A New Chapter & An Open Path

Decision

I reached the decision to leave Personalized Education Group, DBA Christa McAuliffe School of Arts & Sciences (CMASAS) – resigning my position in the company I cofounded in 2009.

 

Reflection

From piloting a similar program in 1997-99, to a decade later synthesizing 1000s of pages of doctoral research for initial accreditation, CMASAS initially seemed like a capstone for my career.

A fantastic proof of concept, at the time of its inception it was one of the most personalized accredited schools offering Carnegie Unit standard credits. It also became one of the pioneers paving the way for other personalized learning programs.

One of my favorite moments was reading about a university class in Ireland responding to an article I wrote about my personalized education philosophy.  They liked the idea – it resonated with them – but thought that trying to do all of that at once was “too radical.”  I told several colleagues, “dudes, we’re radical!” and wrote the professor to explain that it can and had been done.

Since then, that philosophy has been refined, and many colleagues in the field have continued to create exciting student-centric programs of various forms and niches. CMASAS will likely continue to grow and morph over time as well.

It wasn’t a capstone after all; it was a chapter.

 

Turn the Page

I am both moving forward and coming back full circle to what started me down this path: nurturing individual voice, choice, and well-being, with education being one of the vehicles. Neurodiversity and trauma healing continue to be top focus areas. Also, recent family events clarified priorities and created a sense of urgency to focus more on the work that Luna and I started a long time ago.

I also realize now that this path is an Open Path… 

 

Open Path

What is a message, skill, or other gift you would like to share with the world? Or perhaps there’s more than one?

Kevin, Cass and I are teaming up to help outside-the-box thinkers present their ideas through seminars, workshops, and online classes. Instructional design, videography, and marketing are part of what Open Path offers, similar to a publishing company but while being respectful of people owning their own intellectual property.

We’re all in this together.

 

Abuse Culture Project

My first Open Path project is with Luna. For years, in fits and starts, Luna and I have been collaborating on how to raise awareness of abuse culture as well as how to promote a culture of compassion, consent, and respect. Now we’re diving in, and many of you have already said you’re with us!

We’re starting with Luna’s research on cults, specifically brainwashing tactics, and how people can heal from such experiences.

Then stay tuned to learn about the next topics and activities, including seminars that will be both face-to-face and live-streamed online. We want to build a community of support for all of us.

 

What More?

Well, part of that might depend on you. Let me know if you have an idea for Open Path, or if you see another area where I can serve.  No pun intended, I’m open to ideas – just so long they align with my values and personal integrity. My LinkedIn profile states my current interests and activities.

And ferrets. Seriously: creating a class on how to be a good ferret owner in collaboration with a veterinarian and a shelter in Washington is literally on my current to do list. Because ferrets.

 

Gratitude

Thank you to everyone who has been there for me through this time, and continues to be there. Several of you wanted me to make a different decision, and yet every single one of you were understanding and remained unwavering in your support. I look forward to… a nap, actually. But then I look forward to where this current path seems to be heading.

 

With love,

~ Tamra

 

Evaluating Education Options

How do you get straight answers, avoid bait and switch, and determine what options are best for your child? Whether you’re interested in online or offline, public or private, or homeschooling or unschooling — this overview is for you.

— The most important question you need to ask first.
— Elements to seek and pitfalls to avoid.
— Learn what questions to ask to get straight answers.

Personalization Only for the Privileged?

Credit: United Way of the Columbia-Willamette

Credit: United Way of the Columbia-Willamette

On a panel about nonconformity, the conversation mentioned the need for people to not be cogs in the wheel. Of course I shared what we were doing at my school to help with that.

Two fellow panelists were ready to remind me that schools like ours only worked for the privileged elite.

*Sigh*

This is a common perception. Why? Because it is mostly true. Programs perceived to be similar to ours often fail to serve students outside of a particular set of demographics.

So how can I be so sure that our model can work outside of those demographics? Because it already has.

From students in rural communities of 1500, to cities of over 18 million, it has worked. For students who were homeless, or living in a meth house, or in a mansion, or on a boat for months at a time, it has worked. For students who had cancer, who were recovering from trauma, or who were healthy professional athletes with a demanding schedule, it has worked. For students who needed to move slowly through their studies, or those who needed to accelerate learning, it has worked.

The whole point of personalized education is to personalize for each individual student based on the current scenario of that student’s life in that moment. It requires providing levels of support with instructors, coaches, counselors, and other team members there to serve. It also requires tossing out the original rulebook most schools follow.

The school I was at was only one version of the model — just one manifestation of the Personalized Education Philosophy. We served a broad range of students, and the model could be used to serve even more (e.g. create a school in a language other than English).

Okay fine. It could be seen that we we’re different. But my fellow panelist Joyce accurately pointed out, “Yes, we have the positive things that people like you are doing, but that is not the majority trend as of yet in education.”

My response: “So my question is, how do we make it the majority?”

Of course, I couldn’t just leave it at that, especially since we have been actively encouraging partnerships this past year to bring what we do to serve more students. Learning centers, sports academies, and even public schools have integrated what we were doing into their programs. I kept hoping for somebody to create a performing arts academy with us.

I put out this call to the audience: “We’re looking for more Rangers,” I motioned to Joyce, “like you, who will come on board so we can actually make the changes in this country, and the rest of the world – I mean, because why not the rest of the world?”

And why not? As Christa McAuliffe said, “May your future be limited only by your dreams!”

The Confused Ferrets of Education

Elsa is still learning how to be a ferret. Early shelter life impacted her, but she is watching the others and learning.

Sort of.

Sometimes she misses the point.

Today I watch as Ching Shih picks out her favorite food from the mixture and scurries under the bed to her personal stash, storing and eating only the best food. Elsa has been watching this for weeks. Today Elsa decides to “help” Ching Shih by grabbing any bit of food – often the large, least favorite pieces – and adds them to Ching Shih’s stash. She then gets very excited because she did the thing! A ferret thing!

The result is that Ching Shih now has a mix similar to the original.

At first glance, Elsa is doing the same thing as Ching Shih. She just missed an important detail of the behavior, not to mention its whole purpose.

As you might expect, my education geek’s brain instantly draws the comparison to how many schools tried to copy what what the school I co-created was doing, even including several details. They just missed the important ones, and the whole purpose.  The result is that most schools are similar to the original that people are trying to get away from.

Drawing a direct comparison to the above ferret cuteness, we aim to offer the best. Since student needs are very personal, the “best” is also personal. It requires empowering students to have the strongest voice in their education. Nurturing personal agency, and ultimately self-actualization, is at the heart of what we do. It’s the whole purpose.

So next time you see a program that says it’s self-paced but then has due dates, or says it’s personalized but uses only canned curriculum, just remember they are confused ferrets.  They often really think they are doing the thing! They just missed the point.

Deficient? Detoxing from Negative Framing

equal testing has all animals climb a treeI attended the welcoming reception at the education conference I am at this week – an opportunity for vendors to entice people to their booths with free food. Obviously this works on me because I was there. I enjoy looking for new tools or strategies for our students, so the exhibit hall is a favorite part for me. However, as I went from one booth to another, there was one I hesitated approaching. It was huge, dominating a large portion of the room, but I passed by it several times. I was struggling with first bullet point on their sign: deficiency diagnostics.

Now, I understand the concept of deficiency diagnostics, and the importance of knowing where the gaps are – especially in a mastery-based program like ours. So I forced myself to finally read the rest of the booth’s signs to see if there was anything to redeem the negative feeling.

Nope.

What’s my hang-up? After years of detoxing kids from negative framing, I find that instead of becoming jaded, I have only become more sensitive. We often get students who see themselves as “deficient” and who need to be “fixed” because of all the things “wrong” about them. It takes time to help them reframe their approach: use their strengths to tackle the challenge areas to the best of their abilities, and focus on their gifts and personal goals to define themselves as the wonderfully unique beings they are.

Maybe there isn’t a better way of saying “deficiency diagnostics” that would fit on a display sign. However, is there a way we can help students recognize and work on areas for growth without them feeling “broken” as a result? Can we – the teachers, parents, and other potential mentors – model this, or are we struggling with this for ourselves?

I would love to hear your thoughts on this. Also, if you know of any tools, strategies, or other resources that focus on a positive growth mindset, please share them with me.

 

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