What I have learned starting up the Pacific School of Innovation and Inquiry (thus far…)


It has been a whirlwind.

Starting up a school takes wicked savvy admin skills and is such a feat, it is no wonder that seldom few attempt it.  I have directly learned the madness involved from our fearless leader, Jeff Hopkins (hands down the best leadership I have ever had the pleasure of working with).

We are not just trying to start any old school either, we are trying to show the system how to change.  Again, no small feat.

So, for what it is worth, here is what I have learned being a key player in starting up the Pacific School of Innovation and Inquiry over the last 4 months:

Theory vs. Practice.   I devoured everything I could about the cutting edge of education.  I assumed myself on the very forefront, practicing the new school.  What I did not realize is that I was praticing the new school inside of the old school.  Stepping out of the cradle of the old school structure and constructing from the bottom up has been uncomfortable (in a good way). My perceptions and foundations have been rocked a few times.

Theory shmeary.  The only way to truly know is to get your hands dirty.

Innovate.  A word liberally bandied about in all organizations at the moment.  It makes up a significant portion of our school’s name.  It requires a ton of hard core, unwavering commitment.  Like above, it cannot be talked about, it has to be done.  That is the only way to know for sure that something is functionally innovative.

How about stop lecturing?  Is that innovative?  Hardly.  Especially considering that the lecture hasn’t changed in thousands of years.  Why human beings continue to sit through bad, boring lectures that have not changed for thousands of years is beyond me.

Pay attention to the brain science.  Learn by doing.

Motivation.  This is what it really all comes down to.  The allusive internal drive.  Where does it hide?  What are its habits?  It has all come back to human nature.  If  a student wants to do something epic and awesome, it must begin from within. It absolutely must.  It is much better for students to learn this now, at 15, than later at 20 (or ever…).

People being what they are, we have had some difficulties with motivation.  It is an incredibly tough switch that we have asked students to make – from never having had to take responsibility for one’s learning to full responsibility: 0 – 100 immediately.  Some students hit the ground, charging.  For others, it has taken months.  It will take even many more months for some.  There is a lot of unlearning to do.

Demand Change.  Just 100% demand it.  From the system and the students.  Be relentless.  The old system sucks.  It is outmoded, outdated, heaving and sputtering.  It is toast.  I cannot quell the ol’ punk rocker in me who passionately hated high school.  It was made for obedience, not learning.  It is time to see it for what it is.  Call its bluff.  I am.

Take Big Risks.  Fer crying out loud, how the hell are we to change without taking big risks?  A friend of mine recently brought a date over.  He was just laid off as the risk management guy for the Calgary Board of Education.  He told me he was the one who banned stage combat because some kids got fingers broken.

Is stage combat dangerous?  You better believe it.  It requires tremendous concentration and focus.  Hhm, those are some pretty good skills to learn that spill over into let’s see…everything.  I guarantee that the kids who got fingers broken would now probably be the most safety conscious, aware kids in the entire group.

What a wasted opportunity.  Sorry buddy, but it was probably a good thing that you got laid off.  Let some kids learn man.  I will send you the footage of our Hong Kong Kung Fu fight scene when it is done.

Interdisciplinary Inquiry and Emergent Curriculum.  It is essential, I repeat, essential to take students through the entire inquiry process from start to finish.  This is where we messed up.  We made too many initial assumptions.  We have got it sussed now and are on the up and up.  Make sure to have a bombproof process that the students must go through.  Yes, this has to be one of those “make you do it” things.  There is no way around it.  Most kids have had absolutely zero experience with doing deep inquiry.  There is a ton of freedom at an inquiry school, but students must go through the inquiry process led by teachers.  It is by far the most powerful form of learning on the planet in my humble opinion.

In no way does that mean that teachers choose what is to be inquired upon.  Of course, we give suggestions, tons of them actually, but it is the student who decides on their personalized course of action.  Emergent curriculum is far superior to any mandated anything.  Powerful learning comes from things that are meaningful to each individual.

Bravery is what we must teach.  I truly believe it begins from the bottom up.  The revolution has already begun in my mind.  Your opinions and feedback are warmly welcomed in the comments below…


  1. Thanks for your reflections Jake – I’m inspired and envision being part of a similar learning storm here on the Mainland. Hoping to make a visit over to the Island to connect in the near future!

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