Episode 55 – Karen Giuffré – Sandpaper

Adam DeWittPrincipal Leadership Lab Podcast

According to Karen, “Education should nurture our most vital community asset – our children.” As the Founding Director of Voyagers’ Community School, Karen is shifting and disrupting the education paradigm. Each day she tells and shows children and adults that anything is possible, that dreams motivate, curiosity inspires, and they have the power to change the world.
A respected industry thought leader and speaker, Karen is an active member of a number of boards, committees, and progressive organizations where she shares her expertise in non-profit operations, curriculum development, and educational revolution as a global undertaking, with children’s interests at the fore. Karen helps schools integrate progressive approaches in classrooms and across all schools and school systems — whether public, charter, or private. She also advised start-up school efforts.
Karen’s Leadership Journey
Voyagers’ Community School – Founding Director – Infancy-12
Natural Educator – Loved Dance, so became a dance teacher..
Worked in Harvard, Mass at a public school – project-based
Wrote curriculum for PE teachers, training trainers.
Eldest son struggled in school, began thinking about education and what was possible
Needed to be a school that was different – founded Voyagers’ in 2004
Voyager – how it was developed – took years to come to the name
Exploration, Journey – wanted kids to grow their intellectual muscle/strength; seating arrangements, multi-age, independent work
Teachers as researchers
Children as critical thinkers,kids who hold on to their imaginations, civic-minded
Curriculum Continuum is not predetermined
Recruiting Teachers – maybe 5 have potential out of 100 – coming from traditional school settings
The longer they have been traditional settings, the longer it takes for them to unlearn
Sandpaper Concept – show me a different way, challenge me to see something different
“Thriving on the rub” – thrive on the back and forth, the challenge
How do you keep the “sandpaper” fresh – people who are willing to be challenged, rubbed in a different way – have to be willing to change and to grow
Students – it does take a unique student – kids late in their ed. Careers have to Opt-In. They have to want something different, they have to know what they want.
Capstone projects in place of final exams
Leadership Challenge/Opportunity
If I knew ahead of time, I probably wouldn’t have done it…
Disrupt education.
How to take this to the public – humbly, but confidently
At the heart and mind of every school leader – how do we make this experience equitable
Children as powerful, resourceful, competent – kids have to be stakeholders
The magic of childhood – keeping that alive
Something different for children – have things panned out how you would have expected? Anything you would change? What is next to improve V?
“What would it take for you to want to come to school?”
“Project Weeks”


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