Development, Responsibility, and Next-Stage Evolution in the Educational System: Part 2

By Jean-Paul Munsch for Enlivening Edge Magazine

Part 1 of this article described my personal search for the kind of school system I envisioned but couldn’t put into words, and gave the reader a background understanding of the stages of evolution of school systems. This Part 2 describes how I apply my Teal-based model in helping schools move as organizations into the Teal stage.

The first step to become a next-stage/Teal school is to start with the evolutionary purpose. This is the core. The basic questions for school personnel to discover and carve out the evolutionary purpose can be: What do I really wish for myself? What do I deeply wish for others? And finally, what is – according to our deepest potential – the evolutionary purpose of our school and our contribution to the world? This links the individual and the broader perspectives, and at the same time heads and teachers take responsibility for this evolutionary step and for what they want to give to the world.

I was sitting in a gymnasium working with 150 teachers, and during discussions raised by these questions, the whole atmosphere changed.

A vibrant and pulsing energy was noticeable which was greater than the intelligence and the power of any individual. This showed that the process of co-creation was active, connecting the individuals to each other and to the world outside.

Here are some examples of school purposes that have emerged recently:

JPM 2-1The evolutionary purpose of our school is …

  • to build a frame in which learning and living together is best possible.
  • to help students fulfill their dreams.
  • to enable everyone to take responsibility.

Even if teachers are not used to reflecting on these questions, it is crucial to pose them, and thus to discover that only by posing these questions does the “system” of a school open up.

JPM2-2In my work in schools I can see that “taking responsibility” is emerging more and more as an important focus and an evolutionary purpose. “Taking responsibility” includes anybody. “Taking responsibility” means being personally responsible for your actions, for your thoughts and feelings. “There is nobody else to blame for what I am doing.”

This leads me to the next step; taking responsibility means that everyone in the school system (and I’m referring e.g. to public schools in Switzerland) has to reflect his or her own responsibility. Some good questions guiding this process can be:

  • What can the teachers, students take responsibility of/for?
  • What guidance do they need in order to take responsibility?
  • Do we as guiders enable people to take responsibility, or do we block energy, with the sort of guidance we are choosing and using?

Or in other words: I perceive a systemic need going on to shift role-linked authority to personal responsibility in order for people to learn together – and to handle heterogeneity and other issues burdening schools in a more human and constructive way.

This is key to breathing life into an evolutionary purpose. If we take responsibility, then instead of the responsibility becoming just a task, something magical happens. Energy is set free for constructive work, energy which was lost in resisting others, complaining about and fighting against circumstances.

As much responsibility as possible has to be given by the authorities to the headmasters, who then pass that on as much as possible to the teachers, and they in turn to the students.

(As we are not living in paradise there are always some limiting factors such as regulations and formalities.)

More important is the fact that leading and enabling this process of taking responsibility releases a dynamic from which the whole system can learn and refuel. And from my vast experience most people are willing to take responsibility when it is given to them.

The head or the headmaster is the key player in this organizational/structural systemic transformation process. Their authority and some of their leadership competencies are especially needed at the beginning, to show how responsibility, roles, and decisions are created and shaped. They are the ones who can hand over responsibility to build structures and processes that enable the teachers in professional learning communities to work on fulfilling the purpose.

Structures to build are:

  • Structures that contain the process and commit the teachers to present the results of their projects and their work which they have put into practice in the classrooms.
  • Structures that create an environment in which peer feedback and learning from each other can grow.

A clear concept of teacher cooperation breaks up the paradigm of individual isolation and individualism, a situation in which the teachers are stuck in fear, insecurity, guilt, and perfectionism.[i]

It is my job as a consultant to design in detail the paradigm shift and the path of transformation in dialogue with all involved parties. Which elements are needed? What would be a good rhythm of the new organism to live with, to grow, to evolve? How can we lead this process in a constructive way? Which guidelines should be compulsory? The yardstick for intervention is: With the guidelines do we kill energy and trigger resistance or do we activate energy and help the system to feel as safe as possible in a new setting?

Enabling transformation towards evolutionary purpose-focused schools with self-managing teams and a new decision-making process requires dialogic work. In a horizontal dimension, it means to integrate the individual into a group of professionals such as teachers, headmasters, members of authority-systems, and so on. And in a vertical dimension, it means to integrate all perspectives, the different perspectives and needs over various levels of hierarchies to find an integral shape for the system.

JPM2-3For the next step the head also plays a crucial role: the decision-making process, in particular, the advice process. Dennis Bakke made it radically clear how this works: Everybody can make decisions; everybody must seek advice before making decisions. Every decision must be guided by principles and values and in alignment with the evolutionary purpose.[ii]

How do principles and values come into work? In this regard, Frederic Laloux gave us precious food for thought and dialogue. Here are some examples from the list I use to challenge and discuss assumptions and belief systems:

  • “We view the organization as having a soul and purpose of its own.
  • It’s impossible to change other people. We can only change ourselves.
  • We take ownership for our thoughts, beliefs, words, and actions.
  • We don’t spread rumors. We don’t talk behind someone’s back.
  • We resolve disagreements one-on-one and don’t drag other people 
into the problem.
  • We don’t blame problems on others. When we feel like blaming, we 
take it as an invitation to reflect on how we might be part of the problem (and the solution).“[iii]

And it is the task of the leader and the manager of the process – this will be the headmaster in some cases and will in other cases be the consultant in co-creation with the headmaster – to create a safe environment in which people can exchange their basic assumptions, challenge their beliefs and views on topics like learning, teaching, leading, etc. Do I see myself as a learner who is on his way? Do we see problems as an invitation to learn? Are we willing to confront each other respectfully? Do we know how to deal with conflicts?

It is about living the newly-discovered and affirmed values in everyday life, to explore them in a dialogic manner, to develop them further and deal with them. And to add another aspect to this essential point: If teachers want to act respectfully toward each other and toward students, it can be very helpful to have regular feedback from the students. Studies show that even in progressive education, the amount of destructive and hurtful words is high, up to 25% of all interactions. It is a lot about awareness of the impact teachers have on students’ learning.[iv]

Although teachers are, in general, not used to working in this process-oriented way, they learn very quickly and appreciate the time they get to work and learn together. They gain experience in an evolving learning process amongst professionals.

What happens is that behind their uncertainty they discover their uniqueness, their self-empowerment, and their possibilities to shape their school.

So I can bring it down to this: Do we help and lead people to take responsibility or do we want people who obediently execute orders? It is simpler, much more fun and beautiful when the evolutionary purpose of the school is “taking responsibility,” and every activity in the system is in alignment with the purpose. What a joy to see what professionals can and will create and innovate when we let them do it. Take heart! Find out! Have fun!

What I tried to present in this article is a model of school evolution that can be applied in different contexts, in different school types, and with people in charge who can have very different backgrounds. At the end of the day it is mostly about how we manage to be in dialogue with others. I invite all of you to contribute with your own experiences and I’m curious to learn more about what others are doing in this sector to enable unfolding the best of our human potential.


[i] Cf. Andy Hargreaves & Michael Fullan: Professional Capital. Transforming Teaching in Every School. Teachers College. New York, p. 106ff.

[ii] cf. Dennis Bakke: Joy at Work. A Revolutionary Approach to Fun on the Job. PVG: Seattle 2005, 97ff.

[iii] Frederic Laloux: Reinventing Organizations. Nelson Parker: Brüssels, 2014, 232.

[iv] Cf. the latest works of Annedore Prengel e.g. Pädagogische Beziehungen zwischen Anerkennung, Verletzung und Ambivalenz. Opladen: Budrich 2013, or of Robert Pianta e.g. Children cannot be successful in the classroom unless they are successful in relationships – Analysen und Interventionen zur Verbesserung von Lehrer-Schüler-Beziehungen.” In: Annedore Prengel & Ursula Winklhofer (ed.): Kinderrechte in Pädagogischen Beziehungen. Vol. 2: Forschungszugänge. Opladen: Budrich 2014, and of course the groundbreaking works of John Hattie c.f. Visible Learning: A Synthesis of Over 800 Meta-Analyses Relating to Achievement. NY: Routledge 2008.

JPMbioDr. 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]

Featured Image by Sasin Tipchai from Pixabay