What is Transformational Education

There are many theories in education that may dictate adherence to one ideology or another, but the key to transformation lies far from definition. Authentic learning and leading are closer to the chaos of wonder than encyclopedic knowledge. However, if sought with perseverance, that chaotic beginning can reveal answers that emerge from authentic experience of one’s own creative process. When that can be passed on, it causes not only a change in perspective, but also a change of heart that triggers real transformation in any community.

The concepts of learning and leadership both have their roots in understanding creativity in relationship. place and shape we give creativity in education provides the human infrastructure for transformation. ‘Creativity’ has implications that reach far beyond novel approaches to subject-matter, scheduling or space allocation. The drive to create is a basic human drive. The Chinese depict the symbol for “create” using the four directions, the earth, a human figure, movement and breath. Creativity encompasses the entire person and his or her world.

Stephen G. Gilligan asserts that we learn 70% of what we’ll ever know by the time we are three years old. During that time we develop our most sweeping and comprehensive attitudes about people and the world, from a child’s understanding of physics to a well-developed sense of fairness. Gilligan clarifies how the single most important lesson we can learn is how to respond to set-backs. This is the key to whether we will spend our life in reactivity or generativity. Simply put, our movement through the cycle of ‘walk’ to ‘talk’ to ‘fall’ needs to be met with positive expressions of empathy and encouragement. Once the proactive process has repeatedly been implemented, the doors to creativity open much more easily.

In psychology, Dr. Elizabeth Kuebler-Ross defined the steps of the reactive process of the human response to death, loss and change. This is defined as the grief process. In the same way, theorists in education have identified elements of learning and human perception that allow us to define the proactive process of curiosity, choice and growth. When experienced as the counterpart to the reactive process, some basic principles of transformational learning can be described, defined and communicated.

When considering the movement from being confounded to accomplishing a goal in education, it is good to keep in mind that creativity allows the essence of the subject to engage the curiosity of the participant. There is no prescription that will serve to engage everyone in every process, but the human creative process is already functioning and if we inhabit it together we will be more likely to find the common ground of transformative experience. We may choose to design specific processes or conduct educational events, but the creative process can be thought of as a proactive approach that provides access to engagement with the essence of the search. At the moment we engage we are no longer controlling transformation but experiencing it in community as a result of authentic engagement in the common proactive process

Howard Gardner defined 7 “intelligences” that expanded to 12, Elliott Eisner outlined 5 reasons for doing education, Grant Wiggins developed ongoing assessment, Parker Palmer reminds us of paradoxes of understanding, Stephen G. Gilligan provides a narrative basis for transformation at any age, Sophia Cavaletti, along with Maria Montessori, outlined important elements as a basis for designing creative teaching methods. Dorothy Rich, was able, through her research, to define 13 principles of education. Researchers at USC at Irvine have discovered as many as 14 senses that humans have been proved to possess, in addition to the five we normally recognize. The first step is to integrate all the newest information about children and learning. Once we have allowed new information to appropriately affect our ideas, we can get on with ‘changing our minds’ and transformation has begun.

We have benefitted greatly from the learning of others, but when it comes down to local decisions about education, theory can only outline the processes that will serve us best. Experience based on anything other than abilities of participants and the media most appropriate to the essence of the issue at hand, will not succeed. The outline of the following process was defined by educator, Maria Harris. It was her response and counterpoint to the definition of the grief process. Many approaches were researched over years by artists and other creative members of communities in consultation with transformative leaders in education, Parker Palmer and Marianne Novak-Houston.

Contemplation: The invitation to consider a specific subject matter does not come until the creative process is already underway. A memory recalled or question easily answered can begin the process of creating safety, overcoming any deep-seated responses in the amygdala. “What do you know that no one taught you?” represents the best kind of invitation to join a process. Questions designed to reveal adept responses, such as “What do you see that no one showed you?”, or “Where do you belong that no one put you?” recovers participants’ sense of self-confidence within the setting provided.

Engagement: The second step is to present the subject matter through using a variety of media that will engage the senses. This serves to engage each participant on many reinforcing levels, rather than through the signs and symbols of language that replace or represent experience. A pre-language approach is valid at all levels, since there are few words that can express what one has yet to experience.

Focus: Combining two media encourages learning about an element in terms of Gardner’s “intelligences”. When carefully chosen concepts are experienced through sensory media, teachers can be encouraged to represent the essence of the subject in question using sound, movement, graphics, sculpture, and other simple media to show a relationship of one element in terms of another. This facilitates connections between subjects and participants, triggering breakthroughs in lateral thinking through processes driven by the limbic system.

Emergence: The experiential process can be examined through questioning, allowing language to emerge in regard to the subject. If specific learning is mis-characterized, repressed or resisted, it may appear in small “emergencies” along the route to transformation. Taking time to assess the process by asking questions of description and definition can allow what is observed and experienced to emerge naturally, without critical feedback. If learning is accepted in terms of ongoing change, language can aid in appropriate assessment, reworking and reassessment. We must pay specific attention to what is discovered, helping each other to regard new understanding in relationship to the whole and aiding in developing ways of communicating what is experienced.

Release: The process comes to a close when participants have integrated learning in a way that has meaning, is valuable and has validity. This is the beginning of transformational education.