unique gifts, experiences, and worldview that offer important perspective and nuance when they come together.
  • We can work together to spread and amplify good.
  • People who know who they are and living ‘in flow’ are the happiest and most fulfilled in life.
  • Sharing > Hoarding/Hiding
  • We should have a bias toward action.
  • My skills are limited.
  • More beauty and good should exist in our world.
  • We are better served sharing ideas than protecting them.

 

There is nothing really special about KT’s Place, I’m just setting the stage where we can unleash our collective genius around common problems. So, there you go. That is what this site is all about, sharing crazy ideas and giving them a public place where they can collide with your genius. I’ll start blogging here about each of the projects listed, give you the back story to the idea, the inspiration that is spurring me on along the way. Each will come with an invitation for you, what do you have to contribute? Who might you know that I should know? You certainly don’t have to wait for these posts to add your 2cents, this is a place where you can contribute ALL the time!
Additionally, if KT’s Place, or one of my hunches has inspired something you are working on, or you have a totally new hunch of your own that you would like to open to collisions, let me know and I’ll share it on the “Fellow Dreamers” page.
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Making FOMO our motivator for change

“We think someone else- someone smarter than us, more capable, with more resources- will solve the problem. But, there isn’t anyone else.” – Regina Dugan

You may feel ill equipped, like you don’t know what to do, or how to do it. But one thing that I’ve learned in starting (and running) Anastasis Academy: As you act and move, what to do, and how to do it, becomes more clear. Every day you will see things you haven’t before, and pretty soon a direction takes shape and it starts to make more sense. You have to move!

Too often we convince ourselves that we are stuck. Fear. Indecision. Policies. Mandates. These are all of the excuses we use on a regular basis not to act. I’m the first to tell you that I’ve used all of these excuses as reasons to stay where I am. Move anyway.

One of the greatest lessons that I learned from my parents was to step back and look at a problem from a different perspective, a more optimistic one. Quit focusing on what could happen if you act, and start asking yourself what will happen if you don’t act? It was this sense of urgency I felt when starting Anastasis Academy. It was a different kind of fear, rather than fear of the repercussions of my action, I feared what might happen if I didn’t act. Where would my students end up? What would happen if something didn’t change? My students couldn’t wait for me to be braver, they couldn’t wait until my school decided to change policies. Kids give you a built in sense of urgency because they keep growing up. It was the fear of what might happen if I didn’t act that made me start moving.

If you had asked me any of the years prior to actually starting a school if I thought I would do it, I would have given you a resounding NO! I had every excuse in the world not to move: I had no idea how to start a school, I had no money, where would the students come from, what if my ideas didn’t work, what if my best effort wasn’t enough? On and on the excuses went. Something happens when you open yourself up to possibility of movement. You begin to act in very small ways. For me, that was blogging. I thought I would share my ideas here, and others might grab onto them and put them in action. That infinitesimal, ‘safe,’ movement led to more movement. People started cheering me on from the sidelines, convincing me that I might be able to do it. Momentum breeds momentum. I’m fairly certain Newton’s Laws of Motion are true in emotional sense as well as a physical sense.

When you take those first steps into the unknown, it feels incredibly vulnerable and like a daunting task. Pretty soon as you move, the universe suddenly feels as though it is conspiring to make it so. I actually believe that it is our own awareness that shifts. Rather than focusing on what keeps us stuck, we begin to see events, connections, and supporters that we didn’t notice before. We see a pathway forward because by acting, we take away the fear to try. When we open ourselves to a new perspective, we begin to see all moments as key moments. We start to view set backs, and inconveniences, and frustration as guidance rather than road blocks. (I’m still learning the art of this part.)

It is often only in hindsight that I see how events in my life led me to this moment. As I was pushing forward, often the path didn’t make sense. It felt messy and wandering. It often felt wrong and like I was making my way through the dark.

We love TED talks, and to hear people’s stories of success, because we can see how all the pieces fit together. It feels neat and succinct and like it was the plan for the beginning. In reality, the process is always messy. It is fraught with the unknown. Hindsight gives us the ability to see where the common thread was, but believe me when I tell you…I honestly didn’t know that a blog post would lead me to start a school. I didn’t see how an edublogger alliance in 2009 would impact my journey so greatly. I was just doing the next thing in front of me. Life events influence the events that come after them. A thread seems to link them together. Of course, this depends on what we choose to give importance to and how we will act in the midst of them.

We can’t be passive in our pursuit of change in education. We can’t merely hope or voice that things should be different. We have to act. Move. Take the first step even when we aren’t sure where the journey will end up. Rather than honing in on the possibilities for failure, the voice in our head that tells is all the bad things that could happen, place your fear in what might happen if you don’t try. Act on FOMO (fear of missing out). There will be bumps in the road, it is still life, but at least we will be moving!

I’m currently working on what it means for me to continue to move as I look forward to year 6 of Anastasis Academy. Here is where that movement is happening: Kt’s Place. Join me!

 

 

Education’s Magic Bullet: happy hour

Common culture in a school is incredibly important. If you know, or have followed me online, for any amount of time, this isn’t the first time you’ve heard me say it.

When schools have a strong culture, everything else seems to work. New directions, adoption of new policy, and even technology integration goes well when there is a strong culture underpinning it.  When I was an educational consultant, I noticed this more acutely than ever before.  There are those schools that you walk into and everything seems to be working for them.  You get the distinct feeling that no matter what is thrown their way, they would end up on top.  Other schools have all the right buzz words, but felt totally dead inside.  These are the “junkies” of schools.  They are constantly looking for their next fix.  New curriculum, new administration, better data, different testing, more technology integration.  When you look at what they propose on paper it can look alluring and like it will work.  Finally, that elusive magic bullet. But despite all the right buzz-words, despite the latest and greatest new technology, it remains distinctly empty.

I’m becoming more and more convinced that what schools lack most is strong culture. There is no strength and camaraderie among the staff, the students are lacking a model of what strong community looks like, and as a result the school is left looking for their next fix.  If you don’t have a healthy culture, those fixes are, at best, temporary.  Band-aids.

What Anastasis has going for it, above all else, is a strong culture.  As a staff, we genuinely enjoy each other. We look forward to coming to work because that is where friends are.  It isn’t that we all agree completely on everything (if you want proof-mention recess duty or prototype lab organization), it isn’t that we all teach the same way, it isn’t that we all use social media to connect with other educators, it isn’t that we have the best*fill in the blank*. What makes our culture strong is that we start from a place of camaraderie and friendship. That friendship leads to great inside jokes, support for one another, lots of laughter, and trickles into a culture for the school.

Matthew and I started Anastasis with a vision and a dream.  We didn’t stop there. We’ve invited every one of those we surrounded ourselves with to be a part of that vision. Then we asked that they would dream with us.  I’ve just created a community vision board on the wall of our office where we can share those dreams visually. When everyone who comes in our school can see our vision, it is more likely to be supported, encouraged and, fulfilled.

The number one catalyst of this strong culture: shared meals and happy hours. Really. There it is, the magic bullet for education (wonder if the secretary of education will ever pick up on THAT as a policy shift). When you share a meal or a few drinks, you start to learn about each other beyond the walls of the school. Inevitably you chat about what is happening in the school as well as in life. You will make time to smile at each other, chat in the hallways, share more freely.  Students pick up on this. The atmosphere feels lighter, happier. Students see community modeled. Now, anything new that comes your way is suddenly doable, because you are doing it together. You are prepared to really support each other.

I often hear, “well sure you can have strong culture-you started the school, but you have NO idea what I am dealing with.”  You’re right, I don’t know what your exact situation is.  But here is what I do know, your biggest road block is you. Culture is possible everywhere. It doesn’t matter if you are an administrator or a science teacher. You don’t have to have administrative support to change culture, you just do it. Invite your colleagues out for happy hour or dinner. Do it regularly. (To see how I did this BEFORE I started my own school, check out this post.)

There is a meme that is going around the edu blogosphere lately. It reminds me of chain letters that I used to get (except without the threat of bad luck FOREVER at the end). The idea behind the meme is to get to know educational bloggers better. Which is pretty great. But what are we doing to get to know the wonderful people in the classroom down the hall better?

Little known fact about me: I am REALLY uncomfortable in social situations. I would so much rather meet with a few good friends than attend a get together with lots of people.  I think it boils down to my aversion to small talk. Hate. It. This is probably also the reason I have a love/hate relationship with conferences. Fear of the moments of small talk. Ew. In the beginning, building culture sometimes looks like small talk. You don’t really know each other yet so you are reduced to some uncomfortable chit-chat. But do that more than once, and you run out of chit-chat. Real conversations start to happen.  I’ve now known the majority of Anastasis staff for 3 years. We still learn about each other. I asked them questions from the meme blog post I was tagged in and learned things I didn’t know. Building community.

In addition to meals and happy hour, Anastasis staff goes to see movies together (sometimes we call it professional development).  We do yoga in the park together during the summer. A few of us started walking/running through the cemetery after school together (of course we use the Zombie Run app). Sometimes we shoot skeet together or paint together. We send each other stupid video clips and songs and pictures. We throw each other cat showers. We are silly and vulnerable.

Building culture isn’t about making everyone think the way you do. It is about doing life together and starting to understand their perspective. It is about building friendships and community that spills into what happens during the school day.  Convincing someone to use social media as a method of professional development is a whole lot easier when you have an inside joke to share with them via social media. Working together to better your school is more effective when you are dreaming together.

This isn’t impossible. You don’t have to wait for your administration to do this for you. There is no permission to seek. You have to decide it is important and you need to make the first step to making a personal connection.  Watch how it ripples and spreads through your school. A close community of educators builds a powerful culture of learning and change. It also makes everything a whole lot more fun.

A strong culture is absolutely transformational. When you have a community that works together, it changes the education conversation.

As it turns out, education’s magic bullet is happy hour.

Cheers.

 

 

And now, because I was tagged in some “Getting to know you” memes, I give you the following (Thanks @mrskmpeters, you are wonderful!).

11 Random Facts About Me1. As stated previously, small talk is SO painful. I wish I could avoid it for the remainder of my time on earth.

2. My first boyfriend and kiss was my husband @jtenkely…it was in college.

3. No, I wasn’t one of those girls who had crazy ideas about not dating…I just didn’t get asked out in high school. We’ll call it Ugly Duckling Syndrome.

4. I legitimately have taxidermiphobia. It is an actual thing. I immediately get flop sweat and hyperventilate in the face of taxidermy.

5. I’m trying to overcome said phobia with fake taxidermy. It started with a picture that I made myself and has progressed to a metal deer head hanging in my kitchen. (Jury is still out if this therapy is working.)

6. I love to cook and experiment in the kitchen. Finding a great flavor combination is so happy.

7. When I was a kid, my dad owned a wooden model rocket company called “Retro Rocket Works.” I spent a few summers at LDRS (large dangerous rocket ships).

8. When I grow up I want to be a rocket scientist. And a writer. And a graphic artist.

9. I have rheumatoid arthritis, I’ve had it since I was 9. It is a stupid disease and makes things like buttoning your own pants impossible some days.

10. I live with the MOST incredibly talented person I’ve ever met (that is saying something because my parents are pretty dang talented…see Koostik).  I seriously believe that @jtenkely can do anything. He is like an incredibly good-looking creative super hero. And he loves me…winning.

11. I love crafting and making things. In my own mind I’m the upgraded version of Martha Stewart.

 

Questions from Kristina:

1. Favorite travel destination: I love Napa…it is so low-key, beautiful  and wonderful. Wine is also involved.

2. How many passport stamps do you have? ummm, I think somewhere around 16… I’ve obviously not kept track. Most of them are to England, one to France, one to Israel, and a few Mexico.

3. Dogs or cats?  Dogs…that act like cats.  Shiba Inu is best of both worlds and SO stinking adorable.  See my instagram for proof 🙂

4. Italian or Mexican food?  If I’m cooking- Italian, If we are eating out- Mexican.

5. If only one social media outlet: Pinterest. I get sucked right in. I LOVE Twitter, but Pinterest totally feeds my inner visual geek.

6. Favorite book in 2013: I have to say, Steinbeck’s East of Eden. Our 8th graders read it, I read it as a result of a conversation I caught.  Brilliant.

7. What makes you happy? Lots of things. Sunsets are pretty great. @jtenkely is a sure bet.

8.  Favorite Friends episode: Dang, this is a tough one. I like the one where Rachel and Phobe run.

9. Choice of professional development, traditional or edcamp?  I like the more unconventional best.  I’m a little bit of an educational heretic.

10. If you were to give a TED talk, what would it be about? My TED talk would be about starting a school. It would be epic.

11. Favorite classroom stories: Student came into my computer lab, “Mrs. Tenkely, can I lick the chocolate off of my headphones?” Me: “Why is there chocolate on your headphones?” Student (very matter of fact): “They were in my pocket.”  Me: crickets…   Student: “I hide chocolate in my pockets because I’m not allowed to have it. It gets melty so I can stick my hand in my pocket and sneak it all day. I accidentally put my headphones in my pocket. So can I lick it off?”   Me: Yep, go for it…chocolate shouldn’t go to waste!

 

Your turn. Instead of tagging educational bloggers, I want you to have these conversations with others in your school. Invite them out for a drink or a meal. Talk. Build community and culture.

Live the questions now. (Real Professional Development)

“I beg you, to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.”

-Rainer Maria Rilke, 1903; in Letters to a Young Poet

 

I love this.  “Have patience with everything unresolved,” “try to love the questions themselves,” “And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now.”   We are uncomfortable with living our way into the answer.  Education has morphed over the years into an industry obsessed with the answer.  Especially in the age of high-stakes testing, we want kids to have the correct answers (preferably consistently and now).  As a result, the same is demanded of teachers.  It wasn’t always this way.  Education used to look a whole lot more like life.  Consider the apprenticeship model of education where there was a master teacher (who as it turns out was really just a master learner).  This relationship wasn’t something that happened in a controlled, pre-packaged way…it permeated everything. It was life.

As an educator and administrator, I often fight for the education-as-life model for the classroom.  It makes sense that learning should be more individualized, that it should seek questions and delight in discovery.  It is good that we fight for this.  But what about this same model for professional development?  So often professional development gets boiled down to training educators in a new tool, methodology, curriculum.  It is prepackaged. It is forced.  It assumes answers.

Education is messy.

We are in the business of people, and growth, and life.  There is so much out of our control in education and yet, as a country, we seem to be continually obsessed with the answers- questions be damned.  We have become so obsessed with the answer that we will demand that our teachers get kids to know them on command.  That they will be able to perform on the spot, like a well-trained animal.  The questions are shunned. There isn’t time!  And so, professional development begins to mirror this model.  If we demand answers out of kids, then we must train all of our teachers in exactly the same manner and we can expect that they will have all the same results.

Is anyone else picking up on how ludicrous this all is?  We aren’t dealing with widgets. We are in the business of people, and growth, and life.

We need a new era of professional development.

Any school-wide, everybody-gets-the-same-thing, professional development should be focused on building up community and culture.  When you have a cohesive culture, one focused on bringing life, the rest begins to fall into place.  When you have a strong community the questions have room to be embraced.  In this model, individuality among the staff is appreciated.  The strengths and gifts that each was hired for begin to shine.  Passion is contagious.  It allows for living the questions now.  This is the philosophy at Anastasis Academy.  I can attest to the: “Perhaps then, someday in the future, you will gradually, without even knowing it, live your way to the answer.” Incredible things happen at Anastasis Academy.  Much of what we do can’t just be packaged up and replicated.  We don’t do professional development that is focused on answers.  We live life together.  We build community and culture.  We embrace questions together and then live our way to the answer.  It isn’t always nicely packaged.  It doesn’t have predetermined nice and neat outcomes.  But it works!

What we engage together professionally would not be recognized by most districts as Professional Development.  We get together and watch movies like Buck.  Then after the movie, we go out for a bite to eat and a drink and talk about themes, hopes, dreams, fears.  This movie has nothing and everything to do with education.  We wander the streets of Philly together and let our history obsessed teacher impress us with his passion for what we are seeing.  We go along with him when he says “Wait! Stop right here and close your eyes, can you just imagine how hot this room would have been during the signing in the middle of the summer?”  We watch Saturday Night Live clips together (HVR! HVR!).  Spurred on by our students, we all read the Hunger Games, and then go together to see the midnight showing.  We eat massive amounts of pancakes at Snooze.  We take a cultural tour around Denver and meet religious leaders of religions we know little about.  We stuff ourselves with Five Guys Burgers until we vow never to eat them again.  We shoot skeet and drink whisky.  We attend conferences together.  We meet for yoga in the park.  We paint together. We visit students in the hospital.  We go to a baseball/hockey/basketball game. This is professional development.  I’ve stumbled on a little truth about educators: you can’t get them together over a meal (or anything else) very long before the conversation is dominated by talk of education.  It is our worldview.  Even when we aren’t talking education, we really are.

Without strong school culture and community, there is little to build on that is meaningful.  While we have a lot of fun together, our professional development is more than that.  It is bonding us together. It is giving us common language, metaphors and jokes.  It is living life together and allowing for something meaningful and important to take place.

It is shared humanity. 

This is the kind of professional development that is worth doing with every teacher. It builds a school infrastructure in a way that nothing else can.  It gives us permission to live in the questions, to learn from each other, and to say hard things when they need to be said.

When you walk through the hallways of Anastasis Academy, you will see a camaraderie among our staff that I haven’t seen in any other place.  Our students pick up on this.  They see that we genuinely appreciate each other, that we laugh and learn from each other.  The impact is big.

People will often say, “but how do you keep your teachers at the cutting edge (of the newest tools, tech, curriculum)?!”  Well, we don’t.  We leave that up to them.  When you give educators some autonomy in their own learning, they do it more authentically.  So, although we are a 1 to 1 iPad school, we have never had 1:1 iPad training professional development day/year.  Why?  As I said, our staff shares with each other and is comfortable in asking the questions and exploring together.  Sometimes during our shared Wednesday morning time we will have a “smack down” session where each shares something that they are geeking about at the moment.  When we learn a new method of engaging information, we share it with each other.  When we read a really great book, we recommend it to the rest of the group.  We encourage our teachers to be learners because this is the culture that has been built.  We ask a LOT of questions.  Sometimes we don’t get to an answer…yet.

We hired teachers with specialized skills and areas of real passion.  When we set out to hire a staff, we wanted to build a ball team.  It does us no good if we take our well-rounded, masterful ball team and force them to all learn the exact same thing, in the same way, at the same time.  We want our ball team to have commonality (culture), but we want them to be the BEST at what they are the best at.  We want them to live in their own areas of passion.  It contributes greatly to Team Anastasis!  Clones do us no good in a school full of unique individuals we call students.

Professional development should be in the business of living the questions now, perhaps then we can start living our way to the answers that matter.

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?”

Look where you want to go and steer in that direction: How a blog started a school

I never took drivers ed, but when I was 14, my parents took me to a driver safety course.  I remember very little of the night but one thing that stood out was the phrase: “look where you want to go and steer in that direction.”  The course instructor was offering solid advice for what to do if you hit a patch of ice and lost control of the car.  That advice stuck with me and, as I navigate Colorado winters, is something I practice regularly.  As it turns out, this has been good advice for education and life as well.  Sometimes you have to not only look at where you want to go, but steer in that direction as well.  This is how a blog led to starting a school.

I started Dreams of Education on March 8, 2010.  At the time I had filled my Google reader to the brim with post feeds from educators around the world.  I was being inspired and fed daily by my world-wide personal learning network and yet in the schools I was in, saw a very different reality of education for kids.  I had kept iLearn Technology since 2007 and really enjoyed blogging there.  To be honest, it was easy to just write a review on technology tools and how they could be used in the classroom.  It was also safe.  I didn’t have to reveal too much of myself.  But in March of 2010 I couldn’t stay “silent” any longer.  I needed a place to dream and invite others to dream with me.  I used this blog to look at where I wanted education to go and started steering in that direction.  Here I am 478 days later starting a school.  It sounds much more neat and tidy and perfectly planned in writing than it is in reality.

During this time last year I had just left a teaching position I really loved.  I had to leave for health reasons and to be truthful, I wasn’t completely ready to leave.  I loved the students I taught.  They energized me and gave me a sense of professional purpose-they needed me.  I had just packed up my classroom and handed off my job to another. It was freeing, and terrifying, and exciting, and rotten.

I always felt like a bit of an outsider at the school where I taught.  I couldn’t seem to just let the status quo be and was constantly pushing the envelope and questioning why we did everything the way we did.  I consistently felt a sense of urgency for change because we were dealing with kids who kept growing and couldn’t wait around for us to get it right next year.  I couldn’t accept the ‘good enough’ mentality.  I found the place I fit in on Twitter and in an online network of educators from around the world.  Here I found other educators who believed that kids deserved better now.  Suddenly I wasn’t an outsider but part of a movement in education to make a change.  Don’t get me wrong, I am thankful for the school where I spent the past 7 years.  It provided a place for me to grow and interact with other wonderful educators and gave me the freedom to develop my own programs and work with teachers.  At the end of the day, we just have different visions for learning.  I was willing to push for change, they were comfortable in the routines that they had in place.

Leaving my classroom and my students was hard. I didn’t quite know what to do with myself, it felt like summer never ended because come August I wasn’t preparing my classroom and computers for the following year.  No re-imaging machines, no bulletin boards, no sending cards over the summer to my students. It was strange.  I worked with several area schools on social media, technology integration and professional development.  I took home boxed curriculum and dreamed up ways to expand their offering with technology and more engaging activities.

On September 28, 2010 I was working on aligning technology activities to reading curriculum.  As is my habit, I was multi-tasking. Listening to Pandora, chiming into #edchat on Twitter, tinkering with new tech sites, and working on the curriculum alignment.  As I was working and chatting and listening a song came on that I had never heard before.  I scrambled to find a sticky note so that I could write down the artist before the song changed (for the record it was Zee Avi).  I sat there amazed that technology had come to the point that it can predict what kind of music I will like based on just one bit of information.  Because I was elbow deep in the ridiculousness that is boxed curriculum, I started to wonder why curriculum didn’t look more like Pandora.  I threw out the following on Twitter: “What if curriculum looked more like Pandora?”  Immediately I started getting retweets and comments like, “say more about that” and “exactly, curriculum should be more customized.”

I couldn’t seem to shake the idea of curriculum looking more like Pandora. For a blogger that means it is time to sit down and write.  Over the summer I had gotten into the habit of starting every day with a TED talk or RSA animate video with breakfast.  That morning I happened to watch Where Good Ideas Come From by Steven Johnson.  I started wondering if there might not be something to these hunches I was having and wrote the post When Hunches Collide.  It has been my most popular post on Dreams of Education to date.  In the post I wrote out some thoughts on curriculum, hiring teachers, community involvement in schools, #twitacad, and innovation lab.  The post was truly just a collection of unfinished thoughts, a place to get them out of my head.  I didn’t know it at the time but September 28 was a “steer in that direction” kind of day.

In the first weeks of December, one of my Twitter PLN @DoremiGirl introduced me to @ianchia.  Ian is an app developer in Australia who was working on an app called Send Felicity and was looking for input from educators.  Yoon knew that I geeked out about technology, specifically Apple products, and introduced us.  Ian and I immediately hit it off.  After a handful of fantastic conversations I told Ian about this crazy idea I had to make curriculum look more like Pandora.  I wanted to know from a developer standpoint if this crazy idea was feasible to even build.  Ian reassured me that it was possible and pointed me to some tools I could use to prototype my idea.  Suddenly it seemed like I was surrounded by people who were pouring into helping make my idea a reality. Business minds who were making recommendations, developers who were pointing me toward wireframing tools, educators who would listen to my craziness and reassure me that it was worth pursuing.  The Learning Genome was born.

One of the business people I met along the way introduced me to an educator in Denver Public School System.  He told me very little about him just that “you should meet, I think you might find some overlaps.”  Jason and I set up a time to meet at a local bookstore.  I showed up, he did not. Miscommunication in dates/times.  That weekend was the COLearning 2.0 conference in Colorado.  Several teachers that I used to work with joined me at the conference.  A discussion began in the first session about how classrooms could look different.  One of my colleagues and I were IMing each other like crazy as the discussion unfolded.  A gentleman sitting across the room from us was saying all of the things we were typing back and forth. It was a little creepy, like we had some how tapped into this guy’s brain with our instant messaging and were now controlling his thoughts.  After the session, my colleague @matthewquigley went to talk to the gentleman whose mind we had been controlling.  As it turns out it was none other than the Jason that I was supposed to meet at the book store.  Small world.  We talked more about what schools could/should look like. We dreamed together right there in the hallway and made plans to meet the following Monday.

Jason has been developing a new school design.  He has re-imagined the school day, year, staffing and financial model.  His goal was to open a charter school in DPS based on this model.  The problem: he wasn’t exactly sure what learning might look like in this new structure.  Light bulb moment.  This is why the business associate wanted us to meet.  I walked Jason through my Learning Genome prototypes and described my vision for how learning could look different.  Synergy.  At the conference, Matthew and I mentioned that we had been dreaming for years about what a school could look like and that someday we would like to start a school of our own.  We were thinking YEARS down the road.  Jason challenged us. Why not now?  Jason has quite the educational background and has been involved in 13 school start-ups. He let us know that the 6th month time frame we were staring down was a big task but not impossible.  We were intrigued.

Jason met with me in March to sketch out a rough timeline of what it would take to start a school by fall of 2011.  It was a lot.  Never one to back down from a challenge, I started seriously considering the possibility and even spat out a few blog posts casually mentioning the idea.  At the same time, I wrote a post here about Charlotte Mason because I had just completed a day of internship at one of the schools I was working at.  The leader of the school pointed some prospective parents to my blog (who happened to know me from my previous teaching position).  In addition to seeing my Charlotte Mason post, they saw my “working on starting a school” post.  The next day I got a call from two families asking me about the school I was starting.  We talked at length about the vision of the school, what it could look like and what it could do for kids.  The families asked if we could sit down and talk more about it.  On March 29 three incredible families agreed to take on this journey with us.  Anastasis Academy was born.

This blog, Dreams of Education, started a school.  It let me look at where I wanted to go, leaving it up to me to steer in that direction.  Those little hunches that came one blog post at a time turned into big ideas.  I think all too often in education we spend so much time looking at where we want to go that we forget the steering in that direction piece.  The vision is important but without action it remains just another good idea.  We can’t wait for someone else to tackle education.  Our students can’t afford to wait for us to get it right in a few years. Their needs are here and require answers now.

It is up to us to look at where we want to go and steer in that direction.

 

**I am learning that there is a story being told through the creation of this school. This post is just a SMALL piece of that story.  If you are interested in how my partner in crime @matthewquigley fits into all of this you should check out his new blog.  I’ll work on getting him to keep posting 🙂