Creating Change in Education with Dr. Maureen O’Shaughnessy

S07 | 07 – Creating Change in Education with Dr. Maureen O’Shaughnessy

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The youth of today are our future, so investing in them is one of the biggest ways to create a collective change for tomorrow. But, we know that to continue guiding our kids towards a better future, we have to evolve the way we connect with, teach, and support them.

That’s why today I’m joined by Dr. Maureen O’Shaughnessy, an education activist working to change the current landscape of education. Her educational model is built on a foundation of love and compassion, focusing on human-centered learning that prepares kids for the “real” world, while giving them the tools they need to thrive as their authentic selves.

Tune in to learn from her years of experience in education and success stories from her students, as well as ways that we can all make a difference and create change in education to better support our future.

About Dr. Maureen O’Shaughnessy: 

Maureen O’Shaughnessy is on a mission to connect the dots between education, belonging, and youth empowerment. She is the founder of the human-centered micro-school, LEADPrep. This learner-focused middle / high school is a national model for micro-schools, helping students learn from a place of love and personal alignment. Dr. O’Shaughnessy is the author of Creating Micro-Schools for Colorful Mismatched Kids, host of the Education Evolution podcast, and co-founder of the EdActive Collective. Stay tuned for her TEDx talk coming out soon! 

Disrupting the outdated education system, Maureen offers a variety of coaching resources. From running a mastermind for leaders of small schools to consulting with educational innovators on developing accessible-for-all learning environments, she is a force to help all students thrive and be future-ready.

To learn more, visit her website and connect with her on LinkedIn.

Mentioned in This Episode:


Lindsay Recknell  0:03  

Hello, and welcome to another episode of the Hope Motivates Action podcast. I’m your host, Lindsay Recknell. And it is my pleasure to introduce you to my guest today Maureen O’Shaughnessy. Hello, Maureen.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy  0:14  

Hey, Lindsay.

Lindsay Recknell  0:16  

I am very excited to have this conversation. I think the work that you’re doing is just fascinating and really aligned well to our message of hope. Let me tell people a little bit more about you on a sort of more formal level and then I’ll pass it over to you to share your story with us. 

Maureen O’Shaughnessy  0:34  


Lindsay Recknell  0:35  

Maureen O’Shaughnessy is on a mission to connect with the dots between education, belonging and youth empowerment. She is the founder of the human centered micro school lead prep. This learner focused Middle / High School is a national model for micro schools, helping students learn from a place of love and personal alignment. Dr. O’Shaughnessy is the author of creating micro schools for colourful mismatched kids, host of the education evolution podcast, and co-founder of the EDActive collective. Stay tuned for her TEDx talk coming out soon. disrupting the outdated education system, Maureen offers a variety of coaching resources from running a mastermind for leaders of small schools, to consulting with educational innovators on developing accessible for all learning environments. She is a force to help all students thrive and be future ready. 

Lindsay Recknell  1:29  

Amazing, amazing. Tell us your story of hope and how you use how you have used hope along this incredible journey you’re on. 

Maureen O’Shaughnessy  1:41  

Absolutely. And first, Lindsay, thank you for inviting me to be a guest. I think our world needs to focus on hope and take action. And so your work is such an inspiration to me.

Lindsay Recknell  1:52  

Thank you very much. I didn’t pay her to say that, by the way.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy  1:57  

So my story, I think kids and happy humane learning. They’re both my passion. And I’ve worked in schools and youth programs around the world and being around youth energizes me. I’m a super big advocate of this younger age group. As my girls grew up, our home was a hub. Even after high school, we had different friends living with us along their adulting journey. 

Maureen O’Shaughnessy  2:22  

And when it comes to kids, Robert Kennedy has a quote that resonates with me. “Some folks see things as they are and ask why I dream of things that never were and ask why not.” So I just keep dreaming and creating along the way. And sometimes they’re little dreams that help my daughters maximize opportunities. But sometimes they’re bigger dreams that serve a broader group of youth. 

Maureen O’Shaughnessy  2:47  

And I think my biggest action that hope has inspired me was investing my life savings and a ton of sweat equity, and opening my own micro school in 2013, which was terrifying and super fulfilling and our schools built on relationships and a strong sense of community. Love is the foundation and that L Word is like something that doesn’t get thrown around much in schools and, unfortunately, and it’s really a magical place for sixth through 12th graders, their families are teachers and for me, it’s such an honor to serve kids deeply from their heart and I thought, Okay, this is it. 

Maureen O’Shaughnessy  3:29  

But like the universe laughs when we make our plans, right, so like the last three years, the microscope has been a springboard for a guide book, an online class, a mastermind podcast, a little microsecond stint on Good Morning America, my upcoming TEDx and this activism collective in summit, it’s like he Ike’s. So hope in action is a powerful mover and shaker, as you know, and that’s my story. 

Lindsay Recknell  3:58  

Amazing. Um, one of the things you said in there about, you know, you were intending to serve your kids, you were intending to make their life good, their friends lives Good. And then you took that to a really big level. I mean, a lot of parents would have just stopped there and been, you know, perfectly happy to, to support their kids. Incredible that you took it to that whole next level. And did you know that you took such a huge risk? What did that feel like other than terrifying, as you mentioned?

Maureen O’Shaughnessy  4:34  

Well, I think my experience parenting my daughter’s in high school was so frustrating. We tried multiple models of learning. And it’s like, wait, I’m an educator. I’m a school principal and school head and I’ve worked in all these schools. How crazy I hadn’t seen it from the inside of schools, but from the parent perspective, it was just like, Whoa, so for me, I was little grumpy, you know, it’s like wait, I’ve got a doctorate, got this experience and my kids are really not finding a good fit. And it’s a tough road for them and a very unfulfilling road for them. 

Maureen O’Shaughnessy  5:10  

So you know, Gandhi’s “Be the change you want to see”, it’s like, okay, so am I gonna gripe or am I going to do something and it was like gulp. I voiced it out loud to my pro Chaplin group. And, and, but I was gonna get sick, it was so scary to say it out loud. But then all these pieces came together and all these kind of people dove in. And it’s been this group labor of love, and it just keeps working.

Lindsay Recknell  5:36  

Amazing. You said, you know, that your school is built on love. Not only a labor of love, but the foundation of love. And I love that you- I love. I love that you use that language. Because I feel like hope is another one of those words, another piece of language that we don’t use often enough. You know, I talked about this all the time, hope has a PR problem. The power of Hope is huge. Similar to how the power of love is huge. Talk about Could you tell us why? Or how do you think having a foundation of love has transformed your school? Or, or? Yeah, how, what kind of a transformation that’s had on your students.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy  6:25  

There are two things that come to mind being tiny, and having one teacher for each six students in the bigger mix. They’re all over the place. But it kind of breaks down to that ratio. It means that kids are seen, heard and valued. And that equals thriving. And I think my daughter is experienced, being kind of lost in the shuffle and really big schools. And I know when I taught in a public high school, I had five groups of 30 Kids 150 kids, and if they were on a block schedule, I’d see them every other day. And just learning names took quite a while let alone any deep dives. 

Maureen O’Shaughnessy  7:02  

So just really being known is a way we love and parents, when they put down their cell phones, when they put away their work, when they give their children their undivided attention. To me, that is the biggest gift of love. We as parents can give our kids undivided attention. Nothing is more important than me tuning in to you right now. So that attention piece is super important. And then I think when you’re a community, you stop forgetting, like who has brown hair who has blue eyes? Well, it’s the same in a school community, you forget labels. So learning age, gender, any differences just kind of slip away, and you’re like, oh, Ryan, I’m a 11th grader chatting it up with an eighth grader that would never happen in the real world. 

Maureen O’Shaughnessy  7:50  

You know, because these things just don’t matter. When you get past the labels and get to the human piece. And we go camping, the third week of school, we do a lot of things, service projects out in the community. So our kids really get to connect as well as their own learning projects. And this familiarity with a lot of respect and a lot of modeling and focus on how we communicate by our teachers means that the labels don’t matter and kids get to be loved up just as Precious kids.

Lindsay Recknell  8:23  

Does sound amazing. And I know that your school’s in the Pacific Northwest. But did I hear you say that you’ve sort of made this concept made these learnings available to people outside your local area?

Maureen O’Shaughnessy  8:39  

Yes, I wrote a guidebook with my board chair in the summer of 2019. We took it on as a challenge and a summer project. So a guidebook for others to create a school within a school or micro school because there’s so many ways and I had created a school within a school in a big high school when I was a young teacher, there’s so many ways to make it smaller. And for me personalized and really seeing each student happen so much more easily. When I’m working with 30 students instead of 1000 students, you know, as a school leader, so yeah, wrote the guidebook. And then pandemic happens. Good morning, America calls I get like just this soundbite and my phone starts ringing. I end up in all of these podcasts.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy  9:25  

 So I turned my guidebook into, with the help of our beloved Abby, turned my guidebook into an online class. People in that class said, Keep coaching us and so I created a mastermind for these leaders that are in different stages of opening a micro school. It’s just kind of developed, it’s its own life. And I love it because I love being on Accreditation teams and helping schools see how amazing they are and what their, what their next steps could be. So all of this to me is just having other people helping them reach their dream of serving kids In their unique way.

Lindsay Recknell  10:02  

So amazing what? So I know that we should read the guidebook. But could you give us the first thing somebody should start could do to start creating a micro school either in their school or the community?

Maureen O’Shaughnessy  10:15  

Yeah, I think it’s really important to have a mission, you want to be the most amazing hands-on STEM school. Or if you want to, you know, be embodying certain values or working with a certain age group or being a an outdoor school in nature, figure out what’s your sweet spot, what gives you hope, and what fills you with passion, because when we’re passionate our kids, really, they see it, they experience it, my teachers teach intensives, and music and cooking and all these things, and in subjects that they love, and the kids really enjoy it, when we’re in our joy, as well. 

Maureen O’Shaughnessy  10:49  

So definitely a mission, and also grab some people and create this tribe, because it’s a lot of work. And when we divide and conquer, and when somebody else is super good with financials or social media, it makes it easier, and the camaraderie makes it easier to laugh at things that maybe weren’t as smooth as you wanted them to be.

Lindsay Recknell  11:11  

Good advice for life. And I was wondering about your TEDx talk, could you share with us a little bit about what we could expect when that comes out?

Maureen O’Shaughnessy  11:26  

Gulp! This has been over a year in the work than I’ve been so remedial, I’ve had a ton of coaches. It’s been really hard for me, I started out lecturing on teen mental health statistics, because the dropout rates, palming just gonna throw this out there 20% dropout rate, this is Washington state where we have plenty of affluence 30% of your student of color, and higher if you’re a student with a special needs plan. To me, that is obscene. That would not a business can’t float with an 80% success rate and why we think that’s okay for our schools. 

Maureen O’Shaughnessy  12:02  

So I started out ranting, as you can see is my tendency, and people coached me and said, pull in your own story. And that’s a little trickier for me, I’m passionate about this topic. But I’m a private person. I was like, What in my story, so peppering it with pieces of my story. And then there are so many brilliant people that have talked about schools like Sir Ken Robinson, schools killing creativity, it’s like, we get it, our schools haven’t been able to keep up with the times. And it’s not one person’s fault. It’s systemic. It’s huge. I didn’t want to be another talk that like this is what’s wrong. And so then it took me a while in my own personal growth. 

Maureen O’Shaughnessy  12:43  

So how does this change happen? I didn’t have the answer. Last summer, when I started to work on my TED Talk. And, again, the universe provides a friend with a neuroscience background, and another person with a polarity consulting background, they kind of helped me think it through and regroup like, here are some ways forward, because I didn’t want to just rant with what’s wrong. That’s no fun. So that’s kind of what I’m looking at, in my TED Talk.

Lindsay Recknell  13:10  

Very, very cool. I’m very much looking forward to that. Because you are so passionate about this topic. I mean, I get to see you on videos, we record this, but it comes through in your voice as well. And I know that, you know, hope is contagious. I fully believe that hope is contagious. And I imagine that your kids are looking to you and seeing that hope in you. And feeling motivated by that. And how do you recognize hope in other people?

Maureen O’Shaughnessy  13:42  

Ah, you know, it is so it’s nebulous. I mean, hope can be fragile, it can be fierce. It can be like a quizzical look on my great niece’s face. Like, can I do this? It can be a parent, you know, with this fear scowl like, I am so determined, I will stop at nothing to make sure my kid is safe and thriving. So it’s, I think you have to be looking for it. And you have to be seeing it as you know, somebody that really wants something and really believes in something because it can manifest in so many different ways.

Lindsay Recknell  14:26  

And the definition, I believe the definition is different for everyone. You know, I love that you use you know, it’s a really great adjective to describe it there because it is it’s it shows up in so many different ways. A very, very articulate view. It’s like you’re a teacher or something. 

Lindsay Recknell  14:46  

One of the things I was thinking about as you were speaking was, you know, you’ve created this really fascinating, empowering place for your kids to hang out and learn and grow and truly, truly Transform through their, you know, sort of most important formative years? And is there something you do at the end of grade 12, or in grade 12? That’s going to transition them to the real mean world. You know, where they aren’t being cared for and loved as much as they are when they’re at school with you?

Maureen O’Shaughnessy  15:22  

Absolutely. One is we’re really based on the whole students. So we’re constantly working on 21st century skills, communication, creativity, collaboration, and employers don’t usually tell us in the K 12 system, we wish kids came out of your school system with more academics, they say, I wish they knew how to work in a workforce. I wish they knew how to speak up if they have a question. I wish they knew how to communicate. You know, I wish they had a work ethic. I wish they knew what they were passionate about. So that don’t take my job if they don’t care. 

Maureen O’Shaughnessy  15:57  

So we’re giving kids such a toolkit for their authentic selves that they show up with, with Toastmasters with a confidence with verbal poise from practicing speaking in front of others. So we’re giving them all of this will also nudge our 11th graders in Washington State, there’s a dual enrollment program with the college called Running Start. So we nudge them to take at least like an English one, or one, or a calculus college class, online or in the evenings and let us coach and support them. So that they have a sense that in college pace is super important. Staying caught up, teachers aren’t going to remind you a zillion times. 

Maureen O’Shaughnessy  16:36  

And in our school, we don’t accept zeros and we don’t accept anything under 80%. So we’re totally into redos, everybody gets to keep trying. And that’s I need to keep trying when it comes to cooking and some other things. You know, why wouldn’t our kids need to keep trying? So we want them to know, this is what we value as lifelong learners, but colleges, it’s finite, it’s do it’s done. Here’s what zero does to your GPA, guys. You know, it, tanks, your average. 

Maureen O’Shaughnessy  17:02  

So we definitely want them to be prepared for college or for a vocation and to have real world experience and we’re nudging into internships this year. So every year, we strive to do more and, and passion and purpose projects and internships are on our plate for this year’s evolution.

Lindsay Recknell  17:20  

Oh, man, I’m, I’m a number of years out of high school, but I really like to go back to your school if that will be okay. Do you have like, you know, honorary positions for really old ladies? 

Maureen O’Shaughnessy  17:33  

We would definitely fit you in Lindsay. 

Lindsay Recknell  17:36  

Amazing, because I’d really like to get in there. Um, can you? Are you able to tell us some stories of some of your kids in a confidential way? Of course. But tell me some of the success stories of kids in your school? If that’s if that’s something that you could share? 

Maureen O’Shaughnessy  17:54  

Yeah. I think like one kid, when we were talking about age not mattering. One kid came to us as an 11th grader. And he played football in a big High School, but hadn’t really been focused on his parents like him, though. We really want you to be able to go on to college, you want to be doing college things that take a college degree. So he came to us. He’s like, yeah, don’t even hang out with ninth graders. But out on breaks and stuff like that. They were doing hacky sack and different things. And he bonded with a sixth grader. 

Maureen O’Shaughnessy  18:23  

And it turned out this sixth grader had so much glue anxiety, getting out the door in the morning was just so hard. And so his 11th grade buddy was like, Hey, man, I can’t wait to see you. Tomorrow morning, I would text him. And this little sixth grader knew it was super important to get to school where his big buddy was. And that, to me, it’s like positive peer pressure. It’s positive peer support. And that made all the difference. 

Maureen O’Shaughnessy  18:48  

And one day the kid, the little guy couldn’t make it and was super upset and things didn’t go right. And the 11th grade, big tough kiddo cried, he felt so bad for his little buddy. It’s just like, kids have permission to lead with their hearts. And it’s not like a big school. If you see me talking to the underclassmen, that’s not cool. Because cool is such a facade for all of us. And such nobody wins when we have to play and be in different roles and play different games. So that’s one example. 

Maureen O’Shaughnessy  19:20  

Um, we’ve had kids come to us that have been misgendered or have been bullied, or perhaps have autism and have missed some social cues and missing a social cue in middle school can mean you are the source of ridicule. There’s not a lot of empathy or compassion, and I get it sometimes ridicule is like, I better be laughing or somebody’s gonna be laughing at me. It’s almost a survival thing. But we have a lot of kids that come to us just feeling like I am just so beat up and weary and I don’t even want to come to school. It’s just going to be a disaster. And to watch them go from Okay, I’ll give it a try to their parents and I don’t have to wake them up anymore. I don’t have to get them out the door. 

Maureen O’Shaughnessy  20:01  

And there’s one student that had a lot of school anxiety, something had gone wrong early in ninth grade, and he missed the whole rest of the school year. And every time after a long break, a holiday or something, getting back to school was hard for him. Even though he enjoyed our school. He had a couple buddies that would text him, Hey, man, just come in for lunch today. Let’s connect and pull him back in and get them over whatever was going on that was big in his head like we had these are my friends. Oh, yeah, I can do this. 

Maureen O’Shaughnessy  20:31  

So there are just so many stories of kids taking care of other kids baking for other kids birthdays, guys teaching other guys how to knit. I mean, it’s just like, everything goes camping trips, where kids are kind of the little guys are teaching others how to fish. So there are endless stories of kids getting to play to their strengths, and just getting to be themselves. And that being a beautiful place to be.

Lindsay Recknell  20:57  

Yeah, it feels so hopeful. I mean, that sounds ridiculous. But it doesn’t feel so hopeful. Like I just I imagine these kids coming out of your school into life with this foundation of compassion, I  1000 million percent agree or believe that compassion has the power to change the world. And we do not talk about it Enough. We do not teach it, we do not teach curiosity and openness and that ability. Empathy is not even a big enough word, it is that truly it is that compassion for other people. 

Lindsay Recknell  21:32  

And I would absolutely want to hire any of your kids coming out of school because you are teaching them those life skills that, you know, employers can teach the technical skills, but you are teaching them those life skills. And that’s, that’s amazing. That’s just incredible. Where have you seen hope lately? I know that seems obvious. You’re going to say your school. But do you have some other ideas on where else you are seeing hope these days?

Maureen O’Shaughnessy  22:01  

Absolutely. I see a lot of youth that are activists. And being a part of the active collective, we have youth in our collective. And they were at the summit, we had three different groups that were at the summit that were inspiring.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy  22:20  

So heirs to our oceans is that I think they’re meeting in Hawaii right now. They’re having their summer camps and all these scholarships that they fundraise for. But my students attended one of their spring, free trainings and learned how to talk to legislators. And then there was a hill day where people were actually talking to legislators, but they are passionate about educational reform, environmental reform, and training kids and teaching them how to have a voice and make a difference. So that’s one amazing source. 

Maureen O’Shaughnessy  22:48  

Up for learning on the East Coast partners with youth and supports them in schools in bringing about their changes and what they want to do. And there was an amazing Up for learning student, Evelyn. And she’s like, yeah, I started this manifest. This is what I want to see happen in my high school and Up for learning came on. And we worked through how to make these things happen. What do we want in terms of a security officer? What do we want in terms of equity? What do we want, with all of the things going on with equity and Black Lives Matters and all of these different issues that are so important, they have a voice, and they have adults walking with them, leveraging their experience, but elevating the kids, 

Maureen O’Shaughnessy  23:33  

Youth by youth is the heart of our collective was at our summit, and they had an amazing summit last January international and they are taking on the UN sustainability goals. So it’s like oh my gosh, get out of my way. Our youth when we open the doors for them and point them in the right direction and listen to their passions. There is hope Everywhere, Lindsay.

Lindsay Recknell  23:57  

Oh, so good. So good. I can’t even believe that we’re coming to the end of our time together. And I always ask the same question of all my guests and you have answered this a million times already. But I’m going to ask you again. Can you tell us Maureen what gives you hope

Maureen O’Shaughnessy  24:17  

No surprise, our youth give me hope. They see through a lens in fresh ways. They’re making stands for equity, our environment and so many other vital causes. I mean from Malala to Greta to students in the no place for hate school movement. These youth and others they are calling for love and a world that works for everyone and that gives me hope. 

Lindsay Recknell  24:44  

Love it. That gives me so much hope also. speaking to you gives me hope. It has been such a pleasure having this conversation with you. Your passion and energy and confidence in the future of our kids is inspiring. I so appreciate you sharing your energy with us. Thank you so, so much.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy  25:04  

Oh my gosh. So thank you, Lindsey. Hope is what we need. And I’m so glad you’re getting it out there into the world.

Lindsay Recknell  25:10  

You betcha. We’re gonna hope and love. We got this. 

Maureen O’Shaughnessy  25:13  


Lindsay Recknell  25:15  

Take care. 

Lindsay Recknell  25:19  

I hope you enjoyed this latest episode of the Hope Motivates Action podcast. These episodes are a labor of love; inspiring conversations with hopeful people make my heart happy. If you also love this episode, it would be amazing if you could go to Apple podcasts and leave a review five stars if you’re into it. It’s these reviews that encourage Apple to promote this podcast to their network and the more people that listen, the more hope we can spread into the world. 

Lindsay Recknell  25:42  

Don’t forget to check out the show notes of this episode to find all the links to my guests’ books and other resources referenced in this episode. You’ll also find the link back to my website where you will find additional support and resources for you, your team and your community. 

Lindsay Recknell  25:56  

I truly believe that the future will be better than today. By taking action over the things we can control and hearing from these guests on these episodes. I know that an even more hopeful future is totally possible. I’m always looking for inspirational guests so if you or anyone you know would like to be a guest on the show please reach out you can find me on the contact form of my website at or by email at

Lindsay Recknell  26:23  

When I was a teenager when my sisters were leaving the house to go out for the night, I always made it a point to remind them to call me if they need me. It was my way to tell them that I cared and would always be there for them. I’d love you to know the same so all of you listening out there Call me if you need me. 

Lindsay Recknell  26:37  

Again, thank you for your love and support of this podcast, my work in hope, and your intentional focus on making your future better than today. After all, hope without action is just a wish.

Transcribed by

Lindsay Recknell | Expert in Hope | Facebook | LinkedIn | Instagram

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