A Celebration for an Exceptional Educational Leader: Dr. Ena Shelley


I met Dr. Ena Shelley, Dean of the College of Education at Butler University, on April 10, 2006.  What a lucky day for me.  Ena called me, I remember, at The College School to invite me to come to Indianapolis to speak with the Indianapolis Reggio Collaborative. The minute I heard her kind voice on the other end of the line, I knew that we would become friends.  That first visit led us into a rich and beautiful professional relationship and a warm and dear friendship.

Ena brought teachers and professors from Butler University a number of times to visit our schools in St. Louis and to attend conferences that our St. Louis Reggio Collaborative hosted.  I returned to Indianapolis and instead of staying in a hotel, Ena invited me to stay with her.  We traveled to Reggio Emilia together on a Professor and Student Study Tour. 

In 2008, I left my teaching position at The College School and Ashley and I launched Cadwell Collaborative, our consulting business for curriculum development and school design.  From that moment on, Ena became a way paver for both of us.   She provided us with many beautiful and memorable opportunities that have become milestones in our careers.

I told Ena that I dreamed of teaching a university course with her and she made that happen three times.  In 2011 we co-taught Living the Questions: Learning for the Future, focused on the fundamental principals and practices of the Reggio Approach.  In 2012 and 2013, we co-taught A Field Study in Early & Elementary Educationat Opal School in Portland, Oregon.  

Field Study in Early and Elementary Education, Butler University at Opal School

Field Study in Early and Elementary Education, Butler University at Opal School

Ena hired me to be a consultant for the new Indianapolis Public School Butler University Laboratory School from 2010-2015 working with Ron Smith and his faculty as well as the Butler faculty who taught courses on site.  This long term consultancy provided me with confidence and time to grow into and understand how I might best work with teachers and administrators. 

In 2010, Ena spearheaded an initiative to renovate and redesign an old Georgean elementary school on the Butler campus to be an innovative center for the Butler College of Education. Butler hired HOK, Gyo Obata, and Ashley Cadwell to work on that design.  Ashley and HOK authored a presentation on 21st century pedagogy and school design that was noteworthy at the time and a reference point for school architects today.

Rendering: Plans for new Butler College of Education building, HOK

Rendering: Plans for new Butler College of Education building, HOK

Last Monday, we attended the retirement celebration for Ena at Butler in the new College of Education building (a different one than HOK and Ashley designed but including many of their design principles).  I conclude by quoting some of what Ena said at her retirement celebration and much of what she wrote in her last column as dean before she retires.  There is so much wisdom here for all of us.  May we all continue to dare greatly, find joy and humor in life and in our work, listen to the children around us, and reach for the stars together.  

Resource Library at Butler College of Education: Dr. Ena Shelley Collection

Resource Library at Butler College of Education: Dr. Ena Shelley Collection

From the Newsletter Transforming Education by Ena Shelley

“How lucky am I to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.” –Winnie the Pooh, author A.A. Milne.  

At the end of May, I will officially retire after 36 wonderful years at Butler University. I began my teaching career as a kindergarten teacher and Winnie the Pooh was present in several ways in my classroom. When I read this quote, I thought how perfect it was, sort of like a bookend to a career of learning that has filled my heart and soul with joy. If you have read the work of A. A. Milne, you know that his characters speak words of wisdom about lessons in life. I am taking this opportunity to share with you some of the lessons I have learned over the years along with a request for action that I offer as a “provocation” or opportunity to consider.

Lesson #1: Heroic work with children of all ages happens in schools and other learning institutions like museums, community programs, and hospitals every day! Through the years when I have encountered those who share their perspective that schools are failing and that the “system” is broken, I invite them to spend time with me in schools. Many times, I have found these individuals are relying on what they have heard or read but have not actually engaged with the people doing the hard work.

Provocation: How do you share your stories with others? Could your students write to policymakers or create videos of their own version of the evening news with a spotlight on “good things?” Can you invite into your setting those individuals who hold a less than positive view of education and engage them in thoughtful, ongoing dialogue?

Lesson#2: Future educators are sitting in today’s classrooms. The teaching profession is still a noble profession and is the foundation of a democratic society. As educators, we must encourage students who could be great teachers.

Provocation: I share this with you as something I have actually done numerous times when recruiting students into education through the university admissions process. We have an event with the prospective students and their parents at the Butler Lab School. I ask the parents to close their eyes and with a show of hands or a nod, indicate if they are worried about their child selecting education as a major, if they are worried about the salary of a teacher, if they are concerned about all of the challenges, including safety, teachers are facing. Each time I have done this, at least 95 percent of the parents indicate their concern. Then with their eyes still closed, I ask them to remember a teacher who positively impacted their lives. I ask them if they can picture the teacher in their mind, hear their voice, and remember what the teacher did that made a significant change in their life. Then I ask them to open their eyes, look at their child, and realize that their child can be that person in the life of someone. This is when it seems to “click” for them—YES, they want their child to be that person in the life of others. How can you create your own version of lifting up the profession by reminding others that behind every person is a teacher(s) who made a difference?

Lesson #3: Find the joy in what you do every day; even on the hardest days good things have happened—pay attention! When I student taught, one of the best things my cooperating teacher had me do was write down three to five good things that had happened during the day.  She told me even on the days when you felt like nothing went right, good things had happened. I still do this even today and I believe it is why I still love teaching. Don’t get caught up in negative talk because that spiral is an endless one-way road to being hopeless.

Provocation: If you don’t already keep a journal with positive notes, start one. Or, what if at the end of the day or end of the class period you ask your students to share good things that happened? The old saying “It is all in how you look at it” was best lived out in a conversation I had one day with a second-grader. I noticed his shoe was untied and I mentioned it to him. His reply was “The good news is the other one is fine.” Oh the wisdom of children—pay attention to them!

Lesson #4: In my role as Dean of the College of Education, I have learned that you surround yourself with incredible talent, develop a shared vision, and then run the race together, asking your peers what support they need and then provide it to them. Daniel Pink, in his book A Whole New Mind, described thriving organizations that had solos but also played harmoniously as a symphony. Ensure that individuals are thriving and developing their unique talents but always be mindful that they play a part in the larger organization that is the symphony.

Provocation: Are you playing a solo or do you see your role in the larger symphony? Is there someone who seems isolated in your organization who you could engage to work with you and others? Do you have a shared vision so you know what musical score you are playing?

I know that the COE will continue to DARE GREATLY and it has been my honor to be on the journey with you.  I also want the College of Education to remember, there is NO FAILURE, there is ONLY LEARNING.  When something doesn’t work out, it was a gift, a lesson, to guide you to the next step. May all of your steps be pavers to continued greatness.

Planting project at new IPS Butler University Laboratory School

Planting project at new IPS Butler University Laboratory School




Close Observation...”The Zen of Seeing”

Notre Dame, April 6, 2019

Notre Dame, April 6, 2019

What is “close observation” and why is it essential to living a full and fulfilling life? It is a skill garnered from an early age. ..in many ways instinctual, and also learned from peers, parents and teachers.  In my humble opinion, we don’t pay enough attention to this...to “CALL attention”...to teach: “pay attention.”

The most successful teachers I know use authentic experiences to CALL ATTENTION...and then follow up with asking/provoking their students to record what they observed in whatever “language” is available and meaningful to them (writing, drawing, dance, mathematics, etc.).  This apparently simple process (so simple that it’s often ignored), is the fundamental building block of all learning...of genuine understanding.  What happened?  What did you sense (using all five of senses)?  How would you, can you, describe it?  

Saint Michael School outdoor classroom

Saint Michael School outdoor classroom

I remember a personal epiphany with this process after college, when I was introduced to Frederick Franck by Louise’s mother, Adeline Boyd, an adjunct professor of Eastern Art at Washington University in St. Louis.  The book of Franck’s that she recommended to me when she saw a couple of my sketches was The Zen of Seeing, Seeing/Drawing as Meditation.  The book is a collection of Franck’s drawings and his hand written observations.  It opened a whole new way of understanding the world for me.

He writes: SEEING/DRAWING is a way of contemplation by which all things are made new, by which the world is freshly experienced at each moment. It is the opposite of looking at things from the outside, taking them for granted. What I have not drawn, I have never really seen. Once you start drawing an ordinary thing, a fly, a flower, a face, you realize how extraordinary it is — a sheer miracle.

When I take the time to SEE, the world is transformed for me…I make sense of the parts in new ways…my perspective becomes more complete…my life becomes more full. There are so many experiences that I could recount for you, both in my personal reflections, in my teaching, and my teaching of teachers. 


My most recent experience of the intractable value of close observation that leads to understanding was in Paris. When I saw the news headline last week that Notre Dame had burned, the gut wrenching blow I felt was directly related to these sketches I’d made only two weeks ago...one while sitting out front with 1,000 of my best friends from all over the world, and one four days later having stopped while biking along the Seine with Louise.

West transept and blooming cherry trees, Notre Dame

West transept and blooming cherry trees, Notre Dame

Neither of these sketches is really about “art.” They represent my full, undivided, completely delighted PRESENCE...really SEEING Notre Dame and drawing what I saw and felt.  I understand Notre Dame in an utterly real and unfathomable way.  Like feeling your breath, now here...now gone.

quick gesture sketch, Notre Dame

quick gesture sketch, Notre Dame

Saying Goodbye to Olly


On a most beautiful, blue sky, first day of spring day, our son, Alden and his family said goodbye to a dear and beloved chocolate lab named Olly. Olly was almost 14 years old. Up until the week before, she seemed to be doing pretty well…talking walks in the snow when they visited us in Vermont, snuggling, wagging her tail. And then, she wasn't. She couldn't get up anymore by herself, she wasn’t hungry, her breathing became difficult at times, she was fading.

My daughter-in-law Caroline, brought a book home from the first grade classroom where she teaches entitled, Saying Goodbye to Lulu, about a family dog who dies. I walked over to their house to help with bed time and they had just finished reading it. Delilah, who is four, came over to me in tears and handed me the book and said emphatically, “I don’t want to keep this book. It is too sad!” Alden and Caroline were helping their children, gently and honestly, to understand that their dear dog that they had grown up with was about to die.

It is so hard for everyone to loose a pet who has become such a valued member of a family. All of us were in tears at one time or another during that hard week. On Wednesday, March 20th, I picked up Asher and Delilah from school. We walked up the stairs to their house and their parents told them, “Olly died today.” Olly was curled up on her bed. The four of them gathered around and patted her and cried and considered how things change so fast and that death is final.

Ashley and I went to join them for a ceremony for Olly. Alden dug a perfectly round and deep hole under their backyard apple tree. Asher and Delilah helped. They put one of Olly’s sheep skins at the bottom of the hole. Alden carried Olly from her bed to the back yard and laid her to rest. We held onto each other in the silent blue afternoon and felt very sad and also very grateful for each other and for the love, loyalty and joy of such a sweet dog for so many years.


Ashley and I were listening to an interview with Jean Vanier, a philosopher and Catholic social innovator, who founded The L’Arche movement which establishes communities for people with mental disabilities. He said that children teach us about tenderness, presence, and unity or wholeness. He said that, as adults, we can often be removed from the present, saying one thing and thinking another. Children, and I think also dogs, bring us into presence, wholeness and joy.


I was so touched and impressed with the way this family, led by their parents, honored the life and death of their dear dog in such an honest, real, and brave way. Ashley and I felt privileged to be a part of this passing.

Mary Oliver wrote this: Dogs die so soon. I have my stories of that grief, no doubt many of you do also. It is almost a failure of will, a failure of love, to let them grow old — or so it feels. We would do anything to keep them with us, and to keep them young. The one gift we cannot give.

And she also wrote this: Because of the dog’s joyfulness, our own is increased. It is no small gift. It is not the least reason why we should honor as well as love the dog of our own life, and the dog down the street, and all the dogs not yet born. What would the world be like without music or rivers or the green and tender grass? What would this world be like without dogs? 


21st Century Curricula and School Design

HOK rendering…schematic design phase for Butler University School of Education

HOK rendering…schematic design phase for Butler University School of Education

There are many ways to think about Education in the 21st Century and here is one way I have composed my understanding.  My construct begins with the paradigm shift caused by many factors, including: brain research, sustainability, and, well…living in a whole new world.  With this paradigm shift we have come to understand more about how we learn (through multiple learning styles, multiple intelligences, the 100 Languages). We have begun to frame our thinking about sustainability. And we are learning to embrace the ways that we create meaning in our lives.  Each of these areas can be restated as Skills for the 21st Century…and the skills, new and evolving, require a new and evolving 21st C Education Curricula: cross-disciplinary research projects, service projects, and an “ethic of excellence.”  New curricula requires a new way of thinking about 21st C School Design, new patterns for design, including: labs and studios, transparency, gradation of spaces, sustainable materials and energy systems, connection to community, galleries and fairs, aesthetics.  

I have composed a keynote presentation of this thinking…one that I have used to stimulate thinking in many contexts including faculty curricula design meetings and with school architects.  Here is the outline slide of the presentation…followed by a collage slide of some of the many images that I use in the discussion…and then, a partial bibliography of sources that have inspired this composition.

I’d be happy to share this with anyone over ZOOM…Cadwell Collaborative’s new found internet friend (we can host groups of up to 100!!!!). Just drop me an email at j.ashley.cadwell@gmail.com.

Ed for 21st C Outline slide.jpg
collage of images for 21st C school design.jpg
Bibliography for 21st C School Design.png

Here is another outline of the thinking.

summary 20thvs21stC school design.jpg

Nurturing Creativity in the Classroom

In schools, the philosophy and context of the place and time, and the skills and dispositions of the administration and the teachers, all set the stage for the kind of teaching and learning that will evolve. For creativity to be central to teaching and learning, teachers must honor the students’ intelligence, way of approaching life, and their innate drive to learn. In the schools of Reggio Emilia, Italy, and in any classroom where hard work, joy, excellence, respect, and creativity abound, the students and teachers make their way together in a learning journey. The teachers are not handing over information that they expect the students to memorize and repeat.

To create well-being for everyone, the classroom needs to be organized and clean and the teachers need to be kind and present for the children. The routines and the agreements of the classroom can be thoughtfully authored, shared, and owned by each person, rather than imposed by the teachers on the children as rules.

In the schools of Reggio Emilia, teachers place a high priority on listening to children. They often do so in the context of conversations based on open ended questions without a “right” answer. The teachers seek to uncover children’s way of experiencing and noticing the world around them as well as their way of making sense by putting new ideas together.

At Harwood Union High School, the teachers and administration have dedicated themselves to Socratic Seminar and the Harkness Method. Students come prepared to enter into dialogue about what matters and what is most compelling about what they are reading and learning, rather than to listen to teachers lecture about what is most important.

Our friend and professor emeritus at Middlebury College, John Elder, most often engages in what he calls inductive dialogue, (rather than deductive), with students about poetry and text. He says, “Let’s start by talking about what we notice and see what happens, rather than starting with the main idea that the professor wants to get across.”

All of these are ways to bring creativity to the center of teaching and learning, but also to life long learning. This is a way to approach learning that respects the intelligence of students and their need and right to make their own meaning which might come as a surprise to us as teachers. How wonderful!

Another way to nurture creativity in the classroom is to bring in materials and to offer multiple ways to express ideas. The educators in Reggio Emilia use the term “the hundred languages of children” to refer to all the disciplines. They prefer to call them languages (rather than disciplines) in order to emphasize the communicative power of math, science, clay, paper, gesture, music, words…Project work that includes multiple languages can become, as Ron Berger writes, beautiful work. In An Ethic of Excellence: Building a Culture of Excellence with Students, Ron advocates for the power of a culture of excellence in every classroom. In the context of this kind of “culture of excellence,” students strive to create beautiful work in graphics, writing, math, science. All of this takes effort, skill, understanding and multiple drafts executed within the structure of a supportive and skilled community of learners. This work is most often composed for a public audience and contributes in some way to the larger community.

In an article in Educational Leadership in the issue on Creativity, Carol Ann Tomlinson writes:

Don't consign creativity to the realm of fairy dust. Certainly, moments in the creative process seem to come from beyond us, almost magically. Those moments, however, are nearly always preceded by long periods of sweat and grit. Perhaps the single most common attribute of creative people is how hard they work. They know a great deal about their domain or discipline. After all, people are creative in some pursuit—writing, soccer, botany, or marketing. Help students develop what Ron Berger calls an ethic of excellence—hard work, pride in craftsmanship, and appreciation for fresh, fruitful thinking.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi devotes the last chapter of his book, Creativity: The Psychology of Discovery and Invention to personal creativity or what James Kaufman and Ronald Beghetto call "little-c creativity”…everyday creative efforts. Among the strategies that he suggests that are most helpful for classrooms are:

• Shape your space…curate your space (classroom) so that you are surrounded by order, the tools that you need, and personal meaning.

• Take charge of your schedule…you (your students) need the time and discipline to devote to what you love, to the work that you seek to accomplish.

• Take time for reflection…relax, pause, take some time out from rushing from one thing, (class), to another.

• Look at problems from as many viewpoints as possible…look at situations from various angles, consider different reasons and causes, try tentative solutions, reformulate the problem.

• Find a way to express what moves you…creative problems generally emerge from areas of life that are personally important.

One of my favorite memories as a fellow in the schools of Reggio Emilia after a morning with children in all their various groupings, is the flurry of activity among the teachers. Teachers would gather in the atelier and tell each other what had happened with words like…you would not believe what Filippo and Giorgia invented. I can’t wait for you to see what Andrea constructed. Story after story of surprises around what happened…what the children did, said, made, created, solved, and wondered. Their excitement and collaboration around learning and creativity for themselves and alongside the children has always inspired me.

Creativity can flourish when there is a context that also includes, as our friend John Elder says, buoyancy and playfulness, presence and gratefulness. Creativity needs friends, fertile ground and good care just as we all do, and most especially, our children.