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  • Writer's pictureElliot Washor

Elliot Washor's TGIF 5.17.2024

Are you with me now” A J Ryder

At our BPL Board meeting on Thursday there was a discussion about how we grow and have influence. When we broke up into small groups of three, I raised the question: What would the landscape be in education in or outside of school without Big Picture Learning? What if we never existed? I’ll let you close your eyes for a moment and ponder that question. Honestly, I never thought about it before but what I truly believe is that things would look very different. Our voices and more importantly our practices make a big difference to loads of people. Recently, Richard Barrera, a school board member in San Diego responded to how our one small school opened the doors for thousands of students in the district getting internships, being in advisories and crediting learning differently. We put lots of intention in making schools and initiatives proof points all over to show that what we were doing could be done anywhere. No one else in any sort of growth/spread pattern did what we did in the ways we did i.e. with community where each student is the curriculum and the entire community is the school. Our small BPL group is having a tremendous amount of influence. We punch way above our weight. As proof, you could take people like Richard Barrera and dozens of other policymakers, superintendents and commissioners including our BPL board president Peter McWalters who was Commissioner of Rhode Island and they would tell you, our influence. This is a different type of data set that tells a different story through the stories of people who saw the influence. Muddling through, always getting a sense and feel for how to move and using data differently in ways that ensure quality and local buy-in are key to having influence.


“We make the road by walking” Myles Horton and Paulo Freire

Twenty-nine years ago, we didn’t have any of those proof-points or people. The twists and turns to get up and running were different. Now other new ways are on the horizon and will emerge only by doing the work in different ways. It was Myles Horton who said, “You can hitch your wagon to the stars, but you can’t haul corn or hay in it if its wheels aren’t on the ground.” We have taken that advice.


All this said this week at our Big Picture Board meeting, the Guided Experience to Fannie Lou Hamer School and the Director’s meeting moved us in directions to continue our work with students, families and community. 


In the world of chemistry it is ‘novelty, credibility and utility’ that is the standard for what constitutes a new compound.

It is always great to be back in NYC and what made it even better was that so many of our staff came in from all over the country. For me my time in NYC was also spent with other groups like Civics Unplugged as well as time with BPL Board member David Gersten founder of Arts, Letter and Numbers - a B-Unbound site. Both of these organizations have made the choice to work outside of schools. Civics Unplugged chose to have their work rooted in communities. And in similar fashion, ALN has made the work of developing your interests into a community mingling activity with scores of craftspeople and artists working at ALN and youth choosing where to go and who to connect with without thinking about all the trappings of school rules, curriculums and grades. Both remind me of what George Carlin said about school: “Life gets really simple once you cut out all the bullshit they teach you in school.”  Perhaps these new ways will push schools to be different.


This week I felt that the quality of our relationships grew from small moments when we were together and not on a Zoom. This is when that quality really revealed itself. On walks, in third spaces, over a meal…., I don’t think large formal meetings do what I’m referencing here. This is work that happens with one or two other people. I was glad we had small group time in the board meeting and glad when we had time with students 2:1. Like all our board meetings students were so important to set the tone. David Gersten and I were with one incredible young woman from a school becoming a BPL school. She was just amazing. All of us got a great deal out of the conversation. In the end, she thanks us for inspiring her but she got it backwards in the small moments, she was the one who inspired us.


Today, I’m at the capstone exhibitions of a school that gives a Bachelor of Applied Science Degree in things like plastering, blacksmithing, timber framing, architectural stone… For years, I’ve been trying to get to the American College of Building Arts and today I was not disappointed. Walk into any room and what was missing was computers. This was about using your hands, heads and hearts. I spoke with students and staff. Two students were in their 50’s. What was the overriding factor to come to this school and stay there? Do meaningful work that is high quality where you can make a living and lead a full life. An amazing time.

Senior capstone community event

 This 400 lb. handmade wrought iron door took 465 hours (12 weeks) to make and will sell for $33,000. That’s about $70 an hour and if you take a month’s vacation and make four of these a year that’s $132,000 a year. Take 2 months off and your income is $99,000. You get the picture.


Be well!

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