From the Mouths of Babes

Tell me again why strategic planning takes a year, costs tens of thousands of dollars in consultant fees, and produces inside the box ideas?  Another way?  Read on!

photo (1)Yesterday I was happy to work with a group of faculty, staff, and trustees at Poughkeepsie Day School who are generating the schools updated strategic plan.  On the drive down from Boston in the morning I thought I would ask Head Josie Holford (@josieholford) if we could bring in some high school students for the hour workshop of design thinking, post-ups, and “what-ifs”.  For a school like PDS, dedicated to progressive learning, it was not a problem to grab some students to join the conversation.  As we Tweeted out yesterday, in less than an hour this mixed group produced two massive boards of “what-if” ideas, mapped by both impact and degree of difficulty, and then created potentially game-changing ideas for increasing enrollment demand. The student voices were every bit as contributory as those of the adults in the room.

But the coupe de grace was to come.  4th-5th grade teacher David Jordan (@DavidJordanJr) had quietly sent an email to his own students, asking them for their “what ifs” that might lead to significant change in how and what they teach or challenging core traditions.  By the time he got home that evening, his “email box was littered with responses” and here they are, unedited. Let me repeat: these are from 4th and 5th graders, with no lead in or prep from anyone:

  • What if there weren’t any teachers and children were just given a schedule to work off of and goals to reach?
  • What if kids controlled what they learn about?
  • What if we got to choose anything we learned about; any subject and anything within that subject?
  • What if instead of homework during the year, we had a week or two more of school?
  • What if students created their own schedule?
  • What if you could learn what you wanted to learn, without curriculum structures from a school?
  • What if school was about what people really need in the world?
  • What if students were allowed to follow their curiosities? With time allotted and teacher support during the regular school day.
  • What if classes were grouped and regrouped multiple times to match how knowledgeable (this was originally “smart” but they changed their wording when they clarified it to me in the morning) people are?
  • What if there were more than one teacher in a classroom?

Are you kiddingt?  I have visited schools all over the country struggling to find another few minutes in the day and a 4th grader suggests doing away with homework and extending teh school year by a couple of weeks?  Brilliant! Thanks students and adults of PDS for taking a risk with me in this workshop…it paid off!


Print Friendly, PDF & Email

About the Author:


  1. Catherine Thiemann April 30, 2013 at 6:53 pm - Reply

    I love this!! What if all teachers trusted and respected their students the way Mr. Jordan does?

    • glichtman April 30, 2013 at 6:59 pm - Reply

      What if all schools encouraged teachers to do this; had the courage to invite students into a strategic planning session on the spur of the moment, and then actually listen to them; had a process that developed outside ideas as part of planning, rather than just listening to themselves?

  2. shirley May 1, 2013 at 12:26 am - Reply

    Being a part of this afternoon discussion (6th grade teacher) was so uplifting and helpful in this whole process of strategic planning. It was wonderful to work with the high school students and I am not at all surprised at the responses of the 4-5th graders. David poses these kinds of questions regularly to his students and challenges them with amazing problems to solve.

    • Rebecca May 2, 2013 at 11:39 am - Reply

      I can’t agree more with Shirley about David. He is my daughter’s teacher and an extraordinary educator. He ignites a passion and curiosity in the students…my daughter’s capacity for thinking outside the box has increased exponentially under his tutelage. This forum is another example of how the PDS community nurtures respect and originality

  3. shirley May 1, 2013 at 12:37 am - Reply

    Grant, thank you for leading us forward in this venture in such a positive and productive way. I really enjoyed the entire process and look forward to listening to you again in Memphis. @8rinaldi

  4. […] is a recent post from Grant Lichtman’s blog (@grantlichtman) that made me pause and ask myself, “What […]

Leave A Comment