Development, Responsibility, and Next-stage Evolution in the Educational System: Part 1

by Jean-Paul Munsch for Enlivening Edge

Twenty-five years ago i started to teach in a secondary school. I loved the contact with my students — and I suffered from loneliness, from being isolated and alone. Where could I go with my questions? To colleagues who have their classes “under control”? Isn’t teaching also about relationships and handling conflicts? I began searching for answers and I knew I wanted to change teaching. Such a precious profession and such unfavourable conditions!

I studied at the university; I became headmaster of different schools; I taught at the university and at different pedagogical institutes — and I was still looking for a model that would catch my view of the essence of school and teaching. I was not able to say clearly how “my school” should look, but I was searching. I learned a lot; I tested a lot. And I was still suffering.

When I was writing my doctoral thesis I stumbled onto the works of the Danish family therapist Jesper Juul. I was reading his books and following his teachings; his philosophy is the foundation for me of what is emerging now:

  • the emphasis on the possibility to meet and respect the other person as a whole person, to express oneself as a whole person without fear of blame,
  • the importance of the quality of relationships, and
  • the responsibility adults have for this quality — even if and especially when children are not behaving as we expect! (cf. e.g. Jesper Juul: Here I am! Who are you?)

In 2014 when Frederic Laloux’s book Reinventing Organizations came out it was immediately clear to me what the potential is for schools.

For many years I couldn’t clearly say what I was looking for, but now I can see in his description of Teal breakthroughs, what I developed in my own way for schools, and I can say that the “Teal” paradigm is the head, the heart, and the soul of what I believe school and teaching are about.

Below are my reflections on the understandings I have evolved in my work changing schools, and how these understandings relate to shifting toward having more Teal schools available to our students.

The mass public school educational system is one of the key systems in our modern society. Its development historically was very fast, and was coupled to the logic of the mechanistic paradigm of industrialisation. On the flipside of mass literacy and other public school systems’ achievements, the disadvantages became visible: mistrustful administrators, overworked headmasters, frustrated teachers, bored pupils. and rebellious parents.

The mechanistic paradigm is also linked to hierarchy-thinking about the nature of success. The potential, the creativity, and the richness of being human is being threatened by pressing more and more out of everyone, often leaving just the rational part. The pressure is passed down to the next lower level until we reach the bottom, where children are pushed to achieve standards and meet requirements.

A general problem on every level of the system is blocked energy. From the bottom with the healthy (and yet sometimes not very constructive) reactions of students, to the resistance of teachers against new programs and the next round of reforms, to the upcoming headwind from parents who raise uncomfortable questions.

Taking all of this into account, some of the key issues are: How can we overcome these energy blocks in the educational system? How can we make the next leap in school development? How can we create and develop a collaborative system where everyone belongs together? How can we develop an integral perspective for the system? And, last but not least, the question arises: Can we envision more soulful, more authentic, more productive ways of being and working together?

Before I answer these questions the following overview of the main stages of development makes more understandable where and why we are standing where we stand now.

Here is my brief summary of stages of development according to the Integral model, which I have adapted to describe school systems:

Blue/Amber Schools

Blue/Amber schools are the main type of schools found in our world today. Blue/Amber schools follow the paradigm of public administration, like defined roles and functions in a clear hierarchy.

The structures of modern teaching – the so-called grammar of schooling – were established in the 19th and early 20th century: age-group classes, lessons (with breaks), and classrooms.[i]

One teacher standing in front of a group of students who are sitting in rows is what Michel Foucault called the “organisation of a serial space” and “was one of the technical mutations of elementary education. It made it possible to supersede the traditional system (a pupil working for a few minutes with the master, [ii] while the rest of the heterogeneous group remained idle and unattended).” This sounds completely normal to most of us today; it was a revolutionary step in school development in the 19th century!

Mass literacy became possible, and in this stage of school systems, the role of the teacher is teaching and controlling a group of students in a classroom. There is one teacher standing most of the time on a platform in front of students sitting in rows where they can write and read. Timetables, classrooms, schoolbooks, plus a decent salary and a formal education for teachers were established everywhere, starting in the 19th century. Going to school became obligatory, legally required. The public school system was born. Kids are not allowed to play or work; they have to learn in school what the curriculum and the teacher say. The teacher is an administrator and is part of the administration.

Orange Schools

In times of evaluating schools on an international and large scale level (e.g. TIMMS [Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study] or PISA [Program for International Student Assessment][iii] the Orange paradigm of schools appeared more strongly than before, in the educational system. What happened?

In many countries, politicians began to ask about the efficiency of the educational system: A lot of money is spent for the educational system, but are the outcomes worth the efforts? What do kids really learn in school? Do they learn the right things?

In different studies – testing the performance of students after graduating – critical things came out: quite a considerable number of students are leaving school as functional illiterates, and last but not least, some countries are doing better than others.

Thus, accountability becomes one of the big issues and breakthroughs of the newly-strong/prevalent Orange paradigm.

Competition is born in the public school sector. The idea of an individual school as the motor of innovation spreads. When this motor is stuttering, schools can even fail, and the school has to be shut down.

The curriculum isn’t at the center of the school paradigm anymore; goals and student outcomes become of central relevance in the Orange paradigm. Schools are run by managers; marketing departments “sell” the school, and students are “customers.”

This shift happened within a relatively short period of time at the end of the last century as the interest in school and student performance and on empirical data rose. Research and educational science strengthened the focus on the educational system and on a more scientific approach to schools. At the same time more and more schools became data-driven and focused only on performance.

Green Schools

Most privately-run schools follow the Green paradigm. What are the ingredients of this next step in development? And when did it show up?

To a certain degree pedagogy in itself – and the idea(l)s of teachers and educators – has always been Green, in terms of being value-driven. (Very few teachers choose the job because it is close from their home and because it is possible to work part-time and become wealthy.) As the Greening began, great philosophers and pedagogues, such as Dewey, Frenet, Montessori, Pestalozzi, and many others, showed ways of understanding teaching as empowerment, as believing in the abilities and motivation of children to learn and to become mature citizens. Especially the younger teachers in this Green paradigm are filled with pedagogical ideas and ideals.

JPM1-1What happens now? Teal Schools

Our understanding of learning and teaching is evolving and adapting to a society with increased complexity and more-rapid changes. Young adults need to be creative, to know how to work in teams, to take responsibility for our earth, and more. This is not possible with traditional understanding of classroom teaching, and even Green schools cannot prepare students adequately for these needs on a large scale. The role of the teacher shifts in Teal schools from being the holder of knowledge to a facilitator of individual learning processes in a supporting community of peers and adults.

All over the world, schools are starting to transform. However, whilst a lot of time is spent on questions of learner-centred settings, the questions concerning schools on an organizational, structural level receive little focus. An examination of Teal school organizations/structures would provide this focus.


Part 2 of this article  provides some insights into my work with schools as a consultant. I develop and implement my model in schools on an organisational level. The applied model takes evolutionary purpose, responsibility, and the development of values strongly into account. First findings show that, using this model, schools can be very successful in overcoming blocked energy and moving into their next stage of development.


[i] Cf. David Tyack & William Tobin: The “Grammar” of Schooling: Why Has it Been so Hard to Change? in: American Educational Research Journal September 21, 1994, 31: 453-479

[ii] Michel Foucault: Discipline and Punish. New York: Random House 1979, p. 147





Dr. Jean-Paul Munsch (Zurich, Switzerland,) is a lecturer, consultant, and philosopher who has developed a model for schools going Teal and helps them to implement it. Contact: / [email protected]