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.

Leading change demands living the change…and building agency

In a recent article on EML, Will Richardson shared that he asks the districts he works with, “Is this a school that learns?” He went on to write these provocative questions:

What does a learning school look like? What’s the culture of a school that learns? How does it happen?

Will sparked in me some significant reflection. He also spurred me to write this blog post and share how Mount Vernon is, indeed, a school that learns. Here’s one example how…

The made world is designed. Everything in it is designed. Therefore, this made world is malleable, changeable, and transformable. For if it was designed, then it can be redesigned. And we all have the ability to make these changes in our world.

This simple argument is at the heart of agency. And we in education should be about the business of inspiring and nurturing agency in our learners. The very essence of being an engaged citizen leader is realizing and understanding one’s capability – one’s agency – to be a positive change agent in the world.

For years, Mount Vernon has focused its work around inspiring and nurturing the agency of learners. We are about designing and making, in numerous and myriad forms, and we are committed to developing engaged citizen leaders who see themselves as agents of change. And we are taking our work in design and making to a next level. We are building our maker, design, and engineering programs, and this work is invigorating and exciting.

Jim Tiffin and T.J. Edwards are leading these efforts to build our maker, design, and engineering programs. Jim Tiffin is the Director of Maker and Media, and T.J. Edwards is the newly appointed Director of Design and Engineering. Together, they are a phenomenal, dynamic duo, and they are integral members of the MVIFI nucleus team. I consider myself most blessed to work alongside them.

Throughout the year, Jim, T.J., and the MVIFI team will be leading a charge to create and construct the next levels of design-and-maker-based learning at Mount Vernon. We’re fortunate to be learning from many others along the way. And we’re looking forward to sharing with many the various stories of this purposeful build that we are experiencing.

But how do you go about such change work?


Among the many lessons of change and program building is this critical mantra: The leaders must live the change.

So, if we intend to take making, design, and engineering to new levels at Mount Vernon, then we must live the change we are expecting. How exactly are we doing this?

Well, here are four ways that we are setting the conditions so that leaders at Mount Vernon can live the change that we are envisioning in maker, design, and engineering.

ONE. If we want more making in school, then we need to build our own skills and understandings as makers.

This summer, The Tinkering Studio at San Francisco’s Exploratorium and Coursera offered a MOOC (massive, open, online course) called “Tinkering Fundamentals: A Constructionist Approach to STEM Learning.” T.J. made us aware of this course, and we enrolled together as a small group. The learning was powerful and intense, and it coupled leading research in learning, brain science, and pedagogy with practical experience as participant and facilitator in maker education. For me personally, the experience was invaluable, as I was able to read and watch curated articles and videos (see two examples below) while also trying my hand at tinkering activities that I had never done while wearing these particular lenses of emerging maker facilitator. Additionally, the course materials and practices provided T.J. and me with a number of things to think through and plan together in our own programatic build with Jim.

TWO. If we want more making in school, then we need to make in leadership team meetings.

A mentor of mine once told me (actually, he said it multiple times), “Bo, as much as possible, you should DO the projects that you are expecting your learners to do.” He implored me to lead from a position of experiential understanding. So, if we believe that we are creating conditions for more sophisticated and advanced design and making to exist in our MV classrooms, then we decided to immerse our school leaders in such project work from the very beginning. Therefore, in August, at a meeting for division heads and heads of learning and innovation, we utilized the scribble bot learning that we had undertaken during coursework in the Tinkering MOOC. Here’s a quick movie trailer of that session we enjoyed together – these are the “principals” and “academic deans” of our four divisions at Mount Vernon.

THREE. If we want more making in school, then we need to make time for making in our professional learning days.

For months, we knew that we were scheduled for a professional learning day on October 9, 2015. However, in early September, we decided to reimagine that day as an internal conference, hosted by MVIFI. We named the inaugural event Collider, and we established a small list of sessions that prioritized our strategic objectives as a school. Jim and T.J. co-designed and co-facilitated “anchor sessions” (like anchor stores at a mall) for maker, design, and engineering. On purpose, we set the conditions for faculty to elect into learning experiences that would advance their knowledge, experience, and excitement around design and making. We were intentional about ensuring that building interest in and capacity for maker, design, and engineering was a part of our professional learning day, even before we had all of the details established for the overall programmatic architecture. By doing so, we were prioritizing a strategy of getting our faculty involved.

FOUR. If we want more making in school, then we need to experiment with entirely new ways of developing capacity.

At Mount Vernon, we are fortunate to live in a culture of prototyping and educational entrepreneurship. We ideate frequently about new possibilities, and we rapidly prototype these ideas into physical manifestations. On this maker, design, and engineering front, we are offering “evening maker clubs” for our faculty and staff. This is just a simple idea that we came up with – kind of like book clubs, but for tinkering. So, at the end of September, the MVIFI team prototyped a “dine and design evening,” learned from the experiment, and created a new program for getting faculty together for some food, fellowship, and fun – all centered around building creative confidence in maker, design, and engineering.

Gallery of Photos from Prototype Night for “XLR8 Makers”

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recent invitation sent to Mount vernon faculty for xlr8: makers

MVIFI XLR8 Makers Nov. 12 2015

To purposefully advance the strategic vision and practices of a school requires agency. By definition, such work is about change, and educational leaders must see themselves as change agents – designers, makers, and engineers of better and better learning architectures.

Most importantly, we educators must take seriously our opportunities and responsibilities to inspire and nurture agency in our learners – in ourselves, in our faculties and staffs, in our students, in our parents, and in our surrounding communities. And this incredible work necessarily involves integrating more making, designing, and engineering programs for the benefit and capacity building of our learners.

To do so most successfully demands that we lead by living the change ourselves.

Innovating the very foundations of school – who creates the courses!

What if “students” created the courses – at least some of the courses – offered at school? What if those courses were the kind that many people would describe as “the most rigorous” a school offers? This is innovation.

Two members of the Innovation Diploma at Mount Vernon Presbyterian School (and Mount Vernon Institute for Innovation) launched their own AP (Advanced Placement) Language course. Together they collaboratively built the learning targets, educational paths, academic arcs, and assessment strategies for exploring certain wonders and complexities of the English language.

They are both juniors in high school. I don’t think either of them actually drives a car on her own yet.

This is a story I highly recommend that you follow. Here are some posts Pinya and Kat have published to get you started:

Innovation Diploma Consultivation

When the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention used the Innovation Diploma Disney Cohort as consultants for learning and integrating design thinking into their Open Idea Lab in Atlanta, the doctors and administrators there coined a hashtag at the end (because the approach created great impact): #RentAStudent

Well, iDiploma Director Meghan Cureton (@MeghanCureton) seized on that insight and started an adVenture series that the Disney Cohort named “Consultivation.” In short, an outside person spends a 90-minute session with the Cohort to work through a rapid design lab to address a challenge or opportunity he or she faces in work or business.

Today, the iDiploma Disney Cohort hosted its third consultivation. The chief engineer for NAES (North American Energy Services) joined us to share a challenge his team is facing in communication. A photo gallery of the consultivation can be found below, and a Google doc of the facilitation flow is also provided.

If you are looking for creative and productive ways to blur lines between “school” and “real world,” you may want to consider something like our consultivation. Our student learners are not only amazing future resources, but they are incredible current resources – growing designers who want to and can contribute to real-world problem solving and solution seeking.

Our client left this morning saying that he was extremely excited to explore the solutions our iDiploma Disney Cohort created – hybrid systems that combine and integrate already-available tools which work together to address the needs that our user shared with us. He also indicated that he was leaving with a “standard” against which to measure future, potential solutions because of the needfinding and prototyping that was made visible this morning… in just 90 minutes.

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Views on iDiploma Consultivation from other Angles:

An Open Letter to My Beloved Community @MVPSchool and @MVIFI

To My Beloved Community at Mount Vernon Presbyterian School and The Mount Vernon Institute for Innovation:

You inspire me.

Your inquiry. (You’re inquiry.)

Your innovation. (You’re innovation.)

Your impact. (You’re impact.)

They inspire me, and you inspire me. And so I challenge you.

What is your “mold?” What is your idea bubbling forward and exploding out from/to your inquiry and innovation and impact?

I challenge you to spend as long as it takes to watch “The Year in Ideas: TED Talks in 2014.” (And if you are “older,” please consider starting with the TEDx below from Jonathan Sackner-Bernstein: “It’s Not Too Late to Make a Difference.”)

The talks themselves are incredible, instructive, and educational. I learned quite a bit from watching them all myself. They are full of content. They model remarkable skills. They are stories from innovators nurtured.

But that’s not why I share them here and challenge you.

I share them with you and use them to catalyze a challenge that you are already engaged in. More than most schools, our school is designed for us to find our mold and make a difference, whether defined through an inquiry, an innovation, or an impact…or perhaps at the intersection of all three.

We have our courses. We have our co-curriculars. We also gloriously have our (i)Project. We have our (i)Diploma. We have MoVe talks. We have #MVIFI. We have our R&D teams.

Yes, more than most, we live in a system that encourages us and supports us to be just like the people on that stage in the TED and TEDx talks.

What will your talk be about? What actions and pursuits will provide the meat and potatoes for your talk?

I cannot wait to listen and learn from you!

And please let me know how I can help, join in, participate, celebrate, provoke, applaud, provide feedback, nourish, spur, support, and challenge you even more.

Thank you for all you do to inspire and challenge me daily. I am grateful and humbled at being a part of this beloved community. I am thankful to be a #Transformer alongside you.

On to 2015!


Bo Adams

Parent, Colleague & Chief Learning and Innovation Officer