My 2021 Review Adventures into Educational Systems Change
Having migrated for love, post Brexit in 2016, to the Netherlands over five years ago, partly due to language issues but mostly because of a long held, enormous yearning to work in informal adult education. I left a thirty year UK career working with excluded youth and young adults. With the idea of developing transformative learning offerings that empower adults, to live deeply committed lives of meaning and purpose for the betterment of the world. This initial notion morphed slightly, in 2019, towards the educational sector, as I shifted my mission to offer learning that liberated, both students and teachers, to make a deep impact in whichever systems or institutions, wherever they are located, irrespective of position, status or role. What follows is a short summary and review of my subsequent adventures over the last year into educational systems change.
Adventures in High School Reform
As a nascent practitioner of educational systems change, I am an English teacher at Keen School, a tiny private family style setting based in Bilthoven in the Netherlands. For the last six years or so the school has been prototyping, a middle path between the overly individualistic, competitive, industrialised, methods of mainstream education and the radically liberal, often highly unstructured approaches, in the alternative and free school movement in this country. I wrote about my early experiences here for Enlivening Edge Magazine. Since then, slowly and sometimes painfully, the school has become increasingly successful in cultivating a rare co-creative atmosphere and shared learning culture, wherein all participants both teachers and students, can thrive.
These rare conditions have been generated because students over time, have been encouraged to refrain from self or other sabotage and resist undermining, grandstanding, drama and other such common inhibitors to group learning. This helps cultivate an unusually safe space for discovery and exploration.Thus students are not only unafraid of experimentation, making errors and failing, but also enjoy almost unfettered access to their best selves. This learning culture liberates them to express and share curiosity, eagerness, enthusiasm and even gratitude, often suffocated, in more mainstream and alternative schools. Furthermore, this cooperative atmosphere elicits a shared willingness and support in the group dynamic, for each young person to thrive. This goodwill awakens a shared learning intelligence that accelerates and catalyses personal development and maturation across the whole group.Thanks to the diligence of all party’s participation, an automaticity of inclusion and goodwill, has started to become the centre of gravity of all of our student’s groups.
Venturing in Transformative Education
Another adventure in the last year was/is as a learning guide for and also assisting the co-directors at Campus Co-Evolve, a virtual university of action learning, uniting head, heart and hand. Its aim is to facilitate global communities of evolutionary agents, to cultivate and spread new capabilities for facilitating transformation within the spheres of the personal, social and the planetary. Earlier in 2021 I launched and delivered a very successful learning journey for the campus titled ‘The Art and Practice of Generative Leadership’. This was my first substantial public opportunity to share, the unusual syntheses, of the very many unique learning opportunities I have experienced over my lifetime. This allowed the learners to immerse themselves and benefit from my insights and perspectives. One participant commented ‘I think by the end of the course the levels of trust and intimacy (you helped cultivate), were definitely a part of the richness everyone got from it!’
As well as assisting the co-directors group of the campus, I have also helped co-facilitate segment four of the Protopia Learning Journey focussed on the Societal Shift. The concept of the course in synopsis form, was to enable change-makers to focus, not merely on transforming their host organisation or entity where they operate, but to conscientiously begin to catalyse systemic shifts wherever they are/were situated. Currently the campus is developing its strategy for 2022, considering which new and repeat courses to run, plus offering a new invitation-only Connecting the Dots event. Also with a series of possible Generative Leadership half-day Masterclasses in or around the spring.
Connecting for Regenerative Education
Another venture I co-initiated this year was (C4RE), Connecting for Regenerative Education, a Netherlands based education experiment. We hosted a forum, where progressive educators could connect with each other and also share and experience their colleagues’ diverse educational practises. While endeavouring to inspire one another on their journey towards regenerative educational systems change, largely in Higher Education. We hoped to connect these efforts to the R3.0 global plan (below) for education systems change but due to organisational capacity issues, we closed the group. Nevertheless, anyone who participated regularly, benefited enormously from shared experiences of Vertical Literacy, of place-based design for Regenerative Education, as well using the lens of talent to cultivate Courageous or Conscious Leadership in education. You can watch my video interview about C4RE here explaining my vision and passion for systems change in education.
Designing a Resilient Future for Education
R3.0 (Redesign for Resilience and Regeneration) is a world leading platform, endeavouring to lay pathways forward, to avert impending ecological and economic collapse. R3.0 promotes and sponsors groundbreaking partnerships and issues blueprints, designed to move planetary critical systems towards a thriving, regenerative and distributive economy and society. They have partnered with global visionaries from corporate, public and non-profit sectors in creating nine blueprints that chart pathways towards regenerative and resilient livelihoods across planetary critical systems. The ninth and final blueprint document in the current cycle was published in early August 2021 with a focus on education. I was a member of the core team, producing the blueprint led and edited by Anneloes Smithsman; the document recommends the adoption of Nine Learning perspectives to help catalyse educational systems change across the globe. The full blueprint can be found here.
Inner Development for a Sustainable Future
Furthermore, having participated in Mindshift (Growth that Matters) in May 2021 an online conference stacked chock-full of world leading inner development practitioners such as Amy C. Edmondson, Jennifer Garvey Berger, Otto Scharmer, Peter Senge and Robert Kegan all of whom offered their services free of charge. Thus I was extremely curious about the conference convenors and why they initiated this phenomenal event. I found out that the conference was the launch of a learning community, focussed on the ‘Inner Development Goals’. This deliberately developmental project is endeavouring, to close the knowing doing gap, between the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s) and peoples and institutional behaviours at work and home. The underlying premise is that for the SDGs to become more meaningfully progressed, in sufficient time over the next eight years, that individuals and organisations need to prioritise their inner development. Follow me on social media over the coming year as I am, scoping out whether and how to hold, a local morning satellite IDG event in the Netherlands on April 29, which ought to be combined with the second Mindshift conference that afternoon. No details are online yet. If you want to participate in the survey to help form the final version of these important goals you can find it here.
Vertical Literacy in Higher Education
One of the bigger educationally oriented initiatives that took up my time was my Ulab 2x 2021 project, exploring how to form a Vertical Literacy Community of Practice. Vertical Literacy is Otto Scharmer’s vision for systems change in higher education. This was my third public foray into exploring Vertical Literacy and while initially, the project stirred up a lot of interest with over 20 teachers and or trainers joining our co-initiation launch event. However, many participants were doubling up as core or extended team members across one or more Ulab 2x prototypes. From the outset there were some tensions and incompatibilities in the original core team, which meant only two out of six team members carried the project forward. Later four other people stepped in to become core team members when we reconvened in September 2021. Highlights included the transformative thrill that the future highest possibility might play in educational systems change, plus the participation and helpful insights provided by two Masters students, during our online 4d modelling session last June. In September I stepped out of the initiative to focus on new generative activities.
Ego-Eco Ulab1x Hub (Amsterdam/Almere)
Additionally, for the third year in a row I led a Ulab 1x hub, as a local node of the Presencing Institute’s Edx MOOC which annually attracts over 20,000 global participants. The course certainly offers a degree of hope that transformative systems change is possible, if only partly through the knowledge that so many goodhearted people around the world are focused on systems change. Thematically my Ego to Eco hub itself was not focussed on the transformation of educational systems. However the MOOC, orients participants towards the inner capacities required, to lead self, and organisation or group, towards systemic change.
This year I consciously stepped away from primarily steering the hub myself and enabled participants to co-create our five in-person online learning sessions, mainly in pairs together. While we had decision making challenges and the unexpected re-imposition of COVID regulations and despite meeting virtually, it was still an unqualified success. Furthermore, whether we should hold an in person hub session, in contravention of the local Dutch regulations, became a point of friction, but was resolved creatively and quite remarkably. Instead of the activity planned, we engaged in a thoroughly inspiring dialogue about the personal and other consequences of the global COVID pandemic. Inclusive of this special moment I truly enjoyed co-creating, participating and collaborating, more than just being the convenor of the hub!
My experience throughout the 13 week programme was that everyone brought their unique gifts and talents to the floor and helped create a place of non-ordinary trust and connection. Which often seems very unique to Ulab and even other related Theory U events. It was wonderful to experience that special ambience when head, heart and hand are in sync. It was once again yet another wonderful blessing. Furthermore for me as the convenor of the hub, when the session facilitators really thought about the requirements for the following meetings and shared the making of announcements and planning, it really helped create a flow in the process of organising the hub. I was deeply inspired. For me that was the emergence of true co-creation with shared co-responsibility!
If you have management or leadership responsibility in an educational institution of any type and are particularly interested in cultivating for yourself and or your core team members the inner conditions for educational systems change. Please do not hesitate and reach out to me.
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About the author Dave Pendle; I am synthesising almost 30 years experience in non profit enterprises with over 40 years of deep personal development experience. Passionate about enabling others’ sense of fulfillment, impact and trust, to engage wholeheartedly with inspiration and commitment to 21st century work and life.