Becoming a school founder and empowering students through project-based learning (with Tanya Sheckley)

Many people working in K-12 education have ambitions to start their own company where they have the ability to redesign the way student learning happens.

The motivation often comes from wanting to create a scenario where they feel less constrained, more innovative, and more impactful.

When I ventured into self-employment, I found that many of the “how to start your business” programs focused on simple business models that allowed people without a business background to become profitable quickly, without loans or funding. 

This often included things like coaching and consulting, or things that could be built up “on the side”, like selling online training or products. 
These can be great options, but the process is often like peeling back the layers of an onion. 

You start one project thinking, “Once this is built, I’ll have solved all the problems I set out to solve.”

But in the process, you realize you’ve uncovered a list of additional puzzles, challenges, and questions in the process. 

Anyone who cares about education reform understands this feeling of wanting to do more, something I grapple with on a daily basis. 

Solving problems in education requires a unique skill set, and I’ve found it difficult to find people who understand both business AND education, who can support educators creating their own program from scratch.

Private practice is an option many consider, but not as many people think about founding their own school. 

That’s why I invited Tanya Sheckley to the De Facto Leaders podcast. 

Tanya is the Founder and Head of School at UP Academy. UP Academy is reinventing education by customizing learning for each student, integrating project-based learning throughout its curriculum, and supporting students with disabilities to attend alongside able-bodied students in mixed-age classrooms. 

Inspired by the will, drive, and desire of her daughter, Eliza, who was born in 2009 with cerebral palsy, UP Academy is proving that it’s possible to celebrate differences, change what’s broken in the American school system, and provide all children with a rigorous, well-rounded education.

Tanya also hosts the Rebel Educator podcast, speaks across the country on the future of education, and leads professional development programs for school administrators and educators.

She is a certified yoga teacher, and enjoys rock climbing, snowboarding, camping, and going to the local farmers market. She lives in the Bay Area with her husband Chris, two kids, black labrador Bean, and canine ambassador Harold.

In this conversation, we discuss:

✅Become a school founder: Blending the right mindset with the right strategies
✅How much vulnerability can you show to your team? Where can you go for support when your team needs you to show up confident as a leader
✅What is project-based learning, and how does it fit in with traditional curriculum?
✅How to use experiential learning to build deep conceptual knowledge that’s engaging for students and teaches real-life application
The homework debate: How do we distinguish between unproductive busywork vs. when it’s helpful to do work outside of school? 

To connect with Tanya, you can reach out to her on LinkedIn at:

You can learn more about her podcast, Rebel Educator at:
Learn more about UP Academy at:

To learn more about Tanya’s availability for professional development program offerings, check out her website at:

In this episode, I mention the School of Clinical Leadership, my program that helps related service providers design services that support executive functioning in K-12 settings. You can learn more about the program at

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Becoming a school founder and empowering students through project-based learning (with Tanya Sheckley)