The Change Agent

Dr. Elliot Washor
CEO and founder of Big Picture Learning

The Objective

To learn how how one organization is focusing on student agency and the "Whole Child" in order to transform education for their students.

podcasts on google

Show Notes

Guest Dr. Elliot Washor, co-founder of Big Picture Learning, joins us to share the impact of his organization and their work to foster learning spaces where students can freely and courageously pursue their passions and interests. Over the past 25 yrs, Big Picture Learning has worked to innovate and change education and Dr. Washor discusses the student focused learning model which is at the center of their student success.

Host Bio: Dr. Chris Balow is the Chief Academic Officer at SchoolMint. Dr. Balow has a Ph.D in Educational Psychology and served for 33 years as an educator in various roles with focuses on literacy, mental health, and the behavioral and emotional growth of students. He has worked the last 6 years in the educational technology field to promote student success on a larger scale.

Episode 14
Title: Student Agency and the “Big Picture”
Subtitle: Learning through interest and internships

VoiceOver (00:02):

ChangeAgents in K-12 is presented by SchoolMint and features top educators, practitioners, and leaders sharing research and experiences as well as stories of hope, opportunity, and student success.

Dr. Chris Balow (00:16):

Welcome to the podcast today, everyone. It's my pleasure to introduce to you our guests for today, Dr. Elliot Washor, who is the co-founder of Big Picture Learning, which is an organization that developed an innovative school design model, treating each student as an individual learner. It's a competency-based school environment that uses mentors, parents, and peers to create unique learning experiences. Dr. Washor has been involved in school reform for more than 30 years, and he's been a teacher, a principal and administrator, a video producer, and an author. In fact, one of his books called leaving to learn how out of school learning success increases student engagement and reduces dropout rates. Fascinating book that we'll talk about. Dr. Washor has taught, uh, all levels from kindergarten through college and urban rural settings and all disciplines and his interests lie in the field of how schools can connect with communities to understand the tacit and disciplinary learning both inside and outside of school. A couple of, you know, he's had a lot of great acknowledgements in his career. One of the most interesting is that he was named one of the 12 most daring educators in the world by the George Lucas educational foundation. So with that, please welcome Dr. Elliott Washor to the podcast.

Dr. Elliot Washor (01:41):

Nice to be here. Thanks a lot.

Dr. Chris Balow (01:44):

All right. Thank you. So, uh, as I noted in, in your, uh, uh, biography, you're the co-founder of big picture learning, uh, Elliot, tell us a little bit about big picture learning.

Dr. Elliot Washor (01:55):

Right. Well, uh, Dennis Lipski and I met in 1971, so actually we've been doing work, uh, together 49 years. Uh, it's quite a while. And, and big picture learning started, uh, 25 years ago. Um, when, uh, we were the first people brought to Rhode Island by the Annenberg Institute when Ted sizer was the director of it. And when we got there, we were, our kind of, uh, task was to act locally, regionally, nationally, and internationally, not a small task, uh, around, uh, a practice that we would develop, not knowing what it was and, uh, slowly not so slowly. And within six months, um, we found out that Annenberg and at Brown university was really not the place for people like us who were lifelong practitioner people. And we formed Big picture learning and the commissioner of education at the time, Peter McWatters is now our board president Stanley Goldstein, who was the CEO of CVS pharmacy, uh, the governor and, uh, a whole bunch of other people saw us as the potential people to, uh, change public education in the state of Rhode Island and nationally through a school that had not been built yet called the mat. So we formed a not-for-profit called big picture learning, uh, hired a number of people from the community of South Providence, uh, took on the task of, um, developing a school called the metropolitan regional career and technical center really known as the mat. And we took on that work with everybody having full knowledge, including the state legislature, because the school is its own district. It's not a charter, it's a line item in the state budget. And then in and of itself, that is a very innovative concept. That's rarely used. And we said, we'll create a new iteration of a high school, which will be a set of small schools in communities where the students will not be tracked. There will be a heterogeneous grouping of students where every student will have a learning plan. This is at the high school level. We have K to college now, and two days a week, our students would be out focused around their interests and their choices with mentors, with our teachers, who we call advisors, uh, following out and being with them with is a big word for us. I'm not just doing something to somebody, but being with. And they would develop students would develop practical work, academic work, and project work, uh, from the experiences they were having in, uh, internships or field study research outside of school learning experiences. And our students would exhibit their work quarterly, families would be engaged in the learning plan meetings, which met quarterly after exhibitions. So we had high levels of family engagement from, uh, families that normally wouldn't be involved in school because there's no way in most schools to get involved. Uh, but when a school asks you, um, what was your child like when they were three? And all of a sudden you change the role of a teacher to one, who's not just disseminating information, but having to listen to understand who a child is, that's changing that role. And now both roles. Now parents have a role because they can respond to a question that the educator doesn't know the answer to. And so when you have parents engaged at that level, uh, looking at their own students' work at exhibitions, participating in learning plans and actively being part of the community as a resource for mentorship, for other students, not just their own children, all of a sudden that role changes for both once again, teacher and a parent. And so we started with 50 students and their families. We would say we enroll families, not just students in our schools. And we built this six, small schools, four on a campus, one on about a mile away in the West end of Providence and another one in Newport and other one downtown. Um, the campus, our public street is completely open to the community and faces the community, you know, fences completely open. And lo and behold with the street grid running right through the property. And lo and behold in one of the toughest sections of Providence, no vandalism, no graffiti. It looks beautiful to this day. Um, and it was built, uh, five years after we started the school. We were downtown, uh, 20 years later, it's, it's a beautiful campus, beautiful set of buildings. It has a fitness center, a performance center, a black box theater, medical, dental, and psychological services for the community in a separate building, the only commercial kitchen in South Providence, public, uh, and, uh, a local access television studio and editing suites, um, built into the performing arts center. It's the only high school that has a dedicated space for innovation and entrepreneurship in the United States. That's another one of our buildings there. And we built the facilities, the first project ever in the state of Rhode Island where we came in under budget.

Dr. Chris Balow (07:56):

That's always a plus.

Dr. Elliot Washor (07:58):

Yeah, yeah, that's right. Um, and, uh, we had, I believe it was three or four times the number of minority businesses and current, uh, contractors on that job. So a lot of firsts have happened with the mat, which was the first project of big picture learning along with that, a national project called the new urban high school was also awarded to big picture where the met was the lab of that project with five high schools around the country. And then another project that we had was a statewide project where we call breaking ranks in the ocean state, where we had every single superintendent and principal at monthly meetings. Once again, focused around the met, begging the lab for making change. So we had a local state and national project going on, right from the inception of the work of a school. Um, that was a focal point of the change that people could actually see and participate in.

Dr. Chris Balow (09:07):

Wow. That's, that's, that's fantastic. And what I have read is that the met had some quite remarkable outcomes for students,

Dr. Elliot Washor (09:18):

Uh, yeah. That and still does. So we're now celebrating our 25th year and we have probably close to 200 schools around the world that are big picture learning schools and then probably a hundred that are inspired by us and maybe more. And that really wasn't, um, our work to do schools, the work of big picture is to influence and change American public education. Then there's reasons why we do international work. And you'll hear some of those funny stories later on. Um, but, uh, we spread, uh, slowly over 25 years to places all over the United States, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Camden, Washington, DC, uh, Vermont, New Hampshire, Florida schools down South, all along the Eastern seaboard in the Midwest and, uh, Nashville and Detroit. And then out West from state of Washington all the way down to San Diego, there's a proof points as schools. And we did schools to have proof points to show people that we could do this in all kinds of environments with the same kind of school structure in play and with different kinds of budget limitations. Um, didn't matter, uh, that if there are people want, and that's another big word that we use with and want, want along with, with, if people want to do something different and they were thinking about doing something different and we had the structures and some credibility that allow that, that, uh, happen for them. Uh, we found one another and, and created these schools in these different places.

Dr. Chris Balow (11:13):

Fantastic. And what I really appreciate is the focus on the whole child and the importance of relationships, um, and that autonomy, that, that autonomy for students that really engages them.

Dr. Elliot Washor (11:27):

Right. Well, our, one of our mantras was at early, early on, was one student at a time in a community of learners. We were personalized keeping the person in the personalized. Um, we were, uh, focused on the interests and choices and needs of each and every student in their families, knowing that peer to peer, adult, to child, all those relationships are very, very important in the scheme of learning both in and outside of school. So we were a competency-based system and still are where wherever you learn it, if you can show, you know, it demonstrate it in multiple ways or any kind of way, you get the credit for it. And so most competency-based systems are anywhere, anytime, but not many ways. And unless you change the many ways part, you will end up doing what the traditional system would have. You do it their way. So the competency base doesn't really change what people are doing. Basically, you could argue that they're always, competency-based, they're grading people and everybody is going along on their own trajectory. It's just that we're trying as a system to keep everybody in the same place, but they're in reality, not same age in the same class. They're not at the same place in the same class, and they're not dealing with these same issues in their personal lives. So you have to look at the whole child, their health, their wellbeing, whether they're getting sleep, exercise, eating, right. Whether they're managing stressful situations in their lives. And they have healthy relationships with their peers and other adults. And when a school has that kind of information, they can engage students. Instead of just pretending that there's a content over here to teach, like, what you're really doing is working with students. If you're just delivering content, you don't know who's in front of you and you may not care, but we would argue that's our role.

Dr. Chris Balow (13:54):

Right? And, and so that, it sounds like you really create relevance for students in what they're learning and student agency. And that just drives engagement to super high levels.

Dr. Elliot Washor (14:07):

Yes. Well, you know, there's, there's a lot of language that's used in schools all the time. And, uh, just to make a point, one of the words or terms use the student agency, well, you, you would argue, or I would argue that you always have agency. It's what you do with it. You can do positive things or negative things. It can be constricted and limited by the system or the place that you're in, but you're always making choices. So agency philosophically and biologically is you making a choice, um, student agency in schools. If you look at certain data, you would find that our young people have been reduced in terms of the, uh, laws on the books that limit their movement, to the point where most students in a school in a high school have less freedom of movement than a Marine recruit or a convicted felon. You can't even go to the bathroom without permission in most schools. And you're sitting in a seat where the assumption is, is that you're learning. It's just an assumption.

Dr. Chris Balow (15:30):

Very much so.

Dr. Elliot Washor (15:33):

Uh, absolutely. Yeah. And so agency is, well, if I'm not learning, I can sit there. I can play the game of school. I could really be into what I'm learning, which is a percentage of students, or I'm going to tune out. And worst of all, I'm going to walk. I'm going to leave because...

Dr. Chris Balow (15:58):

I would add disrupt the learning of others.

Dr. Elliot Washor (16:03):

Oh, absolutely. Yeah. That's definitely a possibility. So student engagement is a big thing in the way you engage young people is to develop ways that they can show you what they're interested in and a school then must act on that, both in and outside of school. Now I'm interested in what you are interested in, which means I'm interested in you. I'm interested in you getting better at those things. If they're productive and guiding you to productive activities and positive, um, connecting you with adult mentors, connecting you online and productive ways and connecting you back at school. And what happens is, is that that changes and transforms culture. So we would argue that pain is either transformed or does transmitted. We have to be on the prevention side of things in schools, not just solely on intervention. And most of the systems that we have in our country at this point in time is you got to get really sick or do really something wrong for the system to intervene or else it doesn't give you the attention. But if you have a system based on prevention where, you know, students well, you know, their families, you know what they're interested in, and you're aware of the ups and downs in somebody's life, all of a sudden, there's no perfect world, but all of a sudden the focus changes from just a response to an intervention, to a mode of prevention, just like the medical establishment may not, you may just give you a pill or a treatment, but what they really have to do is change how you live. So you can manage your own. This is the agency part. You can manage your life. So you have less frequent interventions. And when the interventions occur, it happened for meaningful reasons,

Dr. Chris Balow (18:10):

Right. You know, you mentioned climate. And what you've described to me really paints a picture of, of mutual respect between the educator and the student and a strong relatedness. And I, I was a former school psychologist and job one when I was working with kids with, with, uh, behavioral and mental health issues was really establishing that trusting relationship. And once that was there, I could ask those kids to work on just about anything.

Dr. Elliot Washor (18:41):

Absolutely. Um, that, you know, the, what you mentioned, the relationships, uh, relevance and rigor. We coined that phrase it came out of big picture learning work.

Dr. Chris Balow (18:54):

Yeah I've heard that phrase a lot from others. That's, that's really interesting.

Dr. Elliot Washor (18:59):

Right? Right. It was, it was coined at big picture and it's, you have to start with relationships and relevance. If you start with academic rigor, you ended up in the same place. You never get to the relationships and the relevance, which is the mistake that a lot of schools make. So they, they pound down on the standards without having a relationship or making it relevant and they get the same results, surprisingly. There's no surprise. Right, right. Not at all. And what you say is absolutely true, um, as a school psychologist and people know that the, the thing that's studied most in psychology is interest and motivation. And yet it plays very little role in schools because schools are driven by content and a time-based system, um, which is you sit in a seat and there's a certain amount of content and you get a grade at the end. Um, but in, in the world at large and how you really learn in the world, you know, if, if something is really interesting, you, the clock receipts, you spend all the time in the world on it. And if something, and to get good at it, that's what you have to do. Those things that you really want to get good at. And you need people to show you the ropes in the tricks of the trade, the nuances you get, what they call privileged information in artificial intelligence. You only get that if somebody who really has spent a long time getting good at something knows that you're making a commitment to that field. Uh, they'll tell you how to do things that normally you can't learn from a book or a classroom.

Dr. Chris Balow (20:49):

Right. And, you know, uh, I encourage people to go on big picture learning website. One of the things that you'll see listed are the 10 distinguishers, and you've touched on some of those and kind of, um, talk to us. And I think it fits with the current discussion about learning through interests and internships. I mean, that really, to me speaks of, of, uh, learning the tricks of the trade from experts who have practiced this for years. And again, that, that whole, uh, notion that, that this is really relevant to me.

Dr. Elliot Washor (21:22):

Right? Well, so when we first started the mat, we, you know, and we said this to the people who granted us EV in, in essence, every school and every district has, is chartered. It's, uh, it's, it's like a ship's charter. Um, if you don't perform, they can take it away. They can, you can, you can have your whole district taken over by the state or charter school, uh, really bulking their charter. So we're a district school in the state of Rhode Island statewide. We can open up schools anywhere. They made us district-wide a statewide district. Okay. That said, um, getting back to the conversation around the distinguishers first, the distinguishers are not design principles. People mistake that although they could be easily mistaken for design principles, what happened was, is the way we figured out the distinguishes was to actually do the practice and the work. So, yes, we have learning goals, but after about four years, we sat down as a team and looked at, um, Turmans work on distinguishers, which was he, and this is the story behind the word. He sailed, uh, two identical boats in a race, and inevitably one always won. And then he went into the details to figure out why that one boat always won. And he coined that what those little details, where are big things distinguishers. So we now, after building the boat, if you will building the school and the program said, what distinguishes us from all other schools that makes us really, really good that we want to hold dear. And those became our 10 distinguishes. It's not that they're cast in stone and can't change, and we can add more, but they've helped guide people and we can measure ourselves against them to see around what we do and that's how they're used. So it's interesting cause it's, uh, uh, people mistake them. Oh, they just started with these and they built a school around it. No, we did just the opposite. We figured out how to do the school and that's what came out of it.

Dr. Chris Balow (24:02):

Okay. You know all of the 10 distinguishers are super interesting, but I, as curious to have you describe the learning through interest in the internship,

Dr. Elliot Washor (24:11):

Right? So that, I'm sorry about that. Just wanted to get that part clear. Um, that came out of, uh, John Dewey, coined a phrase called learning through occupations, which he felt that academic and practical skills could be learned through the occupations and should be. We looked at that work and there was some researcher named Norton grub who passed away, who was at Berkeley, who wrote, I think three or four volumes of as a series called learning through occupations. Um, we turn the phrase to learning through internships, to make it more timely. And really, we turn the phrase around learning through interests. So originally for us, it meant starting with a student interest in this came out of our, one of our mentors, Seymour Sarason, who was at emeritus at Yale at the time and opened up the first community mental health clinics in the United States. Seymour would always say, start with the interest of each and every student don't stop there, but that's where you start. Now, you're engaging. Now you have to listen because you're not adhering to a content that you're delivering. You're paying attention to each and every student and what they're interested in, and you can figure that out. And I'll send an article on, because I get asked the question all the time. What if a student doesn't have an interest? Well, that's just not. So they may not trust you. They may not verbalize it, but if you observe and you watch and they trust you, they'll, they'll tell you in all kinds of ways, what they're interested in, and it doesn't have to be a career. What are you interested in now in learning how to get better at, and then gold coined the phrase as you go deep, you learn many things and we do it just the opposite. We go mile wide inch deep. So going deep around an interest also delivers content, but in a different way,

Dr. Chris Balow (26:26):

Only it in this model. Let me interrupt. I'm curious. So learning through interests, that just really is exciting. So do the teachers then sort of backward map from what those interests are to make sure that yes, the activities are mapping to some standards.

Dr. Chris Balow (26:43):


Dr. Chris Balow (26:44):

Cause we know, kids have to learn standards at some level.

Dr. Elliot Washor (26:47):

Oh absolutely. And we're public schools and we're responsible for that. But instead, or, and instead of mapping directly to the standards, we have a set of learning goals, which is how to, uh, empirical reasoning, quantitative reasoning, social reasoning, personal qualities, and communication, those equate to how to think like a scientist. How do you think like a mathematician? How do you think like a historian communicate can be through the arts, the sciences, dance music, writing, speaking, performing personal qualities, social, emotional growth, exercise, sleep, eating well, taking care of yourself. So when you look at the whole child, all those learning goals are sitting in front of them and the advisor and the parent and the mentor. They don't see the list of standards that the teacher knows they have to meet. Now, those standards are met through the learning goal activities, which could be projects, college classes, regular classes, trips, travel, field, study, independent study, online learning. So those standards are there, but they're not overwhelming. The parent, the student, the mentor, their learning goals are what they interface with. And then they pick up all those standards because they're there. And we know that's what we have to do, you know, at the end of four years of high school, sure. It's truly a competency-based system. You don't have to get them. Ninth grade, 10th grade, 11th, grade, 12th grade, all that's usually what happens. They can be done at different times in different grades. And when you're in an advisory system and your advisor knows you over those years and is helping you manage and facilitate the learning of the learning goals and the standards, um, they're met in a way that's not turned the page curriculum and learn and forget. But when you hit the standard in a project or a field study or a class, it's noted that you're competent in it. So that's how it's done. And that piece around what you're interested in plays a large role in, in developing the competencies. The other fact that it plays a large role is the relationship where you have a student who used to say, I don't care what you know, until I know that you care, that's a big deal. That can't be ignored. That's a reality for so many students. They need the relationship in order to accept and trust what you're delivering. And then it's much easier, right? I'll always, all work is not easy. That's not why we go into education, um, go into education, not for the certainty of it, but for the uncertainty of it, because we're best. When we have problems that we don't know the answers to. Once we know the answers, we get bored pretty easily, a lot of the time. So you have to make work engaging. That's why it's important to work on real-world problems, problems that are interesting to young people, um, both civically and around their interests and service wise as well.

Dr. Chris Balow (30:28):

Do the schools have any difficulty finding appropriate internship sites for students?

Dr. Elliot Washor (30:34):

So it was when we first opened up the school, I'll give you a little bit of history around this. When we first opened up the mat, people didn't think we would get 50 internships. They said, they're going to be out of business real quick. Okay. Uh, we've had tens of thousands why? And we've had them all over the country, in the thousands, the reason, and why don't schools, access internships for young people? Well, is it, uh, there's not a dirty little secret around this because we're biologically driven to seek out people who know something that we want to learn, how to do schools kind of get in the way of that. It happens naturally. That's how you learn. So taking advantage of a student's interest and an adult who is doing something in their life that they found interesting, and you put those two things together and it breaks down race, class and gender issues, because the interest is that powerful. So pilot, architect, doctor, carpenter, plumber, whatever you think about. If you find a young person who says, Hey, can I learn that from you? And you say, Oh, come back here tomorrow. Well, that's a test already. If you don't come back, you they know you're not interested, you know, but if you go back, okay, hang out over here and do that. Okay. Now what, you know, all of a sudden, there's a relationship developing around an interest in a place that you want to be at. So we use student's interests to develop internship situations. And we've done that from the beginning. We have a system and a way of doing that, where students learn how to call people, how to do job shadows, how to do anthropological studies of a workplace. Don't just say, Oh, we have some students over here and we have some work here and we're just going to smush them together. No, it's about developing that relationship with the school as the intermediary. And now we got really big in the sense that we're doing this work regionally with schools beyond the picture schools. So we developed an internship management platform called in blaze, which is a mobile application and a website that allows schools to manage thousands of internships in between schools. Excellent. Yeah. And so that becomes problematic. If you don't do that, we figured out how to share information across schools in cities and in regions, and do that and account for the learning and account for where the student is on the mobile app. So all those pieces, it sounds like it's a bit complicated and it for sure is, but it's made easier by the platform. And it's made easier by the process that we have in place to get students connected to adults around their interests for internship experiences. Now, one of the offshoots of that, that you can visibly see and understand is that all about 10 years ago, a little bit more, um, we had funding from a few foundations where we conducted a longitudinal study of our students 15 years out from our first grade. And we, we did the longitudinal study because we wanted to get better at what we were doing and see also, or our students actually graduating, uh, from two and four year colleges where they at work, where they good citizens, uh, compared to the cohort of, uh, other students, out young adults in their cities who went to different schools. And one another that we found out a lot of information and it was all really helpful to us and, and, and really positive. But one of the things that we found out that was really fascinating was that out of all the kids who graduated our schools, 68 to 72%, depending upon the class, the year had work from their internships while they were in high school after graduating.

Dr. Chris Balow (35:08):

That a big number. Yeah.

Dr. Elliot Washor (35:12):

Yeah. So what They did and people have studied this beyond the longitudinal study, Julia freelance Fisher in her book, who, you know, just wrote about this. They developed something that social scientists like the call, social capital, we could call it relationships . Um, they built social capital. They, they built connections to people who knew them as a, who knew that they had skills and hired them because of who they are and what they know. So schools only pay attention for the most part, they're granting diplomas or certifications, which is the, what, but rarely do they pay attention to the who and who knows, you know, what, you know, gets you work. It also gets you references and recommendations. People notice it doesn't matter if you're rich and poor. If you ask people, they'll tell you who you know, is as important as what you know, many times. So once a school figures out that they got to put a little who in there, what, okay, all right. Things change. And that increases student engagement that increases your outreach into the community for teachers and students. And that helps you stop the brain drain from your community. Because kids that go off to school that don't know that what they're looking for doing is in the community that they're from, they leave, but it's there many times. It's just that they haven't been provided the access and opportunity. So this becomes an equity issue as well because wealthier people have more access to people who can hire. And so that, that who, you know, is actively working all the time. Sometimes it's working like agency in a good way, and sometimes not because you can get hired just because of who but not a what. So if you put together, who knows, you know what you know, and those you as a person now, that's, that's a pretty rich set a dataset if you will.

Dr. Chris Balow (37:28):

Yeah, definitely. And it seems that, you know, I've been in a lot of schools across the country and they talk about college and career readiness. And frankly, my observation is that a lot of times that just means let's have tougher standards. They don't really, they give lip service to career and you've really operationalized how to make that happen for kids aligned to their interests.

Dr. Elliot Washor (37:54):

Oh, absolutely. Um, it's, uh, it's very, very different approach than what schools are doing in my opinion. Um, they're missing the boat around the development of each and every student, if they don't pay attention to who they are, what they're interested in, connect them because they're going to do it. Anyway. Students do this all the time and students have work outside of school all the time. I can go into a career in technical school and ask a student, and I've done this many, many times. Uh, what pathway are you in the name of pathway? Are you working? Yeah. How many hours a week have 20 to 40 hours? What are you doing something completely different than they're doing in the pathway? And yet they like what they're doing and they're connected through a relationship. Why not have them connected through what they are saying they want to do in school to the outside of school? Because the data shows that out of the a hundred percent of kids who graduate in a pathway when they go off to post-secondary two or four year colleges, only 20% of them stay in that pathway.

Dr. Chris Balow (39:07):

Interesting. Interesting.

Dr. Elliot Washor (39:09):

And I believe that we can double and triple that number if we really pay attention to students' interests.

Dr. Chris Balow (39:15):

Right. Right. Um, the other thing I was thinking Elliot is we hear a lot of talk about 21st century skills in the four C's. It seems like you've really created that collaboration and the communication that creativity in a practical, real world situation for these students. So it it's it's, it becomes real.

Dr. Elliot Washor (39:34):

Right. You know, we work, you know, our students have real, like all students, um, real struggles and traumas in their life on some simple sounding adults, some very, very serious, you know, uh, somebody passes away, somebody's sick, somebody's incarcerated. I broke up with my girlfriend. I got a flat tire. I mean, when you're in high school and you're dealing with all these things that are first, everything sometimes seems like the end of the world, having an advisor, somebody in the school to go to as a first responder is real, real important, where that person knows your family knows you well and is connected to social and psychological services and guidance, um, and supports when, when appropriate. So all that plays into what you were talking about at the beginning, which is school culture, a culture of trust, a culture where there's an aesthetics of relationships, where, where people have that trust because of you're focused on my interests. You focus on yeah. You know, my family, you know, my community, you know, my mentors, um, you're helping me. You're being with me, not doing something to me. Right. Uh, with, is that big word want, is that big word? Who is that big word? These are not edge of babbly words, um, that we should really pay much more attention to and develop structures in program where students around that. And it's not that difficult to do. It's just that the role of a teacher has to change the program. Instructors in school have to change to some degree you can't just rely on delivering content.

Dr. Chris Balow (41:34):

Sure, sure. Yeah. Well, our time is getting short Elliot. I, I seriously could go on talking with you for hours, but we can't. But one question I have to ask, um, is what makes a good leader for a big picture, uh, learning school? What kinds of things have you found that really lead to success from a leadership perspective?

Dr. Elliot Washor (41:55):

Yeah, that's a great question. And we spend and have spent loads of time on, uh, on principal leadership. So in order to have a start, a big picture school, we focus on the principal and the, and the leader and their, um, communication skills. Um, we ask questions about, uh, have you ever failed in your life because this work is difficult and there's going to be failures and successes, but you're going to have to, you know, go through certain things. We look at, uh, whether people are, uh, have done work in their communities or other communities, um, that they've done service, that they are bold, that they are filled with lots of love, caring, compassionate individuals who understand people who may be different than who they are, but they're caring and compassionate around that. And so people from a community very, very important as well, and, and people who are willing to stand up and take a stand on what they believe learning is and who their students are and their families and their staff. So all those things come into play. And we have a lot written on this and a lot of videos around it, um, interviews of our principal leaders. And they, uh, you know, like in a lot of places they're really, really remarkable and they also need, um, supports the role of a leader in a school can be very, very isolating. And so they need coaches, they need mentors and, and a network of schools that speak a common language and have common practice, uh, that support their leadership and their teachers advisors is very, very important. I was on a call this morning with 25 people from schools all over the world, Italy, Australia, Canada, us all big picture schools or principal leaders with advisors and students on it, learning from one another. And that's the leadership piece, um, providing a meshwork as somebody would call it, which is kind of more organic and human than a network, which is kind of more digital and linear is very, very important. So your question is spot on just like your questions around culture are, are, you know, hit the nail on the head. We spend tons of time on getting the culture right. And that the culture is, is transmitted through students and that's how they get transformed. And you can feel it as soon as you walk in. So those are real, real important features, a leadership culture competency-based or proficiency-based. And in the many ways that you can show that you're smart, many of the things we talked about today. So I really appreciate the questions and the time with you.

Dr. Chris Balow (45:10):

Well, appreciation is all from me. Uh, Dr. Washor, it's been, uh, just a, uh, illuminating conversation and, and I really encourage people to go to big, to learn more about big picture learning schools. It's just absolutely fascinating. And I'm really encouraged that you're working with so many schools and getting that word out there, um, to, to really, I mean, we hear this word transform transformation a lot. You're actually doing it and you, you have a proven model. Right. So it's super exciting. So thank you. But before I let you go, um, we do a little game, this or that with all of our guests. So it's very simple. I say two things,

Dr. Elliot Washor (45:56):

You gotta say it, right. It's dis, dis or dat.

Dr. Chris Balow (46:02):

Very good yes. With the Brooklyn accent. So, um, I've got my kind of Canadian accent being from, from the Midwest. Going. So very simple. Tell us which one you prefer and you can explain your, your rationale if you like. So start off with the easy one dog or cat?

Dr. Elliot Washor (46:20):


Dr. Chris Balow (46:20):

Dog. Okay. Um, do you have a dog?

Dr. Elliot Washor (46:25):

I have, uh, um, I'm low on dogs right now. I only have five.

Dr. Chris Balow (46:30):

Okay. You're definitely a dog person. Uh, okay. Uh, scrambled eggs or an omelet?

Dr. Elliot Washor (46:37):

Uh, I don't eat eggs.

Dr. Chris Balow (46:38):

Don't eat eggs. Well, maybe back in the day.

Dr. Elliot Washor (46:43):

If I did, I would say, omlet.

Dr. Chris Balow (46:46):

Okay. Sounds good. How about cake or pie? Are you a dessert person?

Dr. Elliot Washor (46:51):

No, but I w I would rather have, uh, let's see a pie.

Dr. Chris Balow (46:55):

A pie. Okay. Sounds good. Uh, big party or small gathering?

Dr. Elliot Washor (47:01):

Small gathering. Small gathering. Oh yeah.

Dr. Chris Balow (47:05):

Yeah. And that's been a hundred percent of all the guests I've talked to small gathering has been the preference.

Dr. Elliot Washor (47:10):

That's right. That's why we have small schools and we, and we have schools that are made smaller. That's very important. The intimacy and the relationship.

Dr. Chris Balow (47:20):

Awesome. So would you rather have a nice car or a very nice home interior?

Dr. Elliot Washor (47:28):

Uh, yeah. Home.

Dr. Chris Balow (47:30):

Okay. Uh, football or basketball?

Dr. Elliot Washor (47:34):


Dr. Chris Balow (47:35):

Basketball. Okay. Me too. Uh, car or truck?

Dr. Elliot Washor (47:39):


Dr. Chris Balow (47:40):

Truck. You're a truck guy. Okay. Uh, pancake or waffle?

Dr. Elliot Washor (47:44):


Dr. Chris Balow (47:45):

Pancake, TV, or book?

Dr. Elliot Washor (47:47):


Dr. Chris Balow (47:48):

Okay. Meat or vegetables?

Dr. Elliot Washor (47:51):


Dr. Chris Balow (47:52):

Vegetables all right. Healthy person. Okay. Ocean or mountains?

Dr. Elliot Washor (47:59):


Dr. Chris Balow (48:00):

Ocean. Okay.

Dr. Elliot Washor (48:02):

You said I gotta choose.

Dr. Chris Balow (48:03):

You have to choose. And I know where you live. You have access to both.

Dr. Elliot Washor (48:07):

Yes. I'm a lucky person. I can ski and surf in the same day.

Dr. Chris Balow (48:11):

That's that's living. How about a Mac or a PC?

Dr. Elliot Washor (48:17):


Dr. Chris Balow (48:17):

Mac. Okay. And our final question, it's a very important question. It's critical to life toilet paper over or under?

Dr. Elliot Washor (48:27):

Oh, uh, now over.

Dr. Chris Balow (48:32):

Over. Okay. All right.

Dr. Elliot Washor (48:35):

I think I know what you mean. Yeah. Like how you put the roll.

Dr. Chris Balow (48:38):

Exactly how you put the roll. If it comes off. over or...

Dr. Elliot Washor (48:43):

My family growing up. It was always under.

Dr. Chris Balow (48:46):

Okay. All right.

Dr. Elliot Washor (48:46):

Now that, um, I've been married, it's always over. So what does that tell you?

Dr. Chris Balow (48:51):

Well, you know, I was talking to one guest who said MIT did a study on that and they concluded it should be under,.

Dr. Elliot Washor (48:57):

Ah, I I'll tell my wife because this has been a standing argument for years.

Dr. Chris Balow (49:04):

That is hilarious. Well, Dr. Elliot Washor, this has been an absolute delight. And what you've been able to share I think, is really going to be helpful to the education field. And so thanks again for your time.

Dr. Elliot Washor (49:18):

Thanks for helping us get the word out.

Dr. Chris Balow (49:20):

Great. And that's a big picture dot org.

Dr. Elliot Washor (49:23):

That's, that's it. Thank you. Big picture Yeah. Or big picture dot org. Both with take you there. Thanks so much.

Dr. Chris Balow (49:32):

You're welcome and thank you.

VoiceOver (49:35):

You've been listening to the ChangeAgents in K-12 podcast brought to you by SchoolMint. Be sure to subscribe. so you never miss a show and follow us on social media. Remember our brightest years are still ahead. See you next time.