Podcast: Diane Tavenner on What Kids Need for a Fulfilled Life

With the backing of a group of parents, Diane Tavenner opened Summit Prep in 2003. The success of that first high school led to a network of 11 secondary schools in the Bay Area and Washington State. The 13 cohorts of Summit Public Schools graduates have all graduated college-ready.

Summit schools feature project-based learning and 1:1 mentoring. Four times a year, Summit learners choose from more than 50 expedition opportunities. For the 10 weeks that students are exercising voice and choice in real-world learning, Summit teachers are engaging in professional learning experiences as part of the most comprehensive talent development system in America.

As a mother, teacher, and school network builder, Tavenner shares what she has learned about getting kids ready for college, work and life in her new book Prepared: What Kids Need for a Fulfilled Life. She hopes it’s a bridge that brings parents and teachers together.

The first section of the book, Why Prepare, tells Tavenner’s backstory and moving past good intentions and winning the right to open a new kind of high school. She introduces the Summit Personalized Learning Plan and the central role of mentors (advisors).

In chapters 3-6, Tavenner covers the basics of How to Prepare. She makes the case that “Projects aren’t desert, they’re the main course.”

Projects are the most effective way to learn, the way you develop the kids that matters most.” said Tavenner. Chapter three notes textbooks, accountability systems, and nostalgia as obstacles.

In a chapter on promoting self-direction, Tavenner suggests we underestimate youth, we don’t take time to explore their curiosity.

An overlooked element of learning is reflection says Tevenner. Mentors at Summit help learners think about our own thinking

Chapter six deals with working together, “what our world demands,” said Tavenner. “There’s little siloed work anymore.”

The last third of the book details what it means to be prepared. Chapter seven covers Success Habits culminating in self-direction, curiosity, and purpose.

Chapter eight encourages curiosity-driven learning and learning how to learn. Chapter nine covers a set of universal skills (reading, writing, problem-solving) that Tavenner says are “the foundation of what kids are learning through projects.”

An epilog lays out a blueprint for parents–a playbook for Browne’s new initiative focused on helping parents nationwide navigate the complexities and challenges of raising happy and successful kids. The book includes these dozen tips for parents:

  • Seek out opportunities to engage your child’s opinion and participation
  • Make the self-directed cycle part of your everyday life
  • Teach the five power behaviors of  a self-directed learner (strategy-shifting, challenge seeking, persistence, responding to setbacks, seeking help appropriately)
  • Remember skill development is lumpy
  • Catch yourself when you feel the need to be needed by your child
  • Teach collaboration by asking questions
  • Mentor, don’t direct
  • Focus on the ‘ings’ (what do you like doing?)
  • Ask why–then ask why again
  • Engage in knowledge acquisition together
  • Reframe the college search (vision for life, purposeful, realistic, informed choice)
  • Teach the principles of consensus

Check out Prepared for a great outline of how to help young people learn to thrive.

For more on the building blocks of success listen to Episode 217 with Dr. Pamela Cantor.

Key Takeaways:
[1:22] Diane gives a quick origin story of Summit Public Schools.
[2:15] Diane describes the Summit learning model.
[4:55] Diane shares about the incredibly unique opportunity Summit offers for students: two-week expeditions four times a year!
[7:00] Mira joins the podcast and talks about why and when she first joined Summit.
[8:30] What’s Mira’s favorite thing to show people at Summit when they first come to visit?
[9:50] Why did Diane write her book, Prepared: What Kids Need for a Fulfilled Life?
[12:06] Tom outlines the three sections of Diane’s book as well as the first two chapters. Diane explains what the second chapter titled, ‘Because it’s a solvable problem,’ means to her.
[14:57] Diane explains why she thinks the third chapter of her book, on real-world and project-based learning, is important.
[16:42] Tom highlights more of what is covered in Chapter three of Diane’s book, and Diane speaks about why projects can be easy to take on but hard to do well.
[18:17] Tom and Diane speak about Summit’s incredible teacher-to-teacher collaboration, why it is so successful, and how it makes a difference at Summit.
[19:21] Why is Chapter four’s topic on self-direction important in education?
[20:52] Diane speaks about chapter five’s topic on reflection and the role mentors play at Summit.
[22:04] Chapter six is on collaboration — what does collaboration look like at Summit?
[23:20] Chapter seven is on success habits — why are they important? And how do they help develop them at Summit?
[26:26] Chapter eight is on curiosity — how do they provoke curiosity with their learning model at Summit?
[28:22] In chapter nine, Diane talks about a set of universal skills and identifies a set of cognitive skills that are key in learning. How do teachers assess each of these cognitive skills?
[30:42] In Prepared, the epilogue provides a blueprint for parents. How has this become so important for Mira and what is her new journey going to be about?
[32:57] What will the Prepared Parents initiative look like at Summit?
[34:55] Mira speaks about the self-directed cycle in the epilogue of the book and how a parent can make that a part of their child’s day.

Mentioned in This Episode:
Summit Public Schools
Prepared: What Kids Need for a Fulfilled Life, by Diane Tavenner
Mira Browne (LinkedIn)
Diane Tavenner (LinkedIn)
Turnaround for Children
Dr. Pamela Cantor
Getting Smart Podcast Ep. 217 with Dr. Pamela Cantor
PreparedforSuccess.org (The Prepared Parents initiative)

For more on Summit Public Schools, see:

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The Getting Smart Staff believes in learning out loud and always being an advocate for things that we are excited about. As a result, we write a lot. Do you have a story we should cover? Email [email protected]

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