Why Now?

We can not deny the potential to create empowered and aligned dreams that is unique to our time and exceptional for humanity.

In an email I’m about to write to the Dream Flag teachers around the world, I’m going to ask them to SIGN UP NOW for making Dream Flags with their students this year.

So why now?

This year, as in most years, I feel that helping our students focus on their dreams, on helping them see the power in aligning them to each other, teaching them this habit of heart and mind, is more important than ever. But especially now. This now.

When I opened my phone this morning, the first story from Google was that the Secretary General of the UN was issuing a “red alert” to world leaders, urging them to resolve to “Narrow the gaps. Bridge the divides. Rebuild trust by bringing people together around common goals.”

And who are those “world leaders?”

I believe they are us, teachers, educators. For who else is more concretely standing in front of or next to, leading and coaching, children in schools around the globe today? Who else is more directly leading the world that will become? Who?

There are about 50 million teachers around the world. And I believe that we are the ones with the power and the responsibility to do this.

But how?


When I remember the gathering we had back in 2013, after the first ten years of The Dream Flag Project and looking toward the next ten, the thing that stands out to me the most is the simple question Tony Wagner asked our group. Tony is an educational researcher who has spent his life asking questions about how we can create education that truly prepares our students for tomorrow. At that time, he was working as Expert in Residence at Harvard’s Center for Innovation. He asked us this:

“What habits of mind and heart are you teaching?”

It’s the habit that we must teach, the habit of thinking about what matters most to us as people, the habit of focusing on that and its connection to others. Dreams naturally evolve and change as our students mature, as their perspective and understanding of the world changes, but the habit of focus, the habit of seeing connection to others and the power inherent in that, is what we can and must teach them.

The year ahead is propitious. Why? Because it’s not just that Dream Flags is a tool we can use across cultures to help teach our students to be true to their dreams, but also because so much is lining up around that.

naiimPeople like Anousheh Ansari and Prodea Systems who are working with Naiim to bridge the digital divide and reach 4.5 billion people, starting in India.

UNLEASH-logoPeople like Lance Gould and UNLEASH who represent the groundswell of support for making the UN’s SDGs not a dream, but a concrete reality by 2030–and the powerful corporate groups who recognize this as the path to everyone’s prosperity.

Screen Shot 2018-01-03 at 1.51.05 PMPeople like Chris Schembra who has transformed the standard model of corporate catering to experiences promoting empathy and sharing on deep level–as Dream Flags do.

DotsubPeople like Dotsub founder Michael Smolens, who sees the deep truth in Nelson Mandela’s statement that “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, it speaks to his head. If you talk to him in his language, it speaks to his heart,” and works tirelessly to transcend language barriers–and to connect dreams.

Screen Shot 2018-01-03 at 1.56.23 PMPeople like Sunil Khandbahale who created a site where 100 million people in India work together to cross language barriers and opportunity barriers, daily.

As Dream Flags evolves, as the capacity of Dreamline to capture and align student and community dreams around the world expands, as we can deliver content and inspiration into the most unserved parts of our global community, the benefit to all of us is immense.

When we look at the already aligned focus we see in children’s dreams around the world –through what Dream Flags has done on a small scale so far — when we see the way that inviting communities to share their dreams opens the heart time and time again, we can not deny the potential to create empowered and aligned dreams that is unique to our time and exceptional for humanity. Here’s how Roxanne Allen, veteran of inner city school change puts it, and I couldn’t agree more.

So now is the time to SIGN UP.

12,000 Inspirations Daily!

12,000 commuters pass through Jefferson Station in Philadelphia every day. It’s where both subways and commuter rail trains go, bringing people to work. More than 700 student dreams from the region and the world are there now and will be there through the holidays. So what commuters bring to work each day can include a student’s dream.

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One of my favorite all-time videos from our project is this one. If you haven’t seen it, it’s so worth the four and a half minutes, especially at this time of year.

There are a million reasons I love this video, but it does an especially great job of showing the wind in the Himalayas–the way the prayer flags there are always blowing, fiercely sending the wishes of the flags out into the world. I share this video with my students every year to show them where the inspiration for Dream Flags came from, and why their dreams can do a world of good, just getting out there.

And here’s one of my all-time still shots sent in by a teacher. It was in the very first years of the project. The teacher brought the project to a small school in Sydney where she was teaching that year. Her home was in Canada.


These flags are out there! They stand in the shadow of one of the world’s most recognized public spaces–and proudly, each created by an elementary student at St. Gertrude’s Primary School.

While I love the “world traveler” capacity that’s added to our flags by Dreamline, there’s nothing like the physical quality of a flag and the way it can make a bold statement in a public space. They make people stop.

So when three high school students, my colleague Liz Ortiz, and I went down to Jefferson Station on a Saturday, THIS happened:


While it’s a bit dizzying, the end result was a wonderfully calm transformation of the space:

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And I have to add my geeky love of the tech on how we did this.

For the exhibition technicians out there, hanging up gardener’s netting first (from the ceiling where you can attach firmly) and then attaching the flags to it with twisty ties or little zip clips, is an awesome improvement over our past efforts. Secure and quick.


I’m saying out loud that Candice Lindsay in Dallas is thinking of doing a Pinterest Page for our project so all the wonderfully geeky and crafty details can unfold! Stay tuned..

Footprints Around the World

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What do the following schools have in common?

  • Kongresi I Manastirit School in Tirana, ALBANIA
  • Peel District School Board in Missisauga, Ontario, CANADA,
  • Farzanegan High School in Tehran, IRAN,
  • School-Kindergarten 90 in Chisinau, MOLDOVA,
  • Elworod High School in Tinghir, MOROCCO,
  • Hassan Iben Thabet School and Qurtoba Basic School in Hebron, PALESTINE,
  • Liceui Teoretic Emil Racovita in Techirghiol, ROMANIA,
  • Gymnasia 15 in Nikopol, UKRAINE,
  • Al Ameen Private School in Dubai, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES,
  • Sunburst Youth Academy in Los Alamitos, California, USA,
  • Lincolnton High School in Lincolnton, North Carolina, USA,
  • Governor Mifflin Intermediate School in Reading, Pennsylvania, USA, and
  • Agnes Irwin School in Rosemont, Pennsylvania, USA!

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They are all schools who have signed up to participate in the 2017-18 Dreamline Program in collaboration with the International Education and Resource Network, now in its 29th year of serving students and teachers around the world by “helping students learn with the world, not just about it!”


That means the students in these schools will make Dream Flags, some as a second language activity, others in their primary language and share them on Dreamline.

So how’s that different than just signing up with Dream Flags or Dreamline?

I think it’s most different in that what iEARN has done over the years is to figure out the best sort of “open source” platform for teachers and students to collaborate. And those who participate in Dreamline through iEARN get to experience that. By “open source” I don’t mean the usual technical meaning, but more of one that’s adaptable to many different uses, depending on how teachers collaborate. Here are a few things it can do and how we hope to use them:


  • Utilize the Group Forum where participant teachers can have online discussions, sharing ideas and information on connecting with student dreams.
  • Individual schools and teachers connect in whatever ways seem best.
  • Already, we’ve had a Skype connection between students at an all girls school near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania with an all female group of high school students from the in Tehran, Iran.Screen Shot 2017-12-11 at 10.07.01 PM
  • Create Student Registration on the YOUTH FORUM where individual students can post their flags–or a link to them on Dreamline-and then TALK with each other about them. This is a wonderfully promising feature of this system.Screen Shot 2017-12-11 at 10.09.10 PM
  • Students will also be encouraged to # the Dream Flag postings with one or more of the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals to quickly connect with others who share their dreams.

And beyond that?

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Well there’s quite a lot beyond that because every single one of the 100 projects listed in the 2017-18 iEARN Project Book is aligned to one or more of the UN SDGs. So in the months after posting Flags, students can begin to collaborate on global projects that reach toward their dreams together. And THAT is how the world will change from the ground up!

And if this seems like the Dream Flags and Dreamline experience you’d like to have this year? What do you do?

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  • Adults have to join iEARN first, then sign up for The Dreamline Project on their site.
  • Joining is free for educators outside of the USA and is about a $100 fee for USA schools.
  • And it means access not just to the Dreamline iEARN project but hundreds of others that may be of use this year. It’s one of the best Professional Development deals around.

I suggest that you take a few minutes to explore iEARN this week. I think you’ll see many footprints of people from around the world who are just like you. I know I did.


It’s Not About the Poem

This IMPACT entry is by a young man who was in sixth grade when we met on our way to Khumjung, Nepal to share dreams of students from around the world. Thomas McCarthy, or Tommy on the trek, wrote what’s below as part of his college application process last year. He graciously gave us permission to publish it here. This fall, he started his first year at Harvard University where I know he’s working to make the world a better place .   –Jeffrey Harlan

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by Thomas McCarthy

I realized that deep inside we were both kids with hopes and dreams of making the world a better place.

“It’s not about the poem” everyone assured me. But to me it felt like this poem was what mattered most. The poem that I wrote on a letter-sized rectangle of old bed sheet. Why else would I have convinced my teacher and 25 of my sixth-grade classmates to write theirs as well? Why else would I have carried the poems across an ocean, onto a twin-prop airplane landing at one of the 10 riskiest airports in the world, and up the Mount Everest Base Camp route on a three-day trek to an altitude of 14,000 feet?

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Of course I knew my poem wasn’t why we were taking this trip. After all, my grandmother had written a book on Sir Edmund Hillary and his school-building legacy for the Nepalese Sherpa community in the years following his successful summit of Mount Everest with Tenzing Norgay in 1953. Hillary built his first “schoolhouse in the clouds” in the village of Khumjung in 1961, and now, in 2011, the community was throwing a grand festival celebrating the school’s 50th anniversary. Phurba Sherpa, our family friend and one of the school’s first graduates, had led us here as she made what for her was a routine trip back home.

Our poems were among the many “dream flags” being presented at the festival as part of a school-based program conceived by two energetic teachers with whom we had come. The idea was for students to use these scraps of fabric to blend the concept of Buddhist prayer flags with poems of their own dreams for the future, and to share those dream flags across cultures and classrooms.


So yes, I knew there was much more taking place than my little poem recitation. But this knowledge was actually part of the problem, because as a result, I had the sense that I was there to represent my country and my school at this celebration of education, and that I had to say something wise and powerful. My anxiety only grew as I stood onstage before a colorful crowd of Sherpas, preparing to read my poem that “wasn’t about the poem.”


My feelings regarding my role there had become more complicated that morning when, in the dusty Khumjung school yard, I struggled to keep up with the school’s morning exercise drills. I felt like I was wearing a sign flashing “outsider” as I clumsily attempted to jump and stretch in unison with the 200 uniformed students in time to a beating drum. On my left, I noticed a tall boy stealing glances at me and smiling as I awkwardly tried to follow along. He reached out his hand warmly, saying “Hello friend, my name is Kabindra.”

Kabindra guided me through the rest of the exercises and the entire school day as I attended classes with him. As enjoyable as my visit to the Khumjung school was that day, I left with a new and confusing sense of who I was. Despite the welcoming words and countless smiles of these kids, I found myself thinking less about what we shared and more about how we differed. Here I was among students my same age, some of whom walked hours daily for this opportunity, and many of whom dreamed of attending college, while back home I rode the bus to school and college was an assumed part of my future.


Stepping over to the center of the stage, I took the microphone and glanced nervously at my new friend Kabindra, who caught my eye and silently offered his composed smile to reassure me that I belonged there as much as he did. It helped to know he would be reading his poem right after me. I can’t really recall the details of how my presentation went, but I got through it.


Later, as we kicked a worn soccer ball around, Kabindra described a little of his life and dreams. He recounted the pleasures of hunting for wild mushrooms in the alpine juniper forests. He spoke of the happiness he felt to be able to come to school here, and how he wanted to be a neurologist someday.

When it was time to leave, I shook Kabindra’s hand and said goodbye, knowing that we would almost surely never see each other again. I thought about his life, the life of this child of farmers, and his dream of becoming a neurologist. Then I thought again about my life and the way everything had been so easily laid out for me. But I realized that deep inside we were both kids with hopes and dreams of making the world a better place.


Welling up within me I found that my entire life––where I had grown up, everything I had done, and all of my passions––had gained a new meaning. My earlier fixation on our differences suddenly vanished as I finally understood that, in the end, it truly wasn’t about the poem.


Enjoy this short video by The Dream Flag Project on Dream Flags in Nepal, the trip Thomas McCarthy remembered so well six years later.

The Dream Flag Project in Nepal from Dream Flag Project on Vimeo.