What have I learned at Green School?

As I have shared here before, at the end of May I have participated on the “Green Educators” course at Green School, in Bali. Unfortunately I was not able to write this post before – and so many things have happened between the course and now – that I don’t feel so connected with the sensations and emotions I was feeling when I left the intense days at the bamboo school.

On the other hand, I didn’t want to avoid sharing some learnings and materials that I was lucky enough to have access there. Be prepared because this will be a long post and full of images. 😉

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Group of educator in a sharing circle during the workshop

We were a big group of more than 40 educators or ‘education-lovers’ from different nationalities, as Indian, Brazilian, Japanese, English, Indonesian, Singaporean, German, Australian, among others. During four days we spend day and night together experimenting a little bit of the ‘green’ routine of the school and reflecting about new possible ways for a more sustainable education (sustainable in the broader meaning of this word).

The workshop had a really diverse agenda e went through – even if in a superficial way – a lot of topics, as curriculum, sustainability, architecture, mindfulness, and so on. I have selected below some topics that touched me somehow and some references that I think can be really useful to other educators or education-interested people.

 

1) The School Campus

As I have shared in my previous post, the school campus is one of the most remarkable aspects of Green School. Not only for its amazing bamboo structures, but for the always-on learning experiences that are instigated by the campus.

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Talk at the Student Village

The fact that the whole campus has no walls allows the sounds and movements of the school to come together in a beautiful and lively daily orchestra, and creates an environment of trust that I believe to be really important in the relation with the kids and teens. How to keep the attention and the engagement of a group with so many beautiful distractions around? It’s required a great deal of trust, autonomy, flexibility, enthusiasm, and love for what is been done.

Beyond the beauty of its architecture the Green School team dedicates a lot of energy to make the Green Campus be a live example of the school philosophy. If we consider the idea that we should start the changes in ourselves and in the closest spaces of influence around us, Green School can give us a beautiful example. The campus, its integration with the nature, the quality of all the materials, the responsible usage of natural resources, the food diet, the green toilets, the clean energy, all the details of the school campus attend to the world vision proposed by the school. I have no doubts that the daily experiences that those children have at the school allows a wider comprehension of living possibilities and will shape how each of those individuals will take care of the spaces around them for the rest of their lives.

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Dinner over a bamboo bridge with a beautiful river view

It is impossible to step on that place without having a learning experience. Even if you don’t talk with anyone, it’s impossible not to feel invited to reflect about something, to observe something new, to change some habit. And that touched a lot my understanding of an education environment – it does not matter the materials, the weather and the location, but there I could understand an educational space as a space that silently and constantly invokes a process of expansion and comprehension on the people stepping on it.

 

2) Values and Skills

The Green School has plenty of templates, frameworks and models to organize its philosophy and strategies. Common languages and tools for the corporate world, but not so familiar for education places.

I have been particularly avoiding the exaggerated usage of frameworks, maybe because of my intense years working with this language on the corporate world or because I realized that most of the times they are really distant from what is manifested in the practical experience. But at Green School I could recognize the importance of these tools to put everyone on the same page and to bring more clarity of innovative and disruptive proposals. In a school with 400 students and more than 200 staff – as it is Green School – it is really important to put some energy to make each one’s comprehension get closer to each other.

Two of these materials that I think it is worth sharing are about value and skills. For Values, they use an anagram to help memorize their core values, that is I-RESPECT, standing for integrity, responsibility, empathy, sustainability, peace, equity, community and trust. You can find this values written in each corner of the school and everyone seems to know what it is about. In some spaces you can even find student works and artistic materials reflecting about the meaning of these values.

 

Regarding the Skills, Greens School focus on 9 main kills: think creatively, activate, adapt, think critically, be aware, collaborate, think in system (I loved this one!), communicate and solve problems. As you can see in the picture below, they can also be found hanging around the schools in different spots.

When proposing a new project, the Green School educator states with which should be strengthened during that period of time, and that is shared openly with the students.

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3) Curriculum

The Green School curriculum maybe deserved an exclusive post and I will not go into deep details here, but I definitely recommend taking a look at it and consulting it in case you have any specific curriculum challenge.

On this page of their website, you can choose a specific “School Neighbourhood” (which is the way they call the different school years) and download their curriculum proposal.

In all the year, the curriculum is based in a model they call “Three Frames of Learning“, contemplating three different aspects (according to their own words):

  1. “The integral frame utilizes thematic teaching and focuses on engaging, and satisfying, the ‘whole person’.
  2. The instructional frame focuses on core, discrete intellectual competencies that require repetition to reach proficiency, namely literacy, numeracy, and languages other than English; attention to detail for individual learners maximizes success in this frame.
  3. The experiential frame links students to real life experiences via workplaces where adults operate commercially and via practical opportunities that arise anywhere in the learning village. This frame delivers opportunities to develop technological skill and works back into the instructional frame by providing ‘real life’ problems for the students to solve.”

The idea is that in all ages the students can have a balance of time spent in each of these three frames, having what the school calls the 3FD (Three Frames Day). In case you want to ready more about the Three Frames of Learning take a look at this PDF file.

Another thing that I appreciated a lot about how they look at the curriculum is that they don’t consider it to be something static, but a endless process that needs to be constantly updated. The idea is that by the time one finishes designing the curriculum it automatically should start again the process of reviewing and updating it. There is nothing like a “final product”.

With this summary context about how they organize the curriculum, I don’t even need to say that the interdisciplinary is a strong characteristic at Green School, right? With some rare exceptions in literacy and math, all learning experiences happen in a really interconnected way, based in real and experiencial projects, with a good doses of autonomy and systemic view.

And talking about systemic view, as this was something that really triggered me at Green School I do think it is good to open this topic a little bit more.

 

4) Systemic View and The Compass Model

Systemic thinking is a mental model that has permeated a lot of academic disciplines lately, in different fields as health, humanities, math, biology, and so on. There are different perspectives to look into this topic, and in fast nutshell, I like this definition given by Peter Senge:

“Systems thinking is a discipline for seeing wholes. It is a framework for seeing interrelationships rather than things, for seeing patterns of change rather than static snapshots.”

With the systemic thinking comes the comprehension that we all live in complex systems of relations, beings, causes and effects, where the linear and fragmented thinking does not collaborate with the comprehension of the totality and for the sustainable development. The Green School considers it to be very important that it’s students learn, from early ages, to look at things from a systemic perspective.  They believe this is a crucial comprehension for sustainability and to bring new ways of dealing with our old challenges.

It’s seems to be something really complex to bring for a school and for children, isn’t it? One of the tools that has been helping Green School to simplify this language is called Compass Model and was developed by a north-american NGO called Compass Education.

Compass Model – Compass Education

This NGO has a lot of schools to address the topic os sustainability at schools and the compass model is one of them. It suggest that every topic or project should be looked at considering the four aspects of the compass below: nature, economy, society and wellbeing. It is a similar model to the famous sustainability tripe, but including the individual wellbeing as an important point for sustainability.

During the workshop some Green School educators shared with us concrete example of how they include the reflection of all this aspects in all school projects, be it about birds, trash, literature, war, etc. For me it does not matter much which tool we decide to use, but the choice of including a systemic view on the school learning goals seems to be something really powerful and urgent.

 

5) Technology

A bamboo school, in the middle of the forest, with green toilets and alternative energy… this characteristics can create an stereotype in the mos dualistic minds that there should be a space averse to new technologies, not updated to the new tools of communication, learning and management.  Well, one day at Green School is enough to break this apearant contradiction.

Between the bamboo spaces it is really common to see students working on their personal laptops, sharing the same documents through Google Drive. Or even see a group of students watching a documentary on a big screen hanging on a bamboo structure. Or a group of students filming the school campus for a virtual reality project. Or voting on something using their mobile phones.

At Green School sustainability and technology go side by side. If the students are being prepared for the future world in terms of sustainability, they are for sure also being prepared in terms of technology.

The school uses Google For Education as a platform for the whole school (management, teachers, students). It is really cool, take a look here in case you want to know more about it. And talking about Google, the innovation mood at Green School, full of creativity, constant changes and enthusiasm really reminded my of my Google years. Funny isn’t it?

 

6) Mindfullness

For those of you who know me, you probably know that this is one the aspects of education that interest me the most and I was really happy to see it being applied at Green School, and apparently gaining more space.

In case you are not familiar with the concept, according to UCLA (University of California), “Mindful Awareness is the moment-by-moment process of actively and openly observing one’s physical, mental and emotional experiences. Mindful Awareness has scientific support as a means to reduce stress, improve attention, boost the immune system, reduce emotional reactivity, and promote a general sense of health and well-being.”.

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Picture of a school poster about Mindfulness

With research centers among the main world universities, as Harvard, UCLA, Oxford, Columbia, it is a field of study that has inspirations on milenar practices of meditation and awareness (as the buddhist practices), and has gaining more relevant in the academic world in the last 35 years, influencing mainly the areas of healthy care, mental health and education.

But how do they apply this at Green School? Some of the staff took a Mindfulness for Educators training at the Mindful Schools. With this practical and theoretical resources all the school educators had been trained to apply some minutes of mindfulness activities into their own classrooms and group of students, everyday.

Also, daily at 2pm there is a big gong played at school (Mindfulness Gong), and everyone that is at the school campus – educators, students, staff, visitors – are invited to stop whatever they are doing and do some moments of silent and introspection. The idea is that the mindfulness moments start to permeate everyones routine and habits organically.

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One of our morning mindfulness session, before we start the day.

 

7) Practical experience 

As I have sad before, on the Green School curriculum highlights is the time dedicated to the experiencial learning and the innovative and creative ways that that happens throughout the school. Below I put some links and references about school and students projects and can inspire other educators and schools:

  • Leap Academy:  a program for immersive and hands-on learning for the high school students. During 6 weeks a groups of students go out of their regular school routine to deep dive in a project of their interest. At their website you can see some projects they have been working on. I really liked this video about a project of the student to spend one week living off grid in an island. 🙂
  • Green School Biobus: a project of a biobus transport alternative developed by a group of students and educator. Take a look here.
  • Jalan Jalan: every Wednesday morning the middle and high school students go out of their regular agenda to spend the morning in mix groups, working on a practical project of their interest (on really different topic, proposed by different educators). With different themes, going from services, entrepreneurship, outdoor, the students can get to mix with different colleagues and educators and get out of their comfort zones.

 

Well, there some many other topics that I thought about sharing here, as their relationship with the local community, the teacher profile, the management structure… but this post is really long and I think my fingers and your eyes deserve a mindful rest. 🙂

So I will leave you with a funny picture that is a great example of what is experiencial learning. Myself full of mud after a beautiful Indonesian ceremony that involves mud bath, mud fighting and flower blessings.

Let’s keep ourself getting dirty so we can learn more and more!

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