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Imagine if most of life is building a plane while flying it?




Happy founding day, Imagine If!

 

It was 2019. I was on a leave from my former job, completely uncertain of what the next professional step should be. I rolled a huge a huge piece of blank paper across the dining room table and started to write.

 

Why is Project-Based Learning important?

 

What could a company offer to schools to help them?

 

How could we create a process that empower schools and ensures quality practice?

 

The table was filled with words like: agency, co-creation, purpose, authenticity, empower, support, deep learning, facilitation, values-driven, assessment, PBL, bridge to connecting others, equity, student-centered, transformation, daily practice, coaching, leadership and personalization.

The ideas on the paper were not completely new. They represented 15 years of learning from many organizations that did Project-Based Learning well… and even learning from a few that failed. The ideas ranged from practical tools that were needed to create to the culture of a company and how to embody a Project-Based Learning mindset; how to “walk the walk” every day of experimentation, work that matters and learning by doing.

 

And there, with my three kids running around the dinning room, my youngest just 10 months and learning to crawl in the corner… Imagine If was born.

 

I didn’t know anything about having a company.

 

I had read a few blogs about what to do first and following some good advice, I reached out to a handful of people I knew who had already gone on their own to start consulting with PBL and they had some valuable insights into how to get started and whether it was even a realistic venture.

 

One conversation was critical: Kyle Wagner.

 

Kyle and I were part of the same cohort in the High Tech High Graduate School of Education. We had a similar interest in democratic classrooms and Kyle started his own consulting business in China a few years prior. Kyle was and is amazing. His ability to make PBL accessible to everyone while also staying true to the “heart” of the work is impressive. Plus, he’s a great guy.

 

His best piece of advice?

 

Start now.

 

Kyle explained that schools were planning for next year already and waiting until after the summer holiday would be a mistake. Following this idea, I started to reach out to anyone I knew who was working in education in Denmark and seeing if they were interested in PBL support. One contact put me in touch with a project manager at The LEGO Foundation. By pure luck, the Foundation was taking bids for a PBL Pilot Project in Billund Municipality.

 

Maybe you could help whoever we hire a few days per month?

 

I was ecstatic. I was ready to take whatever I could get. A few days later, I got another call from the project manager asking if I could submit a proposal for the full Pilot Project.  

 

I had never even written a proposal before.

 

I went back to the paper on the dining room table, which was now hanging upstairs in my son’s bed room which doubled as an office. Why is this work important? What could I offer to schools to help them? How could I design this process to empower others and ensure quality practice? Like the design of Imagine If, the proposal for The LEGO Foundation wasn’t hard to write.

 

One week later, Imagine If was hired to collaborate with The LEGO Foundation, Billund Municipality and Vorbasse School for the pilot of Playful Learning.

 

I’d drive to Vorbasse School two days each week for the next year. Supporting the school consultants from the municipality, helping teaching teams, observing practice, writing evaluations and finding ways to codify practice for the future scaling of PBL across other schools.

 

The remaining two days each week, was spent building Imagine If. Connecting with educators across the world, writing blog posts, creating graphics to better explain PBL, building a website, designing a logo, figuring out taxes. Paying tax for the first time in Denmark was a memorable experience… I had nothing left! (Don’t worry, I don’t mind it now.) Every day was a new learning experience.

 



When Covid shut down the world for the first time in 2020, Imagine If moved online. I facilitated online workshops, took video calls with anyone who also was hungry for connection and began to create a valuable network on LinkedIn. My first post literally was liked by no one. I continued to post every day for three months because I was bored and because I wanted to feel like I had some control over the success of the company. Slowly, I found others who believed the same thing I did. I started with 250 connections on LinkedIn in 2020 and now find myself with 7,000. All people on a similar mission and it’s been a fantastic realization that we are not alone.

 

The pilot project turned into a “let’s do it for real” project and we signed a 3-year contract with The LEGO Foundation. I started getting calls from other schools wanting support with PBL. Every moment that someone else new sought out help was exciting.

 

But the biggest gift came in the shape of Bryan.

 

Bryan and I were teaching partners back at High Tech High. We always had a lot of fun together and our working styles complemented each other well. Bryan moved to Denmark when I took a maternity leave at our old job… they loved him so much, he stayed.

 

While it was never a certainty that Bryan and I would run a company, the possibility became a reality in September of 2020. We became partners again as co-owners of Imagine If.

 

Over 2020, our client list started to expand and the work in Billund Municipality also grew. It was clear Bryan and I could not handle the consulting work alone. We knew our first colleague would need to be someone who could “hit the ground running” with PBL and jump into supporting schools. There was a short list of people who we had worked with already in Denmark and we went for the person on the top: Caja Fournaise. Caja was an energetic, passionate and creative teacher in Sønderborg who had experience teaching with PBL and also serving as a full-time support for staff in her school. She jumped in…

 

And then there was three. Our small team worked together to navigate the early stages of managing a municipality-wide project while also building our internal culture and processes that helped us do the work well.

 

Shortly after Caja joined, we had an online call with a person named Astrid Ibsen in Aarhus who had just finished her education as a Kaospilot. Astrid was very interested in our organization and passionate about changing schools. She suggested that she join our team as an intern. We said yes.

 

Together, Caja and Astrid launched the first online PBL course in Denmark. It helped us clarify our version of PBL, helped us get some experience with facilitating online processes and was our first “test” in getting a new product into the world aside from our normal consulting services.

 

A few months later, Astrid joined the Imagine If team as a real job.

 

As the organization grew, we started to explore new ways of being a company: doing a newsletter, describing what we do, what our financial needs are, reaching out to new clients. We also started engaging in Deep Dives as a team to explore new and old themes in education and collaborate with others doing innovative work.

 

We also dove head-first into school transformation, leadership training and helping schools navigate change-processes with PBL.

 

We added new clients as partners. Individual schools looking to make big changes. Schools with new buildings who needed help figuring out change their pedagogy to fit the space. We took over another whole-municipality project in Høje-Taastrup and worked hard to understand their history while also building relationships and moving them forward.

 

Always though, trying to answer the questions:

 

Why is Project-Based Learning important?

 

What could a company offer to schools to help them?

 

How could we create a process that empower schools and ensures quality practice?

 

The next biggest break-through came while working with Egebæk-Hviding Skole Vadehav in Esbjerg. Bryan and Astrid worked with the leadership team to create a “PBL Experiment” where the school would embark on a shared project to test PBL while getting support from us in planning, implementing and evaluation. The pilot was a wild success and it opened up an exciting way for us to support whole-school PBL while staying financially viable for individual schools. Most importantly though, the process empowered schools to do PBL in their way and allowing us to be their guides.

 

We also started experimenting more with building capacity at schools through training PBL Guides, counselors and team coordinators.

 

2023 presented yet another expansion of the Playful Learning project and created the perfect opportunity for us to call Jonas Kalsgaard Lynggaard. Jonas worked with Bryan in a school using PBL and had since moved to Silkeborg Municipality to support schools with maker-space development. Jonas brought a new profile to Imagine If along with his knowledge and experience in PBL.

 

We’ve been able to go on two Inspiration Tours as a team. One to the United Kingdom to visit Summerhill School and Gesher School. One to the USA to see Design39 and attend the Deeper Learning Conference.

 

We’ve contributed a chapter to the leading PBL book in Danish, given a TEDx talk, written for an economic textbook, helped open two schools, partnered with leading education researchers, supported three municipalities, presented at multiple conferences, consulted for curriculum development companies and continue to be on-site at schools every week.

 

And here we are in 2024.

 

Five years later.

Five people later.

3 Municipalities later.

38 schools later.

14,912 students later.

 

We have come such a long way in a short period of time and yet the urgency of this work always continues to feel like we’re not going fast enough.

 

We are still struggling with questions like:

·       How do we know our impact? How can we capture that?

·       What happens when our large projects dwindle or stop in 2025?

·       How can we create networks to bring people together more to learn with and learn from?

·       Should we start our own school?

 

Most days, the list of questions grows longer. But occasionally, we answer one and it feels pretty good.

 

This journey has only been possible because of people like you. People who have invested resources, time and energy into re-writing the narrative of school for young people. People who believe that children are incredible and deserve schools that empower them.

 

Thank you for being with.

 

Happy birthday, Imagine If.

 

Here’s to five more.

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