Transformational Learning and Leadership
Chapter: The Spirit of Transformational Learning & Leadership

Education For Self-Determination: Why Do Our Students Need a Fundamentally Different Paradigm of Education?

Let’s begin with a simple graph.


If the bottom red line represents the current probable reality for a child in one our partners’ classrooms, and the exponential green line represents what we want to happen… What is the y-axis? How would YOU label the y-axis and why? Bonus if you do it with a teammate, student, or parent independently first and then share and discuss your responses.

Here are some responses we’ve heard from colleagues in this work:

I invite you to think of a student during this exercise.


Take a look at this graph. I’ll use this y-axis here: the probability of enjoying a broad range of opportunities and choices in education, employment, and life.

You may suggest other variations. That’s good.

graph two lines

Here, we see two lines.

One where some children are statistically born to a broad array of choices and opportunities. And one where children are born to limited opportunities and choices.

Why do these two lines exist in the same place?  What systemic inequities perpetuate them? What makes both the yellow line and the red magnetic in your context? What do the adults and institutions around each one expect of children on both lines?two schools

And we can draw another line.


The exponential green line asks: “Why do some children’s futures change?”

A premise of our network is that it’s possible to overpower the predictive power of the demographic statistics of the red line. We seek to ensure that the red line is not destiny, but that our students’ futures include broad opportunities and choices in life. This idea is over-simply represented by the green line here.

Far too simply, who is represented by the green line? What and who are the factors and people that contributed to their success? The red line? We know these lines are rarely straight; what happened when/if children on both the green and the red lines fall off and how did they “get back on” the line?

We’ve found that this graph exercise can be a helpful way to organize our work. Consider, at the top right-hand corner of that graph, there are a whole bunch of questions about the ultimate aims for children. When children pursue that green line, what vision of student success are we ultimately aspiring for? Who decides that and how?

Question #1: Collective, Contextualized  Student Vision

graph - training-support

What vision of students’ opportunities, choices, and quality of life do we aspire to with and for our students, parents, communities, and other key stakeholders? Who decides? How? What are our ultimate aims with and for children and how (and how often) are we involving others in the ongoing conversation to decide and evolve that? We’ll talk more about this in the next chapter.

Question #2: Transformational Learning & Leadership

What happens in a classroom that generates the inflection point represented by this graph?  What can teachers and students and families do NOW that will result in an enduring path of growth toward broader opportunities five years or ten years or fifteen years from now toward a cgraph - training-supportontextualized vision?

There’s a third set of questions that surround the upward sloping green line. The work to disrupt the systemic injustices that are designed to preserve the yellow and red lines — and make the green line really, really hard to accomplish and sustain. This is our alumni work. Watch several alumni across the network pursuing transformational change with children and communities. Click here to learn about Collective Action in the alumni space.

We Need a Different Purpose of Education

Historically, the purpose of education has been to preserve social divisions rather than disrupt them. We are all products and part of those systems. And wee need to be working toward a different purpose. As a network, we’re united in our commitment to an alternate future for students in our local contexts—a future in which their education unleashes their leadership so that they might pursue an array of opportunities and choices in life and contribute to a peaceful, equitable, and sustainable world. This fundamentally different purpose of education demands a different orientation to the work than the way that education systems are currently designed. We have no playbook to pursue this different paradigm, but we do have transformational classrooms across the network that can serve as a guide and launching off point. And we can learn from them and learn from each other’s engagement, meaning-making, and efforts.

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