Glen, Founder & CEO @ Galileo: Innovation Camps for Kids
"Why do we need innovators?" One, we need them for these big-picture reasons of building movements, building economies, and building democracies: building new things that make the world a better place. The second reason we need innovators is that, in their personal lives, they are able to find fulfillment and happiness at a higher level because they are able to take stock of their lives, design their life in terms of what they want it to be, and then go make that happen."
Glen is the Founder & CEO of Galileo: Innovation Learning Camps for Kids. Glen began his career working with kids as a counselor at Stanford Sierra Camp 25 years ago and never looked back. After graduating from Stanford he helped lead the national expansion of Score! Educational Centers and then founded Galileo in 2001 with the dream developing innovators who envision and create a better world. Armed with his chicken hat and guitar, Glen has been known to break into song with the slightest nudge of encouragement.
As an impassioned champion of innovation education, Glen has led dozens of workshops for parents and educators, and has spoken at the Nueva Innovative Learning Conference, the Center for Childhood Creativity, and at B Corp and Conscious Capitalism events. In 2015 Glen and Galileo were recognized as contributors to the White House’s “Educate to Innovate” initiative.
Glen was interviewed as part of our #EdLeader series by RE-ENVISIONED Co-Founder & Executive Director, Erin Raab.
Can you tell me a bit about your journey in education broadly, and how you came to start Galileo?
My journey in education began when I was an undergrad at Stanford, when after my freshman year I had the opportunity to work at a Stanford family summer camp up. Through that experience I started wonder if there could be a fit for me in education. I was working with the 12 to 14-year-old and I went back after that summer, and I started talking to some of my teachers from high school and told them I was interested in teaching. They kind of discouraged me from taking that path, which was an interesting and surprising result of those conversations, but I think they were concerned that it wouldn't be as fulfilling or rewarding as I thought it might be because of all the stuff they had to deal with. Also, I think they wondered if there might be some other kinds of system-based approaches that might be of interest.
After my sophomore year I took a year off at Stanford, went to rural Japan, and taught high school students for a year. The school that I was at was a highly unusual school in Japan, where the kids were boarding from all over the country. They were 10th, 11th, and 12th grade, about 25-26 kids per grade. And their families were unusual for making this choice, because this school was in a highly rural place in a village with about 200 people.
Everyone at the school helped to farm and grow food, including the teachers, so I got to farm about four hours a day and teach the rest of the day.
It was not very traditional in terms of what the kids were getting. Most of Japan has a much more academically rigorous approach to education, and this school used project-oriented learning where kids were learning through working the farm together, going backpacking together, and doing all sorts of group things together.
That was a pretty exciting thing to get exposed to during my undergrad education and I knew that I was intrigued by education, but was also confused as to how to pursue that. This was around 1990: There weren't a lot of options. You could go to the S.T.E.P. program at Stanford or you could go the traditional teaching route. Teach for America was just getting started. There was no Playworks or Citizen Schools. There were just fewer ways to get involved in education than there are today. So I decided I wanted to go get a couple years of sort of “real world” — in quotes — skills doing strategy and business for a management-consulting firm.
At that time I knew that I wanted to try to use my skills to do something that was purpose-driven in the world and I wasn't sure what that looked like. In the meanwhile, my brother started a company called SCORE Educational Centers. I left consulting in 1994 to join SCORE, which at that time had about 10 or 12 employees. SCORE's goal was to offer personalized learning to kids that allowed them to advance at their own pace in an afterschool environment. So these were retail-based learning centers that used adaptive software to try to meet kids where they are and let them advance at the pace that was right for them. And it combined with really high-energy coaching from recent college graduates.
I was there about six years, and through that I really came to appreciate the challenges involved with multisite educational leadership, and culture development, and hiring for that environment, working directly with families, et cetera. I loved it. I learned how fulfilling it is to work on something that helps kids build their confidence and allows them to kind of grow at their own pace and choose their own path, so to speak. So that was great, very exciting, but as I matured in that experience over those six years, I also came to appreciate some other kinds of learning. While I valued what we were doing at SCORE, I also just started to appreciate that, "Hey, there's this other set of stuff that we're not doing as much of. We're just helping kids make progress in the traditional academic subjects, but we're not really helping them to learn how to be collaborative or how to solve problems together, and how to just really even envision that the world could change."
In June 2001, around the same time No Child Left Behind passed, my time at SCORE came to an end and I decided to found Galileo.
I was concerned that the educational institutions were going in the wrong direction from what we as humans need.
I was concerned that, with the advent of the No Child Left Behind legislation, that the focus of schools would become more narrow on the core academic subjects, that the arts, including performing arts, musical arts, visual arts, would get shortchanged; that science and engineering would be shortchanged; and that outdoor collaborative play in the form of PE and other activities would get shortchanged. And all of those things came to pass very quickly in California.
I was about to say, ironically, "it's lucky you were wrong."
Yeah, it tuned out way worse than I ever imagined, actually. You know? And what's shocking to me is that this is right at the exact same moment when people are also starting to say things like 21st-century skills or design challenge or that we need innovation or entrepreneurship in the world. Like right when that was being acknowledged more and more by industry, the legislation around public schooling was kind of going in the opposite direction, partially in response to the early '80s Nation at Risk report that sort of built steam throughout the '80s and '90s. So I said, "Okay, I want to stay in education. I love the challenges of working directly with families. I love the challenges of building multisite educational services. I would like to figure out how can I do something that's a little bit different and helps kids get exposed to these other content areas that they don't have yet."
Overall it’s been a lifelong question of how can I use whatever skills I have, or whatever determination or desire I have, and apply it to something that will somehow make the world a little bit better?
For me that setting has been education and has also been mostly working directly with families, providing a service to them to full some sort of need or answer some sort of problem they have like, "What am I going to do with my kids in the summertime?" And for these last 16 years we've been single-mindedly trying to answer the question, "How do you create environments that allow kids to push themselves, to express theses in new ways, and start to see themselves as change-makers or innovators who can ably go from idea to reality?"
I love that.
The next couple of questions center on a kid that you care about. I happen to know that you have children, and so you can choose one of your children, or if they happen to be different, you can speak to both of them.
I'll give you a minute to just think about that child and, when you're ready, describe him or her to me: their personality, their skills, who they are.
Well, I think I'll talk about my son Jasper, who is 12 years old in 6th grade in California. What can I tell you about him?
What's his personality like? What are his strengths?
I would say that Jasper is a kid who's not afraid to show his passion for any subject, one way or the other. He is expressive. He is highly determined and has expressed that through kind of unusual ways, like playing chess or rock climbing. He's a kid who doesn't think of himself as creative necessarily or good at art, and where he finds oftentimes the school environment to be a little bit stifling in terms of — he feels like he's continually being asked to like just do things visually in a way that's not particularly comfortable to him, like making a poster or whatnot, and that is hard for him at times.
He is super interested in the things that interest him, and has a harder time getting motivated or excited about things that other people are trying to tell him he's supposed to be interested in. I'd say Jasper's strengths are energy, enthusiasm, determination. He's pretty passionate but also goes up and down with his energy and enthusiasm around things too. He has high empathy and a lot of caring for other people: he's just sweet and affectionate and loves life.
That's a great description.
Thinking specifically about Jasper, imagine that he's now in his 30s or older, out of school and a bit into his adult life. What is it that you hope for him? What would make it a good or successful life?
I'd say — and this is how I would answer this for myself or any human. You know, it's the fundamental level of what I'm looking for, hoping for, for my sons or for Jasper.
First of all, it's meaning: that he's identified some sort of purpose that's meaningful to him. Hopefully that is being executed through whatever his professional career is, but it could be pursued through other means as well. Ideally something that gives him meaning and a sense of purpose is how he's spending the majority of his time. And that this is allowing him to be in flow state as often as possible. Something that every day when he goes home, he feels like, "Okay, that made the world a little bit of a better place, or was meaningful and fulfilling to me."
And the second thing, which is on equal footing, is that he has love in his life, both in terms of loving himself, and loving others, and being loved by others: that he is known to others and knows others intimately.
To me those are the two cornerstones of a rich life or having meaningful: purposeful work or ways that you spend your time, and the opportunity to do that meaningful work with other people that are like-minded, and also that you have people outside of your work that you know and love, and are loved by as well.
In terms of the kind of world, or the kind of community, or society you want him to live in, do you have a vision for that or kind of hopes for that?
Well, first of all, I think that the things that I just described are available no matter what is going on in the world. Ideally the world would be full of people pursuing meaning and purpose in their lives, and full of people that have lovely friendships and relationships that are nurturing and warm and loving. I mean, I think that is the kind of world that I would want him to be in.
I know that 15 years from now, 18 years from now, when Jasper is trying to function in the world, the world will be a very different place in terms of the types of work that people are probably doing. I imagine that people will be falling into two buckets. One is the bucket of people who are following instructions and doing what the software tells them to do. And the other group are the ones who are telling the computers what to do.
I imagine that the kinds of things that would lead to meaning are being able to do the kind of work where you're able to work with other people, to collaboratively kind of make the world a better place, through whatever projects that you're engaged in.
I would love Jasper to be in a just, free society. I could imagine that I would like it to be the opposite of the way it feels right at this very moment in terms of what the Trump administration has wrought so far.
I hope that Jasper gets to exist in a democratic society where people enjoy basic freedoms, and where facts and analysis lead to rational decision-making and policy out in the world. I would like him to be in a place where he feels safe from physical harm, and safe to express himself.
I'd like him to be in a place where businesses are allowed to thrive, and where businesses and non-profits are able to freely operate in a way that solves whatever mission they're pursuing, as long as the way that they pursue those missions doesn't harm the world in some way. And, I'd like him to be in a world where he can connect to nature, and where nature is still available to him and his peers.
Is there anything that you worry about standing in his way, in terms of creating this life of meaning, purpose, and love?
No, the things that are on my mind right now are that, first of all, I'm uneasy about his relationship with technology. I'm uneasy with the amount of time that he spends on his smartphone, and watching YouTube, and social media technology. I'm uneasy in my parenting around those topics, along with millions of other parents. I’m uneasy not knowing quite how to manage this whole amazing set of distractions that exist for young people and for adults. I'm worried that he's so into that, that that gets in the way of his development. It's so distracting and so reactive that it actually can get in the way of his sense of efficacy as a person: Instead of going out and finding and making — finding, making, creating relationship or things - he spends more time consuming. I'm concerned for all our sakes about that trend. I'm concerned that even though there's been a democratization of tools that allow creativity, that kids are showing up less creative today than they were 20 years ago, as I understand some research to indicate anyway.
I feel concerned about what school is for him. He doesn't seem to love school or love learning at school. I don't think he equates school with learning necessarily. He does perfectly fine. He's a responsible student. He does his work, but when you ask him, "Do you love school?" I don't think the answer would be yes, and that's just different from my wife and I, who grew up very successful in the school environment. We loved trying to be a good student and meeting the expectations of teachers, and exceeding expectations of teachers. That environment worked for us, and I feel like it's working fine for Jasper, but I don't see any fires being lit under him, or any passion, inspiration, or excitement about any of the schoolwork that he's doing. It seems like something that he's getting through, but not something that he's looking forward to, and that's concerning to me. I'm concerned that there doesn't seem to be an environment of intellectual curiosity, and there doesn't seem to be an opportunity for him to sort of find the things that turn him on or push his buttons in an exciting way.
That's actually a perfect segue, if you don't mind segueing.
What is the ideal role that you would like school to play in helping Jasper create this life of meaning, purpose, and loving connection?
School can have the role of developing three different toolkits for Jasper, and it's hard for me not to shift into Galileo speak as I talk about this. I would say that generally his school is oriented around one of these buckets, which is imparting knowledge to him. I would like that to be one of the things that school does. School should try to impart knowledge — knowledge and historical context and skills related to writing, and reading, and comprehension, and math. I don't think that should be the primary or the only role school plays though.
Second, what I would like to see is a school that's oriented around methodologies that reinforce a set of psychological attributes that encourage somebody to be a changemaker or an innovator in the world. So I would love if the schooling were set up with rituals, instructional practices, and a culture, that's consistent from classroom to classroom to classroom that support this goal. This way, when Jasper graduates, for example, from middle school or high school, he walks out of there with five core mindsets. The first mindset has two components: one, that the world can change; and two, that he has the power to be an agent of change in the world in big and small ways. Second, I would want him to be courageous. By that I mean willing to do things that he'll fail at: willing to put himself or his ideas out there, and recognizing that failure is just a step in the design or creative process. The third thing I would like is for him to be determined, so that when failure comes in this effort to make the world a better place or to have meaningful work, that you don't give up - you are resilient and stick to it until your goals are achieved. Fourth, I would like for him to be reflective: be able to look at something and articulate what is and isn't working and figure out how to change what you're doing as a result of that process. And fifth — and this sort of wraps it all together across all these — is to be able to do this with other people. To be able to be collaborative so that you can get the valuable perspectives of different people, so that people can bring their different strengths to any kind of endeavor. Together you can achieve more than you would do just on your own.
Those five attributes are one big thing you might call together 'innovator's mindset', or the psychological package, that I would love school to deliver for Jasper.
Then, the third category that I would love for school to pursue is to teach him process. This is the part that, again, coupled with mindset can be applied to any future state. What we're talking about is educating kids for a lifetime, not just for some sort of job that they're going to do in five years. We have the mindset, but we also need the process skills - the basic idea of how do you go from idea to finished thing. 1) The ability to identify a goal or a vision and 2) the ability to generate ideas to meet that goal - the"How might we achieve this?" kinds of questions. 3) Creating a basic design and then 4) a prototype of whatever it is you're thinking about doing. Then going into that iterative loop of creating, testing, evaluating, and revising multiple times - and not giving up in the middle, so that at the end of the day you get to share whatever it is that you've created.
So I think that this process and this mindset is what you can put to work whether you're building a bridge or, let's say, striving for judicial reform, or any issue. You're trying to save the environment. You're trying to establish a national park. You're trying to write a book. You're trying to build a new phone or a new kind of solar panel or whatever. All of those things require the combination of content expertise, mindset, and process. And so I think that ideally what school would do is provide dozens of opportunities for Jasper to participate in collaborative projects, project-based experiences that allow him to think about those three categories, almost without even breaking them down into the three categories, but where it just becomes an automatic thing of, "All right, I've got to understand what is the content expertise that I need for this project. How am I going to use my mindsets? And how am I going to use my process skills to do this thing?" And the more times you have the experience of doing that, the more confident you become.
With these three toolkits a kid can come out of high school really seeing themself as someone who has the self-efficacy to go out and create that meaningful life.
That's very different from the way things are currently set up, where my success is defined on whether or not I've mastered some content knowledge and have been able to demonstrate back to you in the form of a test or a written paper. That’s a very different skillset, and one that's outdated for the modern world.
Why do you think that we're still doing it that way — why do you think school is not your ideal?
Well, I think there are some pretty important forces that get in the way of this. The first is that parents are particularly risk adverse when it comes to their kids. Most parents don't take the time to answer the first question that you asked, which was, "What is a meaningful life or a successful life?" Their number-one fear — they might say that they want happiness for their kids, but their number-one fear, which tends to override the happiness question — is that they won't be able to meet their economic requirements and won't be employable. And so when parents are burdened by the fear of, "My child is going to end up living back at my house or isn't going to be able to make their way in the world, because they're not going to have the right college," that fear leads people to return to the frameworks that worked for them as a kid. So I think parents who are fearful for their child's economic viability are going to want them to do what they can to get into a good college, which they think is going to lead their kids to a good job, which is going to lead to a good salary — which is not really even going to be the case in the future, but it's hard to grasp that. So parents might say that they value creativity, or project-based learning, or innovation, but at the end of the day their number-one deciding factor for choosing a school is going to be API scores, or where do kids go to college when they graduate from this high school. And so I think that parents see an inherent conflict between creativity and academic rigor, which is not necessarily the case, but I think parents as a constituent group have a hard time understanding what an alternative might look like.
By the way, I think that's why this work you're doing is so important; because, honestly even in places where there is a parent group saying, "We think that there's another way of doing it out there," they have a hard time knowing what that looks like potentially. So I think that there's not good storytelling. We need better storytelling and better examples — like better portrayal of examples for change, so that parents can see what that looks like, and then they can support school board members who have that feeling. That's one obstacle.
Then, the second obstacle is the incredible amount of infrastructure that has been created along these traditional lines of subject-based instruction. Everything from the way education degree-granting programs work, to how school districts are set up, to how principals are established: the fact that every school needs to be everything to everybody.
I think that it's just very hard for schools to evolve this way. Teachers already feel burdened by the standards-based approach and have a hard time seeing how they could possibly even incorporate more complicated, hard-to-implement, project-based learning experiences. So I think that it's hard for teachers to know how to execute. It's often not what principals are asking them to do. Principals are asking their teachers to deliver academic progress as measured by standardized tests, and so that’s what everybody's aligned around. When your federal funding is tied to improvement in API scores, that's what you put your energy towards. When parents are making their home-buying decisions based on API scores, that's what drives the engine forward on this stuff.
I have a hope that phase three of the charter movement — phase one was individual charter schools popping up, phase two was charter management organizations that were delivering more significant academic progress than was hoped for or expected. Phase three, I hope, will be alternative charter models that demonstrate project-based learning experiences and individualized personalized learning. So I'm hopeful for the Summits of the world, and for East Bay Innovation Academy, and Urban Montessori Charter School, and these others that are helping to show new models of educating kids, because I think that's what everybody needs to see.
Then, I think there's a third thing that gets in the way. We're having this conversation in the absence of thinking about class and money, or class and resources. But, of course, if you're a family that doesn't have resources to make lots of choices, or if you're a school with very limited resources, that makes going beyond the basics of math and reading even harder. In more resource-strapped school districts it just is pure and simple: there's literally no money for project-based learning experiences or engineering projects or whatnot, and there's limited training, and there's so many other things that the schools are grappling with, that it's harder to get done.
This is kind of a big almost philosophical question. Why do we have schools? What is the purpose of school in our society? Why does our government want to make sure everyone goes to school? Why school in the big-picture view?
Well, I think there are two answers. The first I'm coming after this from the, "What's the reality of why we have schools?" The first is that schools play a vital role in sort of warehousing our kids until they're old enough to be out on their own and stand on their own. In most cases we now have a situation where it would be very difficult for a family to deal with a child who is not at school a significant percentage of the day. And so one of the purposes that schools have come to serve is truly the childcare element of what a family requires to have two working parents. So that's vital, and it's critical for people. Even when schools go from 8:00 until 3:00, that's still not enough –the percentage of families who use extended care is super high. For sure one of the purposes of school is to provide safe childcare for families who are making income. So that will remain.
The second more noble purpose or role of schools is to help do the job of creating future citizens who can both support a democracy through their ability to make educated decisions around voting for candidates, or for initiatives, or other things, so that democracy can actually work.
One reason for school to exist is to help create people who are capable of wisely using their democratic rights or privileges so we can be a well-governed country.
The other part of this noble reason that education might exist is to fuel the growth of those democracies through stronger economies. As a society we need people to grow up to be able to be contributors to whatever the economic engine is that provides the basics for us to eat and become less poor over time, and to increase our asset base as a society.
A third reason would be to give people the skills and attributes, as I said before, that will allow them to pursue fulfillment and meaning in their lives. You know, I'd kind of bring it back to like, "Why do we need innovators?" Well, one, we need them for these big-picture reasons of building movements, building economies, building democracies, building new things that make the world a better place. And the second reason we need innovation and changemakers is that innovators, in their personal lives, are able to find fulfillment and happiness at a higher level because they are able to take stock of their lives, design their life in terms of where they want it to be or where they want it to go, and then go make that happen.
That’s ultimately what I think the third noble purpose of a school would be: being one of the forces in a young person's life to help them see themselves as changemakers or innovators.
And, to establish that through giving them collaborative project-based experiences, over and over again, in a community that's safe and allows them to grow in that way.
You know, there's lots of places we can learn that, but by far, school is where we spend a majority of our time so I would like to see schools orient more around a mission, and be very clear on the values that help them pursue that mission. Schools shy away from having a strong value system, and they tend to kind of water it down and make long lists of things that are perfectly fine, nice attributes, but are not inspirational, so to speak.
I'm so impressed with how you're able to be like, "One, two, three," off the top of your head for each of these.
How do you think about this in the work you do at Galileo? What is something you’re proud of?
When I think about Galileo, I think that what to me feels the most special about what I see when I visit these programs, and a lot of what I hear from parents too, is: "My child feels free to express in this community. They try things that they wouldn't try in other places, because they feel safe and encouraged, because risk-taking is celebrated, and because you provide appropriate scaffolding of new topics in a way that my child can build confidence up, up, up, until they can actually start to see themselves as a creator."
To bring it full circle, when I started Galileo I thought what I was doing was providing access to academic areas like science, and engineering, and visual arts. But it turned out that what we were really doing was creating an environment. An environment that collectively, between curriculum design, classroom ritual, and overall community design, creates a special space that allows people's best selves to emerge. And ideally that's what schools could do too. It's harder, I know, but that's what I would love to see happen in schools.
10,000 Stories. One Shared Vision.
RE-ENVISIONED is a national movement to redefine the purpose of school. We believe schools should foster flourishing individuals and a thriving democratic society. But what does it mean to thrive or flourish?
To answer this, we're building the world's largest collection of stories about what it means to live good lives and the role schools should play in helping create them: 10,000 stories from people across the country. We'll use the stories to learn about our shared values and dreams to create a new vision for why we send our children to school.
We work with people like YOU across the country: Catalysts - individuals, classrooms, and whole schools - who interview people in their communities and foster empathy nationwide by sharing them on our website and social media: Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook (@reenvisioned).