The Dream School

I've dreamed my entire life about building a school - about who it would serve, what it would look like, how it would function. For this particular dream session, I solicited the help of trusted teachers and friends who have dedicated their professional lives to formal education. They formed an informal advisory board for this project, and each contributed a name or a function for the department or space that they would want at their dream school.

The result: The Dream School, a place to showcase the responses I got, and a starting place for considering why & how we educate and what we want the educated to know.


A quasi-architectural drawing of The Dream School.

A quasi-architectural drawing of The Dream School.

The Reflection Center

Concept by Claire Pettengill, one English teacher who taught me that the humanities are about precision.

What is it? It lies at the center of campus, and from it “all the other departments and classrooms radiate outward--kind of a star shape or a sun with rays. It would be the hub of the school and the most important place. It would be quiet there, with windows, but maybe the windows would be covered with very sheer shades so the outside landscape would not intrude, but in any case the room would be filled with light, and there would be a fresh scent--something natural and from a plant not too sweet but not astringent. Everyone in the school would go there after or even during the process of carrying out any activity, say if they got "stuck" or even if they were pleased with the task--reading, writing, completing a lab, playing a sports game, eating lunch, having a debate, watching a movie, taking a test, teaching or learning a new concept of any kind. Anyone in the reflection center (teachers, students, cafeteria personnel, office workers) would sit still for some period of time and examine the product of and reflect on the activity just completed, to see how it went and what they "see" or "see differently" now that they have completed the task. It would be important to somehow keep track of reflections. For some people that might be by writing about them; for others, talking aloud to a video recorder or another person. But the reflections would have to be concretized somehow. Frequently, people would come to the Reflection Center to encounter other people’s reflections, to see different ways of reflecting. This reflecting would not be a passive activity, but a meditative "seeing,” not as aggressive as "analysis," calmer but related. Ultimately, everyone at this school would become so accustomed to the habit of reflection that all their conversations and relationships would change. People would begin to think not only about work, but living, as a process of movement and reflection rather than a process of achievement or failure.”


The Elephant and Piggie Center for Play

Concept by Amy Lynch, one child whisperer of a first grade teacher (and colleague).

What is it?” It would be a place for kids to come and be kids and learn a bit in the process. [The job of the teachers would be] to follow the attention of the kids and lift the level of what they are doing. Pedagogically, the center focuses on the concept of attentional following, as opposed to attentional shifting. (I.e. You notice a young child is looking at a bird on that ground and you talk to the child about what the bird might be doing, what it looks like, etc. Attentional shifting would mean you would talk to the child about other things, maybe about something else in the park, or what you will do next). Obviously, both are necessary, but school as it is now is too slanted toward attentional shifting, in my opinion, and it makes kids feel like learning is only about filling an empty vessel as opposed to igniting a fire for learning.”


The Friction Center

Concept by Karen Shepard, one creative writing teacher who called us all out and taught us to write better to make us better people.

What is it? “A center where one’s capacities for empathy are expanded in a variety of initially uncomfortable and fraught ways.”

Dean’s Office at Tunnel City


Concept by Dave Johnson, one dean of students with an affection for conversation and biscotti who always asked for feedback in earnest.

A Dean’s office cum coffee shop that specializes in raspberry muffins. A Place to gather and talk, share Ideas and strategize, take breaks and practice the art of conversation.

The Center for Self-Reliance and Grit

Concept by Jaime Estrada, one Modern Language & Literature teacher who occasionally substitute taught my french classes (or as he says, “Author of the pamphlet Success, one failure at a time.”)

What is it? “Sample of think tanks that would work within the building: Give it up: The Kafka center for inquiry. How to shoot down your mom's helicopter. The Chumbawamba seminar: How to get up again when you get knocked down.”



Initials by Peter T. Murphy, one English teacher who taught me to think my thoughts all the way through.

What is it? An acronym for "Passion Tones Minds," and a place to focus on determining and cultivating passions and applying them to personal and academic education.


Center for Creative and Performing Arts

Concept by Susan Kellerman, one music teacher (and colleague) who ably taught time signatures to five year olds, and Linda Phillips, one art teacher (and colleague) who shared her lesson plans, her wisdom and her desk with me.

What is it? “It would be an Arts center that focuses on the arts disciplines which bring people together, an arts education from a more integrated approach and would highlight how activities like these are meant to be shared in order to achieve a greater sense of community. I envision something of a community center, but definitely an arts-education centered approach that uses the arts to emphasize how human we all are and to promote compassion, understanding, tolerance, trust and communication.”

“This space would have resources (electronic and otherwise) for inquiry and research, including access to experts; space, materials and tools for collaborative making/building; and display/presentation space for exhibiting and presenting the resulting projects.”


The Center of Innovation

Concept by Kathy Sweeney-Hammond, one Chemistry teacher who kicked my butt into liking science.

What is it? “A building or wing set aside for innovation in the sciences and technology.  I think there is never enough space or time in the schedule to allow for development of creative thought and investigative work.  It always takes time and space to do independent research in science, and I think that is one of the best ways to learn.  So you would have well stocked labs, places for independent research where materials could be left out so students would have their own creative space to work.  Each student would have to do a capstone project between their junior and senior year that involved independent research in either humanities/language or science/tech/math or art/music. Students would choose two areas in which to do their capstone projects. The first 2.5 years of HS would be to cover the essentials, the last 1.5 years to devise, develop, and do the work on the capstone projects.  There would be project design classes to supplement the projects and continued coursework but each project would be a full credit.”

Wellbeing Center

Concept by Debbie Caiola and Chris Appleby, two super teacher daughters of a super teacher father who hired and mentored my super teacher parents.

What is it? A public forum to highlight individuality and achievement. There would be supports in place to build confidence in every kind of student. Every student needs to feel appreciated, supported, and valued; every student will have an advocate who assists in personalizing educational content, pooling educational, health & social-emotional resources, and drafting individual charts to success, balance & fulfillment.