top of page
  • Elliot Washor

Elliot Washor's TGIF "Are you with me now?" 9.10.21

While on a call with Viv, Scott, and a number of other friends from Australia about the International Big Picture Learning Credential (IBPLC), Viv referenced the Just Do It! slogan because of the moment we were in. Fifty years before Nike, Dennis’ mom Pearl coined the phrase with her rendering - Don’t Talk, Just Do It! After Viv made her comment, Sandra Mulligan, our research partner from Uni Melbourne chimed in, Let’s Do It! Given our collective work on the IBPLC, Let’s Do It! works fine. For forever, we at BPL have argued that standards must be different for every student i.e. everyone needs to develop sets of standards that make sense to them. Technologies like blockchain make this type of variation on standards possible making all involved more ‘accountable.’ Both B-Unbound and BPL schools in the US are learning how to use the IBPLC and with it, some sort of blockchain is yet, to be identified. All of this gives more voice and choice to students and youth throughout their entire lives.


The day before I met up with Scott in Ireland, Darlene and I took a trip to the Nicholas

Moss pottery studio in Kilkenny. This is a place where you would never expect to find a

in internationally known business. It feels like the middle of nowhere. Forty-four years ago, Nicholas and Sarah Mosse started a handmade pottery business. The Mosse’s bought an old mill and used water power from the nearby river to generate enough electricity to

run it. Nicholas is the potter. At a young age, he traveled the world to learn pottery. He slowly and carefully trained local people in the art of handcrafting pottery. It takes 67 hand touches and processes to make one mug. Too much slowness for mass production. Over time, he added more patterns totaling 30 to his 32-piece sets. This gave purchasers and collectors lots of choices. He keeps the color palette the same so people can mix and match the patterns ensuring that they “sit happily together.” Everything about the pottery’s scale-up resonates with the type of education and scale-up we want to happen. Mosse uses quotation marks when using the term standard to describe his “standard” range knowing that each piece is different. This is a way of getting to standards without standardization. The personal touch, attention to detail, and the honoring of the slow process it takes to make this pottery and run this company are also BPL signatures. There’s lots to learn from small start-ups that have scaled up. Something Nicholas has in common with so many other craftspeople is that they knew when they were very young through an experience that craft was a big part of who they were.

“He wanted to be a potter from the age of seven so he studied and traveled widely to learn his craft, bringing his skill back home.”

So many craftspeople have stories where their interest was developed at an early age. Kimberly Camp in Camden. Doug Stowe in Iowa and Bill Strickland in Pittsburgh all started in crafts but do so much more. Finding that early interest comes naturally in crafts because you can touch the materials and connect with family members or friends who see that you want to develop your chops. All of these people mentioned have a strong impact on the community they are living in. They know that the community is creating the environment for their craft to thrive. Over twenty ago, I retold a story about a potter I knew from the time she was a baby in a piece that Charlie and I wrote. Here’s an excerpt. Plus ca change c’est plus la meme chose.


Standards and Variation:

Nonconforming Our Way to High Quality

By Elliot Washor & Charles Mojkowski “So between odd and the same, you got to be rooting for odd.” —Adam Sandler, in the movie “Spanglish”

“We are in an Age of High Standard Deviation.” —Tom Peters, in his book, Re-Imagine!

Here’s a true story about standards. A young, talented, and recognized artist and potter—named Chicky—moved from London to the SoHo district of New York City and opened a pottery store to display and sell her creations. One day, an agitated customer entered the store to return a set of dishes purchased only a few days before. The customer demanded her money back because all the plates and cups weren’t exactly the same. Chicky reacted in disbelief. “Look,” she said, “that’s the point. Handmade pottery pieces aren’t the same because they are handmade. If you wanted them all to be the same, you should have gone to another store and bought manufactured china.” The customer couldn’t be mollified; she wanted identical plates and cups. Chicky returned her money and took back the dishes. And so it is with our dilemma over educational standards. Some educators want all the plates to be the same, while others feel that standards are best reached by having them different and handmade. Both groups see standards as the best way for ensuring that children who traditionally have not been well served by their schools will be guaranteed the opportunity to acquire knowledge, skills, and dispositions that the world truly values. But they look at standards very differently. One common understanding of standards in the real world is as a benchmark of quality or performance, a yardstick of excellence. Many educators, however, appear to be concerned less about quality or excellence than about setting arbitrary benchmarks of adequacy, uniformly applied across all students in the interests of equity. We prefer to think about standards as Chicky would: that standards of quality cannot be standardized, and that they must be connected to the real world in which the performance is relevant. It is in the variations of a standard—not its standardization—that real-world learning takes place and the benefits to all learners, and to society, are to be found. The variations of a standard are also where real-world accountability is set and where, as scholars such as the Yale University psychologist Robert J. Sternberg recommend, students’ background, experience, and multiple intelligences—analytical, practical, and creative—are taken into account.

And so we ask: Why can’t there be various ways to demonstrate quality within a standard? Why can’t there be variations of a standard itself? How could variation of a standard and variation in addressing a standard actually lead to high-quality performance for all kids?


Attached to this TGIF are the two Evaluations Scott Boldt did. One on Harbor Freight Fellows and the other on Project Insight. Today Scott and I worked on the Executive Summary and Bullet Points both will be used in a communications campaign to get the word out. This morning I got an email from Angel Feliz, a student at The Met who is an intern of Isary’s. Angel is kicking off the BPLiving work in Providence and beyond. Lots of other students from California to India to Australia are all involved and driving this work as well. It is great to see such a ramp-up at the start of the year. More International work: On Wednesday, I was on a truly amazing Zoom with Carol and Chris from Kenya, Arthur, and Felicia from Liberia, Sonn, and Scott. One of the many things that made this call so incredible was the context of this exchange between two groups from African nations with us sitting on the sidelines talking BPL. The trials and tribulations of a school start-up in Kenya were discussed with Arthur and Felicia. This made BPL even more compelling to them with the hope that it could happen at Peace Island in Liberia. It was a great talk. Yesterday Scott and I met with Nora and Ken who are starting up our work in Dublin. They run an organization called Youth Reach and are ready to roll out BPL. On our way to meet them, we passed the pub that Joey the Lips from The Commitments spent his time. Joey’s responsible for one of my favorite movie lines –

“I believe in starts. The rest is inevitable.” Be Well


Elliot Washor

Co-founder of Big Picture Learning

16 views0 comments


bottom of page