Thursday, April 18, 2013

What Does Your Ideal School Look Like?

From the archives- 2010

“Según como sea la escuela, así será la nación entera”
-Gabriela Mistral
 The school of today is the nation of tomorrow.

“All relationships are mirrors to ourselves”
-Deepak Chopra

When we dream of an ideal present or future we allow our whole being to participate in the process.  We hardly over intellectualize our yearnings and stay connected to our feelings.  At the core of our being, we know that what makes us feel joyful is what we most desire and likewise; what we most desire is an interactive guide to discovering our innermost dreams, the source of our passion, our motive for existing.   If as educators we are passionate and joyful, we foster this quest in others by reaching and evolving students on all four planes of existence-mental, physical, emotional and spiritual. 
If indeed we accomplish to fervently exist, most likely, we strive to:  maintain our trust in the process of life, exude health, exist blissfully, are of service to others and create as abundantly and sustainably as our needs require.  Once again, a way of living we wish to promote as committed Global Educators and Unswerving Planetary Citizens.
Abraham Maslow understood this concept well.  Maslow argued that there were four different levels humans fulfilled before being able to reach Self-Actualization.  It is at the Self-Actualization level that individuals have a continuous desire to fulfill potentials.
 Before reaching the Self-Actualization level, individuals are required to fulfill their physiological needs, their wants for safety and security, their requirements for love and belonging, and their wishes for esteem.  In other words, before being able to live their dreams, individuals need to have their four levels of existence in balance. 
Maslow concluded that asking people for their “philosophy of the future” that is, what their ideal life or world would be like, could reveal significant information as to what needs have been fulfilled, and which need to be covered.  He referenced this state of equilibrium as a homeostatic principle.  In other words, when certain needs require fulfillment, they invariably show up.  Usually as cravings, longings and perhaps struggles.
Similarly, Chilean poet Gabriela Mistral prophetically concluded that the schools of today are a reflection of the nation of tomorrow.  At first, the obviousness of the statement overshadows the vastness of its power.  Following Mistral’s prompt we are guided to observe daily school routines compassionately.  We no longer feel the need to react to and judge the reality before us, but more likely are called to learn from it and begin to change it.  
Furthermore, we discover how in unison Maslow’s homeostatic principle and Mistral’s insight are a powerful formula for transformation.  The school of today becomes the sight of unlimited potential.  Better put, we no longer face reality, but begin to be the architects of our own veracity. 
To such an extent we come to realize how our contemporary school life’s beliefs have not caught up with its aspirations.   Educational Institutions, for the most part, have fulfilled the objectives they were created for.  Delving a little deeper takes us back to the 1800’s.  For the most part, Americans were focused on fulfilling their basic needs for food, water, housing, safety and survival. A brief review of American History takes us to a time when the creation of a stable society was underway, but by no means established.  Thus, the schooling echoed the mindset of the time and was created with the needs, fears and expectations of the time needed to tackle levels I and II of Maslow’s hierarchy.
Two hundred years later our Physiological needs and wants for Safety and Security as a Developed Society, for the most part, have been met, and although, schools have also evolved significantly, they have only done so horizontally.  Schools have remained at the second level of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs furthering a system based on circumstances that have long been resolved.  This results in a saturated competitive and comparative system that is only able to contemplate results, putting a strain on mental and physical capabilities, while ignoring emotional and spiritual competencies.  Streamlined goals based on who, where and what we are today need to be envisioned to successfully achieve our needs for Love and Belonging and Self Esteem.
A symbolic confirmation of our furthering outdated goals is that neither the classroom layout nor the furniture has evolved significantly in the last 20 decades, however, we have added Smart Boards, computers and very different learners.  As a consequence, the dynamics that occur in the classroom have not graduated into the Need for Love and Belonging level and invariably flaunt a noticeable imbalance.
In other words, the amount of information taught, the pedagogy and the expectations have grown tremendously; yet, in the classroom, students and teachers have not incorporated their emotions and their souls in the learning experience. Students are expected to sit passively in chairs that are highly uncomfortable while performing an adult like schedule workload during the day and teachers are expected to foster student success and motivation in a fast-paced, instant-gratification, results oriented milieu.
In addition, students are expected to behave well, but are rarely taught how to monitor, control and manage their emotions and are not shown much tolerance, compassion or patience when unable to comply with the environmental rigidness.    Whilst, instructors are the target of students’ insecurities, rebelliousness and frustrations, due largely to the classroom layout, which centralizes the learning in one place and allows for no free and spontaneous interactions; but rather encourages controlled learning.
Both students and teachers are addressed as only their minds and are rewarded only for their results.  Notwithstanding, students and teachers more often than not, feel restless, frustrated and exhausted.  Thus, schooling lacks the peacefulness, mindfulness and joyfulness that stems from enjoying a sense of safety and security, from a trust in our needs being taken care of and from a sense of being at the right place at the right time. Instead we keep fostering the, lack, fear and instability prevalent in the 1800’s.  Until we change these outmoded thinking patterns, we will continue to create crisis of lack, fear and instability as a society.
Subsequently, the nation of tomorrow depends on the working relationship of students and educators of today.  As a team, they are harbingers of new messages and insight meant to bring positive change.  If not allowed to nurture their own creativity, intuition and intricate connection to the world, these messages will not emerge but will remain buried by the current that emphasizes lack, fear and distrust. The students and educators of today are highly evolved creatures, capable of great feats, still unimaginable and undeclared to us.  However, it is important that their evolution as complete human beings be considered so that learning is embedded with respect, love, patience, compassion and assurance in every interaction.  Making it easy, thereafter to reach Self-Actualization.
So, I urge you to envision what your ideal school looks like to develop your philosophy of the future and invite your students to do it as well, if it feels right.  Imagine every single detail, color, smell, taste, activity, etc.  Do away with anything that you find obsolete and create what is missing. There are no restrictions.  Do not over-intellectualize your yearnings and stay connected to your feelings.  The more details you add, the clearer an understanding you will have of what it is you need to heal in your environment.  Keep this picture alive in your mind, heart, soul and body.  Allow the emotions and visions it conjures to permeate your daily life.  Sooner than later, change will seep into your life/classroom and your reality will begin shifting.  Believe that everything is happening at the right place, at the right time.
 Lastly, cultivate your patience.  We have been programmed to pursue quick results and more often than not we chase instant gratification, only to find the void we are seeking to fill has not been appeased.  We tend to place little value on the process, failing to notice that customarily, that is where most of our learning takes place and where most of our rewards lie latent.  Therefore, trusting that everything is occurring in the perfect space/time sequence eases us away from stress allowing us to live more fully in the present.  Accordingly, we gain a deeper awareness of how we exist emotionally, spiritually, mentally and physically and ease our way into the next level.


  1. Lisa, this is one of the most beautiful and powerful pieces that I have read all year. I so appreciate your connections here to educational history and educational philosophy - and making them real and tangible and practical. More than anything, I love your connection to educational future. That we must envision the nation in which we want to live and design schools that will help us realize that noble vision. It reminds me of King's beloved community. Our schools could more systemically help us get there, if only we could come together to work that design and implementation.

  2. Thanks Bo! Coming from you it is such an honor. You are so passionate and caring about all you take on. Yet, you are a gentle and noble presence. I could not believe you actually would wake up at 3:33 am!! (I hope you are sleeping more now) Step by step we are getting there. As I wrote in Chris Thinnes blog, the old school tower is crumbling and there is no turning back, it is just a matter of time.
    I have visualized what my ideal school looks like, and what I need as an Educator to really feel a sense of belonging and have my self esteem flourish without too many outsiders approval. I will implement a radically different approach to language learning next year. It is a huge step outside my comfort zone, but I am ready to break the pattern. Insanity is defined as doing things over and over in the same way and expecting a different result. I am going to change things up. More importantly, I am going to have fun and pursue my passion while nourishing, giving light and freedom to the children who will lead tomorrow.

  3. Lovely. I so appreciate this part in particular:

    "Therefore, trusting that everything is occurring in the perfect space/time sequence eases us away from stress allowing us to live more fully in the present."

    You've done a beautiful job in connecting the intellectual and the visceral. Brava!

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