Listening Session Paintings

Saturday, March 31, 2012

We Celebrate the Arrival of David Loitz

I am absolutely delighted to celebrate the arrival of David Loitz as Seed Steward for Imagining Learning. I met David last summer on Orcas Island (WA). Filled with passion, a deep love of young people and an undying commitment to changing the education system, we hit it off immediately.

A filmmaker, getting his Master’s degree in holistic childhood education at Goddard College with the intent to found his own radical new notion of education, David was passionate about our work and wanted to help us bring it more fully into fruition.  We began a series of talks, once a week for a while and every time, a deep synergy existed between us.  He has such a knowledge of education; many connections to those creating change; and is really connected in with young people who are taking up the call for a true revolution. He is a passionate blogger about education and involved in more education movement organizations than I count.

One day out of the blue an email came from him asking if he could serve as a steward for Imagining Learning.  I rejoiced on the spot. Kind of like when you get a letter informing you the IRS made an million dollar error on your taxes in your favor.  It is wonderful when you see someone bring a chair with them into your circle and declare their intent to sit and make a contribution. Co-creation is where it’s at.

We talked a long time about the future possibilities for Imagining Learning’s work, particularly the Listening Sessions.  He is keen to learn about them and to lead them himself. He took over the Facebook page, which had languished in the move this past year and its participation is up like 700%. He has been helping me with the publication of articles, too.

So we decided on a title: Seed Steward.  He is a connector, a nourisher of this seed called Imagining Learning. He will feed it with ideas, energy, people, especially young people and provide new power into the DNA of Imagining Learning. This week we are meeting in Portland to discuss the many possibilities for Imagining Learning’s future. We are also going to introduce him to two Listening Sessions, which it will be wonderful to receive his feedback and for him to meet the young people who are coming. He is going to introduce me to some of his friends here in Portland. I should have mentioned he lives in Eugene with his beautiful partner Marta who is an architecture student committed to creating innovative new learning environments for children.

So I celebrate his arrival and really look forward to all that he is going to do to bring the voices of young people into a collective that cannot be ignored or denied any longer. Please join me in welcoming him!!!

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Imagining Learning Lands In Portland

In front of the Mark Spencer Hotel

I just arrived in Portland for a week where we have a busy schedule, including 2 Listening Sessions.  Aside from the Listening Sessions, I will be spending time with our newest member, David Loitz, Seed Steward of Imagining Learning. I will introduce David in the next post where I can do him the justice he deserves.

David and I will be planning a year of activities and new ideas for Imagining Learning. In addition, we will be meeting many people who are helping to pioneer the new frontier of education.  On Thursday and Friday, we will be leading Listening Sessions.  The first session will be comprised mainly from Cleveland High School ( and the Leadership and Entrepreneurship High School (LEP) ( We want to thank Violet Trachtenberg, a student at Cleveland who has been recruiting other students and also Lorna Fast Buffalo Horse, the Principle of LEP for working so hard to get us a wonderful group of students.

The second group of students will be coming from the Village Home Education Resource Center (, a learning community for families who home school in the Portland area.  Special thanks goes out to Lori Walker, the Founder and Executive Director, who found out we were coming to Portland two days before Spring Break and still has managed to find the students to participate.  She called me and had heard about our efforts through the grapevine of people who were recruiting students. Thank you Lori.

We will also be meeting with Ba Livmour, a beautiful soul who, along with his wife Josette and their daughter Kara, offer Portland the Summa Institute, the "first educational institute supporting children, families and professionals. We are grounded in the Natural Learning Relationships approach to human development (which they have pioneered). You can read all about their amazing efforts at www. I met Josette and Ba on Orcas Island last year at the Pacific Northwest Alternative Education Conference. Ba has offered to share some ideas on ways to make Listening Session's more universally appealing. We look forward to sharing and learning more about the institute as well.

We will also be meeting with Jaime Woods, the founder of Dream School Commons, ( Jaime's purpose in founding the Dream School Commons on the web is "to collect in one place the most innovative ideas related to education, to design new schools that embody these philosophies, and to find sponsorship in order to provide low cost or no cost dream schools for populations in need." Beautiful.  We look forward to meeting her.  She is coming to the Listening Session on Thursday.

We look forward to sharing all that transpires in this wonderful week ahead.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Sir Ken Robinson and Why It Has to Be Changed

Our friend Prabhupad sent us this excellent expose by Sir Ken Robinson on the current system.  It is thoughtful, insightful and yet, what I really like is how he is standing up for the inner brilliance of all kids. The speech has been animated in wonderful way by RSAnimate ( as only they can do.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

What's in a Name?

Hello Imagining Learning! Good-bye Imagine Learning.

For the past several months, I have been in deep meditation about the name Imagine Learning.  In August of this year, we received a very nasty letter from Imagine Learning, a software company that primarily sells software to individuals desiring to learn English as a second language.  They "demanded" that we discontinue the use of the name Imagine Learning.

As we do not sell any products at all and as we are a research effort trying to bring the voices of young people into the conversation about education, I do not believe we offer any threat to them at all. Still, they contend that the use of the name might confuse some of their customers.  After consulting with a wonderful lawyer, we determined that it would not be an affordable exercise to continue to pursue holding on to the name.

Many names came and went, but one day I was working on a new book about our effort thus far and I titled it Imagining Learning and the name really felt good.  It has a more active stance, a stance that is precisely what we are asking young people to do in the Listening Sessions. So after retooling everything, the web site, the blog, our Facebook page, business cards, logo, etc., we are now proceeding under the name Imagining Learning.

I like its intended action.  It is a statement about what we are all involved in on an ongoing basis. It is a call to create.

Our new web address is:
Our new blog address is

We are excited about the prospects for this coming year and look forward to continuing to meet many more young people as we lead the Listening Sessions.

Monday, August 8, 2011

PNW Education Conference is Inspiring

Last week, at the Pacific Northwest Conference Holistic Education Conference, we were embraced most enthusiastically for the work that our Listening Sessions are accomplishing. I had the wonderful pleasure of sharing our journey and the messages that young people are creating in their paintings.  Their wisdom, energy and boldness spoke to people in a deep way.  Comments ranged from "Thank you for listening to young people" to "Inspiring! I remembered why I was in education."

Perhaps the most telling moment for me was when I was stopped in the middle of the presentation by one of the attendees. At that point in the presentation I had explained the process we use in depth during the Listening Sessions and was beginning to share the vision of the young people in the paintings. I had just finished describing the vision in the second painting when I was asked, "So are you telling us that you have ABSOLUTELY no influence in how these paintings are created?" This was met with nodding heads from others who were also finding it hard to believe that the paintings were not influenced by adult minds.  I believe people found a true wisdom in them that belies the years of the young people creating them (in their minds).

This tells me that there is a true opportunity for us to share with people the true wisdom that exists within young people today that may be largely unrecognized or at the very least passed over due to the way the school system is structured to work with them every day.  At the conclusion of the presentation, we were met with much applause and a true energy in the room of gratitude and excitement to help us. Many people came up and offered to help in the ways they felt best able to be of service.  It was quite meaningful to have our work so embraced.

It was our first presentation at an education conference and I feel we crossed a threshold while we were there.  Ours is a message of hope fueled by the energy of our young people. It does not focus on what is wrong.  It is not mired or entrenched in the current conversations in education. It has a freshness that offers people possibilities based in their love of young people and their reasons for working with them in the first place.

I want to thank Paul Freedman for inviting us to share our story.  He is a tireless champion of children and of creating an educational journey for them that is nourishing.  I will write more on the other presenters at the conference as I have time.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Imagine Learning to Share at Education Conference

This coming Sunday, I will be traveling to Orcas Island to share our work at the Northwest Education Conference 2011.  Paul Freedman, the convener of the conference has asked us to share our work concerning the Listening Sessions we are conducting around the country.  This is a wonderful opportunity to return to Orcas and make new friends and share our work as well as hear what other educators and education "passionates" are thinking and saying about a more holistic approach to education.  We are deeply appreciative of the invitation and looking forward to the new learning that will occur.  If you are interested in attending, just click on the link for more information.  More on the conference when I return mid-week next week.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Keep the Channel Open

This week, Stella shared a quote with me from Martha Graham:

There is a vitality, a life force,
an energy, a quickening 
that is translated through you into action
and because there is only one you
in all of time,
this expression is unique.

And if you block it,
it will never exist 
through any other medium 
and be lost.
The world will not have it.

It is not your business
to determine how good it is 
nor how valuable
nor how it compares with other expressions.
It is your business to heep it yours,
clearly and directly,
to keep the channel open.

You do not have to believe in yourself
or your work.
You have to keep open and aware 
directly to the urges that motivate you.
Keep the channel open.

                - Martha Graham

There is so much that is noteworthy for how we approach reinventing education for young people in the future.  Let's start with

"There is a Life Force that is translated through you into action"...  I think of this as a voice, a unique voice that exists within every child - every child.  This Life Force is so precious in all of us, but when we are young, it is particularly innocent, alive, and powerful...especially if it is allowed to flourish. Can we design education so that it enables the voices of our children to thrive? I can hear a cynical voice arise within me - it is an old voice, a tired tired in fact, it can barely utter the words, "no one can create a system like that for all children. It is impossible."  Thank goodness it is so tired and useless in my world now. There is no place anymore for standardized, regulated, graded and evaluated in the new education we are seeking to create.

"And if you block it, it will never exist...and be lost"... Can we create an educational system for ALL children that holds this line as precious, and undeniably true if we are not vigilant stewards of the opportunities for their Life Force to grow and be nourished?  So often in the current system, we see how blocked, cynical, jaded, depressed and desperate young people are becoming or already are as a result of years of being subjected to a system whose drumbeat is numbingly the same year after year.  In the Listening Sessions, once the students have created their visions and shared them with each other, we ask them how the experience was for them.  Quite often they say to us in disbelief, "You mean this could actually happen?" "Do you believe we could create this in the real world?"  Through the process of the Listening Sessions, their inner hearts awaken and hope and possibility begin to grow. It is a remarkable change that occurs.

"It is not your business to determine how good it is..." No judgment! No Comparison! No Inner Critic! No Fear! Can we create an educational system that eliminates these qualities?  This would require courage of the greatest degree, for it would first mean listening within ourselves and healing our own judgments and inner critics in order to be present to this possibility. Yet, I believe it is a process worth undertaking if we are to nourish the Life Force of every child.

"It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open"... Can we create a system that enables young people to have the sense of presence, awareness and skills to be self-sovereign? Their inner light is their own and to know that they are the creators of their own future,  that they are the lighthouse keepers, that their actions can grow possibility in their own lives is a worthy intention of an enlightened system.

"Keep the channel open"... Wouldn't it be wonderful if we could all sit down together and explore the possibility of creating an education for young people that enables them to thrive in a world of possibility?

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Look To The Mountain

A few months ago, one of our most gracious and ardent supporters, Linda O'Toole gave me the book "Look To The Mountain", by Dr. Gregory Cajete, Ph.D (written in 1994).  

Dr. Cajete is the Chair person of the Native American Studies Department at the University of New Mexico.  A Tewa Indian, his work is "dedicated to honoring the foundations of indigenous knowledge in education." (Source UNM website)

"As Stella and I read the book, we were deeply moved by its wisdom, its scope of vision and its balanced compassion for all people and particularly native American youth.  The book discusses in detail Dr. Cajete's views on the need to radically transform education for native American youth.  What is so beautiful about his book, is his stated recognition that the system of education he is proposing can easily be adopted to all young people anywhere in the world.  If you care deeply about education, this book is a must read.

Here is a marvelous excerpt highlighting his vision:

"American education must forge educational processes that are for Life's Sake and honor the Indigenous roots of America. A true transition of today's American educational orientations to more sustainable and connected foundations, requires serious consideration of other cultural, life-enhancing and eclologically vialble forms of education...Tribal education presents models and universal foundations to transform American education and develop a "new" paradigm for curricula that will make a difference for Life's Sake.

American education must rededicate its efforts to assist Americans in their understanding and appreciation of spirituality as it relates to the Earth and the place in which they live. It must engender a commitment to service rather than competition, promote respect for individual, cultural, and biological diversity, and engage students in learning processes that facilitate the development of their human potential through creative transformation."


This Friday, we will be meeting with Dr. Cajete and we are most excited to have the opportunity to sit down and commune on our views about educating young people today.  He is a wonderful writer whose work is expressed clearly, thoughtfully and quite poetically.  He recognizes and advocates the need for education to begin by focusing inwardly. In his book, he wrote: "Hah oh is a Tewa word sometimes used to connote the process of learning.  Its closest English translation is to "breathe in."

We will post more about this meeting after it has concluded, but here is a brief bio of his life's work as stated on the UNM web site.

Gregory Cajete, is a Native American educator whose work is dedicated to honoring the foundations of indigenous knowledge in education. Dr. Cajete is a Tewa Indian from Santa Clara Pueblo, New Mexico. He has served as a New Mexico Humanities scholar in ethno botany of Northern New Mexico and as a member of the New Mexico Arts Commission. In addition, he has lectured at colleges and universities in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, New Zealand, England, Italy, Japan and Russia.
He worked at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, New Mexico for 21 years. While at the Institute, he served as Dean of the Center for Research and Cultural Exchange, Chair of Native American Studies and Professor of  ethno science. He organized and directed the First and Second Annual National Native American Very Special Arts Festival held in respectively in Santa Fe, NM in 1991and Albuquerque, NM in 1992.  In 1995, he was offered a position in American Indian education in the University of New Mexico, College of Education
Currently, he is Director of Native American Studies and an Associate Professor in the Division of Language, Literacy and Socio cultural Studies in the College of Education at the University of New Mexico. Dr. Cajete earned his Bachelor of Arts degree from New Mexico Highlands University with majors in both Biology and Sociology and a minor in Secondary Education. He received his Masters of Arts degree from the University of New Mexico in Adult and Secondary Education. He received his Ph.D. from International College – Los Angeles New Philosophy Program in Social Science Education with an emphasis in Native American Studies. 
Dr. Cajete has received several fellowships and academic distinctions, including the American Indian Graduate Fellowship from the US-DOE Office of Indian Education (1977-78); the D’arcy McNickle Fellowship in American Indian History from the Newberry Library, Chicago, IL (1984-85); and the Katrin Lamon Fellowship in American Indian Art and Education (1985-1986) from the School of American Research in Santa Fe, NM. 
Dr. Cajete also designs culturally-responsive curricula geared to the special needs and learning styles of Native American students. These curricula are based upon Native American understanding of the “nature of nature’ and utilizes this foundation to develop an understanding of the science and artistic thought process as expressed in Indigenous  perspectives of the natural world."
Dr. Cajete has authored fivebooks: “Look to the Mountain: An Ecology of Indigenous Education,” (Kivaki Press, 1994); “Ignite the Sparkle: An Indigenous Science Education Curriculum Model”, (Kivaki Press, 1999); “Spirit of the Game: Indigenous Wellsprings (2004) ,”  “A People’s Ecology: Explorations in Sustainable Living,” and “Native Science: Natural Laws of Interdependence” (Clearlight Publishers, 1999 and 2000).

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Deep Wisdom from Orcas Listening Session

Orcas Island Participants Samara (our host!), Willow, Stephanie, Sebastian, Liam and Iris
In mid-March, Stella and I conducted a Listening Session on Orcas Island, WA and I want to share the stories found in the paintings done by Stephanie, Iris, Sebastian, Willow and Liam.  Though the group was smaller than usual, we had fun together and in the end, what emerged was beautiful.

This painting was done by Willow and Iris with Samara's help.  Their vision, which we call Waterfall, was as follows:

The whole picture is the school.  The waterfall is the stream of learning and all students are in it.  The rainbow signifies the school's connection to the community - with lots of diversity flowing both ways.

The soil at the bottom is the family.  The quote says Nurtured by the soil of my parents I blossom and grow.  Bee says, "My assistance is valued." as it means that contributions to the community are valued (Bee Pollinating!).

The grey rocks on the right and the tree on the left stand for mentors and teachers as solid, framing and holding the education (the waterfall).  The salmon are swimming upstream which represents being challenged in their learning and the fish (students of all colors) are returning to their natural habitats, using their natural instincts.

The flowers, blossoms in the tree, and the fish all represent the different way every student is and how differently they learn.  

The next painting was done by Sebastian, Liam and Stephanie and we call it Glass Dome:

There are many qualities to our school:

There are evaluations and no grades
There are applied knowledge skills so that we know how to use what we learn when we leave the school
It encourages courage
Children know they have a voice
They learn by doing
Mandatory yoga
Supportive teachers
More freedom/more choice
Quiet room
Infinite Snacks!

The school is self-sustaining as evidenced by the solar panels on top of the glass dome and the compost pile in the lower left side of the painting where a long pipe runs to the glass dome carrying the heat from the compost pile into the dome which is made of glass. 

All is built on a Foundation of Love

There is a lot of education in nature

The community in the school is strong and the community outside the school is supportive and safe

A portfolio is required for graduation, not specific exams, etc.

We also have our own garden and our own observatory.

It is such a gift to be able to be present with these young people as they create from within their hearts.  Given a chance in a trusting, caring environment - without constraints as to what their vision can be about - you can see that their wisdom emerges in beautiful ways.  We are excited about the opportunities that are emerging on Orcas and thank each one of these beautiful young people for their contributions to Imagine Learning!

Friday, April 15, 2011

Imagine Learning Shares in Asheville, NC

Last week, we had the honor of presenting on the future of education to a audience of teens and people in their twenties. There was a wonderful discussion about how the framework we are proposing could work, as well as some stories shared about their school experiences in comparison to the material we presented. Once again, we were embraced and asked what they could do to help! It was most gratifying.

Following the discussion we solicited their input on the presentation itself. Together, we explored how effective our presentation was and whether there were other ways to make the material easier to understand. They were full of suggestions and extremely helpful.

On a personal note, all three of my children were there and it was wonderful to share with them the entire scope of our progress to date. So often, they have heard bits and pieces but being able to show them the entire scope of what we will be presenting around the country meant a lot to me. I thank them for coming as well as thank the other young people who attended for their listening and their input. And Chelsea, thanks for making it happen. Onward!