“Thanks for being here. Let’s make great things.”

A few notes (of many) on Valve’s Employee Handbook.

We want innovators, and that means maintaining an environment where they’ll flourish

Never be afraid to run an experiment or to collect more data.

This company is yours to steer—toward opportunities and away from risks. You have the power to green-light projects. You have the power to….

Why does your desk have wheels?

You were hired to constantly be looking around for the most valuable work you could be doing.

Nobody expects you to devote time to every opportunity that comes your way. Instead, we want you to learn how to choose the most important work to do.

Yes. There’s no secret decision-making cabal. No matter what project, you’re already invited. All you have to do is either (1) Start working on it, or (2) Start talking to all the people who you think might be working on it already and find out how to best be valuable. You will be welcomed— there is no approval process or red tape involved. Quite the opposite—it’s your job to insert yourself wherever you think you should be.

Sometimes things around the office can seem a little too good to be true. If you find yourself walking down the hall one morning with a bowl of fresh fruit and Stump- town-roasted espresso, dropping off your laundry to be washed, and heading into one of the massage rooms, don’t freak out. All these things are here for you to actually use. And don’t worry that somebody’s going to judge you for taking advantage of it—relax! And if you stop on the way back from your massage to play darts or work out in the Valve gym or whatever, it’s not a sign that this place is going to come crumbling down like some 1999-era dot-com start- up. If we ever institute caviar-catered lunches, though, then maybe something’s wrong. Definitely panic if there’s caviar.

Over time, we have learned that our collective ability to meet challenges, take advantage of opportunity, and respond to threats is far greater when the responsibility for doing so is distributed as widely as possible. Namely, to every individual at the company.

We all need feedback about our performance—in order to improve, and in order to know we’re not failing. Once a year we all give each other feedback about our work. Outside of these formalized peer reviews, the expectation is that we’ll just pull feedback from those around us when- ever we need to.

You’ve solved the nuts-and-bolts issues. Now you’re moving beyond wanting to just be productive day to day—you’re ready to help shape your future, and Valve’s.

Everyone is a designer. Every- one can question each other’s work.

Would I want this person to be my boss?; Would I learn a significant amount from him or her?; What if this person went to work for our competition?

Valve will be a different company a few years from now because you are going to change it for the better. We can’t wait to see where you take us.

GENSLER PANEL: steelemaley4.001

Prototyping the Future



Participatory Pathways for Teacher Research

Save for unique pockets of time in unique decades, education has drifted from the roots of participatory research known in the late nineteenth century. From the scholar tutor of early New England to the emboldened teachers of Kurt Hahn’s Salem1 it has been only the laboratory schools and experiments during the the middle level movement of the 80’s (some may argue Ted Sizer’s Coalition of Essential Schools and a few bold independent schools should be on this list) that have looked at schools as true communities whose flexibility and purpose was as real as the world with which we live. Learning in the context of these schools had to be created and often co-created with learners–it was in the school DNA to experiment and thus research what they were doing  along with why and how it could consistently get better.

Most schools today have suffered a standardization epidemic almost as potent as the worst epidemics of health and ecology imaginable. To be fair, this standardization ensured the largest single boost to global education in modern times.2 Just as the cure to epidemics created immunities, so to did we create institutional immunity to the kinds of learning innovation we would like to see today. This immunity fights against change as strongly as antibiotics fight bacteria. Now, as we look for holistic approaches to the health of our populations, we must also look for our institutions–our schools. We now know what causes many diseases and what over medication does to our children. But what of our penchant for holding onto blanket prescriptions for our schools health?

This is the era of looking systemically at the individual, the environment and indeed the ecology of learning again. Instead of being radicals, those who are taking this path are the pioneers of a new world. Sounds bold, but really it is on all educators minds, every headmaster and for the world of independent schools I identify with most–our parents minds. Yes, if you graduate form an elite boarding school, you are likely to get into the college of your choice, but what of your prospects there? Your prospects in life…. regardless of income? These are the questions I am asking as a parent, and the parents I serve are asking of me.

It’s time to innovate, and stake claims anew to a world of learning that has so boldly expanded it frightens even the most agile school leader. To innovate is to create pathways that others can benefit from, not just offer catalyst moments for others to be amazed by. Tackling  problems like:

  • weaving experiential and scholastic learning together,
  • learning outside of the classroom for extended amounts of time (be it online or field studies based),
  • personalizing the learning process (a personal learning plan for all),
  • balancing tradition with innovation to ensure the legacies and innovations are translated together,

takes extensive effort, tireless imagination and action.

To create pathways for innovation we must replace myths with methods. I strongly believe one seminal way to do this is through teachers being participatory researchers in the innovation process. Opening up our innovation process to ongoing and meaningful contributions from everyone in our institution not just surveying opportunities offered in professional development or school initiatives, but offering ongoing involvement in a measured cycle of experimentation for the practitioner. This is sustained, measured participatory research driven by the end users to contribute to innovations on the ground.

It is time to take the Skunkworks across the school. Does your school reflect the change in knowledge and networks ever present in today’s world–at a systemic level? Are you visioning for this world, translating that vision into practice with your managers as well as your mavericks? Are you collecting longitudinal evidence both qualitative and quantitative that it’s working? I believe many in the audience reading this post do have a good start on this (A direct nod to Brett Jacobsen, Bo Adams and Team at Mount Vernon Presbyterian). I want us to create networked and sustainable pathways for innovation in education together.

On Friday at the annual TABS 14 Conference, I discussed a few solutions that flatten participation in the design, prototyping and iteration process for innovation in educational change.


It was an honor to present for the second year with two incredible educators. Kim Sivick is a cofounder of the EdCamp movement and an EdTech maven and Scott MacClintic who is the founding director of the Kravis Center for Excellence in Teaching  at Loomis Chaffee, a deep thinker, designer and teacher representing a new American Boarding Schools movement. In our presentation Kim will painted an amazing picture of what the landscape of what participant and tailor made professional development looks like across the world right now, Scott chronicled a successful movement to bring Unconferences and social media based professional development into some of the most elite Boarding schools schools in America and I summarized new forms in participatory teacher research for both professional development and resilient pathways of innovation in schools.

This is not easy work yet so many amazing things are happening in education.  I hope we embolden a new generation of teacher researchers across our schools and learning ecologies that interweave both the innovators disposition and effective action we so badly need to see in education. Just as an armada of ecologists and citizen scientists are contributing to a systemic change in the way we see our health and well being, lets proliferate the same movement in education.

Your interest, thought, vision and ultimately your work is needed to transform our schools into learning ecologies that hold the best of tradition and see the frontier of innovation. I would love to hear how your school innovations are being studied, how you are managing the design and experimentation phases and who you are learning the most from in your networks.

1 I am starting a research process into how Kurt Hahn’s interwar schools like Salem supported teachers. I have found enough disparate reference to include my reference in text. As I paint a bigger picture for myself of the incredibly rich pre -UWC legacy of Hahn’s thinking and school practice I continue ot be amazed. This will undoubtably be a focus of future posts in the new year.

2 One of the best contextualizations of this point is found in Zuboff, S. and Maxmin, J. (2002) The Support Economy: Why Corporations are Failing Individuals and the Next Episode of Capitalism, pp. 77-78.


Places of Learning, Places of Joy….

In the history of education, the most striking phenomenon is that schools of learning, which at one epoch are alive with a ferment of genius, in a succeeding generation exhibit merely pedantry and routine.-Ted Sizer (2004)

I recently perused an amazing strategic plan for a boarding school that is thinking to the future and thinking deeply about students as individuals at the heart of the process.  The thought of supporting and mentoring young people while also co-creating learning environments that bridge tradition, today and in the future is both daunting and wonder filled. The difficult discussions and direct actions toward progressive change are not made lightly in any school seeking resiliency, but the sustained motion toward those changes are essential to ensure a chance at resilience.

When thinking about the design and planning of these learning environments I am at once inspired and then cautionary.  Inspired because we are right to want, and more importantly work toward, schools of the future.  Institutions that shift and realign resources to grant both the permission and “place” for Interdisciplinary, connected, mobile and cross cultural education will have a place in history.  As core contributors of direly needed solutions for a world in ecological, social and economic overshoot we will tell stories of their grand experiments and bold action. I am cautionary because the roads of reform are now well paved with good intention, money and research yet driven back and forth with the “exceptions” at the wheel.  We can do the most visionary x but must not radically alter the schedule because of y.  This is a place where  Ted Sizer’s 1973 book “Places of Learning, Places of Joy: Speculations on American School Reform illustrates and illuminates this pattern in American education.  At the time publication, Ted had just arrived at Andover as headmaster to oversee the Abbot-Andover merger (Undoubtedly a landscape of intellectual, social and physical change that allowed his thought to further steep about reform in American schools and undoubtedly a reason for the success of Andover today.  In the book Sizer argues, that we know the barriers to educational reform and as a country we rest with them willingly.  As a country we will throw out slogans, sentiments and salutations; spend millions of dollars tinkering and ignore the science and possibly, more importantly, the humanity and needs of our children.

To often only that change which fits neatly into our schedules, classrooms and conditioned comfort of work pass after calls for change in education are raised.  Ted asks that we look in the mirror and ask deep questions about what schools are for…. Are they places of learning, or places of joy…..or something more? Schools that place their tradition (today and tomorrow) onto the wind with a mission and vision of change instilled give hope for what can be.  Sizer spoke of words, and actions that suppressed and confused movement for needed change in schools.  In some sectors of education, thirty four years later we may see the same issues that Sizer discussed in Places of Learning Places of Joy but we also see an independent school movement poised to transform education and one starting to do so.

Who Are You Now?

“We cannot withdraw from the choices or moral consequences that come with knowledge”

-J. Roberts (2012)

Do you remember the last time your community of learners came alive in ways that astounded you….maybe scared you ( a little?). Students convened online study sessions around topics of self and social concerns, the way physics connects to the earth, poetry, a book, a simulation of the UN….took an interconnected service  learning project to worldwide levels, devoted themselves to others (or in my case, the student who has devoted her life to the architecture of resilient human rights struggles after our course studied Darfur)….that, just the world of upper schools. Amazing middle level educators like Bill Ivey can undoubtedly tell us of integrated mini-societies, futures thinking projects and more that that made the walls and halls of his school burst at the seams and demand the outside world as an essential freedom for growth.  Lower schools could regale us with stories of learning that feature heart-exploration, play and foundational connection to community and scholastic learning that cause hope to flourish.  The outcomes of the times you may be envisioning are vast. These experiences propel individuals and communities of learning into the spaces many of us yearn for in education.  They are wild spaces, panarchic frontiers and borderlands of learning. These learning experiences are liminal….but do they last?  How do we process experiences past the feel good times as they fade so often under a duress of the status quo and reoccurring managerial education that orders us again….not as ecologic complexity might order, but with social constructs that take enormous effort on the part of humans to maintain (schedules, tests, behavior management, fragmented disciplinary instruction)….

What if we asked ourselves, colleagues and the young people we interact with “who are you now?” as a key assessment or better yet, centerpiece of our curricula.1 Given the space and time to reflect on this question what can you imagine they would say….what would you say?  “Who are you now?”  The statement gathers the epistemology and praxis of experience in education in the simplest yet most potent way.  If we are discussing schools, pedagogy, thinking and action this question is in many ways all encompassing. Who are you now?  Have you given yourself, the students you serve, the  faculty you inspire, the community you share joy with the time to reflect on those experiences that made the heart sing?  Aren’t our founding school visions and missions built upon supporting young people in a growth meant to easily answer this question for the sake of the world? It is startling to know how much we and our learning communities learn every day, month and year. I challenge you to ask this question of yourself, students and beyond on a regular basis. Be careful however, in the way you open a heart and soul.  If you ask, listen for their sake as they answer.  Do not grade, do not measure, do not benchmark against a standard….simply ask and listen.  I hope what you hear is experience unchained. If this experience is allowed to grow and change in your school as humanity does what is our next step? The new fields of experiential education are open to us.  We are “making”, flying kids around the earth and driving them across town to connect and serve, enabling connections around the earth through the internet, sitting down with, instead of standing in front of young people, and asking foundational questions of ourselves about education. Ultimately then, what are the moral choices we would face as the answers to our question “who are you now?” emerged and wove a tapestry of humanity and confluence around us?


1 I participated in the 2014 Independent Schools Experiential Education Network (ISEEN) Annual Institute January 15-18. The experience was iseenfulfilling. Meaningful discussions and collaboration unfolded daily at the institute with some amazing educators from around North America. As you might imagine this group was active and I found myself in deep belly laughs multiple times–a treat. In a recent post I make an argument that a New Field For Learning is emergent in education. The institute is a testament to this in many ways with its focus on experiential education. There were a wide arc of individuals at ISEEN representing faculty, directors of outdoor programs and amazing Headmasters like Ed Maggert of The College School. There where also industry professionals, professors, researchers, lawyers and luminaries like Dan Garvey (link is to a video of Dan Speaking on the future of education at a NOLS faculty gathering). As I reflect on the conference a few points of wonder have stayed with me as I think about the place of experience in education.

On day two of ISEEN, Dr. Barry Wright spoke to the institute on institutional and personal change. I tend to be tough company for businessese speakers on the topic of change. My work is influenced by the time I have worked with and learned from Shoshana Zuboff . Her work on bypass, mutation and change theory for institutions sings to me as vitally important. That said, Barry was a good speaker, a smart man and a tale he told has stuck. The tale was of him entering his Ph. D. program and being reunited with an earlier mentor he had not seen for years. As he worked to track his mentor down, he only caught fleeting interactions with the man. He describes the first interaction with this professor like so. As he walked eagerly to speak with the mentor, the man looked him in the eyes and said “who are you now?”, and kept walking.

My thanks go out to Jesse Barre of Albuquerque Academy and all of the participants at ISEEN 14.  You moved me.


A New Field of Learning

I am spending this week in Winnipeg, Manitoba with Matt Henderson of Saint-John’s Ravenscourt School (SJR). Matt’s teaching and research focus on a few deep interests of mine, ecoliteracy and experience in educaton. Its been wonderful to get to know him better, and share time this week on a new level. As part of the visit I wrote a short piece called a “New Field of Learning”. The paper title is inspired by a Rumi quote first read in Roberts (2012), “Out beyond the ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing there is a field. I’ll meet you there.” The short paper takes a wide view of a new movement in education weaving scholastics and experience. My work on the design of The Bridge Year is also part of the paper and used as an example design and possibility in this movement.

The paper was inspiration for a teacher workshop I delivered to Upper School faculty at SJR and was published in the Manitoba Association of Computer Educators and Manitoba Social Science Teachers Association journal ahead of a gathering this week.

If you are not following Matt Henderson yet, I would wholeheartedly recommend it. He is an inspiration and will be a guiding figure in the new fields of education.

GlobalCiv: A New Learning Ecology

It is with a huge smile and pensive thoughts that I write on GlobalCiv: A New Learning Ecology.  An outgrowth of my design based research some 6 years ago, GlobalCiv is special to me for so many reasons.


After a core design of what Global Civ was to be , I sought a next generation developer.  That young person would give feedback and create for what was then a new organization The Institute for Global Civic Culture. Instead of the informal inputs I thought would occur with young people, I was incredibly fortunate that 15 year old Jake Maxmin entered the design process directly and became a full time student co-founder and designer.  Three years later, Jake is off to Georgetown and I sense a major chapter in my research and praxis about to iterate. In this first post on Global Civ I offer a few “views” from the eLearning Nexus (a Mahara instance that served as a learning portal for the project).

The North American Experience Syllabus From the syllabus:

“In this project we will learn about place through North American culture and history.  By  exploring  the relationship between landscape and the North American Identity we will seek to understand how different peoples have encountered, experienced, and represented North America from 10,000 years ago to contemporary times. How have the experiences of North American shaped the places in North America? How has the North American’s understanding of society, environment, and economy shaped a sense of who they are and how they impact an ecoregion?”

Global Civ Fieldwork (An Example) Global Civ experimented with Mobile “fieldwork” based in part on university anthropology fieldwork forms applied to specific settings.

Global Civ 21st Century Literacies (A Student Perspective) This work was based on the Institute for Global Civic Cultures Learning Ecology Framework created in the original design,

“an approach to learning embodied in an integrated and integrative curricular core will be intensified through eLearning. This nexus between highly student centric curriculum and eLearning will provide the learning community with a new learning ecology. This ecology will allow young people and their communities both local and global to connect in authentic, effective and exciting ways.”

“Project based and collaboration rich software such as the Mahara, 37 signals, and Elluminate will enable our learning spaces to have a flexible web 2.0 enabled system that work within Global Civ’s many project based learning endeavors. Throughout the first year of operations and then on a continual basis, the whole community of Global Civ will find and validate new eLearning tools for the proliferation of our learning spaces. This integrative process will allow for young people to use and develop the technologies they see as integral to their learning.

“Global Civ’s learning ecology will provide the frameworks necessary to utilize mLearning in expansive ways. Mobile Learning using, iPhones, netbooks, and other portable tools will offer the learning community chances to take learning in highly dynamic situations to a new level.”




At the rise of today, and after a long and wonderful day in our vegetable garden prepping and planting, I watched as my wife and co-conspirator did something that reminded me of how wondrous learning environments are designed.

Design can be many things to many people and the at times worry laden “field” of educational design takes into account the cultural, corporate and confused landscape of “education” with an engineers eye and an activists heart, often to good ends.  Learning in many places (I will not list here) shows progress, smiling children and overall good results.  However, the best results, and we all know this, come from something more organic than even the best  design plan.

Back to the land (in this case our organically certified property that we lease to some of the most amazing organic farmers and try to farm ourselves), and my wife.  I spent the day prepping beds, raking and honing some of the best soil in Maine….it will grow amazing vegetables if tended well.  No chemicals, no water (seriously) and little interference tell  of much understanding and planning year after year….good results.  My wife though, always has a way of bypassing all of the planning and just planting the seeds.

On this day, she emptied out a compost bin on a mostly tilled piece of pasture near our garden beds. Its important to know that I have been worried over this piece of land as it was planted but untended last year (read re-pastured) and has had one disc and one till this year (still a frontier).  No matter, out came the rich compost-ish material: some soil but also egg shells a few carrot bits and some other still showing things (not totally “cooked” at all).  She then proceeded to gently mix in some soil from the area near the pile.  It looked messy, disheveled and then…. then she planted seeds.

No this is not the first time she has done this and yes it is second nature to her, passed down from a line of powerful and practical women and their gardens–and it works every time but it always takes me by pleasant surprise.  For out of this pile of mixed and mashed freedom will come our best and sweetest melon of the year, the pumpkin that makes us all gasp…..

I sat and watched, then after all was well finished and I remained in the field, I looked at the pile and thought of the best learning experiences I have had with communities of kids.  Should they have grown to what they were, did I have a plan or design….( was the soil prepared enough)? I can only say that I trusted the seeds, and the environment found–mashed-up and perhaps even unsightly (you do remember the last time you heard the *sound* of learning or looked deeply at the kids as they interacted?  That sweet and tad bit chaotic sound and sight….).  These times, yield the most growth, the sweetest moments, and the lasting bonds.

A wondrous learning environment is often one that emerges, with our care as adults. Our care in letting go of our worry and will to control, our importance in knowing what “works”, or what history says will work “always”…. For just as those seeds will grow wild, they will grow because a gentle bravery bucked all of horticulture and believed in the ability of seeds and freedom at one moment in time.





On Mutation in Education

Mutation in Education1



The Individual

In the 21st century, the individual is the kernal of energy for educational design.


Who are you? What do you need?

Two questions that drive education at the root and rhizomatic levels. Schools have not been tasked with these questions in the past at more than a philosophical level (there are distinct examples otherwise most certainly).


Education–>>Content–>>Hours | Resources and assets needed for each individual.

A premium puzzle exists within this design.

  • Education is multifaceted–culture-as-local space blends with a global civic culture born of the networked world. The individual as interdependent and connected part of the world.
  • Content drives education, be it pure experience or didactic instruction, content is what we as humans intake and produce in organic realms of design,  iteration, understanding and beyond in cycles.
  • For schools and society at present hours matter.  How long someone needs to spend on any given content is important for both progress and leisure.  Schools need to understand the fluidity of time and its discontents.  Ubiquity in learning requires a very different conception of “scheduling”.

Once education, content and hours are considered in design, schools must look at the resources and assets necessary to see education as an ecology.


What would need to happen to realize this mutation in your learning community?

1 Distilled from ongoing conversation and deliberation with Shoshana Zuboff,  Jim Maxmin, Grant Litchman and a very important roundtable discsussion on Lake Damariscotta, ME this spring.


Some 10 years ago I sat across from an Aerial Wolf Hunting Lobbyist in Juneau AK as a long beard, back to the lander with AK roots.  He was a brilliant old timer: healthy, clean shaven, calloused, and tucked in….a big city (relative) look.  Visiting my father (also lobbying) we had sat for breakfast in the oldest hotel in town. I could not stop looking at this man.  I was doing work informally on reserve design for the Yellowstone to Yukon initative and was as I still am, a proponent of balance in ecological systems….read predators as keystone species…. Legislation was up to challenge  shooting wolves from airplanes and I agreed with it. He looked like he may have a differing opinion so I engaged him and will never forget the learning that took place that day.

Me: “Are you here for the legislative session”

Old Fellow: “Yes, I am….I’m here to support aerial hunting”

I remember being startled that he would engage me in this way

Me: “Why do you support killing wolves”

Old Fellow: “Its about balance, son”

He went on to describe how in the 1950’s and 1960’s the wolf management program disrupted the ecosystems in drastic ways and created an imbalance that will take radical and systemic change to right.  In his community of McGrath, though there where disagreements, a susbistence life was built around Caribou, tourism and self sufficiency….he was not about to let his lifeway go without evidence of how disrupting the “new” balance (keeping wolf populations low dealing with bear predation on fawning caribou….) was viable on the ground.  He was not going to allow a tight knit group of bush dwellers to suffer for peoples lofty philosophy.  Theirs was a deep opinion and way of life.  It was political, economic and environmental.

This meeting has been a clarion call for me.  Since that time I have studied why the “balance” in the world exists and specifically why school reform and tinkering toward utopia (Tyack 1995)  fails to address the core balance in education and learning.  Lobbing softballs in education around PISA and the common core, fixing teachers, students and schools because it is the “right thing to do” does not address the realities of balance and what it takes to change the cultural institution of schooling.  Their is a holistic imbalance in learning. The American people do not see why education needs to be changed because the institutions that they participate in have not changed.  AP, IB, honors, regents, common core, school re-design, teacher education and beyond feed a static process to enforce an almost 200 year balance and re-balance would effect every aspect of America and in turn the world.  Our educational system exists to school a population into 19th and 20th century social, economic, and environmental patterns.   These patterns need to be discharged, or detoxed as Monika Hardy and the Innovation Lab of Colorado practice.  Furthermore as Illich envisioned in Deschooling society, the very fabric of society will need to awaken and act in new designs and systems.  Yes there are growing vestiges of these innovations.  However, these vestiges will need to get to the heart of political engagement, move away from ideological trends, and embrace each other through the messiness of their call for peer to peer ecologies.  If this process of mutual aid, doxa and thaumadzein is networked, the balance in learning will correct like an ecological system and self organize.