Centering the Ecological Imagination

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“Hope lies in dreams, in imagination, and in the courage of those who dare to make dreams into reality.� - Jonas Salk (creator of the polio vaccine)



Centering The EcologicAl ImAginAtion: A catalyst for change

Amy Leigh Seefeldt A submission to satisfy requirements for the MA in Ecological Design Thinking at Schumacher College Plymouth University December, 2016 5


AbStrAct This dissertation explores the ways in which the interconnected, systemic and global crises of climate, economics, and social justice demand that educators fundamentally reimagine the way young people learn, empowering students through transformative, interdisciplinary experiences that encourage them to take responsibility for shaping their future. Research in ecological design thinking suggests that, given the degree to which the industrial paradigm of academic silos and highstakes exams is entrenched, this change could emerge first from within a school community, through engaging all stakeholders in codesigning a Centre for Imagination that offers space to explore new ways of learning, space to inspire new paths of action, and space to incubate new initiatives.




o Seaton Baxter, Mona Nasseri, Ruth Potter, Roberto Fraquelli, Simon Bradbury, Philip Franses, Stephan Harding, David Sanchez, and Lou Rainbow at Schumacher College, I extend my most profound gratitude for not only reshaping my thinking toward a systemic approach to the issues I encounter, but for reshaping my way of being in the world to include a commitment to tread softly, to practice making, and to develop an ecosophy that makes space for all to flourish. I would like to thank Woodstock School for generously funding my studies at Schumacher College and for giving me the opportunity to apply my learning through bringing the Centre for Imagination to life. In particular, I am grateful to visionary Principal, Dr. Jonathan Long, for extending to me the opportunity for a study sabbatical. Far more than this, I am grateful for almost five years of his mentoring in the way of the Gentle Leader. To my Woodstock family, I am grateful both for my seven years as a student and my eight years on staff. I became an adult here first and an aspiring leader second. I offered what I could and I beg forgiveness for my failings. To my Schumacher family, I am unspeakably grateful for opening my heart to real community again. The rich learning inside and outside the classroom will remain with me always. To Ana Siqueira, Michael Martin, and Hugo Oliveira, my partners in applying ecological design thinking, I have never experienced such rich, soul-level collaboration. Because of you, I can see so clearly how no one of us holds the answers, how we must learn more and more about how to bring our authentic selves with our authentic gifts humbly to the project at hand, leaving ego outside. With you, I learned to celebrate each moment of progress and to explore both the darker future that could await us and the hope that comes from standing together and moving forward with resolution and courage. I look forward to working with you and just learning to know you better for many more years! I am so honored and privileged by all you’ve given to me. To my friends and family, who have all been so encouraging along the way, affirming the path of research and helping me step out more boldly, please accept my deepest gratitude. I do love you and wish we were not so spread out--I only hope I have the opportunity to offer you the same support you so generously have given me. To Michael, who helped me think clearly and took so many photos, and to Ana, who unbelievably took on the massive task of laying out this dissertation, my labour is yours, any time you need it. You each get six momos on a scale of one to five.

*Layout by Ana Siqueira **Images by Amy Seefeldt, unless otherwise referenced


TAble of contentS 10Introduction Design Thinking for Learning: Theoretical Foundations 16 Ecological The Conditions for Learning


The Ecological Imagination The Process of Change Methodology and Findings Engaging the Stakeholders Integrating the Learning Framing the Narrative Drawing the Future Prototyping the Programme: Spreading the News

66Facing the Future 70References 72 Appendices APPENDIX A: Woodstock School’s Desired Learning Outcomes

APPENDIX B: Centre for Imagination Brochure APPENDIX C: Fibi the Fern Story APPENDIX D: The Logo for the Centre for Imagination







he dawn of the Industrial Age accelerated the process of superimposing a human-created and extractive global ecosystem on what had been naturally evolving for millennia. Reaching a crisis point as we entered the 21st century, scientists like Paul Crutzen and E. F. Stoermer began to speak of our current age as the Anthropocene, a geological era in which humans have significantly altered the earth’s atmosphere, climate, and distribution of resources through their unrestricted economic activity (Crutzen and Stoermer, 2000). The Anthropocene has ushered in a bewilderingly complex and interdependent web of crises that range from climate change to unstable

Figure 1A: (Smithsonian, 2016): Measures of the Anthropocene, 1750-2000


economies to unstable democracies and the corresponding quagmire of identity politics. Every real social, economic, political, and environmental problem has threads that stretch all over the world, linking a minimum-wage, white Walmart customer buying the $2 T-shirt he can afford with the Bangladeshi factory worker who accepts the abysmal conditions necessary to manufacture a $2 T-shirt, because it means food for her family; linking the expanding acreage of asphalt in the US with a water-cycle in pain around the world; linking Chinese air pollution with storms in the Rockies. Our islands are both literally and figuratively disappearing.

Figure 1B: (, 2013) IB Infographic designed to motivate students

Despite the compounding crises, educators largely continue to operate within a paradigm of learning and teaching rooted in the Industrial Age--the very Age that gave birth to so many of the systemic problems humanity’s youngest and most vulnerable representatives will have no choice but to navigate, as they enter adulthood in a world with rising tides of seawater, human migration, and racial nationalism, not to mention waves of mass extinction and tsunamis provoked by earthquakes. As Sir Ken Robinson has so eloquently documented in his writing and his TED

talks, our schools may as well be factories, in many respects, operating, as they do, in batches of students and specialised, siloed, academic subjects--all at the very historical moment when we most require a new kind of thinking. Einstein famously argued that the significant problems of today cannot be solved with the same level of thinking that created them. If this is as true and obvious as it seems, why is widespread change so difficult? For the precise reason that every other significant problem is so difficult to address today: We face a complex, entrenched education system


dictated by the global north and shaped by international exam boards which now greatly resemble the multinational corporations that dominate every other sector, even if they were originally created under more noble auspices. Change is growing in innovative schools around the world and certainly in the classrooms of innovative educators. Change comes too, on the fringes in progressive schools like the Ecole d’Humanite in Switzerland or Geelong Grammar School in Australia, but the experience of a century of “progressive” schools suggests that this model does not work to shift the paradigm at the centre. In the decades following World War II, foundations like the International Baccalaureate (IB) out of Geneva, Switzerland and the Advanced Placement (AP) Programme of the College Board out of Princeton, New Jersey emerged as genuine efforts to cultivate peace and global citizenry in an increasingly mobile world and as a way to prepare young people for college and economic success. However, they measure their success primarily through high stakes, standardised testing. The IB now influences more than 1.3 million students annually, as it authorises the curricular programme of 5,907 schools around the world, with 2,010 of these in the USA (International Baccalaureate, 2016). In 2013, 1,034,665 IB exams were submitted, 79 percent of which were scored electronically. The human has been taken out of the process with the humanity. The College Board operates on a massive scale. Last year alone, 2,483,452 at 21,594 schools took 4,478,936 AP exams (The College Board, 2016). This is how The College Board itself measures its levels of engagement and success--through numbers of tests taken. These programmes and others, like the Cambridge exam series, have become the gatekeepers of the institutions of higher learning in the global north--institutions to which ambitious young people the world over aspire. Good-hearted, well-meaning educators express weariness with the system and a sense of entrapment. The role of a teacher in many places has become little more than that of a factory Quality Control Inspector. Rather than


guiding a young person towards the release of their full potential, assessment takes place in preparation for highstakes, standardised testing. Teachers assign numbers like

Figure 1C: (Baxter, 2016) Paradigms, Worldviews, and Cosmovisions.

a Quality Control Inspector’s stickers on manufactured clothing. What matters is not the young person’s potential, but that the sticker the teacher chooses matches the sticker of the external examining body. Not only that, but teachers themselves are assigned numbers on rubrics as assessments of their worth as educators. Sir Ken Robinson argues for a different approach, one of shifting the culture of learning

and teaching: “This new culture has to emerge from a richer sense of human ability. To shape it, I believe we have to leave behind the manufacturing principles of industrialism and embrace the organic principles of ecology� (Robinson, 2016) If schools are to prepare young people for the future, educators must somehow find a way to shift the wider paradigm--substantially and fast. Educators need to empower young people to successfully navigate the global, systemic challenges ahead by showing them the complexity of the world they inhabit and encouraging them to take responsibility for shaping their future. This can be done through imagining new ways of learning, inspiring new paths of action, and incubating new initiatives in schools. This study first establishes a theoretical framework of ecological principles for educational transformation through a selective literature review on the nature of learning, the nature of imagination,

and the nature of change in complex systems. From here, the study moves into relating a series of action research methods, prototypes, and testing carried out over four months, from August through November, 2016, all in service of using ecological design thinking to create a Centre for Imagination at Woodstock School, an independent, international, residential school in the foothills of the Himalayas in India, with a total student population of about 500 and a teaching staff of 68. After reflecting on the findings that emerged from these prototypes, the study concludes by arguing that the Centre for Imagination represents one model for bringing widespread change to shift the paradigm of secondary education away from standardised, industrial thinking towards an innovative, ecological, and holistic approach that honors the curiosity and initiative of each young person, even as it cultivates the resilience and creativity this generation will require in order to meet the challenges that lie ahead.

Figure 1D: (Woodstock School, 2016): The Woodstock School Campus





EcologicAl DeSign Thinking for LeArning: Theoretical Fundations


rticulating a way forward that meets the needs of our young people requires arriving at a few, clear “organic principles” of design and change, to use Sir Ken Robinson’s terminology. These organic principles emerge only when a clear contrast is drawn between mechanistic and ecological models of the optimal conditions for learning, the nature of imagination, and the nature of change. To be clear, an ecological or organic approach to education extends beyond examining and challenging pedagogical methods to include the entire ethos and culture of schools. An industrial mindset has so deeply embedded itself in almost every aspect of schooling and its organisation that shifting the paradigm in any substantive way demands courage and the determination to resist the comfort of dominant, mechanistic principles at every step. Before examining learning, the imagination, and change separately, it may be useful to explicitly state the principles that often implicitly saturate a mechanistic system.


Figure 2A: (Todd, 2016) John and Nancy Todd’s ecological design mandala

Principles constitute a way of seeing and interpreting the systems we inhabit. This way of seeing then dictates courses of action. For the last half-millennium, a mechanistic cosmology has emerged from the West, increasingly dominating approaches to everything from religion to economics, and certainly encompassing education systems. Thoroughly reviewing the literature here could fill volumes, as this mechanistic view traces back at least to Copernicus and Galileo, followed by Hobbes and Descartes, if not all the way back to Democritus and the pre-Socratics. A few, key principles characterize a mechanistic approach, regardless of the field in which it appears, particularly an approach like

that of anthropic mechanism, from philosophers such as Daniel Dennett or J.J.C. Smart, who argue that computers or clocks and humans are equally explicable in terms of inanimate, physical and chemical forces: 1. The universe is a machine governed by absolute laws and natural forces that can be known, categorised, and therefore mastered. 2. Systems and organisations consist of separate, fixed parts whose relationships are defined by distinct functions. 3. Knowing the laws and functions allows for growth. Growth means more. Obsessions with standardisation and efficiency necessarily emerge as corollaries. Of course, these principles oversimplify what has become a highly sophisticated branch of philosophy and yielded centuries of valuable scientific research. Clearly, mechanistic thinking has its place. Some systems--like clocks and computers--do indeed operate in terms of parts that relate by function and we need them. This kind of thinking has sent men to the moon, permits travel at ever faster speeds, has transformed agriculture and modern medicine, forms the basis of our civil bureaucracies and has allowed the creation of massive public systems of education around the world, granting at least basic literacy to a large portion of the world’s population, for the first time in history, and eradicating diseases like smallpox and polio. These represent enormous human achievements. Standards of living, particularly in the global north, have risen steadily over the last several hundred years--to the point where, measured in global hectares, the average American annually consumes resources at a rate requiring 4.8 Earths to sustain, the average Indian consumes resources at a rate of only 0.7 Earths, while Eritreans consume at a rate of only 0.2 Earths (, 2016). Here is where the mechanistic equation begins to break down. The prosperity of the few has come at the cost of the many, and of the Earth itself. Not only is the planet struggling to balance the intense

Figure 2B: (Van der Ryn, 2016) Sim van der Ryn’s philosophy of ecological design

and extractive activities of the Anthropocene, but, as the Dalai Lama recently noted, even those who experience the highest standards of living seem to be struggling under an astonishing wave of anxiety, political frustration and supernationalism. In the Dalai Lama’s words,“The problem is not a lack of material riches. It is the growing number of people who feel they are no longer useful, no longer needed, no longer one with their societies.” (Brooks, 2016) If hope for change is to be found, it must involve a fundamental paradigm shift away from mechanistic thinking and toward a more ecological approach. From the world of design, several sets of ecological principles have already been proposed by John and Nancy Todd, Sim van der Ryn, and William McDonough, to name only three. In the field of permaculture, attempts are emerging to apply the principles of permaculture to communities and society. What is now necessary is to integrate this kind of ecological thinking into the paradigm of education. Ecological design 19

Figure 2C: (McDonough, 2016) William McDonough and Michael Braungart’s Cradle to Cradle principles of ecological design

principles for transforming education (holistically, as a system, from pedagogical methods to embeddedness in place) can be derived and synthesised from this crucial, prior work, and then distilled and identified through a closer examination of the organic nature of learning, imagination, and change. The evolving principles that emerge apply equally to students, teachers, administrators,


and policy makers. The entire system of education cries out for transformation, a change that may grow everywhere. In fact, as thinking ecologically indicates, every member of the system ultimately carries responsibility for its state of health or ill-health.

Figure 2D: (Hope Permaculture Farm, 2016) Permaculture Principles


An induStriAl SyStem

Figure 2E: Visualisation of how an industrial system of education itself binds at every level, demanding systemic levels of transformation.


The ConditionS for LeArning


n ecological approach to designing education begins with redefining growth as a process that emerges from within individual young people who are embedded in a wider, living system of learning. This embeddedness in natural, living systems forms the basis of all the sets of ecological design principles listed earlier. Growth from within is no new concept. Plutarch argued that, “Education is not the filling of a pail but the lighting of a fireâ€?. While educators often quote this inspiring clichĂŠ (misattributing it to Yeats), learning continues to be

measured far more in terms of pail-filling. A heavy onus rests on the shoulders of educators to trust that every young person carries fire within them and that growth consists of identifying and feeding the fire. Every gardener knows that growth cannot be mandated, only cultivated through the creation of optimal conditions. What are the optimal conditions for learning? They include a set of relationships; certain qualities of space (both physically and figuratively); and a series of meaningful encounters. The entire, living system of schools must be designed to foster these

2F: (ASCD, 2016) Homework Decision Tree


conditions, with success and learning measured in these terms. One major difficulty, of course, lies in the fact that school systems themselves are nested within larger cultural, political, and economic systems. Learning happens in the context of relationships characterised by the continual extension of trust and compassion--in other words, extending dignity to each human being involved in the endeavour. Parker Palmer uses the word ‘fidelity’ to describe this valuing of the other person (Palmer, 1983). Martin Buber speaks of transforming “I-it” relationships into “I-Thou” relationships, saying “Man wishes to be confirmed in his being by man, and wishes to have a presence in the being of the other….Secretly and bashfully he watches for a YES which allows him to be and which can come to him only from one human person to another.”(Buber, 1958) Permaculture principles speak of a “continuous, careful, and thoughtful observation” (see Figure 2D), which Maria Montessori certainly would have affirmed. These relationships of trust and compassion are not limited to the relationship between teacher and student but must permeate the system as much as possible. The nature of living, complex systems is such that intervention at any point ultimately impacts the entire system. Great systems analyst, Donella Meadows, wrote extensively about leverage points in complex systems--those “little things” that, when changed, produce transformation throughout the system. She, with MIT’s Jay Forrester, argued that action on leverage points

almost always needs to be counterintuitive. Those who inhabit the system in question intuitively understand where the leverage point is located, only they also “intuitively” tend to drive it in the wrong direction! (Meadows, 1999) The issue of trust in education systems is precisely such a leverage point. At almost every level of the system, elaborate safeguards and fences exist because trust and compassion, a valuing of humanity, do not. At whatever point mistrust enters, whether in one teacher’s classroom or at the level of a Board of Directors, it can ripple in waves through the entire system, magnifying in impact as it spreads. For just one minor example of this lack of trust in action, the ASCD (formerly the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development), which exerts an enormous, global influence on best practice in schools, issued a bewildering “Homework Decision Tree” to advise teachers on when to assign a mark on homework. Unless they can ensure the work was done independently by a student, teachers are advised not to mark the work-clearly a path of action intended to ‘safeguard’ in the absence of trust and not related to the assessment of actual learning. Examples such as this one exist at almost every scale and level of education, where fences are erected to keep humans from exercising humanity. This often comes under the guise of standardisation--a concept borrowed from industry and now almost unquestioned in schools. Students in every ‘batch’ are expected to demonstrate mastery of a standardised set of information and skills. This is the very definition of growth imposed from the outside rather than trusting growth to

2G and 2H: (Claesson-Patton, 2016) Insert photos side by side, Two classrooms, almost 150 years apart


Figure 2I: (Hardy, 2016) Green Classroom of the future?

occur from the inside. In order to create optimal conditions for learning, young people and the adults who work with them must be treated as individual, valuable human beings possessed of great worth and potential. Far from being naive, the trust extended in every direction is essentially an assertion of human dignity and individuality. This forms the essence of personalised, rather than standardised, learning. From here, the first principle of creating optimal learning conditions may be articulated: Extend trust and compassion. It may seem ridiculous to even assert this, yet a cursory glance through the handbooks of educational institutions demonstrates the degree to which the bureaucratic machinery of the system itself inhibits this possibility. If this principle were truly adhered to, policies throughout an education system would be transformed. Optimal learning conditions are created through the establishment of space -- both physically and figuratively.

Figure 2J: (, 2016)

While many classrooms around the world have moved far from the factory rows of the 1950s, toward configurations more conducive to conversation, the fundamental, industrialera premise of a classroom consisting of a set of desks and chairs has not really been challenged. Progressive schools like Phillips Exeter Academy have utilised the Harkness Table as central to the creation of a different kind of classroom space for almost a hundred years, yet this has still not penetrated mainstream education. Of their method, the school says, “At Exeter, Harkness is not a pedagogy. It’s a way of life. It begins in the classroom and extends beyond it,

to field, stage and common room. It’s about collaboration and respect, where every voice carries equal weight, even when you don’t agree...What happens at the table, however, is, as Harkness intended, a “real revolution.” It’s where you explore ideas as a group, developing the courage to speak, the compassion to listen and the empathy to understand.”(Exeter. edu, 2016) Clearly, what began as simply the shaping of a particular, physical space in classrooms in 1930 has evolved to shape the entire ethos of the school. Space matters. Exeter’s approach links culture to the embodied, physical experience of space beyond the classroom. A systemic approach to space includes offices, hallways and playgrounds as part of the fashioning of optimal learning conditions. The revolution in the construction of physical learning spaces is not complete with Harkness, however. The last decade has witnessed an explosion of unconventional, highly flexible work spaces. When the first Impact Hub opened in London in 2005, their commitment to codesign by those who inhabit a space, to changing the world for the better, and to the rights of all to flourish seemed radical. In only a decade, 86 Impact Hubs have opened around the world, with another 21 in the wings. The organisation has 15,000 members globally. Its spaces are marked by flexibility, community, and attention to sustainable solutions.(Impact Hub, 2016) In the last decade, universities, too, have begun to invest, like Harvard University with its Innovation Lab or Johns Hopkins University, with its Social Innovation Lab, that foster similar learning and working conditions. Secondary school, Eton College, has established The Tony Little Centre for Innovation and Research in Learning, aimed at experimenting with new learning and bringing greater collaboration between teachers, across disciplines (, 2016). All these initiatives capture some important elements of the organic design principle related to shaping the spaces required for optimal learning: Establish flexible spaces that allow easy movement, in harmony with the natural environment. These qualities clearly extend beyond the physical space to include the cultural space created in a classroom. Parker Palmer defines teaching explicitly in terms of space: “To teach is to create a space in which obedience to truth may be practiced.” He goes on to stress that this means each person must be free to explore and discover what that truth may be.


(Palmer, 1983) One final aspect of space involves its harmony with the natural environment. Study after study confirms that even as simple an act as placing potted plants indoors not only purifies the air, but reduces numbers of sick days, increases student performance and even increases reported attachment to the earth and the environment (Daly, Burchett, and Torpy, 2010). Young people must learn in open spaces that allow them to forge profound connections with the natural, living systems they inhabit. A third condition for optimal learning has to do with the creation of meaningful encounters that spark a young person’s spirit of inquiry. In order to grow from within, everything about an education system must be designed to provoke students through their experience of an intriguing “other,” whether that “other” represents a person, an idea, a problem, or even a physical challenge. In recent years, much has been made of Problem Based Learning (PBL) or what is sometimes called Expeditionary Learning. At its heart, PBL is about provoking curiosity and drive through the presentation of an open-ended problem. Rather than measuring learning by the acquisition of a set of standardised information, PBL focuses on developing investigative and problem-solving skills, often through collaboration. The role of the teacher shifts from instructor to facilitator. First emerging in medical education (Barrows, 1996), PBL has swept through every level of education over the last two decades, clearly meeting a need for a new approach to academic content. Through the creation of open-ended problems for students to encounter, PBL also opened the door to more integrated, interdisciplinary learning that encourages young people to consider wider systems and to situate problems within wider contexts. Growth in this kind of opportunity to understand systems and interdependence remains critical to moving forward in the transformation of learning. Two major obstacles exist to the success of PBL at the secondary level. One limitation, often, is the very structure of school days with their short class periods and siloed academic subjects. Teachers may be practicing PBL in their individual classrooms, but the wider system of the school mitigates against their effectiveness and against integration across subjects. If young people are to experience and work through profound encounters with


problems or issues in ways that provoke significant learning, the very structure of “school” requires reimagining. Perhaps teachers ought not to be hired for their subject-expertise, with teaching loads created by academic subject. Perhaps more meaningful encounters and therefore more meaningful learning would take place if enthusiastic, passionate, learning teachers were assigned to a small group of students as tutors to oversee and spark global learning, guiding investigation of open-ended problems. If this could happen for even part of an academic year, it would represent a signifcant shift in the direction of real growth. A second obstacle to true PBL at the secondary level has to do with exam preparation. In the end, in order to move on successfully to university, ambitious students must obtain high scores on standardised tests that, for the most part, do not reward the kind of thinking that PBL encourages. Where PBL rewards the idea of multiple possible solutions, standardised testing recognises convergent thinking and singular solutions. Some exceptions exist like the IB’s Extended Essay and the College Board’s AP Capstone programme. However, for the most part, computer-scored exams are not designed for personalised, in-depth searching for subtle answers. It may also be important to note here that this principle of provoking meaningful encounters is capable of encompassing all the kinds of learning that take place in schools: core academic learning, the arts, social & emotional learning, outdoor essence, the governing principle is this: Create meaningful encounters that provoke initiative and feed the desire to understand. School systems designed around this principle would look quite different from those we see today.

The EcologiCAl ImAginATION


aving laid out three organic principles related to creating optimal conditions for learning, the next area of focus shifts to the nature of the imagination as a fundamental human activity that lies at the core of education. If learning is to be transformative, it must flow from organic principles that take imagination seriously. As we move into a future marked by a series of looming environmental and political crises, the shaping of an ecological imagination has emerged as necessary to survival. The ecological imagination is biophilic in nature, utopian in method, and playful in application. Psychoanalyst Erich Fromm and biologist E.O. Wilson first argued that human beings are filled with an innate biophilia, or love of life--the force of life, that is. Fromm coined the term in what he saw as an attempt to combat the mechanistic approach to human systems: “Briefly then, intellectualisation, quantification, abstractification, bureaucratisation, and reification--the very characteristics of modern industrial society, when applied to people rather than to things, are not the principles of life but those of mechanics.

Figure 2K: Pine forest near Woodstock School

People living in such systems become indifferent to life and even attracted to death.” (Fromm, 1964). Wilson better captures the biophilic imagination and its relationship to learning in his characteristic, poetic language, saying, “Our sense of wonder grows exponentially: the greater the knowledge, the deeper the mystery and the more we seek new knowledge to create new mystery. This catalytic reaction, seemingly an inborn human trait, draws us perpetually forward in a search for new places and new life. Nature is to be mastered, but (we hope) never completely. A quiet passion burns, not for total control but for the sensation of constant advance.” (Wilson, 1984) Surely, if education is ‘a fire to be lit,’ this represents the nature of the fire--an ever-increasing sense of wonder at the complexity and beauty of the world we inhabit, including both natural and human systems. Not only that, but if Fromm and Wilson (and other proponents of the biophilia hypothesis) are right, then this unconscious inclination towards life and the living also offers indications of the kind of symbols and metaphors that most awaken the human imagination, the ecological and biophilic imagination. In relation to the organic design of education systems, this finds expression through the


following, simple principle: Cultivate wonder at the richness of life. Or, in biomimicry advocate Janine Benyus’s terms, “How do we make the act of asking nature’s advice a normal part of everyday inventing?”(Benyus, 2015)

Figure 2L: A monarch butterfly rests on a stalk of king nettle on the Woodstock campus.

A second trait of the ecological imagination is its utopian method of imagining a better, more whole world. In Utopia as Method, Ruth Levitas argues, “Defending utopia entails insisting that the identification and expression of the deepest desires of our hearts and minds, and those of others, is a necessary form of knowledge and of truth.” (Levitas, 2013) Surely, for educators, this eliciting of the deepest desires in the


hearts and minds of students must form a central aspect of caring for their imaginations. E.J.Thompson quotes Abensour in translation: “We enter into Utopia’s proper and new-found space: the education of desire. This is not the same as “a moral education” towards a given end: it is, rather, to open a way to aspiration, to “teach desire to desire, to desire better, to desire more, and above all to desire in a different way”.(Thompson, 1977) The very opposite of a mechanistic education is to encourage and release a young person’s best desires for the future; herein lies hope. To cultivate the utopian imagination is to practice hope, not as an escape from grim reality, but as a driver for action. Ernst Bloch persuasively argues this in his Philosophy of the Future: “Dreams come in the day as well as at night….Azure day-dreams range from everyday conceits of self-assertion and revenge, from commonplace reveries of gold linings and gold brocade, all the way to plans for world improvement that are no longer merely focussed on the deserving ego of the dreamer-anticipator. All the same a sort of rhapsodic enthusiasm can carry the dreamer over any consideration of means and situation; equally it can keep him restless and expectant, full of life and therefore of possible striving ahead. This is especially true if the day-dream emerges from its mere make-believe. Still, its make-believe pursues it in its actual form, and indeed has a social function for doing so.” (Bloch, 1970). In this utopian imagining, in other words, lies the source of both hope and vision, both of which cannot grow from mechanistic approaches to learning. This leads to a fifth organic principle of education: Practice hope through envisioning a more whole world. The ecological imagination finds expression through a joyful spirit of play. This appeals to the aspect of imagination to do with adventure, giving birth to innovation and invention. The work of both Tim Kasser (Kasser, 2002) in relation to human values, and Manfred Max-Neef (Max-Neef, Elizalde and Hopenhayn, 1991) in relation to human needs affirms the universal human experience of adventure and innovation or creation. In opposition to a dull environment

characterised by total predictability and rote learning (or its close relatives), young people need to be immersed in a system of education that leaves room for the unexpected, that joyfully welcomes new ideas, one that encourages them to imagine possibilities and try to make them real. This is the kind of environment that creates a corresponding

sense of safety around failure. When experimentation and innovation become a matter of play, children and young people feel safe to venture out and try something new or particularly challenging: Experiment with new ideas through a spirit of play. Figure 2M: (Kaskinen and Mokke, 2016) Tim Kasser’s Circumplex of Values, based on the work of Shalom Schwartz, showing stimulation and hedonism as universal values

Figure 2N: (Koren and Soni, 2016) Max-Neef’s Fundamental Human Needs


The ProceSS OF ChAnge

Figure 2O: Youth planting the future.


ome critics might see the preceding principles of learning and imagination as well-meaning, though perhaps naive or blind to the current state of affairs. Even if these principles were to be accepted, they clearly do not characterise the paradigm of education within which most educators and students are forced to operate. Multiple layers of private and public so-called quality assurance and accreditation processes dictate that change is at least difficult and, potentially, profoundly discouraging. Articulating an organic approach to education, therefore, cannot be complete without applying ecological design thinking to the process of transformation itself in order to find principles to direct the process of change: How are we to transform the global machinery of education? As Sir Ken Robinson has said and written on multiple occasions, reform is not enough any longer. We must be willing to transform, and yet we do not have the option of cancelling schools for two years while we consider a better model. The transformation, then, must come from within.


Before exploring organic principles relating to the process of change, it may be helpful to describe a mechanistic approach to change, one that is found all too often in schools. When a machine is not working, the first step is to locate “the source of the problem”. Which part is broken? Of course, the question that follows close behind is, “Who broke it?” In human systems that operate mechanistically (in other words, strictly in terms of functional parts), escaping this mentality of blame-seeking can be nearly impossible. When, for example, student scores on standardised tests are not as high as desirable, someone must be blamed--is a department weak? An individual teacher? Or, perhaps “The students this year are just not very motivated/well-prepared/ intelligent”? Or perhaps the school is using the wrong set of exams? Each of these explanations finds its source in mechanistic thinking--finding the broken part and fixing or replacing it, instead of interrogating the whole system that would subject young people to this scale of testing as a measure of their learning and growth. Even when blame-

seeking is escaped, the equally mechanistic approach of increasing efficiency often emerges as a close second in terms of approaches to “solving a problem”. Do teachers need more contact time? Do students need more study time? Do teachers need training on particular pedagogical methods or methods of assessment that will more efficiently prepare young people for high-stakes testing? Or even, should the school bring in an outside company entirely devoted to preparing students for high-stakes testing, thus increasing student efficiency at test-taking? These are all mechanistic solutions that, after seventeen years of working in schools, seem to come in a relentless cycle, with the reality hardly changing. If anything, students grow increasingly anxious and teachers grow more weary! Can change really come, then? In the complex system of education that we inhabit, with multiple feedback loops, intervention can yield unpredictable results. Precisely because we occupy living, rather than mechanistic, systems, no one “expert” can grasp the whole system. Our persistence in seeing school systems as mechanistic is partly what has led to ineffective intervention. Jane Jacobs, in her work on cities, spoke of a ‘place-ballet’, with people navigating urban sidewalks in a kind of elaborate, selforganising dance.(Jacobs, 1962). Changing education can be seen in much the same way: we must learn to flex and bend in a dance with change by seeking continually to understand as much as possible, as many layers and factors as possible, of the nested systems we occupy. Leaders may work for change from any (and every!) point in the system--whether as students, teachers, administrators, or policymakers. Leadership looks different in this ecological model of change. Like learning, growth in leadership is not a question of “more”. Rather, leadership grows from within-it is empowered and generated. In relation to leading for change, the first organic principle is simply to watch and listen. Naming the desired change must itself emerge from gathering and sensing the wisdom from the whole system in question--not only the explicit behaviors of points in

the system, but the nature of the ties that bind the system together, the health or ill-health of the whole and the parts and how these are in dialogue with each other. This involves more than merely listening to all voices. It requires carefully observing patterns at each level of nested whole, following the permaculture principles “continuous, careful, and thoughtful observation” and of designing “from pattern to detail,” (See Figure 2D) naming as much as possible and allowing the voice of academic research and outside expertise to lend valuable perspective. The second principle around change has to do with community and relatedness. Community change activist and consultant, Peter Block, drawing from architect Christopher Alexander and his organic principles for architecture, argues that, “The small group is the unit of transformation.” Large-scale trainings and change initiatives impose a structure from above without fundamentally altering the organisational culture from within. Peter Block goes on to say, “Community building requires a concept of the leader as one who creates experiences for others--experiences that in themselves are examples of our desired future.” (Block, 2008) At the same time, the creation of these experiences can be isolating if the one who seeks to lead tries to act alone to ‘spark’ these small groups. Transforming education does not require solitary heroes, but those who forge strong, healthy relationships at every level of the system. To Block’s and Alexander’s mantra about leading through creating small group experiences, then, a layer must be added around relating with like-minded individuals and institutions. As with economic alternatives that are being explored around the world, in networks like the Transition Town movement, change in education systems happens at a small scale first, at the local level, and not in isolation. In living systems, growth and change not only happen from within, they happen in accordance with the genetic makeup of a particular organism planted in a particular place, even in the case of organisms that work together as colonies or


societies. A plant or a person cannot grow in opposition to innate DNA and growth cannot be standardised. In every case, organisms adapt to their local environments and challenges, or they perish. When a force invades to inhibit that natural growth, it is an infection or a calamity of some kind. Not only that, but natural, living growth happens in fractal forms that appear incredibly complex, even though they rely on endless repetition of the simplest mathematical formulas. Long before mathematicians revealed the mystery of fractals, Goethe caught on to this “growth by pattern” in his careful observation of plant growth, beginning with palms in his Italian Journey. He saw that, throughout a plant, the same patterns, or what he called “gestures”, repeated at micro or macro scales. In Goethe’s view, this patterned growth represented the force of life, the “formative drive” (Bildungstrieb) itself at work, demanding to be expressed. (Goethe, Saine, and Sammons, 1989) In the same way, change in wider living systems like that of education can follow fractal patterns, growing at different scales but


always with the same DNA, the same “wholeness” working to be expressed authentically in every part. Goethe saw the identification of pattern as the key to retaining awareness of the whole and its parts at the same time. Transformation of education and the growth of change demands an attention to identifying core patterns and remaining true to them as growth proceeds, resisting the temptation to manufacture standardised solutions. Simply put, the final organic principle is only to be authentic, to refuse to compromise on the nature of the growth required, even if that means that growth comes slowly or in unanticipated directions. Provided the growth remains true to the pattern and the place, it must be welcome and its authenticity, just as in nature, makes it resilient to infection. No doubt, as growth comes, more principles may need to be added to this set, which can not pretend to be exhaustive in this early stage of transforming learning.




And FindingS



And FindingS

Figure 3A: (Martin, 2016) The future Centre for Imagination

The principles relating to change, the imagination, and learning, as articulated in the theoretical framework above lead naturally into a particular stream of action research informed by common design thinking tools, particularly those from the realm of human-centred design, and embedded within a continual commitment to understanding the systems at work in creating context, in other words, a commitment to thinking ecologically. As leading proponent of human-centred design, IDEO, describes it, “Human-centered design is a creative approach to problem solving and the backbone of our work at It’s a process that starts with the people you’re designing for and ends with new solutions that are tailor made to suit their needs. Human-centered design is all about building a deep empathy with the people you’re designing for; generating tons of ideas; building a bunch of prototypes; sharing what you’ve made with the people you’re designing for; and eventually putting your innovative new solution out in the world.” (, 2016) 36

Moving towards the establishment of a Centre for Imagination at Woodstock School that would embody the approach defined by the theoretical framework, the action research phase of the design project began with an interactive engagement of stakeholders in order to build the deep empathy required to generate ideas and prototypes. For four months, rapid prototyping continued in five categories--new modes of integrated learning to inform classes and individual student projects, framing a symbol for the Centre for Imagination, prototyping the spaces the Centre will hold, developing the programme of the Centre, and the modes and strategies of communication the Centre will utilise. The process of prototyping itself embodied collaborative inquiry and codesign, drawing as it did on the shared wisdom of a team of three gifted, diverse volunteers from a range of professional backgrounds that included branding, communication, and marketing (Ana Siqueira from Brazil); project management (Tara Menon from Kenya); museum

design (Michael Martin from the UK); and the author’s own background in secondary education and education administration. Not only that, but three members of the team (the author, Ana, and Michael) had the shared experience of Schumacher’s postgraduate programme in Ecological Design Thinking, so that they worked from a similar values base. This added enormously to the depth of the collaboration and the determination that the changes introduced through the Centre for Imagination would have

to emerge from an organic, ecological foundation that seeks always to bring greater wholeness into the world. As the period of prototyping progressed, the future Centre for Imagination took on an increasingly clearly defined identity, drawn from the findings of the prototyping process.

Figure 3B: (Martin, 2016) The Design Team, left to right Ana Siqueira, Michael Martin, Tara Menon, Amy Seefeldt


EngAging the StAkeholderS


eginning the gritty design process with authenticity and a commitment to codesign with the community required giving stakeholders the initial opportunity to state their values around learning and to share their most meaningful experiences of learning. This sharing allowed for empathy to develop prior to and during prototyping. In addition, engaging stakeholders yielded a better understanding of some of the complexities of the Woodstock ecosystem, as well as showing early on where some of the obstacles to change might lie. Engagement of the stakeholders involved three primary groups at Woodstock School--the students, the teachers, and parents. Interestingly, and perhaps not surprisingly, all three groups expressed similar core values that enabled the creation of a diagram/infographic mapping the journey of meaningful learning that appears in the findings of the research at the end of this section.

EngAging the StudentS: This process happened in three, discrete steps, the first in early August, the second in late September, and the third in mid October. In August, a board was set up for a week in the large foyer outside the hall where all-school assemblies are held. In order to enter assembly, students had to pass by the board. On the board was written the incomplete sentence, “My best learning experience at Woodstock was when….” Markers were left with instructions to write or draw in response to the prompt. By the end of the week, 146 students had responded with a wide range of completions to the sentence. Some beautifully expressed drive with statements like, “Being pushed to my limits!” while others named particular teachers who had established a special rapport with students. By far, the most common response


Figure 3C: The interactive board in the foyer at the start of the week.

had to do with the environment in the classroom. More than twenty responses contained phrases like, “I felt safe to ask my real questions” or “When shame wasn’t there.” Eleven or twelve students referenced grades, word limits and deadlines as particularly restrictive and frustrating. This may have been because of a recent change in the school’s grading scale that had negatively impacted a number of students. About the same number as with grades specifically shared outdoor learning experiences as both challenging and powerful, whether they spoke of a day-long hike, an outdoor game/simulation, or some of the school’s annual,

week-long adventure or cultural trips. Towards the end of the week, four or five students took a darker turn and

Figure 3D: “I felt safe”

wrote sarcastically and bitingly about specific teachers they disliked. The first time this appeared, it was immediately blacked out, but by the end of the day, two or three more names had appeared. Because the interaction was no longer eliciting the kind of feedback desired (ie, relevant to the research question of future directions in education), the board was removed and the exercise concluded. The second step, in September, involved pairing up with the Head of Outdoor Learning to try and pinpoint exactly which outdoor experiences and skills students experience as valuable and desirable. Photos of about fifty different, specific skills were printed out and posted on large boards outside the dining hall one lunch time. Underneath each photo was a table with three columns, “I need to learn this skill,”“I would love to learn this skill,” and “If given the opportunity, I would learn this skill”. Using the ‘dotocracy’ method, students were given three dots and asked to choose three places to stick them. To make the exercise fun, instead of normal stickers, local bindis were used as dots. Bindis are the traditional dots worn by Hindu women on their foreheads, and have now become fun fashion statements involving sparkle and glitter. The students responded well to the playfulness of the bindis, with more than 300 students stopping on their way into or out of lunch to carry out the exercise. Many expressed gratitude that their voice was being sought out and most took their time to examine the photos and weigh their options. The

Figure 3E: Outdoor Learning Dotocracy

two categories of outdoor activity that received the most support, by far, were those that involved high adventure and risk (like climbing, paragliding, and skydiving) and those that involved interacting with animals (like elephants, camels, and horses). Many students also acknowledged the need to acquire life skills like being able to cook outside, set up a tent, or sleep on their own in the wild. Interestingly, almost no students chose the “skill” of simply being able to sit and reflect/observe in nature. Overall, this seemed a highly successful effort to understand the student body and empathise with their needs and desires in a particular area of learning to which they had already ascribed great value. The third step in interactively engaging the students involved the school’s tree symbol and represented an effort to access students’ deepest values. For three days, an outline of a tree was left on a board in a place where almost all students pass frequently. Next to it was a basket filled with paper “leaves” and markers. Students were asked to write on 39

the leaves an answer to the question, “What values do you most want to take with you when you leave Woodstock?” This exercise elicited only moderate involvement, with 26 responses from students. Some students spoke of personal qualities like confidence, perseverance, and independence. Others explicitly referenced the environment and ecological wholeness. The most common response had to do with a desire to help others, with one third of the respondents using words like compassion, generosity, giving, and helping.

EngAging the StAff: This process happened through taking advantage of an inservice day that had already been scheduled to carry out two exercises, as well as through a recurring, scheduled discussion opportunity and two, informal staff picnics. All teaching staff were present at the inservice day, which permitted the direct engagement of the large group of sixty eight primary and secondary teachers at the same time. The first exercise involved beginning with ten minutes of quiet, guided reflection. Teachers were given a blank card. On the card, they were asked to write about their most meaningful learning experience and then to identify the factors that made it so meaningful. Following the quiet reflection, teachers shared the experiences they had written about in small groups of four or five. Looking around the room, the discussion was animated and thoroughly engaged, with a good deal of laughter and head nodding. The exercise concluded with eight to ten teachers sharing their reflections on what makes for meaningful learning with the whole teaching staff. All the cards were then collected. The language was coded and clusters created by theme (relationships of trust, conquering a major obstacle, encounters with “the other”, outdoor learning, etc.). These could then be integrated with the themes that emerged from the similar exercise with students described earlier. The second exercise followed directly from the first. Mock up mood boards for each of the proposed spaces in the Centre for Imagination were shared with the teaching staff.


In the case of each space, the mood boards drew a specific parallel with the explicit educational philosophy of the school expressed in its Desired Learning Outcomes (see Appendix A). Teachers were shown how each space could emerge from and be informed by one of the four sets of Desired Learning Outcomes. In addition, teachers saw for the first time the possible design motif for the Centre, of a local, unfurling fern using the Fibonacci Sequence. An open discussion of the ideas followed the sharing of the visuals, but not many staff contributed. Perhaps the large group format did not work so well to share these critical elements of design in a way that would invite contributions from teachers. Nevertheless, a number of teachers shared ideas individually later, either in person or through emails. It seemed the image of the fern resonated well and teachers had specific ideas about the spaces to share, that they wanted recorded. A third method of engaging the staff involved a series of four “Dinner & Design” conversations. These were held in a home, with an open invitation to any teachers who wanted to attend. Each time, between five and ten teachers came and the discussions moved from more abstract, philosophical questions about the purpose of education and imagination to personal stories of impactful learning and then into the concrete work of designing the programme and spaces of the Centre. Those who came were highly engaged and contributed substantively to the emerging shape of the Centre through identifying gaps in the existing school’s programme between stated philosophy and “on the ground” reality, and through bringing their individual expertise in art, counseling, math and science instruction, English instruction to articulate how best to fashion spaces that could be flexible enough to meet the needs of a broad range of disciplines while still retaining coherence and beauty. In addition, the multi-disciplinary group offered real guidance on what the needs of interdisciplinary project work might be. A final method of engaging staff involved creating two, informal opportunities for staff to gather for a picnic in the empty, unrenovated building that would become the

Centre for Imagination. In both cases, signs were placed in each room to explain what would hopefully take place in each space. For the first picnic, a fun task/game was also placed in each space to allow staff to experience what might be happening there in the future. For example, in the flexible, open, central Studio, a sign was placed that read, “Make something that belongs in the future.” Large bins of colourful modelling clay and boxes of junk (old keys and doorknobs, broken screws, nuts and bolts, etc) were placed in the centre of the room. In the future, reflective Study area, a guided meditation on personal growth was posted. About 35 staff showed up, with their families. The younger children jumped straight into the making task, creating cherry trees “with bigger cherries,” robots that could make tacos, gardens, and “a machine that cleans the air”, among other items. This first picnic generated a lot of joy and conversation. Most adults did not participate in the posted tasks, but clearly enjoyed the opportunity to spend time with each other and many of the conversations revolved around the future of education and the role of imagination, as well as how the school could cultivate imagination. The event served as a good reminder that one of the great benefits of codesigning with a community is the way that momentum begins to build from within the community, rather than being imposed from the outside or from above. The second picnic drew about the same size of crowd, though a little smaller. This time, with a mood board posted on the wall in each room, staff were given stacks of post-it notes and asked to go from room to room writing elements of furniture, fixtures, or activities that they thought the room needed. Some wonderful suggestions emerged from this event, like equipping the place with antique, defunct machines for students to fix and play with, or placing a global map without political boundaries on the wall in the Hub, a space which will be devoted to

forging global connections. Once again, the importance of generating momentum from within the community became clear.

EngAging the PArentS: Given that Woodstock School is a residential school, with the vast majority of its students in boarding, the only opportunity to engage parents directly came at the end of a break, when parents were returning their children to school and meeting with teachers. Nevertheless, it seemed important to elicit their hopes and dreams for their children as part of the design process for the Centre. Near the main entrance of campus, where every parent would pass, a large white board was placed with the outline of a tree. Before heading off to conferences with teachers, parents were asked to write on a paper leaf the most important advice or wisdom they could offer young people preparing for their future. The exercise proved both revealing and beautiful. Since many students at the school come from privileged backgrounds, there can be a tendency on the part of the staff to assume that the families have materialistic values. Not a single parent wrote about material success or wealth. As with the student exercise on values, the predominant answer had to do with compassion, “being a good human being”, and empathy. Almost fifteen of the sixty odd parents who participated spoke of wanting young people to recognise the responsibility that comes with privilege-for people less privileged and for the planet itself. More than anything else, this exercise served to affirm the emergent direction of the Centre for Imagination towards exploring integrated paths of learning that help young people understand the patterns and systems they inhabit and, by doing so, find their place in the world.


Figure 3G: (Martin, 2016) Parent tree with leaves of their hopes


Figure 3H: (Martin, 2016) One parent’s advice for young people


Figure 3I: The Journey of Meaningful Learning

Two primary findings emerged from this phase of the research--one around the nature of transformative or meaningful learning and one around the values that unite the wider community of school stakeholders. The data gathered in the codesign exercises with staff and students around the nature of meaningful learning, along with the clustering and coding that followed, allowed for the creation of a diagram entitled, The Journey of Meaningful Learning. The purpose of the diagram was to reinvigorate learning throughout the school through capturing visually the most meaningful experiences shared by students and staff. Powerfully, the data showed that people of all ages valued an encounter with an other, along with a significant challenge or obstacle that required overcoming. Part of what made for an experience of transformative learning was a combined discovery of inner resources of courage and strength to persevere, alongside the discovery of the

beauty, complexity, or depth of an other, whether that other was a mountain, a math formula, or another person. The second finding amounted to an affirmation of the school’s educational philosophy, which includes the principles that education ought to take place in a compassionate and caring community and that education ought to give young people opportunities to develop leadership and initiative. In the engagements with all three groups, staff, students, and parents, the same set of values around humanity and citizenship emerged. The implications for the Centre for Imagination are clear, that all stakeholders are invested in the concept of holistic learning that takes into account more than the mere acquisition of knowledge. This widespread affirmation of the school’s educational philosophy could also be seen as a clear mandate for the direction of the Centre for Imagination.


IntegrAting the LeArning


eaching a course explicitly focused on a multidisciplined approach to academic research, writing, and argument afforded a remarkable set of opportunities to explore, prototype, and develop a few examples of what a truly integrated and ecological approach to pedagogy can look like in practice, particularly one that seeks to provoke student initiative and respond to student drive. The general skills students are required to master in the experimental Advanced Placement (AP) Seminar course and a particular inquiry approach to learning are outlined by the College Board, from Princeton, New Jersey, who say about this course entering only its third year of existence, “In AP Seminar, students investigate real-world issues from multiple perspectives, gathering and analyzing information from various sources in order to develop valid and credible, evidence-based arguments”. (AP Central, 2016). Students in the class were informed at the start of the year that samples of the work they produced might be incorporated into a Master’s dissertation and were asked for their consent, which was granted. The topic of the research was explained clearly and students were told that their decision to allow their work to be shared or not would have no relationship with achievement and progress within the course. The incorporation or non-incorporation of their work had no impact whatsoever on the marks that students received for their work. After planting this AP Seminar course within a Woodstock School context and carefully choosing themes and sources that would push toward the examination of networks,


systems and ecological thinking, the results with students have been nothing short of astounding in their power. Students in their penultimate year of secondary school today were born in the year 2000. They have only known an internet-equipped, fully networked world. As such, the exercises carried out clearly demonstrate how they do not think in a linear manner and are much more inclined to think in systems and networks. When given the opportunity and the tools, they produce work that reveals a profound level of understanding and reaches high academic standards. While many short exercises were prototyped, two more significant efforts to prototype integrated learning yielded particularly successful results. The first exercise asked students, in August, over the course of two weeks, to follow a process of understanding and recording all the components of Woodstock School as a system. They were asked to focus on how the pieces relate to each other, to focus on the nature of the bonds between elements of the system. Students first named all the pieces that they could remember and then spent time determining how best to gather the information they would require in order to understand the school as a system. They interviewed peers, janitors, the Principal’s assistant. In essence, each created his or her own path of inquiry. Students then received lessons on how systems function and on patterns in nature. Having gathered all their information and having mind-mapped it, students and the teacher went on a long walk outside together, looking for patterns and organisms that might capture and make sense of the kind of system they had discovered in the school. Whether they perceived themselves as artistic or not, students were encouraged to do some observational drawing of organisms or systems they noticed. From there, students were given one more week to pull together their data collection about the system and translate it into some image that would represent the degree of coherence (or incoherence) and interdependence (or independence) that

they perceived, given their research. Interestingly, though students’ choices of metaphor or pattern ranged widely-including monkeys, trees, and tigers (All of these resonate powerfully in the local environment. Monkeys abound and represent a real nuisance and danger; a particular pine tree called “The Lyre Tree” has been the symbol of the school

for the last half-century; tigers are the school mascot for athletics), the themes they noted remained remarkably similar. Every single student in some way referenced the fast pace of change and the pressure this creates on a system. Every student made a significant effort to communicate a high degree of interdependence. Figure 3K: Woodstock School as experienced from the inside (Student A)

Figure 3J: Woodstock School as seen from the outside by Student A, using the metaphor of one of the rhesus macaques that roam the campus freely

Figure 3L: Detail of inner experience of Woodstock, with components of the community and aspects of life at the school compared to organ functions in a body. For example, this student sees the disciplinary system of the school functioning like ribs that expand and contract, protecting the form. She sees the beautiful, physical environment functioning like a liver that cleanses the body of toxins (Student A)


Figure 3N: “Community Succession” at Woodstock, seen using the school’s symbol of a lyre tree (the actual tree died last year) in conjunction with the concept of ecological succession in forests, from environmental studies (Student B)

Figure 3O: Detail of “Community Succession” (Student B)

Figure 3P: Woodstock Tiger, imagining the school through its mascot as embedded in a particular, dynamic ecological context (Student C)


The second prototype of a holistic approach to integrated learning took place in the form of a weeklong field trip to the city of Jaipur in Rajasthan. In the middle of a module whose theme was “Sustainability and the Good Life,� students spent a week trying to understand as much as possible about the lives and work of those involved in one particular company, Anokhi, who produces hand-block printed textiles in an effort to preserve an ancient handicraft. Separate roles of carving the wooden blocks, dyeing the cotton, weaving the cotton, printing, and sewing the textiles

have been passed down in families for generations. There are associations of both caste and religion with certain roles. As the hand-block printing industry has declined in other parts of India, workers have drifted to Jaipur, which sits on the edge of the Thar Desert. This textile industry uses only organic, vegetable dyes which rely, not only on a steady supply of water, but on mineral-rich water that will brighten and set the colours. None of this information was shared with students in advance. Figure 3R: Master steadies the hand and tool of a student learning traditional methods of wood block carving

Figure 3Q: Master wood block carver at work with a block of teak

Figure 3S: Four, finished matching blocks that, when used together perfectly synchronously, form one pattern



Figure 3T: Students practicing mud-resist printing by designing their own scarves

Figure 3U: Mud-resist just before dyeing begins

The point of the trip was simply for them to understand the company, Anokhi, and to determine the degree of sustainability of its practices. Students interviewed the British owner and main designer of Anokhi, as well as workers at every level of the process. They expected one, efficient, central factory and were surprised to discover that several stages of the process take place in rural communities occupied only by related families who all work as dyers or carvers. After one or two days, students began to see some of the fragilities of this complex handicraft industry. They spent two days learning and practicing how to carve a wooden block and how to block print textiles by hand. An older gentleman in his seventies demonstrated the incredible local tradition of mud-resist indigo printing, in which a mixture of acacia, cow dung, and mud is made into a paste. This paste is then block-printed onto white cotton, after which the artisans sprinkle sawdust so that the paste will dry and stick to the cotton. Only then is the cotton dyed in indigo three to five times, depending on the depth of blue sought. After the

final dying, the paste is removed to reveal a beautiful, block-printed design in white on the blue textile. Students had the opportunity to practice this process and design their own scarf. With each new facet of the production they encountered, students commented on the depth of knowledge required by the artisans in order simply to make the dyes and pastes and blocks. Not only that, but the work itself is highly physical, in many cases requiring both dexterity and an enormous amount of precision. An entire length of cloth can be discarded if a printer places one block out of line. Over and over, as the week progressed, students reflected on the intricate ways in which this system supports itself. Each element of the process depends on every other element to perform its task at the highest standards. The entire process operates within, depends on, and is impacting an increasingly fragile ecosystem pressed by overpopulation and pollution. The closer students looked, the more they saw. They began to speak of “seeing people in the clothes Anokhi makes.� Each student expressed the desire to support

the survival of this industry and art. Upon their return to the school, their task was to create a documentary that makes an argument about the good life, using the footage they had gathered and the interviews they conducted over the course of their week away together. Amazingly, they decided on their own that the message they most wanted to communicate was to their fellow students. They wanted their peers to understand that, just like the interdependence of

the hand-block printing industry, Woodstock School also represents an interdependent system. Not only that, but they wanted their peers to see how the two systems are inextricably intertwined in a wider, global system of production and consumption. One particularly insightful student commented, “I want them to see that when they choose to buy something, they could be making sure that a person will survive and that a tradition will survive. It’s not about fashion.�


Student comments after the first exercise indicated that their recognition of interdependence within the school community and beyond was the source of the deepest learning in the whole project. In the three months since this project was completed, students have returned again and again in class discussions to the themes of connection to their local environment and interdependence. With almost every topic raised, students point out that the actions of one part of a system, no matter how seemingly far removed, produce effects throughout the system. This indicates the strength of this mode of learning, requiring that students pull together observation,

reflection, art and visual communication, knowledge of biology or the natural environment, not to mention both the soft skills of talking to community members and persuading them to share their views, as well as the hard skills of collating and analysing the data. In the case of both exercises, the dependence on responding to student initiative and drive, combined with the holistic experience of immersion and the introduction of the right analytical tools at the right time, proved to guide students to a profound level of academic learning and personal commitment.


FrAming the NArrAtive


rom August through October, the design motif of the unfurling, local fern was explored carefully, along with the language of a “fern narrative” that could be widely used to share the deep purpose of the Centre for Imagination, and its rootedness in place. Pictures of ferns were shown to groups of staff and students with questions about whether or not this would accurately capture the work of the Centre for Imagination. Invariably, the images elicited smiles and statements of awe or feeling inspired. It should be noted that the rounded lines of the fern also mirror the rounded line of the front of the building which will house the Centre for Imagination, so that the literal shape of the space matches the chosen motif. Eventually, this is the narrative that emerged:

Each monsoon, our mountainside explodes with new life. Ferns spread over the forest floor like a carpet and climb up tree trunks like feathery coats. In the ecosystems they inhabit, ferns play a key role as ecological indicators. Occupying an incredibly wide range of niches, from semiarid deserts to deep snow, ferns are sensitive to the slightest changes, even at the microclimatic level. In the same way, the Centre for Imagination acts as an ecological indicator for education, responsive to the literal climate change we witness, as well as being responsive to the figurative climate of learning and teaching. Bringing art and science together, the universal, Fibonacci sequence that dictates a fern’s pattern


Figure 3V: The oak tree that stands outside the Centre for Imagination, covered in monsoon ferns

of unfurling growth also exquisitely mirrors the unfurling of a young person’s imagination when offered the space to explore freely. Like ferns, young people are diverse, with a wide range of learning and life needs or niches. The Centre for Imagination offers a space for young people to make sense of the global systems they inhabit and to explore their unique place in the world. Fittingly, we have chosen the humble, Mussoorie fern to symbolize the Centre for Imagination.

The text above was included in the new brochure (see Appendix B), so that there is an explicit connection to organic growth for all who encounter the Centre for Imagination, even at the most superficial level of picking up a brochure.

The motif was then tested by creating a story of “Fibi the fern”(see Appendix C) and reading it aloud in the weekly all-school assembly at the end of November, to see how it would be received.

Figure 3W: Mussoorie fern in the monsoon evening light

Figure 3X: Young ferns before they unfurl, demonstrating the Fibonacci Sequence

FindingS Over and over, this motif of the fern opening out seems to have hit the right note. When it was first introduced to staff in August, they enthusiastically affirmed that the image was “of this place” and also captured something dynamic about growth, something with movement towards an opening up and opening out to the world. When the school’s principal and vice-principal first read the fern narrative for the brochure, both commented on the added layer of meaning lent to the motif of a fern, given the organism’s key role as an ecological indicator. Both literally and figuratively, this added to the ‘rightness’

of the choice. Finally, when students heard the story of “Fibi the fern,” it also seems to have hit the right note. Several students commented that they had been confused about the purpose of the Centre and that it made sense after hearing the story. Others commented that “the fern really fits” or “perfectly suits” imagination. While it is true that other symbols were not tested, the results of testing this symbol indicate that the fern is wellchosen and carries great potential in communicating the deep purpose of the Centre for Imagination in ways that go far beyond the capability of language.


DrAwing the Future



he building that will become the Centre for Imagination was vacated in June, 2016, leaving the space open to plan the renovation process. Built in the 1820s, the bungalow has solid stone walls that are two and a half feet thick in some places. Facing south, the rounded verandah on the front of the building receives strong sun throughout the day and looks out across a valley and then the wide Gangetic plain. The stunning view compensates somewhat for the lack of natural light within the building. The building itself is in quite poor condition,

with old wiring throughout, and mildewed walls in some of the darker rooms. Nevertheless, a few, rare and beautiful architectural details make the building worth preserving, like the teak ceilings and an unusual, rounded wall at the front of the building that acts as a kind of signature piece. The rounded front room and verandah were part of the inspiration for choosing the fern and Fibonacci Sequence as symbols. In fact, the mountain itself, behind the building, shares the same rounded curve, with the building standing out on a kind of vertical, rounded ridge.

Figure 3Y: Blueprint of the current building, bungalow “Tafton�

Figure 3Z: Proposed changes

In August, as the school year started, many members of the community did not know about the proposed Centre for Imagination or did not understand its core purpose of empowering young people through more integrated, holistic opportunities for learning. Amongst the student body, there was almost total ignorance and some staff members remained quite skeptical. The challenge, or rather, the opportunity, was to use the design and prototyping of the future spaces in the Centre as a way to generate momentum and excitement in the community, around what the Centre could become and how it could transform the student learning experience. In August, a suggestion of five discrete spaces was offered to the staff as a possibility. The broad plan envisioned breaking one internal wall to create a large, central space called The Studio, to be outfitted with entirely flexible, dismantlable furniture so that a gallery event could be accommodated just as well as a robotics project. This was to correlate with or embody the section of the school’s Desired Learning Outcomes to do with cultivating 21st century skills (see Appendix A). On either side of the Studio would sit three spaces, The Study, The Hub, and The Sunroom. Decorated with antique furniture and some small, defunct and antique machines, The Study would house the Centre’s resource library and would become a place where students and staff could come for a time of quiet reflection, in keeping with the section of the Desired Learning Outcomes devoted to developing a profound sense of self, focus, and vocation. The Hub, a relatively small space, would act as the link to a global network of connections--where individuals and groups of students could come to learn online, to Skype with a project mentor in some other part of the world, or to collaborate with students on the other side of the world. This would bring to life the section of the Desired Learning Outcomes that speaks of students becoming active global citizens, aware of and committed to the fate of neighbours near and far. The Sunroom would, fittingly, become a warm and comfortable meeting area where students and staff

could gather to talk about current events, issues that arise in school living, and simply to be around each other. This flows from the section of the Desired Learning Outcomes to do with cultivating healthy interpersonal relationships. Finally, just a single visit to the proposed Centre was enough to make it clear that the front, wraparound verandah would become the most significant space in the whole building. The suggestion was to call it The Greenhouse, to fill it with plants and cafe furniture, and make it an attractive and inspiring spot for both students and staff to come work side by side or together. A collaboration began with a local cafe, with a plan to offer a limited menu of healthy, locally sourced food, coffee, and juices. The assumption behind this proposal was that when people work, even just side by side, in a beautiful, inspirational environment, the imagination is awakened and new ideas and learning can emerge organically. Staff responded enthusiastically to the outlined proposal, which then led directly into a period of prototyping the five spaces. In collaboration with two volunteers who formed part of the design team, Michael Martin and Ana Siqueira, an innovative approach to the prototyping emerged--to use the walls as a canvas. In each room, drawings of the proposed furniture and decor were made first in pencil on the blank walls and then traced over in black permanent marker. The design team issued an open invitation to the entire school community to come help with the drawing, with whatever level of skill and commitment people felt comfortable. Practicing an “open studio” model, the design team encouraged community members to drop in and out at their pleasure. Though the building held almost no furniture, carpets and a large stack of floor cushions encouraged students and staff to come, participate in the drawing, or simply sit and work in a quiet space. About five students took part in the drawing, enthusiastically. Two teachers came--including one on the verge of retirement, who said that she found the drawing both meditative and meaningful. She said that it represented one way that


she could contribute to the future even as she prepared to leave--she returned each afternoon for a week to keep working. One teacher came with her daughter and spent a Saturday drawing together. The spouse of a staff member

dropped by several times to draw, even though she had no art background, saying that she just enjoyed the process and the inspiration of the space itself.

Figure 3AA: Drawing on the walls -- Study

Figure 3AB: Drawing on the walls -- Studio


Figure 3AC: Buckminster Fuller Dymaxion Map on the wall of the Hub

FindingS Though not many community members actively helped with the drawing, the invitation worked in terms of generating a buzz about the building. More students began to drop in and bring their study materials to stay a while. A visitors’ book was placed just outside the door, so that students and staff could add their comments. More than anything else, a sampling of the student comments from the visitors’ book demonstrates that the qualities of the space captured in the prototyping drawings resonate with the students’ desires and fill a perceived gap in their student experience: 1. I love this place -- it’s so open, and lets me think without feeling locked in school. 2. This place is unbelievable! I can’t believe that I hadn’t come here earlier. This place has so much potential and I hope that I can help with the development of this safe haven. 3. Encouraging to see how easy it was to share your thoughts and views! 4. A great place to share ideas and opinions. Eager to see more innovative project work. 5. This is the place that can start conversations that truly matter. When I interact with Woodstock students, I can tell that they are intelligent and maybe even kind, but there is this undeniable bubble. The Centre for Imagination, I am certain, can break this barrier. I

wish I had more time left to experience it. 6. The CFI would be the perfect place for students to use, create, and develop ideas into projects and carry them out! 7. This is a really nice place, making feelings out of lines. Imagination makes us human. 8. Such a peaceful space to be. 9. This centre is an absolutely remarkable idea! 10. This is hands down the most inspiring place on campus and I can’t wait to be a part of it! In addition, the method of drawing the imagined renovation on the walls of the future Centre forced the design team to slow down and consider what would or would not belong in each space. The drawings greatly informed the actual planning and budgeting process. Not only that, but where several staff had been confused about what the Centre actually would be and what would happen in it, the drawings many times acted as a visual explanation to help community members more clearly “see” the future. Perhaps not many projects would have the privilege of accessing a pre-renovation building and co-designing with the community in this manner, but as a method of meaningfully communicating from the design team into the community and back, this process proved incredibly valuable.


Prototyping the ProgrAmme

Figure 3AD: Current Affairs discussion.


art of understanding the space as it currently exists, its potential for the future, as well as understanding the perceived learning needs of the student and staff bodies, involved planning a series of events as prototypes. These included experimenting with small-scale events to work towards the creation of a weekly template, as well as planning several larger-scale events and beginning to line up a series of visiting scholars and artists for the following year. In addition to these events, the months from August to November included working with a prototypical student group interested in social entrepreneurship to identify and develop a suitable project.


Each week in October and November, between three and five small events were held at the building to see how people moved through the spaces, where they gravitated, what times in the week attracted more people, and what kinds of events provoked the strongest responses from students. These events included screening documentaries with discussion to follow, discussions of current events as they happened (elections in the US, demonetisation in India, the Kashmir situation, etc.), and a series of “career talks�, in which adults shared their career journey with students and answered questions afterward. It did not take long to realise that, in order to succeed and generate

momentum rather than add to a sense of frenzy within the school, the Centre would need to focus on enhancing what was already happening first, rather than competing for time. With this in mind, the design team settled quickly on creating a weekly event calendar that could flow alongside, in harmony with, a calendar of weekly themes that had been established at the start of the academic year for the whole school. At the moment, the weekly themes and accompanying resources are carefully chosen to align with the school’s Desired Learning Outcomes and to create greater awareness of self, others, and wider systems at work in the world. However, staff have expressed frustration that time is not created to unpack and work with these themes--themes like consumerism, conflict resolution, and innovation. These themes, then, align perfectly with the role of the Centre for Imagination and provided the Centre with a collaborative, generative way into making a meaningful contribution to the weekly rhythm of the school and filling a gap in the school’s programme. After experimenting with different time slots and examining the high and low stress times for the whole school during the week, a set of three permanent slots was selected: 1. A Monday evening film screening or Skype session related to the weekly theme. For the theme of consumerism, for example, the Centre screened The True Cost, a film about the global impact of the fast fashion industry. For the theme of conflict resolution, the Centre hosted a group Skype interview with Albie Sachs, South African freedom fighter and one of the primary authors of the brilliantly structured South African Constitution. 2. A Tuesday morning Career Talk, at a time when most of the student body has a free, study period. An adult who has been working for at least ten years shares

his or her career journey with students, focusing on the moments of decision-making. The purpose of the career talks is for students to have the opportunity to hear about “jobs” as winding paths, rather than a simple trajectory, as well as to hear about why and how people decide to leave one job or career and seek another. Each talk is followed by a question and answer session. 3. A Friday morning current events discussion, featuring a concrete example of where and how the weekly theme plays out in the wider world. Again, this is a time when the majority of students have a study period and are available. For the theme of consumerism, the conversation focused on Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s sudden move to demonetise the two most widely used currency notes. For the theme of conflict resolution, the conversation focused on the situation in Kashmir, where tensions on all sides have been heightening in recent months. In addition to the small-scale weekly events, several larger-scale events were planned, some at the request of the school. These, too, can be seen as prototypes, as they represented attempts to explore the identity and boundaries of the programme of the Centre for Imagination, in collaboration with the school’s administration. Three primary events took place. The first was Wake Up: A Day of Mindfulness, organized in collaboration with the Ahimsa Trust. Ten monastics in the tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh led a full day of mindfulness training for a group that included about 35 staff and students. This is a new practice at Woodstock School, so there was a certain level of discomfort in the room at the beginning of the day. By lunchtime, the whole group had loosened up and those who attend expressed sincere gratitude and openness to the idea of more regular mindfulness practice at the school. The day seemed clearly aligned with the Centre’s goal of offering both


a wider range of learning experiences for students and encouraging more holistic learning. The second major event coincided with the advent of a Supermoon, the brightest moon since 1948. With the wide open view that surrounds the Centre, it seemed a perfect location for a bonfire and moon-watch. Of all the events held so far, this is the event that brought the most surprises. More than 100 students and staff showed up, as did a handful of parents. Students started arriving more than an hour before the scheduled start time, because they were excited. The programme was simple-hot chocolate, marshmallows and stories around a fire, while the whole group waited for a bright, full moon to rise over the mountains. One staff member shared a story to the whole group, and then smaller groups sat around talking for another hour and a half. Students shared stories of how they wanted to be astronauts when they were younger and of the Overview Effect. They asked for music the next time around, and generally seemed to be enjoying themselves. About ten or fifteen of those who came stood together looking up at the sky and waiting for at least half an hour. One goal of the Centre to “expose students to new worlds of nature” seemed to have been met in the rightness of choosing to pause and appreciate the appearance of a natural phenomenon together. The third major event was planned in collaboration with a local organisation called the World Integrity Centre. Talking Faith for Peace, a panel discussion on the role of religion in the public square, included a representative each of India’s six major religions and was moderated by the editor of India’s oldest Urdu newspaper. In a time of heightening tensions around the world, particularly in this area of faith, this event seemed particularly wellsuited to helping students untangle the role of religion and spirituality in their own lives. In addition, the event offered an opportunity for students to learn more about


and experience some of India’s rich tradition in secular democracy characterised by hearty, honest discussion. Not only that, but partnering with a local organisation committed to similar goals of reaching young people in new ways to better help them meet the challenges of the future afforded the fledgling Centre for Imagination a great opportunity to begin growing a network. The event was attended by about 150 people, with eighty or ninety students required to attend for their Religious Education classes at the school. Despite an unfortunate, delayed start because of the delayed arrival of panelists, the event seemed worthwhile, with about ten students staying more than an hour and a half after the event, speaking to two of the panelists who struck a profound chord with them. Three of the panelists expressed a desire to come spend some time at the Centre, writing, speaking, and working with the students. A new possible student project emerged out of conversation following the panel--to start a podcast on the nature of faith in India today and try to reclaim some of the territory of faith for liberal conversation among today’s youth. The last event prototyped through the Centre was more of a weekly club for social entrepreneurs, called The Startup Hub. Students initiated this organisation and remained enthusiastically involved, from August to November, though their sense of direction floundered at times. They spent the month of August exploring the key problems and issues in the school community and the town nearby. After considering everything from women’s rights to street lights, the students decided to settle on the problem of waste. Drawing on several design thinking tools, students were encouraged to map out the different kinds of waste produced by the community, along with finding evidence of prior efforts to tackle the problem. They spent several weeks analysing why these prior efforts had not worked, conducting a series of interviews to help them understand. They reached the conclusion

that they ought to tackle waste at the source first, rather than focusing on disposal. This led them into a second round of research and mapping, this time of the exact sources of waste and how they might begin to change people’s behavior, particularly their peers’. One afternoon, they collectively hit on the notion of communication as the real problem--specifically, that while the school shares information with students, it does not use forms of communication familiar to and powerful with the student body. They interviewed several dozen students and staff to try to pinpoint the problems. At this point, their direction drifted away from waste and into efforts to improve the entire communication system of the school. In keeping with the commitment to responding to student initiative and encouraging inquiry-based learning, rather than discouraging them from this project, they were simply given tools for mapping exactly how complex that process might be, and were encouraged to figure out all the groups of stakeholders who might

require different kinds and levels of communication. It took a while, but students did figure out that perhaps they ought to narrow their focus to the student body, for whom they are now in the process of designing an app. The purpose of the app is to collect all the sources of information and functions related to school that a student might need, as well as to send out helpful push notifications containing information students need, along with statistics related to water, electricity, paper and food waste around campus. The idea is to create a steady stream of small challenges for the student body that they could track online through the app, feeding their attraction to instant information in the effort to change habits and behavior. This is the first year for this organisation, so it remains to be seen how successful and meaningful the experience will be, but the students involved are at the very least gaining valuable practice with both the phases of design thinking and the concept of multiple iterations, even in crafting an initial concept.

FindingS Students and staff affirmed the value of both the small, weekly events and the larger events, expressing gratitude at the opportunity to explore questions they cared about on a voluntary basis. As with other facets of the design of the Centre, the goals included creating a framework clear enough to provide structure, yet nimble enough to respond to what is happening within the community and around the world. When the U.S. election took place with the whole world watching, the Centre projected the incoming results all day long, with a steady flow of students and staff coming in and out to watch and reflect together. Most importantly, events were created and selected with a clear filter: in every case, the design team

needed to be able to explain how the event might help a young person find their place in the world. One of the side benefits (or perhaps primary benefits?) of these events has been their tendency to draw both staff and students into a neutral space of joint learning. The numbers at any given event have ranged from seven to thirty, with at least a handful of staff. Since there is no “lesson” being taught and no “teacher” up front, all who attend are free to learn together. The young people quite naturally turn to the adults for background information or wisdom while the adults remain free to be inspired by the enthusiasm and creativity of the students. An


atmosphere of ease exists with casual conversation happening in corners. Group discussions are characterised by a remarkable quality of both authenticity and joint exploration. This emergent quality of rich interaction that breaks down conventional barriers represents a great example of an advantage of empathic codesign: the characteristic, responsive prototyping of this method allows even a new ethos of learning to emerge, one that can foster exactly the sort of innovative, collaborative learning the design team was trying to spark. The most common remark from students and teachers at the end of each event had to do with noticing this refreshing, easy conversation and how much it aids learning. This would indicate that such an environment is not as common at the school as would be desirable. In fact, student and staff climate surveys the last two years indicate that a gap of trust exists between the two groups. Efforts have been made to provide explicit opportunities for students and staff to interact informally. Interesting, then, that events that did NOT target the relationships, but aimed to explore an issue or a question, in other words, events that targeted learning (disguised as watching a film, hearing a story, or having a conversation) proved able to remove barriers and bring authenticity. One challenge that could follow in coming months is of how to use the ethos of the Centre to leverage a wider cultural shift in the school to create more opportunities to see learning as a joint endeavour of teachers and students--that all are learners. Taken as a whole, the events of the last four months, happening primarily in an almost empty building, have persuaded this researcher that the programme of the Centre for Imagination will fill a current gap in student learning--of connecting students more viscerally and experientially with their immediate natural environment and with issues near and far. Not only that, but this “side entry” using global issues of importance as the door rather than announcing grand plans of “interdisciplinary


learning”, has already created organic opportunities for interdisciplinary thinking and collaboration between teachers, teachers and students, and teachers and the Centre. Enough “buzz” has been created that almost every day, a student or staff member approaches with a concrete idea for a project or event--an app for the school’s weather station, building furniture, constructing with plastic water bottles, an art installation, a scientific expedition, a workshop on upcycling, historical simulations, just to name a few. The work of the Centre has the potential to substantively shift the practice of learning throughout the school, if it continues to unfold in this generative culture of co-creation. Though certainly not a majority of students and staff are engaged meaningfully in this work yet, the prototyping process sparked enough enthusiasm in both staff and students to confirm the direction of the programme and the codesign approach. In a recent email, one student said powerfully, “I can feel my growth in these few weeks since I was introduced to this place and I can even see the change in my friends who come here often to attend the events. I’ve seen how our conversations about homework, grades, guys and petty matters like these have transitioned into discussing about world issues. This change is necessary to occur in every individual who is being educated or is past it. People need to know that there is more to the world than what we see between words in textbooks or in what our teachers say. They need to be aware of the reality and stir up all the ideas and opinions that have settled like residue at the bottom of their minds being compressed by self-obsessing matters and concerns like grades, college and jobs. Bringing out a change in the world starts from within and I feel that the CFI inspires and bolsters the whole process of growth of an individual as well as the world. It helps us to push ourselves to think imaginatively and discover ourselves as a part of a whole planet.”

SpreAding the NewS

Figure 3AG : Golden circle from the brochure


s any endeavour emerges for the first time, a story begins to be constructed by all who encounter the new initiative. Part of the research and design process for the Centre for Imagination included working to harness and clearly communicate the intended story to the target audience in ways that embody the spirit of imagination--biophilic, utopian, and playful. After focusing heavily on engaging with the staff in August and September, the design team in October saw that the next real audience for the Centre were the students of Woodstock School. Since its first, vague inception in 2013 as the germ of an idea, students

had heard little of substance about the Centre and could have had no real sense of its purpose or future programme. The work of developing a communication strategy was clear. The Golden Circle from the work of Simon Sinek (2016) offered a sharp angle of communication for every avenue or form. The design team agreed that, every time the Centre for Imagination would be explained, the sequence of Why-HowWhat would be followed, even if the questions themselves did not appear explicitly. Initially, the design team shaped a visual identity for the


Centre. The Art Nouveau movement from the turn of the last century offered inspiration. In the same way that the Art Nouveau movement represented an objection to reducing human existence through increasing industrialisation and mechanisation, the Centre for Imagination represents a breaking of the industrial approach to education. Visually, the font and style communicate both a longer story and a commitment to an organic approach, to understanding

In addition to the inspiration of Art Nouveau, the design team decided that an effective, immediate strategy with students might be to go for a ‘handmade’ approach. Why? Because young people are assaulted with slick messages and advertising all the time. For them, the roughness of a handmade piece seems novel and intriguing, particularly when a tactile element is included. To this end, the design team used a folding exhibition board to construct an enormous newspaper called New Times. The cover featured an interview with the Centre for Imagination, as if it were a person. In addition to explaining the purpose of the Centre, the interview included some playful questions about the Centre’s favorite food (Indian chai and Tibetan momos, both local favorites among the student body)

Figure 3AH : (, 2016) Art Nouveau-inspired font

how the force of life animates young people and the living systems they inhabit. Of course, many of these connections may not be immediately apparent to the audience, particularly students. Nevertheless, this Art Nouveauinspired aesthetic is capable of evoking a particular response. When shown the font, students commented that it looked fresh and distinctive. One student said that he “... always knows when a sign is from the Centre for Imagination, because it just has a certain look and feel. It seems exciting.” Comments like this became quite common from students, with some asking, “Can we use the Centre for Imagination font for ___?” This response indicates that the visual identity is strong and has already created a certain degree of brand identity.


Figure 3AI : The back cover of New Times

and favorite celebrity. On the open, inner double page, boxes allowed “stories” with a lot of photos and visuals to be changed to inform students about recent or upcoming events and ways they could get involved. The back page featured a large title, “IMAGINE WITH US,” inviting the community to follow the Centre on Instagram, currently the most popular social media site among students. The large, eight foot tall newspaper was placed right at the

main entrance to the school, where all would pass it daily. What could not have been predicted was the great difficulty in having high-quality, colour photos printed quickly. The newspaper proved impossible to maintain because the pictures invariably came back crooked or poorly printed or the wrong size, so that by the time the right photos came back, the event they captured was long gone. Sadly, after the first three weeks, the newspaper was folded and put away, perhaps to be reintroduced at a later time when better, more efficient printing could be obtained. The design team considered several social media sites and approaches before settling in on Instagram as the primary mode of engaging first the local community, and then perhaps further beyond. As far as tone was concerned, the desired effect was for students, in particular, to feel inspired and want to get involved, along with being able to smile at a playfully creative post now and then. Since it was opened

Figure 3AJ: An image of a student posted on Instagram, following a Green Screen event about the fast fashion industry

on November 2, two posts have gone up each day on the Instagram feed--short video interviews with staff and students, photos of the prototyping process and of events, announcements of upcoming events, and the occasional

inspiring quote, always with the same visual identity. The feed has grown from zero to 120 followers in three weeks, with a goal of 500 in three months. As the followers grow, the design team is monitoring which posts seem to attract more attention, to allow for further reflection and analysis on how best to reach the student audience in ways that spark their imagination and involvement. A third method of communication with students involved utilising a few minutes in the weekly all-school assemblies to share updates and announce events in person. All of the documentary screenings were announced this way, in addition to showing a trailer wherever possible. Staff also heard these announcements and they seemed to work in drawing those who were interested to events. An intriguing problem developed after the first three weeks or so, in that some staff and students began to complain that their schedule did not allow them to attend the events and that the events were not announced far in advance, to allow for planning. The first complaint could be considered gratifying as it indicates a degree of interest. In creating the weekly framework, all that could be done is to keep trying different times and slots, tweaking slightly to accommodate the greatest number possible. The rule was to try and enrich life at school without adding clutter to the school calendar. The second complaint, of not enough notice, was entirely fair and perhaps inevitable, given the experimental nature of the first few months. Beginning in February, with the first full term of school in which the Centre will be operational, the plan is to print and make available online a full calendar of events and visiting scholars/experts/volunteers, so that people can plan attendance well in advance. This aspect of communication remains tricky, because there needs to be a certain degree of spontaneity possible where imagination is involved. Space must be preserved for responding to a current, perceived need or idea by creating an event at the last minute. In considering a wider audience to include prospective


families, prospective visiting scholars or volunteers, and alumni of the school who may want to be involved, the design team settled on one generic brochure (see Appendix B) and a series of more targeted flyers. The goal of the brochure remained to make clear the purpose and programme of the Centre for Imagination. In the brochure, Sinek’s Why-How-What sequence was explicitly followed to offer a clear introduction to those for whom the concept of the Centre might be vague or even seem unnecessary.

Figure 3AK: The new Centre for Imagination brochure

Created at the end of November, the brochure illustrates the work of the Centre through using the fern narrative and examples from the first two or three months of prototyping. Faithful photography along the way meant that the brochure could include lively images of work in progress. In addition to the general brochure, separate flyers were designed to appeal to scholars and artists who may be looking for short residencies, alumni who may be interested in contributing financially or through mentoring, and prospective volunteers who may want to offer their expertise for a few weeks. One further group targeted through the flyers included interns and student teachers


looking to learn about innovative approaches in education. This set of printed and electronic publicity materials, designed together, using parallel language and structure, yielded a coherent identity for the Centre for Imagination. During these initial months of stumbling and fumbling through the process of fashioning a programme for the Centre, every public opportunity to speak of or write about the Centre was taken. Two prominent examples include writing a substantive article for the school’s alumni magazine to explain to the worldwide community of the school what the Centre is for and to invite their involvement. In a school assembly on the theme of “creative outlets”, the Centre was explained to students in the form of a story; a story of a community of fern spores responding to the arrival of monsoon rain by bursting into life, bringing creative possibility into reality.(see Appendix C) Each separate opportunity to explain the Centre for Imagination acted also as a means of clarifying even to the design team (including this author) why the world of education requires this kind of playful, inspiring, innovative space to find a more whole way forward. One persistent challenge in these first months, as far as communication was concerned, involved navigating the channels of communication existent at the school. As an old institution, layers and streams of communication have multiplied, with different parts of the school favoring different modes of communication, providing the very definition of both a complex and complicated system. In September and October, for example, in the effort to simply communicate regularly with staff, a weekly email was sent out summarizing the events of the past week and forecasting the next. Some staff appreciated the brief, regular updates delivered to their inbox. Others complained that a website would be much better. The Communications Office suggested daily tweets. At first, the temptation was to try and acquiesce to every demand. This proved impossible and unwieldy. Remembering the whole systems design principle to have one expenditure of energy meet multiple needs, the

weekly communication became more streamlined, writing one piece that could be used in parts or wholes for multiple purposes--a blog post on the school website, announcements in assembly, a short Instagram caption under a photo, or an email to staff. Settling on aligning Centre events and themes with the school’s weekly themes aided greatly in bringing a sense of coherence to the communication. Some tension within the Communications Office team created problems at first of uncomfortable meetings or pieces of writing not being passed along or posted at the right time. Stepping in a little more assertively with clear direction to each member of the Communications team separately proved helpful, in addition to carefully cultivating positive relationships and making it

clear that no competition or critique was intended on the part of the Centre for Imagination design team. In addition, all verbal commitments regarding deadlines were strictly honored, to model the kind of dependability expected in return. Once that hurdle had been cleared, the two members of the Communications team warmed considerably and began to share their own ideas and take initiative. This will continue to present challenges, however the design team felt strongly that, in order for the Centre for Imagination to be perceived fundamentally as a part of the Woodstock system, it would be necessary for communication to emerge from within the channels operated by the school, and in sync with these channels.


Perhaps more than in other areas of research, the design work of figuring out how to tell the story and equally how to persuade others to participate in the telling represented the greatest area of learning and practice in working with living systems. Where the story seemed so clear in the abstract, and the fern narrative so inspiring, everything became cloudy when it hit the ground of others’ perceptions and half-understandings. Over and over again came the realisation that a message has only been communicated if it has been clearly received by the audience. Images and narratives that appeal to some do not appeal to others, likewise with the medium of choice-some prefer long-form writing, others the snappy

announcement. And communication provokes some of the strongest opinions. In this area more than in others, the need to practice ‘pulsing’ and ‘lensing’ between looking at the parts and the whole seems critical, along with ensuring that clear feedback opportunities are always present from every audience, giving the Centre for Imagination the opportunity to continually refine its message. More than any other factor, the quality of the personal relationships maintained in every direction appears to dictate the quality of collaboration in telling the story of the Centre for Imagination. At every step, ego must be set aside to make space for a more important story of innovation to be told.




The Future



The Future


ver the last four months, the collaborative process of researching and designing the Centre for Imagination has both enriched and brought clarity to its pedagogical purpose, programme, and to the space itself. Having developed a deeply rooted sense of identity and ethos, the Centre has a strong basis for its future, organic development beyond the Woodstock campus. Heading into 2017, three major streams of planning remain: for the school’s Festival of Ideas in May, for the launch of a Social Entrepreneurship youth conference in July, and the piecing together of a slate of visiting scholars and artists. The annual Festival of Ideas was launched three years ago, when the idea of the Centre for Imagination was first born, as the culminating event of each academic year and a way to test the concept of the Centre. In the first two years, the event included only students in the final two years of school, Grades 11 and 12. Last year, students in Grades 9 and 10 were added to the event. Throughout the month of May, students choose a ‘burning question’ to explore through an independent, interdisciplinary project. Each grade level has a slightly different frame for their project. For example, Grade 10 students are required to explore some question to do with the environment and sustainable living. The Grade 11 students must identify a problem and prepare a TED-style talk that proposes a solution. The Grade 12 students, who are in the final weeks of preparing to leave school and head to university, must identify one aspect of their life forward from Woodstock, examine it from a systems perspective, and then


Figure 4A: Looking east toward the Tehri Hills from Woodstock

articulate an ethical path forward in that arena--whether it involves eating, consumption, lifestyle, career, or even spirituality or nationality. The Festival of Ideas essentially celebrates all that the Centre for Imagination represents: selfdriven, interdisciplinary learning that heads in innovative directions and prepares young people to stand on their own, to understand their context. This year, for the first time, the Festival will be fully hosted and ‘owned’ by the Centre for Imagination. The goal is for this event to become a signature piece of the Woodstock education programme, one that can be shared and spread widely as an exemplar of what young people can accomplish when given intellectual freedom in combination with personalized guidance. In July of 2017, the Centre will also launch ASPIRE, a social entrepreneurship experience for young people. The school will welcome fifty young people from a variety of schools for a week of learning inspired by the Design for Change model of design thinking (Design for Change, 2016). Participants will learn how to use the design thinking process to understand the world around them, develop an innovative idea, and then bring that idea into being as a sustainable reality, all in the context of cultivating a global community of change makers. What will distinguish ASPIRE is its focus on experiential learning. Throughout the conference, participants will face challenges that require qualities of resilience, innovative thinking, compassion, an ability to question “the box”, and a commitment to harmony and collaboration--the very qualities that make an effective agent of social change. The

hope is that this will become an annual event that grows in depth, significance, and influence within India and beyond. For the year of 2017, a slate of visiting scholars, artists, and experts is still being developed, though some clear themes are emerging. Following the Talking Faith panel, the possibility exists of bringing three panelists back to start a podcast on spirituality in collaboration with students, perhaps even turning it into a book. In July/August, Richard Delacy, a Harvard professor of Hindi and Urdu, will tentatively join the school for a month, focusing his speaking and teaching during that time on the shifting South Asian identity, particularly as it relates to language. Immediately following his time, South African freedom fighter and judge, Albie Sachs, is also tentatively scheduled to come for a month or six weeks to teach and work with students on the theme of how national identity is constructed, particularly how Constitutions are framed. All three of these opportunities constitute a theme of identity construction which could be powerful for students and staff alike, enriching their learning and teaching experience at the school. In addition to this, nuclear physicist Varun Sheel, at work on India’s team of scientists preparing for a 2020 mission to Mars, will be joining the school for the month of May, to help with student interdisciplinary projects. As word about the Centre gets out, more people seem interested in coming for a few weeks. The challenge may become maintaining a sense of coherence about it all, and ensuring that students have meaningful opportunities to interact with and learn from CFI visitors. Establishing a clear theoretical foundation of the conditions for learning, the nature of the ecological imagination, and the process of change from an ecological, living systems perspective offers a way to transform the dominant, mechanistic paradigm of education within which many schools and educators still operate--from the inside. Having four, solid months of prototyping and collaborative design work on how to embody this theoretical foundation in practice offers a model to implement within the school and to share with other educational institutions and organisations. The next step will be to work on cultivating a network of likeminded institutions and individuals committed to a similar

direction of paradigm shift in education, so that growth and learning can be shared across and around the network, multiplying the impact of each lesson along the way. Ecological Design Thinking as an approach is only now finding clear definition and expression. Descriptors like “natural design” or “living systems thinking” have been passed around, along with Carnegie Mellon’s approach named “Transition Design”, aimed at leading towards a more carbonneutral, sustainable way of living. All of these represent critical efforts to find a different way forward in every realm of life. In every field, from economics to engineering, people are recognising that the mechanistic paradigm of extraction and consumption does not work. Global crises like rising temperatures and sea water, international and civil conflicts, along with unprecedented waves of human migration, are forcing a more rapid pace of change. We have no choice but to shift the paradigm within which we operate. Education is no exception to this broader trend. The research and design of the Centre for Imagination presents a way forward for educators, demonstrating the regenerative possibility of growing change from within a complex school system through inspiring the community and creating space for incubating innovative initiatives. If a new paradigm in harmony with the natural world is to emerge, every step towards the paradigm shift must be marked by an organic, ecological approach to the process of change, imagination, and learning. Meticulous five-year plans that lay out details of change from above cannot take into account the degree of complexity required for living systems. Where complex, living systems are involved, change must be grown and inspired from within, through creating the right conditions. This happens through the continual search for understanding, the continual mapping of factors in play, and the continual cultivation of healthy relationships of trust in all directions, in which all voices speak and are taken into account, and in which individual initiative, individual leadership, is honored. If we transform the paradigm of learning through applying organic principles of growth, we will equip a generation of young people to change their future and that of an imperiled planet.


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APPENDICES Appendix A Woodstock School Desired Learning Outcomes Members of the Woodstock community increasingly take initiative in developing the following skills, attitudes, and values: In developing a profound sense of self, Woodstock students: 1. Act with integrity. a. Persevere, with conviction and courage as sources of motivation. b. Acquire wisdom to make ethical decisions. 2. Possess creativity, curiosity, focus, passion, and a sense of vocation. 3. Remain open, teachable, humble, with an ability to follow when appropriate. 4. Pursue physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being through these practices: a. Celebrate achievement and remain resilient through failure. b. Maintain a reflective lifestyle that includes time for thought, reading or prayer. c. Manage complexity and practice self-discipline. 5. Gain an informed understanding of Christian beliefs and practices as they learn to think independently about religion and their own beliefs. In developing healthy interpersonal relationships, Woodstock students: 1. Learn collaboratively, working with diverse people in an effective team. 2. Identify with the hopes, dreams, and struggles of people around them. 3. Give and receive effective feedback.


4. Remain flexible and adaptable, able to absorb others’ ideas and able to live with ambiguity. 5. Bring out the best in others by leading with their own positive example. In equipping themselves to survive and thrive in the 21st century, Woodstock students: 1. Create intellectual capital through lifelong exploratory learning. 2. Think critically, actively applying their knowledge and analysing patterns to find solutions. 3. Practice and master methods of scientific inquiry and research 4. Communicate effectively to construct and support sophisticated arguments orally, in writing, and using creative forms of expression. 5. Utilize technological resources responsibly and with ease. In developing as citizens, Woodstock students: 1. Maintain a sense of personal responsibility for neighbours’ welfare. 2. Explore and appreciate regional and global cultures, languages, religions, and histories. 3. Remain comfortable in multiple environments because of their cross-cultural competency. 4. Possess and act on a strong sense of social justice and concern for those less privileged than themselves. 5. Understand and seek to preserve their natural environment as good stewards of the earth for future generations.

Appendix B Centre for Imagination Brochure


Page 1 and 2

Page 3, 4, 5 and 6 73

Page 7, 8, 9 and 10

Page 11, 12, 13, 14 and 15


Page 16, 17, 18 and 19

Page 20


Appendix C Fibi the Fern


nce upon a time, there was a boarding school NOT named after a hippie rock festival. This well-known school drew children from around the globe to the faraway Himalayan hill-station of Mussoorie. Life here sometimes took on the strange quality of a bubble, well-insulated from the troubles of the wider world. On the campus of this dream-like school and beside an old bungalow that faced the winterline, grew a large, old oak tree that had watched generations of schoolchildren pass underneath its arms. Like a ragged coat, its gnarly branches were covered with shaggy moss. Hiding in this moss lived a village of spores. Tightly curled in their casing, they were waiting for the right time to sprout. In April and May, the sun beat down mercilessly. Hotter than it had in previous years. Each year, the temperature crept higher. The heat had driven some of the spores off on the wind to the desert. The spores that remained in the village came together to consider their options. “Something needs to change. We can only handle so many crises before we collapse!”, the tall one said. “Remember May’s forest fires,” the skinny one continued, “Our skin shriveled up. And then we had to take in all those refugees from the pine trees over the ridge. It’s too much, I tell you!” From the edge of the moss, a little voice piped up, the voice of Fibi, “Hey now—that’s me you’re talking about! I’m the one who showed you guys how to roll over to get away from the sun.” A deeper voice grumbled from beside Fibi, “I feel like we just run from one test to the next. I’m stressed all the time and the scale of success keeps changing. What is it all for, anyway?” While they were still talking, as if out of nowhere, the monsoon mist of June swirled up and around and through the pine trees and oak trees, causing the tired seeds to give a little shiver of delight at the cool moisture. As the mist rolled in, sheets of rain followed, beating down on the thirsty seeds and rolling down to the ground. Mini rivers opened up, flowing through every crack they could find and bringing life in their wake. Miraculously, the more the rain came, the more the spores began to stretch out and sprout. Little Fibi, along with the other tired and anxious spores, felt a new force of life wake up inside. Some part of her that had been closed began to open, to unfurl. After the growth began, she just couldn’t be stopped! When she looked around, the whole village had come alive. For the first time, she could see her fellow villagers clearly. When the right conditions came, life had exploded and covered the whole oak tree. Who could have imagined how much growth was possible? All along, the spores had been carrying so much creative possibility waiting to be unfurled. Suddenly, Fibi understood what it was all for, this great exuberant life. She called to the other ferns in the oak tree village and together, they stretched their green arms as far and wide as they could, soaking in as much of the rain as they could handle. They understood now their place in the world—how much beauty and strength they had to offer. In this way, they filled themselves with the resources to survive the dry season


that would inevitably follow this life-giving monsoon. The sun and the fire would come again, but now Fibi and the other villagers had a reason to keep going. Their imaginations were full of possibility waiting to become real. Without beating this analogy to death, Woodstock is like that village of ferns waiting for the right conditions to grow. You may be tired and anxious as students, but you’re also full of possibilities. In other words, we believe you already face significant challenges. Many more challenges await you and will require great strength from you. But if we can create the right conditions here, with the right support, all of the life and ideas that are waiting to develop inside of you will come out and grow towards their potential. That experience of wild growing and creating is one of the ways that we really come to know who we are and what our place is in the world. The Centre for Imagination exists to provoke you, make your shell crack open, a little like a heavy monsoon rain, but also to nourish you and give you the opportunities you seek. This week’s theme is “Creative Outlets,” or the idea that we all need some space to be creative—whether that means painting, building, singing, writing, engineering, coding—the directions of creativity are infinite. I would argue (and so does Woodstock’s educational philosophy, by the way) that a creative outlet is not just a nice thing to have, not just a little thing on the side that enriches our lives. No. Creative outlets are the way that we find and express ourselves. The way we know ourselves. We have to have them to be fully human. Fibi the fern takes her name from the Fibonacci Sequence, a pattern that occurs throughout nature and beautifully brings together science, math and art. This sequence dictates the way that ferns open out—it makes the growing make sense. That’s the thing about creativity. It doesn’t belong to one subject or one age group or one gender or one kind of personality. It’s the force of life inside of us. That’s why you can see it in the logo of the Centre for Imagination. You can also see the lines of the mountains right here in Mussoorie, looking back from the chukkar. We have something new growing from the solid Himalayan mountains that have been here for millenia.

Appendix D The logo for The Centre for Imagination



“Imagination awakens the soul to possibility. Imagining together generates a new reality.� - Amy Seefeldt

(Director of the Centre for Imagination)



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