Finding a Foothold for STEAM Inquiry

Larry Myatt, ERC Co-Founder

The first time I heard mention of McLaughlin Middle School STEAM, I was part of a series of keynote remarks at a STEAM-Ahead event organized by Bob Baines, founder and Executive Director of STEAM-Ahead NH. It was held at Dyn, Corp. in Manchester, an early and passionate support of STEAM-Ahead. Here we were, assembled on the very cool work-floor meeting space of a major high-technology firm –community leaders, educators, policy makers and business and corporate representatives—easily a crowd of over a hundred. 

As part of the event, two McLaughlin students were asked to speak briefly about their learning on the school’s brand new STEAM team. Not only were these two 13-year olds poised and confident, they were able to speak in detailed, mature ways about their intellectual growth in a way I seldom hear (sadly) from middle-schoolers.

After the audience rewarded them warmly I went over and listened in as the students reconnected with their waiting teachers. I was impressed right away with the relationships among the small group and the very STEM-like debrief of form and content they conducted right away, informal but structured. “Something is going on over there”, I noted.

At that same event, the next group of students, from a STEAM team at Manchester’s West High School, not only talked about their project activities, they tasked the audience to engage on the spot in some table-based hands-on design challenges. Another home run with the crowd.

The kids I met there that day were not all the typical “best-and-the-brightest”, pre-screened into the programs, but, I was told, a very mixed ability groups of kids. Yet each one I met was capable of a level of “meta” thinking that told me these are capable, growing young people. I would have loved to have had my own kids in this kind of school setting.

Much to my delight, I got an email not too much later from Bob Baines, asking if I could accompany him to meet McLaughlin teachers and Principal Bill Krantz on my next visit to STEAM at West. The meeting was great. We exchanged perspectives and ideas on where we thought things stood and how they could develop. I could tell right away these teachers were game, had an appetite to grow and learn, and inquiry teaching and projects had rejuvenated and inspired them.

Baines brought key ingredients, a vision of connected programming in the city and incentive funding from the NH Department of Education grant and the local Bean Foundation, for release time and the needed high-touch coaching and professional development as the school planned for growing the STEAM program. The meeting resulted in a commitment for me to begin work there this past winter.

I’ve just finished a recent couple days there on an arc of deep conversation that the teachers engaged in quickly and intensely. As usual, we talk about the constraints of traditional school structure and flaws in the design, and how they mitigate against deep learning. We move on to productive practices, sharing what they notice about their students’ learning, what things feed them as teachers to endure the relentless pace, and milestone achievements they hope they can pursue. Wherever I travel, sharing ideas is most often cited as one of the highlights for teachers when we do our debriefs. So many teachers are hungry for a chance at serious, meaningful conversation that they don’t get often enough.

McLaughlin founding STEAM-er’s Callahan Goulet and Christina Stavenger brought a thoughtful and research-based DIY approach to early STEAM. They traveled and visited people doing similar work in and beyond STEAM-Ahead NH. They began to use their energy, collaboration and commitment to work differently with kids.

They opened up their classroom dividing walls; students sit in small teams facing each other, Chromebooks at the ready, orderly yet buzzing on the days I visit. Things are often hands-on here, connected to important issues in the world, and pursued in a team fashion that closely mimics the “21st century workplace environment we espouse but seldom replicate in most schools.

In our sessions we’ve worked to grow cognitive dissonance (and put it to best use), conducted charrettes to plan projects, mapped out big ideas and questions from their standards,  created and unpacked Learning Murals via our Visual Provocation Protocol. We created an early draft of a year-long array of projects and activities, smartly blended with direct instruction, drill and practice, lecture burst, etc., hallmarks of more traditional teaching. It’s a nice mix of pedagogy that invites different learning styles. Much of what they do is really good for learning, but to many it’s different and unfamiliar. It’s different for some students, and to teacher peers, and for some parents who want to see “teaching” that they recognize and consider good instruction from their school days. The STEAM teachers understand the reasons behind this range of opinions as accept it as part of trying to do business differently. Their job is to help more kids grow and be successful without putting traditional learners at risk, something far better done through inquiry teaching than by other means I find, and research suggests.

Our adult work is scholarly. I push. We talk a lot about the need to erase lines –the lines between subject matter and big ideas, the schedule and the pacing that move things along in a way that makes it hard for many kids to thrive as thinkers, as growing adolescents finding out what they may capable of. The STEAM teachers respond with thoughtful ideas and questions. To me, it’s what “PLC’s” (I dislike acronyms) could really be like. It’s the kind of intellectual work I recognize from being a teaching principal at Fenway High School, and the kind of intellectual work that experience, research and neuroscientists tell us is good for our brains and is the way more schools are going to do business.

I add here that I don’t like the acronym “PBL” either. Too easy to see it as an idea grafted loosely on to conventional teaching, as “dessert”. Instead, I like wrapping all these ideas up as inquiry learning, part of the overdue yet irresistible shift from the culture of teaching to a culture of learning. I see inquiry learning as an effort to get beyond the persistent mental model that one gains knowledge by “the presentation of established facts” -a mental model that portrays a false but appealingly smooth path to knowledge.  Whether it’s posing big questions, building and making, pursuing problems or wrestling down real-life scenarios, I see these as kindred brands of inquiry learning. These are the ways in which learning opportunities surface in the “real world”, quite different from those that are briefly granted on the academic conveyor belt, a set of sorting processes within a setting that remain intentionally apart from people and daily life.

But programs like STEAM need different conditions, more like the “real-world”. The track record of support for these efforts is poor in many districts and schools. Work of this kind can happen more routinely in affluent, independent settings, but in public schools it often bumps up against the predictable obstacles –history, culture, systems clash. (*For a great primer on these issues, see Charles Percy’s acute “So Much Reform”). Programming like STEAM is routinely unable to grow and thrive inside the traditional architecture of our secondary schools, sooner or later being sucked back into the traditional schedule, contract, instructional motif, culture and belief system. Add to that budget cuts, larger class sizes, and a teach-to-the-test mind-set and calendar that constrain deeper learning, and it’s not easy going for a seedling to emerge and plant itself firmly, be it Manchester or elsewhere.

I’m rooting for everyone at the McLaughlin. I see the STEAM program as good stuff for kids and teachers, connected to practices and perspectives that we sorely need given the poor results of our last 15 years of policies and mandates. If standards and testing was the right recipe, the private schools would have joined in long ago, right? The STEAM brand of teaching, just like that at their sister school, West High, can be a good fit for the high-achiever, but not only him/her, but also for the newly-emerging thinker who wants to take school more seriously than it takes him/her, for the student who likes to build and tinker rather than listen, and for the curious kids who like to ask what it all means. That’s why colleges and employers are after students who have some STEAM experience in their education. And it’s good for the teachers I see and work with--they get to plan, to grow, to take each other seriously as people and professionals. Here’s hoping the McLaughlin program can grow and prosper.

If you have more questions about what inquiry learning can look like , projects and achievement, etc. you can go to these Web links:

Positive brain development from hands-on learning:

Inquiry and projects in the private school world:

Inquiry learning with high-challenge schools and students:

Math in the middle years:



Volume 1, ERC EdHistory 101 Project

Ellwood Cubberley (1868-1941)

Applying industrial management theory to school leadership was the signature idea of Ellwood Cubberley, giving rise to what we experience as modern school administration.

Cubberley was born in Andrews, Indiana, and was educated at the University of Indiana and Columbia University. After brief stints as a classroom teacher, college instructor and president of Vincennes University, Cubberley became superintendent of schools in San Diego-a position that influenced his long career as professor and dean of the School of Education at Stanford University.

At the outset of Cubberley's career, school administration had little or no theoretical or scientific basis. There were no formal textbooks from which to teach educational administration. Administrators were expected to learn solely from experience. Indeed, educational administration posts were routinely political plums, requiring little, if any, formal training in education.

Relying on new industrial management science theories, Cubberley designed an “administrative” system for schools, led by a professional class of superintendents and principals. His hierarchical model professionalized school leadership at that time and became the standard.As head of the Department of Education at Stanford, Cubberley trained cohorts of administrators in the “science of school management”.                       

To some, Cubberly is a controversial figure in the history of education. He has been criticized for his emphasis on efficiency and bureaucracy to solve complex educational problems. For example, Cubberley wrote: “We should give up the exceedingly democratic idea that all are equal and that our society is devoid of classes. The employee tends to remain an employee; the wage earner tends to remain a wage earner.”

In the 1934 edition of Ellwood P. Cubberley’s Public Education in the United States he is explicit - a statement occurs in a section of Public Education called "A New Lengthening of the Period of Dependence," in which he explains that the coming of the factory system, which has deprived children of the training and education that farm and village life once gave, has made extended childhood necessary. With the breakdown of home and village industries, the passing of chores, and the extinction of the apprenticeship system by large-scale production with its extreme division of labor, an army of workers has arisen who have little or no knowledge.Furthermore, modern industry needs such workers.”


According to Cubberley, with "much ridicule from the public press" the old book-subject curriculum was set aside, replaced by a change in purpose and "a new psychology of instruction which came to us from abroad." That reference to a new psychology refers to collectively-developing practices of European schooling particularly common to England, Germany, and France, three other major world coal-powers investing heavily in military and industrial science.

His influence extended far beyond the nature of training and certification of administrators. His writing was powerful and influential concerning what constituted the best situations and arrangements for learning from childhood into adulthood. Communities across the nation strived for decades, as a matter of public pride, to adopt the practices and systems that he espoused. 

For better or for worse, Cubberley’s influence on American schools has been deep and lasting. He is the father of professionalized school administration, and his beliefs regarding the acquired knowledge of the times and the ways to apply it to America’s citizenry influenced learners, parents, teachers and administrators through the Second World War and beyond.

Thanks to PBS School & the Odysseus Group

In NH’s White Mountains: STEM, Inquiry, and Technology—an Integrated Platform for School Change

Katrina Kennett, ERC Consulting Practitioner

Katrina Kennett, ERC Consulting Practitioner

Mike Berry is a man with a plan.

Although he has some constraints ---he’s pretty far from a lot of places, he’s limited in his pay scale, and other schools like to “borrow” his staff— he has shared a vision that is catching on. “More success for more kids” is his simple driver.

With support from his district administration, and with smart convening of local business and community members to explain and gain support for his ideas, Berry is bringing his North Country school to prominence and setting up to transform its design from the 19th to the 21st century.

White Mountains Regional High School is an exciting place to work. You can come here to grow as an educator. For me, it’s a return to my roots – I grew up in Concord NH --and it’s great to see this kind of work flourishing in the Granite State. We’ve had a decade-long run of master planning, testing and conventional thinking. Some people are betting on performance assessment, blended technology approaches, competency-based grading, or yet another (!) revival of mastery learning. None of these change the fundamental arrangements of school, arrangements that no longer serve us. As someone who plies her trade helping schools to plan super-thoughtfully and involve students in deep ways, it’s exciting to find this kind of work.


STEM as one launching pad

Among other things, Berry caught on to the promise of STEAM Ahead-NH and has invested in a new vertical STEM initiative coordinated by Mellissa Jellison. Next year, they will add a new grade cohort and, with the addition of an arts/design component, become STEAM.  Central to Jellison and her colleagues’ work is inquiry teaching and putting the “thrill” back into students’ daily experiences.  Mike is totally on board with that shift as a lever to achieve his mission of more success for more kids, and is using ERC tools to move it forward, flattening out leadership, and inviting others who are excited to help grow and contribute.

I made my way back to NH from Illinois when Mike Berry was looking for STEM professional development and connected with my colleague and ERC Co-Founder Larry Myatt.  Berry says that potential vendors for STEM p.d. came out of the woodwork, but in a conference call he and his people recognized Larry’s breadth of experience and proof points, and his “DIY” approach to renewing schools resonated with them. By DIY, we mean that we believe that schools don’t need the pre-packaged, highly prescriptive “how-to” manuals to be great, but that school people can believe in themselves, marshal their resources, and grow their own capacity to improve and flourish.

Mike Berry at Fall Forum

Mike Berry at Fall Forum

Upon arriving, Larry connected right away with staff, brought in some new “big ideas” and framing that resonated with Berry’s own philosophy.  Larry also helps to coach the administrative team on moving the changes forward.  Says Berry, “The mantra that we’ve taken from ERC is the need for shift from a culture of teaching to a culture of learning, and all that goes with that. We believe we can build it right here, and do what’s been almost impossible for high schools to do up to now – take a traditional model and transform it for students who’ll take over a world we adults can’t even understand.”


Teachers as Learners

My work with Berry has been in supporting his staff as they learn about technology and integrate it to support inquiry practices in their classrooms. In interactive, large-group workshops (in-person and remotely), I invite teachers to have fun being learners with new tools and platforms, even when it’s frustrating or confusing, as new technology can be. This means they do all the things we want students doing – working hands -on, discovering, struggling, and reflecting, then applying their experience and knowledge to their own ongoing work.

In my conversations with teachers as they learn with new tools, I keep bringing them back to three critical questions: What do you want your students to walk away knowing? What kinds of questions would you like your students to be asking?  What’s the “so what,’ and why is it important? 

Mellison Jellison and STEAM 9 students

Mellison Jellison and STEAM 9 students

Not a ‘one-and-done’ version of learning with technology, our sessions provide devoted time to look at a variety of tools for curating and archiving student work. And, I use research-based instructional strategies that bring together teachers’ learning over time. One of my favorite strategies is the use of EdCafes, (See link) which almost always raise the levels of energy and creativity in a collegial setting that transfers directly to work with students.

However, direct support of teachers isn’t enough to sustain meaningful school-wide change. My sessions need to be part of a larger, overall story of change within a culture of learning – instructional, cultural, intellectual (for both students and teachers), and developmental.

It’s big and it’s challenging, but that’s what it takes and that’s why I love this work. To help the instructional leaders work both on-the-ground and at the 10,000 foot level, I coach them to keep their sights on those three core questions as they work with faculty. This coaching involves assessing ongoing school PD rhythms and routines, helping folks to keep an eye on outcomes, and continuing to create authentic situations for teachers to present their ongoing practice. I see it as solid and intentional instructional design. White Mountains’ administrators and coaches have joined me in “thinking like a teacher” as they support the intellectual and creative growth of their staff. 


Down the Road

There are other moving parts to the White Mountains DIY plan. Ron Danault, a veteran computer instructor is thriving in an on-going MIT-designed coding seminar that helps him to teach programming by becoming a coder himself. That work is part of “TeachCode Academy”, a partnership among the Governor’s STEM task force, STEAM-Ahead NH,  the Manchester School District, UNH-Manchester, and Dyn Corporation. To me, Ron is a great example of a sharp teacher taking on new challenges.  Berry has also invited CTE people from culinary arts, horticulture, and pre-veterinary studies, among others, to join STEAM professional development activities delving into inquiry-teaching and being a part of project design and tuning. Myatt recently worked with the entire high school staff for a big picture exploration of instructional design of their own making and flavor, using an inquiry approach to build teacher and student curiosity and capacity.

In early December, Berry presented a portion of his plan at a national Coalition of Essential Schools conference in Providence, RI.  Joining him there for an intense three days of workshops, networking and progressive education history were Jellison, Ryan Patterson, science teacher with the STEAM team, and Jeanine LaBounty, who now supports teachers at the school in addition to her teaching. I was there to see Mike’s pitch and it reminded me why I’m excited about my work with WMRHS. They believe in themselves! They are invested in developing their own capacity to decide what and how to teach, how to turn more over to the students, and in each other. It’s a great story at a time when other schools think they have to buy blended learning platforms and color-coded diagnostics to make their schools better.

Larry addresses White Mountain staff

Larry addresses White Mountain staff

In the near future, Berry envisions more External Learning Opportunities (ELO’s) to connect students with their passions and with resources beyond the confines of the school. He sees opportunities for more plentiful and robust internships, coordinated by teacher Patsy Ainsworth.  Part of the big idea is to be intentional about bringing community members into the high school to work directly with students. He is also interested in networking with other ERC schools that are committed to projects and inquiry, becoming a regional “center of activity” – a place where people recognize that they can learn from the thoughtful things that are happening. Under consideration is hosting a summertime school development and re-design institute with instructional, technology, and leadership strands. I’m counting on being a part of that!

I’m rooting for these proud and independent educators and am pleased and proud of their commitment to Mike Berry’s words, making school a place of more success for more kids.

STEAM 9 classroom with Ryan Patterson coaching a forensics examination

STEAM 9 classroom with Ryan Patterson coaching a forensics examination

For more on this story – contact



Greetings and Happy New Year from ERC

All signs point to 2017 being an interesting year.

We’ve been asking our colleagues and friends in different parts of the nation about the mood in their communities and schools. Some of the concerns we heard weren’t surprising: anxiety over what we can expect from the incoming administration, and from the Congress; more debate on charter schools; how to meet the demand for services to struggling children and families. We also heard about trying to find more helpful, and more worthy, accountability approaches than school report cards (that’s been a refrain for a while now); how to honor the demand for personalization in standardized school environments; how to keep the excitement of learning in a time of standards and testing, etc.

In the face of these many issues some school people, good soldiers they are, will gear up for yet another proscribed run at success, likely guided by a master plan that emanated from a state department of education, a well-intentioned philanthropy with its own pet framework and money to lend , or a think tank associated with someone’s agenda.  Or some hybrid of all three. However, as we urged last fall, (see link) other folks are beginning to coalesce around a “DIY” mentality, feeling that this is a good time to break from the cycle of the last 15 years,  to think more transformationally, to believe in their own capacity and skills.

In keeping with our belief that there is no time like now for school folks to take matters into our own hands in 2017, we will be featuring stories of schools on the move, and adding some cogent topics as a part of EdHistory 101 Project – a new effort to revisit some key historical events and perspectives that continue to shape schooling in this country. We believe that knowing our history – the issues, beliefs,  and language of other times-  presents opportunities for us to reframe and reimagine.  

To accompany our EdHistory 101 Project we continue to offer coaching, expertise, strategies, speakers and facilitators and TREK (see link) resources for schools wanting to look at serious redesign.

If you’re curious and want to connect with us and others who want to have a different kind of conversation about the future of schools in your community, please contact us.

We wish you an energetic and rewarding New Year in your work with schools, communities, partners, parents and students.


See Wayne's New Year's resolution link here.


Larry Myatt and Wayne Ogden    


My New Year’s Wishes for School Principals and the Kids They Serve

I know what you’re thinking, New Year’s resolutions are ridiculous and unattainable! But, that can’t keep me for wishing for things that would make the lives of students, teachers and principals better.

So, here they are—MY seven wishes for 2017—for every overworked and under-resourced school principal on the planet.

Supply every school principal with a budget he/she deems worthy of the kids they serve.

Grant each and every school an instructional coach for every eight classroom teachers. These coaches are to focus exclusively on working with teachers to improve learning and teaching.

Provide each school with sufficient professional staff to promote the social, physical and emotional health of every student since we know that “intact”, healthy and resilient kids learn better.

Lengthen the school day to ensure that there is time for students to study the fine and applied arts , as well as participate in “extra curricular” activities.

Provide a full year moratorium from unfunded (or lightly-funded) state and federal mandates related to education.

Provide an additional one year moratorium on the high-stakes testing of kids and let’s see if anyone suffers.

Provide every student with a facility that’s as nice as a room in one of our President Elect’s 6 star hotels.

What would you add if this was your New Year’s Resolution and you were dreaming big for our children?

Wayne Ogden

New Mexico’s Leadership High School Network Celebrates Grant Opportunities

ERC became a central part of an exciting school initiative, when Co-Founder Larry Myatt was invited to co-plan and facilitate the September 2016 retreat of the Leadership High School Network in Albuquerque, NewMexico. Hosted at the Tamaya Resort and Conference Center north of the city, staff members, administrators and board members from the four network schools –ACE Leadership (architecture, construction and engineering), Health Leadership (allied community health care), Technology Leadership, and Siembra (entrepreneurism)- had a chance for a deep look at the promise and practices of their network .  

Larry Myatt facilitates a core practices activity

Larry Myatt facilitates a core practices activity

Tamaya Resort

Tamaya Resort

The LHS Network was a recent recipient of a major grant from the ECMC Foundation to advance the work of its schools in tight coordination with its corporate and community partners. See link. Myatt, with more than a decade of experience working in Albuquerque, was a part of the original design team for the network schools and has assisted Tony Monfiletto, Executive Director of the NM Center for School Leadership, and Justin Trager, Director of Networks for the Center, with thought partnership in innovation, redesign, and systems building. He was featured last year in a TED talk addressing the city’s readiness to move in dynamic ways with its schools. See link. “What’s exciting for me about working with the Center in Albuquerque”, said Myatt, “is the willingness to adopt new structures and think differently about time and learning. There is no reliance on the industrial age notions of school.  And, of course a model that is super responsive to students and families and treats partners as just that, co-decision-makers with a valued perspective. A grant of this size and nature reflects the potential of this network and the NM Center to break important new ground, especially for students and families who have not yet been well-served in traditional settings.”

LHS Network school executive directors Kara Cortazzo, Blanca Lopez and Tori Shauger

LHS Network school executive directors Kara Cortazzo, Blanca Lopez and Tori Shauger

Part of the retreat was a review by Dr. Myatt of the history and research of the Youth Transition Funders Group across a number of urban centers, including their focus on supporting vulnerable youth at risk of dropping out of school and re-engaging many that have left.  The LHS Network has made a singular commitment to serving those students in its schools.  For information on developing a multiple pathways approach to support a wider range of students, go here.

Everette Hill leads a session at Tamaya

Everette Hill leads a session at Tamaya

Also planning and facilitating the Network event was Everette Hill, Managing Director of Albuquerque’s Social Innovation Strategies Group, another long-time friend of the network and former executive director for the NM Forum for Youth in Community. The retreat offered participants a chance to re-examine and recommit to school and network principles and to identify key practices and distinguishers. Over the course of the two days, affinity groups gave board members from the four schools a chance to connect with other governance and strategy partners, as well as connecting in cross-role groups with executive directors, pillar leaders in student support, community engagement and project learning to broaden the understanding of how each school as well as the network could gain from best practices, public engagement and action research.

For more information on the NM Center for School Leadership or the Leadership Network High Schools, go here.


Back to School 2016 – “it’s a DIY moment”

People in my professional world are heading back to school these days. I know, because I’ve been getting calls to plan projects and activities, conduct trainings, coach leaders and even give the occasional rousing speech.

Here’s what I say when I’m asked, and even when I’m not: 2016 is the year to grab the educational reins back. Right now. Starting this month. This is your classroom, your school, your school district. It’s your DIY moment.


Why am I so convinced?

We’ve already lost a generation to NCLB and other such b.s.

Paraphrasing the Beatles, it was 20 years ago today, or thereabouts, that we educators gave ourselves up to top-down standards and the allure of master planning. Consider this: this year’s high school seniors have lived their entire scholastic lives under No Child Left Behind. 

And so have educators. We weren’t capable of choosing methods and materials, we were told; the details needed to come from a higher perch, far “above” the school and classroom. With luck, the bureaucrats thought they could teacher-proof methods and materials. Jal Mehta’s The Allure of Order, the title of which pretty much says it all, is essential reading.  It will help you understand the folly of this policy as well as the essentials of our educational history.

How have we done after 20 years under the thumb? Results of recent NAEP scores, the nation’s “report card”, are some of the least hopeful since the early 1990s, particularly given the massive expenditures and smothering effects on schools, especially those who serve largely poor students. 2015 high school reading scores are lower than 1992, as one example. The Washington, D.C.-based Education Trust, supported by the major foundations one would guess, and which bills itself as a “fierce advocate for high achievement”, called the NAEP results “sobering”, and “another wake-up call”. Does that language sound familiar? The fact that this comment comes from a group staffed and led by a board of academics that have been “promoting and supporting federal and state policies” for the past generation brings with it no small irony. For added interest, check out Marion Brady’s essay.


Some want to believe that our schools just haven’t squeezed hard enough, or that we just haven’t put all the plan’s ingredients in order. I reply, “Hardly.” Strategies and policies cannot and do not “correct” for real, live people and the idiosyncrasies of individual learning.


Further, I say, time and energy spent pursuing fantasy targets such as SLOs or parsing DIBELs is largely wasted. Such notions are contrived and artificial, and although organizing them may make us feel productive, they are routinely trumped by values and culture, and have shown little enduring impact in meeting the social and intellectual needs of young people.


When we bother to ask, kids are responding in almost every survey, that the longer they are in school, the less interesting and meaningful it becomes. Even those who do well academically – gaining status, honors and scholarships -- say school is boring and largely irrelevant to their lives.


Many teachers and principals with whom I work are hesitant and uncertain. The top-down standards and testing slog has left many with a spent feeling.  It’s hard to muster enthusiasm to do more of the same. Those are breeding grounds that threaten to de-energize us or, worse, to incubate cynicism.


There’s one remaining element of why we need to own our schools again, starting today. The students in our classroom have changed. How? Social scientists and observers conclude that notions of “family” have changed. Marital and parenting bonds are looser, incomes are down, and adults are working more for the same or less money. Family time has become a scarcer commodity. Kids absorb the results and they bring them to school.


And twenty-five years ago, kids more likely sat around the TV in the living room, where Mom or Dad controlled the programming. The present generation may be spending 20 to 30 hours or more a week (especially if you include smartphones) on recreational screen time. The brand of direct parenting of yesteryear has largely been replaced by a new, more diffuse environment where kids are in their rooms, wrestling with Facebook. They’re outdoors less, and far less involved in neighborhood, multi-age group play. The brain’s quest for novelty and stimuli contribute to making school, with its list of standards, and its five-paragraph essays on topics unrelated to their lives and interests, a disconnecting yawner.  We can hardly compete for real interest and enthusiasm. As B.B. King said, “the thrill is gone”.


It’s up to us….


So, I’m telling school people that in 2016, the only promising way forward is muster the will to do it ourselves. To renew our profession and our communities by building skills and capacity, improving culture and systems, in the way we know that work needs doing. That’s our advantage – we know the work at the granular level.


On the upbeat side, we educators understand that, despite the external forces, young people still come to school every day wanting to do well, to use their minds, to connect. They ask themselves, “Does this teacher know me?”, “Is she interested in my future?” They’re making an overarching daily calculation, “Can I work with and learn from these adults?”  School folks have to account for, and own, that calculus.


What does ownership look like? First things first. The adults “in the room” must determine the fabric of the school, in reference to their own bonds with the institution and with each other. We’re asking our own questions about our situation: “How committed are we to each other’s success and to this fragile institution?”  “Do we have the time, freedom and support to work deeply with each other with the right menu?” and, perhaps most important, at the individual level, “How much am I willing to invest?”  If school administrators and teacher leaders commit to creating a culture where the answers to these questions are the right ones, the odds are largely in our favor.


There is no way around these issues. No policy advice survives this rarified air. These are the real questions that move people, and schools, forward. That’s why this fall I’m telling educators that the only promising way forward is to do it ourselves. To renew our profession and our communities by finding the will, by building skills and capacity, refreshing culture and systems, in the ways we know it needs to be done.


In the 1980’s, Judith Warren-Little gave us the elements of a simple and elegant recipe for making a school great: teachers planning lessons together; teachers talking about their students’ learning; teachers watching each other teach and making improvements; and teachers rooting for each other and their students. There they are – the conditions we need to restore our faith in each other, in the young people and their families-- the conditions to do it ourselves.


If you'd like to take action in your school, consider TREK" go to this link.


Dr. Larry Myatt
Education Resources Consortium




A Conversation Among Friends

In late June I had the good fortune to be among the attendees at a memorial event for Ted Sizer, organized and attended by many of the people he taught and worked with and otherwise touched during his decade at Brown University. Held at the campus, “A CONVERSATION AMONG FRIENDS” welcomed more than one-hundred people to the campus center.


Theodore Sizer

Theodore Sizer

Special guests were the new Brown MAT’s, who had the chance to explore Ted’s work with three older generations of “Ted heads”. As part of the event, they received copies of Ted’s magnum opus, Horace’s Compromise, which I was asked to recall for the Coalition of Essential Schools “Year of Demonstration”. 

Speaker Jed Lippard, touched a nerve with many when he recalled a recent meeting of young educators, almost none of whom had read Sizer’s works. For that reason alone, it was great to have the face to face time with the MAT’s, along with back-up from seasoned Essential schoolers, many of us who considered Ted to be the Dewey of our time. The eagerness and intellect of those current graduate students was super refreshing to me. They identified with the book and they brought broad and astute perspectives on issues from Compromise - teachers’ beliefs and choices, collaborative practice, believing in young people and helping them to use their minds well. An additional theme was their recognition of the plight of educators on the front lines being asked to implement unhelpful policies and practices. It reminded me of Ted’s exhortation to policy makers – “provide the resources needed and get out of the way”, advice that remains unheeded. That these young professionals, all of them striving to know and learn more, could already see the need for those closest to the classroom to lead the changes needed was a near-perfect affirmation of Ted’s Common Principles. And right here on the campus where Ted made so much happen.  

Another striking reminder to me was the reach and gravitas of the many CES veterans who attended, friendly faces who had led a range of exciting, progressive efforts to the places they had chosen to dig in -school and district leaders, college professors and teacher developers, writers,  school coaches, teachers from across the K-12 spectrum. The degree to which Ted‘s ideas and convening magic had propelled so many of our careers is astounding, as were the many shared memories of what made Ted special –his gentle, courtly ways that belied his passion, his stunning grasp of the ecology of the schoolhouse (equaled only to me by Seymour Sarason), his clarity of thought and expression, the special attention he always gave to the youngest in the room, be they the children of staff, high-schoolers or new teachers.

 In closing, there was much talk of a fabulous Fall Forum in Providence this coming December.  There was also talk that fund-raising and the cooperation of the Brown Development Office will make “A CONVERSATION AMONG FRIENDS” an annual spring event and that wider notice and participation will follow. Bigger and better sounds great to me, although the size and enthusiasm of those in attendance this year was already a remarkable and uplifting way to enter the summer.  See you there next June! And thanks again, Ted.


Larry Myatt


Education Resources Consortium




Gathering STEAM in New Hampshire

“Steam” was in the air in New Hampshire in early May as STEAM-Ahead NH held a spring summit for schools and collaborators to propel its state-wide STEM initiative. Held at the state-of-the-art Dyn facility in Manchester, the event welcomed over 100 educators and collaborator to explore the potential of STEAM programming to motivate students and help prepare them for careers in growing fields. And, as presenters suggested, as a way to help schools make changes in instructional programming, structure and culture.

Dyn is a cloud-based IPM provider that has been pivotal in revitalizing the Queen City. Its Co-founder, Jeremy Hitchcock, along with Silver Tech CEO Nick Soggu, has championed STEAM since its inception, and both work closely with Granite United Way to help provide a base of operations for STEAM-Ahead NH Executive Director Bob Baines.

Baines, who doggedly pursued industry partnerships and resources for STEAM-Ahead, opened the day with short videos and energetic remarks about the changing workplace and opportunities for young people. He gently challenged school people and partners alike to push past some traditional educational practices to help the STEAM work take root, and received a rousing endorsement and pledge of support from Commissioner of Education, Dr. Virginia Barry. Next, STEAM students from Manchester High School West and McLaughlin Middle School wowed the crowd with insightful remarks about their positive experience in STEAM classes, and then students and teachers from the West HS team seized the day with three hands-on STEAM projects that challenged the attendees to get their hands dirty, building and problem-solving in the fashion that distinguishes learning-by-doing.

The event wound down with a reflection from West HS Principal Christopher Motika and a professional development overview from Dr. Larry Myatt from ERC. Motika, widely respected for his turn-around efforts at the school, reprised the genesis of the STEAM effort at West, lessons learned in the past two years, and insights into the leadership decisions and dilemmas that came with trying to make changes to the traditional system. Myatt, who works with inquiry-based and project learning schools around the country, capped the event asserting that STEAM efforts cannot thrive without changes to beliefs about learning and major alterations to structures and practices. He shared his experience that project learning is often deeply constrained by the nature and design of conventional school and that STEAM, with its multi-sector partnerships and prominence, offers a unique opportunity to re-imagine a culture of learning, and to build educational communities that offer better possibilities for students and working educators alike.

Anyone have $50 million for a high school?


Two weeks ago, an ERC TREK team and a few of our best friends submitted a lengthy vision to XQ: The Super School Project.

XQ’s goal, according to Laurene Powell Jobs, is to reinvent high schools in a way similar to how her late husband, Steve, reinvented how we listen to music. She’s willing to bankroll five brand new high schools up to $50 million (total) to make it happen.

What’s not to like? A funder familiar with audacious change. A nationwide search for new ideas. A significant pot of gold to give five of those ideas good footing. And a cooperative effort where applicants can talk to one another, even join multiple teams. All for the sake of, finally, possibly, bringing public education out of the 19th century.

A chance for us to explain our dreams
Though we’ve made it to the second round – out of five, we think – I don’t think any of the TREK crew is planning our lives around winning. But, we’ve enjoyed – if that’s the right word for a few hundred hours of discussion and writing – sitting down and sharing what each of us has learned about students, schools, communities, teachers, learning styles, families, and a few other subjects I must be leaving out.

Then, add to that our discussions about education philosophies that have come and gone, those that have stayed, those that should have gone but haven’t, and those that never arrived. One of the joys of our exploration is that our team ranges from the well-seasoned (meaning a bit older) to having a fresher outlook (meaning younger). The team includes public educators, nonprofit experts, university design chairs, community activists, and a couple of cynics, which every group should have. Frankly, if every school put together groups like that, and invited discussions like ours, much of our work would be done. (By the way, if I had had a chance to get Ms. Jobs’ ear, I would have suggested she start with middle schools first. But she didn’t ask my advice.)

What we agreed upon for “our” high school wasn’t particularly radical, given the lives our team members have led (but I suspect Bernie Sanders would say the same). We had questions about the XQ project’s underpinnings, but when all was said and done, we couldn’t say no to something that called out the need for action in a loud voice. ERC’s TREK program is better for us having met and labored together. (Perhaps Ms. Jobs can spare just a million or two to support TREK; we’re not greedy.)

A few highlights from our application
We’ll show you more of the application components over the coming year -guaranteed if you’ve signed on for TREK to work with us in redesigning your school(s)- but we do want to summarize five underlying fundamentals on which we agreed an ERC TREK high school would rest.

  • Education must prepare young people to face a world that will change rapidly throughout their entire lifetimes, requiring them to be flexible and able to solve complex problems.
  • Learning and youth development are inseparable if not indistinguishable. One cannot look at a young person as “merely” a student who arrives at school in the morning and leaves at the end of the day. A TREK school recognizes its responsibility to work deeply with youth to enable them to act in conscious, thoughtful, and responsible ways. 
  • The educational environment must be authentic on every level. Content and assignments must relate to students’ lives. Relationships with the educators must be honest, open, and fair. Activities must include an almost seamless relationship with the community and the institutions, businesses, and organizations that comprise it. 
  • We must incubate and elevate the “active inquiry” that is happening with us or without us. Guided, that “active inquiry” helps youth ask and answer meaningful questions: about themselves, their communities, and their worlds. Their answers can lead to authentic assessment: real-world products, presentations, and events.
  • A TREK learning environment will never again be about rows of students in chairs day after day listening to a teacher lecturing to them, penning all students of the same age together for years, studying the same subject in the same way for pre-allotted chunks of time. Dispatching the old “culture of teaching” in favor of a culture of learning is vital in an ERC TREK school.

Re-imagining high school scares the hell out of some people – we find it energizing and totally possible.

We’ll keep you posted on how the TREK team is doing. If you’d like us to visit your school, though, just give us a shout.

For ERC, and our ERC TREK team,
Larry Myatt