Share the Well – A Thirst for Innovation

Share the well.

At Mount Vernon Presbyterian School, we work to be very intentional about culture. Our mission begins, “We are a school of inquiry, innovation, and impact.” To continuously live into this mission requires a deliberateness about our culture. So, we are responsible and accountable to one another in our school community through the norms that we’ve chosen. One of these norms is “share the well.”

To “share the well” originates from the offering of one’s water source to another. It literally means to invite others to one’s own source of sustenance and refreshment. Also, to “share the well” means to offer well-ness to one another… to share the health of oneself to others.

By sharing the well, we are setting the conditions for connection to others, to other ways of thinking, to deeper collaboration. To stand at the proverbial water cooler allows for essential exchange to occur. Repeatedly. Intentionally.

In addition to strengthening relationships, sharing the well also makes possible the networking and associative thinking that we know is essential to innovation. Being students and stewards of The Innovator’s DNA, we draw on “share the well” to heighten the possibilities for 1) observing, 2) questioning, 3) experimenting, 4) networking, and 5) associative thinking.

Because MVIFI (the Mount Vernon Institute for Innovation) serves as a major component of Mount Vernon’s R&D efforts in educational innovation, MVIFI feels responsible for helping to set the conditions so that sharing the well can happen systemically.

During the month of October, MVIFI has hosted three events that function to share the well at various scales of community. For in sharing the well, we enhance the opportunities for networking and associative thinking.

  1. MVPS School Visit Day.  On Thursday, October 6, MVIFI hosted 45 people from 14 different schools and organizations around the country. During the morning program, we offer a “crash course” in learning walks and instructional rounds, and we send our visitors to conduct an experiential learning walk. At the conclusion of the morning’s learning journey, we listen for feedback from our visitors. We ask them to describe what they saw, as well as what their observations made them think and wonder. By sharing the well with those who do not spend every day at MVPS, we grow from their particular vision and perspective. Such associations help us to innovate our practices by inviting outside experience to look at what we are doing as a school.
  2. Collider. On the very next day, October 7, MVIFI produced an internal professional learning day that is “of the people, by the people, and for the people.” Schools often describe their faculty as their greatest asset. Yet, ironically, few schools seem to make time and room for faculty to gather and “collide” across regular work flows to take next steps with specific strategic objectives. So, Collider was created so that Mount Vernon faculty could share the well on particular work that we are advancing as a school. Various teacher leaders offer sessions that function as test kitchens and camp fires to forward our ambitious intentions as a school of inquiry, innovation, and impact.
  3. A Night of Inquiry, Innovation, and Impact. On October 20, MVIFI and MVPS hosted an evening entitled A Night of Inquiry, Innovation, and Impact for us to “look up and look out” so that we could learn from what other mavericks are doing and experiencing in innovation spaces connected to PK-12, college and university, and corporations. We curated six speakers and a looping cellist to share powerful talks and performances about what it means to pursue three design drivers that we’ve positioned in our next strategic plan: a) How might we make school life more reflective of real life, b) How might we encourage all learners to be seekers and explorers, and c) How might we inspire each other, and the broader world, with the work we undertake? So, these seven innovation agents shared the well so that we could be challenged and stretched from our daily thinking.

As a school of inquiry, innovation, and impact, we believe deeply in sharing the well – within our own community, beyond our immediate school community, and across perceived industry boundaries – so that we might set conditions for networking of people and ideas and so that we might optimize the power of associative thinking to advance our work as mavericks.

How are you being intentional about the culture you create at your organizations and schools so that inquiry, innovation, and impact can flourish? How are you sharing the well?


This post originally appeared on, Monday, October 31, 2016.

Coca-Cola Workplace 2020 – Visit to AOC

What might the world and functions of innovation demand of our workplaces? How might our work environment complement – even promote and spur – the activities and necessities of an organization striving to innovate? Such questions are a major line of investigation for me and for the school where I am blessed to work – Mount Vernon Presbyterian School. And so, we explore and research in order to learn.

On Friday, April 15, 2016, I was fortunate to visit and tour the Coca-Cola Atlanta Office Complex (AOC). Thanks to friend Rodney Drinkard, who works in security and risk-management at Coke, I ventured into the Workplace 2020 transformation happening at Coca-Cola corporate headquarters, and I was accompanied by colleagues Blair Peterson, Head of Upper School, and Rosalyn Merrick, Chief Philanthropy Officer, at Mount Vernon. The time at Coke’s AOC was invaluable and incredibly thought provoking. They are doing tremendous work there to leverage brand and culture to transform space…and to create a virtuous cycle for space to build brand and culture even more purposefully.

As detailed in Design Leveraged,

Enter Workplace 2020, a massive project to instill Coke’s facility with a sense of optimism matching what consumers feel when they see the brand’s polar bears or hilltop singers. That may all sound touchy-feely, but this project is far from a feel-good exercise; the goal is to increase brand value, grow product lines faster and boost the bottom line.

From the very beginnings of our Coke tour, I was reminded of my recent visit to IDEO in San Francisco. At IDEO, the office is intentionally designed to facilitate creative collisions for collaborators. Similarly, at Coke AOC, the Workplace 2020 transformation, partly informed by input from IDEO, seeks to purposefully facilitate such creative collisions and collaborations, too. With innovation stemming from networking and associative thinking, an environment that supports bond-making rather than isolated task-doing promotes the conditions needed for enhanced innovation. Overall, the surroundings at Coke are constructed so that people will benefit from the principle of “we are smarter than me.” While individual space still exists in great quantity, the quality and number of spaces to meet, work together, share and collaborate are superb.

Two of the many things that impressed and intrigued me:

  1. The brand qualities of optimism, happiness, and sharing a Coke with a friend were expressed as part of the physical architecture and decor. The space felt alive with the culture that Coke works to exude.
  2. The degree of prototyping going on was tremendous! There were future product prototypes in numerous places, and the Workplace 2020 team was utilizing experimental space to conduct user tests for various configurations and work-pattern sites.

The photo gallery below contains my image captures from the fabulous visit to Coke AOC. I know that there will be countless views that I make to this gallery as the team at MVPS continues to research and design according to our principle and practice, “Learning demands interactive and flexible spaces.”

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A Glorious Morning at IDEO

On Monday, February 29, I was able to live a long-standing dream of mine. Thanks to earlier relationships built by others, thanks to the growing partnership between MVIFI and Teachers Guild, and thanks to Innovation Diploma traveling to San Francisco, I was able to spend a glorious morning at IDEO.

I have enormous curiosity and respect for IDEO. I am progressively reading everything I can get my hands on about IDEO. I dream a not too distant future in which MVIFI and the Innovation Diploma operate even more like IDEO.

To be at IDEO was truly magical. For this first post about my experience, I will pinpoint just a few things that stood out to me.

First, IDEO is incredibly purposeful about setting conditions for creative collisions. From the office/studio layout, to the intentional kitchen location and design, to the home plate to await an open bathroom, IDEO orchestrates serendipity and collegial sharing. Program and process is built into the week so that people from different teams rub against each other and exchange ideas and challenges.

Secondly, IDEO makes its culture and norms known. The organization is very purposeful about its shared and foundational beliefs. The current expressions of those values greet folks as they enter the door, and the emerging expressions are clustered with a kind of family-picture wall about the future IDEO. But, believe this for sure — they are so much more than just affixing words to a wall.

And, third, the prototype culture is surging throughout the people and organization. IDEO learns by doing and building and testing and integrating feedback. They move fast and involve the collaborative wisdom of the team, gaining insights by constructing a reality that did not exist before so that they can see it and hear it and feel it.

During the last half hour of our visit, the iDiploma crew prototyped several solutions to the current Teachers Guild challenge: “How might we create programs, processes, and tools to provide ongoing support to all students on their journey to and through college?” It’s spectacular to witness our student-learners-and-leaders making prototypes for teachers who are trying to change the journey-to-college process for the better! It’s a thrill and a privilege to be breathing the air with fellow problem solvers.  

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At the intersections of dreams and realities

“Do not think for one minute that because you are who you are, you cannot be who you imagine yourself to be,” she says. “Hold fast to those dreams and let them carry you into a world you can’t even imagine.”

Jedidah Isler delivers a powerful talk in “The untapped genius that could change science for the better.” Her story pushes well past the subject of science and should inspire us all even more to be forwarder of others’ dreams…and to work thoughtfully and deliberately in the liminal spaces – those spaces of intersection.

Especially for those in education who are striving to advance what many call “21st C learning” and the STEM/STEAM (Science Technology Engineering Mathematics / + Arts) field, Isler’s talk is a must watch.

What kids and teachers can do…ARE doing!

Some people collect stamps. Some collect rocks. People collect many things.

Me? I collect examples of the work that students CAN do.

Many people underestimate what children can do as “school work.” What if “school work” were more “real-world-work” sourced? It’s happening at so many innovative schools. It’s happening at Mount Vernon, where I am blessed to work.

Largely because of the work that we do at Mount Vernon Presbyterian School and the Mount Vernon Institute for Innovation, I collect inspirations and examples of children doing “school work” that many might deem “adult work” for later in their lives.

This TED video from Cesar Harada is one of the best samples of “school work” that absolutely can be done by children. It’s worth your 10 minutes. And it’s worth you helping to make such work even more of a reality at the schools near you.


Related: Mount Vernon continues to drive for enhanced mashup of “real-world work” and “school work” with Council on Innovation 2015