“In my youth I was doing what I thought I should do, doing what I thought I should do- I should do this degree because it will help me get ‘some job’ – and I realized I was moving down a track that was sending me towards ‘some job’ as opposed to truly living my mission in life and fulfilling my personal vision for my life and what I wanted to create in my world.”
Michael’s epiphany finally came when he asked himself, “How can I make a difference?” or more precisely, “How, and whom, can I serve?”. The answer was clear – continue following your inspirations, and help others (especially kids) to do the same; help them to find their unique and authentic path in life.
This commitment led Michael to the Austin Waldorf School, where he immersed himself in Waldorf’s Foundation Studies, worked in the Kindergarden, and substitute taught K-12, including art, Spanish, and band. He also focused on early childhood development at the Greenwood School, a Waldorf-inspired pre-school. “Mr. Michael’s” horizons expanded even further as he began working with Austin’s homeschooling community and several alternative schools. His offerings included World Music, Capoeira (an Afro-Brazilian martial art/dance), Native American studies, art, history, and PE.
Amidst all of this, Michael began imagining his ideal school – where he could connect with students at a deeper level, get in touch with their inspirations, and support their all-around development. He quickly realized that this school didn’t exist yet, and set to work creating the Whole Life Learning Center. His involvement with the Amala Foundation (Camp Indigo, Global Youth Peace Summit) inspired him to start Explorations, an after school enrichment program at Amala. Around this time, Michael was also getting involved with SelfDesign, an organization founded by educational pioneer, Brent Cameron, and began an internship in 2010 and began his MA in Self Design: Post-Modern Schools and Integral Learning, with the SelfDesign Graduate Institute.
Inspired by this work, Michael created Freedom Fridays, a program where kids can pursue their passions and work with mentors to co-create their curriculum. After one year of Freedom Fridays the community was ready for more! Michael founded the Whole Life Learning Center in 2011. His wife, Caroline, has been an integral and inspiring partner along the way, (they met while teaching together at the Austin EcoSchool). They enjoy gardening and creating permaculture projects at their urban homestead, where they live with their chickens, ducks, bees, fish, and cats.
Michael, you had a BA and Masters Degree already so why did you decide to join SelfDesign Graduate Institute?
“I had studied philosophy in my undergrad because I was a big picture thinker and I was thinking about the world and trying to find my place in it. . . In my youth I was doing what I thought I should do, doing what I thought I should do, I should do this degree because it will help me get ‘some job’ and I realized I was moving down a track that was sending me towards ‘some job’ as opposed to truly living my mission in life and fulfilling my personal vision for my life and what I wanted to create in my world.”
“In SelfDesign Graduate Institute what I found was folks that had already scaled the ivory towers in the field of education and decided something needs to shift, lets do it! I have been able to work with people who have started their own schools, are running departments of education, have written books . . . I am able to handpick mentors to guide me.”
“I am able to look through a menu of courses and read all of the biographies of this esteemed faculty that SDGI has assembled and if there is a course that is not being offered . . . I was able to do a directed study. It is something that you can’t find at other universities, you can’t get that personally-catered education, it is SelfDesign.”
What is one thing that you would ask people who are considering joining SelfDesign Graduate Institute?
“A question we all have to ask ourselves is ‘What am I doing here? What is my work in the world? What am I passionate about and how can I serve and make a difference with that passion in the world?'”
You can learn more about Michael’s journey to developing a learning community, here!