Part 4 – Why Should Anyone Care? How 8th Graders in Virginia Are Changing the World (and Education).


Why should anyone care about this blog, or my class, or me?

I haven’t done anything yet. I’m not being searched on Google. I’ve only been in education for seven years. As far as the class so what. We’ve formed a few partnerships, done a couple presentations, touched on design thinking and entrepreneurial mindsets. We’ve let students have control of the class. Who cares? This kind of “thing” is already happening other places. This kind of “thing” isn’t going to get my kid into Harvard. This kind of “thing” doesn’t tie into the standards required for accreditation.

Well guess what? This “thing” is going to disrupt the state of education in the United States!

And what separates me, is that I’m not into politics or bureaucracy. I’m into taking risks and doing what I KNOW is best for students that is driven by their curiosity and guided by my craft of teaching, leading, and coaching. I’m not into people telling me no because “those are just the rules”, “the budget is already out”, “what about the students and teachers that can’t do this like you”, “what if it fails”, “we need to meet some more and think about some things first.”

Here’s the best idea ever for a course in our schools: let’s do it because we know in our guts that it is great for kids!


It’s not just about turning kids into entrepreneurs though. It’s about putting kids in opportunities where they THINK LIKE entrepreneurs. It’s about kids thinking about people other than themselves, creating a solution for their need, getting criticism and not falling apart. It’s about kids discovering who they are and becoming self-aware.

This kind of “thing” gives kids something to look forward to in their school day where they get a chance to do something that matters to them instead of having Algebra, parts of speech, or types of soil forced down their throats while they sit compliantly (and silently) in rows.

Here in Henrico County Public Schools, we have a lot of great people making huge strides to transform our middle schools through our Deeper Learning Leadership and Middle School Transformation teams. I know first-hand because I’m a member myself. Their commitment and vision is exactly what we need to make schools what they should be. But this is a four year plan at best (and most likely longer than that).

We have an opportunity RIGHT NOW to truly change the lives of a select group of students. We have piloted this type of class in 8th grade and with the behind the scenes work of a few people erasing some pencil marks and re-writing the “class requirements”, re-allocating the budget, we can scale this course up and give a group of 25 students an opportunity as high-schoolers inside the school walls that they’ve never experienced before.

Higher education is on board. Business and the “real world” say this kind of class is the way to go. Parents are on board. Last but certainly not least, our students are on board.

I’d like to pause for a moment and slow down the pace.

Previously in this very spot where you are reading this sentence, I had a long paragraph/rant about why this class wouldn’t be scaled for the upcoming school year. The essence of the lines were angry, passionate, and perhaps a little brash. So I will let you (the reader) imagine those lines yourself. Here’s the deal: I’m willing to teach a class at the high school level, and “loop up” with these current Innovation students, PRO BONO.

Now, let’s move on.

What is my hope for this post? I hope it disrupts. I hope it makes people uncomfortable. I hope it changes educational direction like we are in a jet ski instead of a cruise ship. I hope it makes someone else around the world say, hey you know what, I’m going to do this in my classroom, in my building, in my district.

So I ask again: why should anyone care about this blog, or class, or me?

I want you to care about this blog because I want you to feel what we feel and see the obstacles we face in hopes that you can navigate your own path with more agility than we have.

I want you to care about this class because when kids want to make the world a better place, become entrepreneurs at thirteen, collaborate on real projects with the surrounding community, engage audiences worldwide, walk a little taller in the hallways, come out of their shells, and look at themselves and others and smile, we have a moral obligation as educators to provide them a space in their day to make those things happen.

I want you to care about me because I care about kids, just like you. I wake up every day with a hunger to change. I’m tired of the endless excuses of why we can’t do something in education. I know that patience is a virtue, but in education, patience is inaction in disguise. This type of learning, this type of class will prevail. Where we want education to go, we already have a ten second head start.

We’re still on the ground floor, but get in quick, because we’re going ALL THE WAY UP!

Part 3 – Student Voices: In Their Own Words – How 8th Graders In Virginia Are Changing the World (and Education)

socrates change
Quote Courtesy of Pinterest


When I set out to create this class, I wanted to turn students into entrepreneurs. I wanted to give them new experiences, so that they could develop new mindsets, and create new solutions. While we have been able to accomplish these goals, even greater is the unintended consequences of these experiences.


Their worldview has expanded. Their self-confidence has shot through the roof. They are motivated to take action. They are ready to take on the world and bring others along for the ride no matter where they come from or what they look like.




Don’t take my word for it, hear and see it from these students below:


The video was modified from one shown for a meeting with Henrico County Public Schools Central Office Staff members:

Dr. Beth Teigen (Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum & Instruction)

Dr. Scott Bray (Director of Curriculum & Instruction)

Kourtney Bostain (Assistant Director of Instructional Technology)

Dr. Ingrid Grant (Director of Middle Schools)

Rachael Toy (STEAM Coordinator)


Every single student from my innovation class took part in this meeting. Students created a modified Chindogu product and presentation following the Stanford D. School’s design thinking cycle with the folks from Central Office (in addition to partners from vcuarts center for the creative economy and The Martin Agency).


A few students stuck around so that they could tell their story first-hand as opposed to the typical meeting format where I (the teacher) would tell the adults for them. The students exuded the same confidence and composure that they show in the video.


Simply put, these students proved what can happen when teachers get out of the way and let students do their thing!!


Don Wettrick runs an amazing company and podcast called StartEdUp. The podcast looks at the intersection of entrepreneurship and education. In Episode 2 (LISTEN HERE), Don interviews Jeff Hoffman. Jeff brings up the concept of anger being potential energy and action being kinetic energy. These 21 students did not want to be defined by the actions of their peers (READ PART 1 TO FIND OUT MORE…).


They wanted to control their own narrative. They wanted to take charge of their own lives and write their own chapters. These innovation students have been making things happen since Day 1.


Don’t forget to mark your calendars for February, tune in to the Friday Focus on StartEdUp (on Soundcloud & iTunes) to catch us chatting with Don about our journey as an innovation class and our plans for the future.


The 4th and FINAL part of this blog series coming soon!

Part 2: How Students in Virginia Are Changing the World (and Education) – How Community Support Drives Classroom Innovation

Photo courtesy of:  Shelley Coleman | Dreamstime

This post was written last week for @mrgabriele (the Supervisor of Learning, Development & Professional Growth for the Garnet Valley School District, as well as Senior adjunct faculty with the University of Pennsylvania’s Penn Literacy Network).


It is also PART 2 of a four part series of posts titled HOW 8TH GRADERS IN VIRGINIA ARE CHANGING THE WORLD (AND EDUCATION).


As part of my preparation, I decided to rewatch @simonsinek amazing, 35 million plus viewed TED talk. In doing so, a couple of quotes stuck out to me.


The first was “people don’t buy what you do they buy why you do it.” He talks about how Apple has positioned themselves nicely following this concept. He tries to illustrate this point with a series of circles.


He argues that most companies and most people in general focus on the what first but the why is what separates good from great.


Best-selling author Jim Collins (@level5leaders) puts it this way in his book Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap,,,And Others Don’t:


“Good is the enemy of great. And that is one of the key reasons why we have so little that becomes great. We don’t have great schools, principally because we have good schools. We don’t have great government, principally because we have good government. Few people attain great lives, in large part because it is just so easy to settle for a good life.”


For me, the why is what guides me. The why is giving students a new perspective and new challenge to gain new understandings of their own backyard and across the world. This “newness” couldn’t be achieved without community support. This happens to be one of the Four Pillars in my district’s student-centered deeper learning model.

MS Learning Model_Graphic_Deeper Learning_2.png

The why is why I reached out to the community and why the community has been so overwhelmingly supportive.


In fact, I’ve actually had to turn people away because our goals as an Innovation Class did not align with certain community members’ goals. You might think that this is a bad move to turn down a community connection, but again I’m reminded of another Simon Sinek quote:


“The goal is not to do business with everybody who needs what you have the goal is to do business with the people who believe what you believe.”


This concept was important for someone like me who’s just getting started with creating my own take on an Innovation class, ultimately trying to create amazing opportunities for students.


What I realized quickly in the process of reaching out is that we can’t be everything to everyone. It’s been a learning curve for me but I’ve also realized that one of the biggest obstacles to creating partnerships is being scared of the “what if” when picking up the literal and figurative phone. When people ask how I was able to secure the community support, I always tell a story of imagining 99 people on a Friday night sitting around talking about what they could do and what they’re going to do. The next morning though, only one person actually picks up that phone and makes it happen.


I felt a little bit cynical towards partnerships because I wasn’t from this area and I didn’t already have connections but little did I know that sending a simple email; making a simple phone call could yield huge results and that’s exactly what happened in the case of VCUarts and the Center for Creative Economy.

vcuarts depot
VCUarts Depot Building (Home of the Center for Creative Economy)
vcuarts depot 2
Inside The Depot


Jeff Foster, the associate director of the Center, was our first partner. As I mentioned in my first blog post, I just really wanted to do something different with a class and so I was fortunate enough to be able to have a sit-down with Jeff. Part of Jeff’s job is community outreach so it was only natural for him to jump on board with what we were doing.


He shared a few stories with me about groups that he had worked with in our area but they were high schools, so for him to take a leap towards middle schoolers was a stretch and yet, we joined forces.


Our second partnership was with The Martin Agency, a world-renowned marketing and advertising company in Richmond, VA.

martin agency
The Martin Agency in Richmond, VA


The Chief Marketing Officer just happened to be the a parent of a student in my Innovation class. Not only did he want to support because his daughter was in the class, but recognized that the things we were doing in class were applicable in the “real-world” of marketing and advertising.


Our third partnership was with the Rueger Restaurant Group. I ran into a guy at a wedding who was connected to the group and were interested in what we were trying to do as a class. A few of the groups representatives came to observe our class one day and had to be a part of it all. After a couple meetings, we decided to let the students plan every component of a fundraising dinner at Supper with over 100 guests where students are the entertainment and will be inviting a diverse group of family and community members to discuss why unity is important to them.

Student-Created Title for Event at Supper in Richmond, VA on March 8th, 2018


Over the first four months of school, we’ve had conversations with an Emmy-Award winning director, Facebook, and collaborated with a kindergarten teacher at a neighboring elementary school Greenwood Elementary.



I share with you my stories and insecurities around creating community partnerships for one reason: YOU CAN DO IT TOO!


I’ve had a lot of conversations with people in my building about my Innovation class that have the same “Innovation block” and a lot of them argue that the only reason my kids are so successful is because of the partnerships I’ve created.


My response to them: Find your why.


I’m not trying at all to slight anybody in my building. Hungary Creek Middle School has some of the greatest, most engaging, and exciting teachers and leaders that I’ve ever seen.


It’s just for me, my WHY is on my mind when I wake up. It’s what I think about when I’m at school with the kids and what I see in my own sons’ eyes. It’s what I see as I’m going to sleep and when I workout.


My why is driven by the possibility of creating a class where kids love coming to school and they get upset if there’s a snow day. It’s a place where the work they do matters to them and when they finish a project, not only does that stir up something inside of them to create something new but it gives them confidence to do even more next time. It gives them hope. It gives them purpose. It literally and figuratively changes their lives. My why is my why, but could not be possible without the support of the community.


Connect with me on Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, Facebook, and my blog Innovation in Action


Be sure to check out Part 3 Student Voices: In Their Own Words – How 8th Graders In Virginia Are Changing the World (and Education)… Coming soon!


Don’t forget to check out Part 1 HERE