by Jo-Anne Kingstone, Head of School

There are three key questions I want to offer to you today for our collective consideration. These are the questions I return to time and again when I think about the purpose of our schools. But perhaps more importantly, the answers to these questions inform the basis of my beliefs about how we build transformational teaching and learning communities. 

So what are these guiding questions? 

The first is simple enough: What are our—parents, grandparents, family, friends, teachers, school leaders—What are our greatest hopes for our children?

The second is also simple enough: What do children—those young hearts and minds that fill our lives every day—What do children dream of becoming?

And, finally, perhaps the most important question of all, for us all:

What world must we create so these hopes and dreams can be realized?

Individually, we explore our own hopes and our children explore their own dreams. There are as many answers to the first two questions as there are people in schools. 

I want to focus my reflections today on this question, especially as it relates to the world of schools and education.

What world must we create so our hopes and our children’s dreams can be realized? 

In my thinking the answer is quite clear: 

We must dedicate ourselves to providing transformational teaching and learning  environments so young people can access their very best selves—in every sense: intellectually, socially, emotionally, physically, spiritually—in order to transform their world. 

When I speak of transformational teaching and learning, I do not mean a specific program or a bright shiny object of educational philosophy or methodology. 

Transformational teaching and learning means the very basic process, for teachers and learners (and we are all the same in this—we are both) of thinking, knowing, experiencing, believing one thing and then, through discovery, reflection and action, combining those with new thinking, new learning, new experiences, new beliefs to create something greater, something that transforms the self and the environment in which we are living and learning. 

What does a teaching and learning environment look like that creates the opportunity for transformation? I have a list of essential ingredients to share with you.

All good teaching and learning communities begin with relationships—which includes providing the opportunities for relationships between and among students, students of all ages, stages, shapes and sizes; students from different spaces and places; students with varied beliefs and experiences. From these relationships we learn empathy—the ability to understand and share the feelings of another

Empathy is the basis upon which schools create transformational learning. 

Meaningful, positive relationships with adults of character are integral in schools—especially as these relationships model passion and dedication. When young people share and participate in the passions of their teachers—whether that be chemistry, environmental stewardship, World War II history, music, art, card games or ultimate frisbee—they learn what it is to identify their own passions, and thus identify their own dreams. They also learn what it means to be dedicated to a passion such that you can see your dreams take shape.

Creating a world where young people learn their passions and develop a sense of dedication alongside mentor-teachers provides transformational learning.  

One of the most profound indicators of happiness at school is a sense of belonging and connectedness. And from this happiness comes the capacity for success. It doesn’t actually happen in the reverse. The research is categorical on this point: it is not the case that we are successful and then we are happy. When we are happy, we build our capacity for success. Schools that create a world of belonging and connectedness are also creating a world where hopes and dreams can be realized. 

Intellectual curiosity, supported by structures and patterns for learning, is another essential ingredient for a transformational teaching and learning environment. Of course, we know the classroom is not limited to the traditional four walls of our own childhood schools—and neither is curiosity. Open spaces and open mindedness foster our intellectual capacities—the very practice of looking at something from another perspective helps build our intellectual curiosity. And we do not do this alone. Intellectual curiosity goes hand in hand with collaboration—shared exploration and discovery.

Transformational learning does not happen in lanes, it does not happen when we over focus on one thing at the loss of others. Transformational learning is deep and broad. That means we need to build our capacity, the capacity of our schools and our children, to embrace a variety of subjects and topics and interests. Providing teaching and learning that includes creativity is another essential ingredient. 

Transformational learning finds its voice through confidence. And I would argue that providing an environment that honours, respects and fosters individual and collective confidence is one of the most important of our essential ingredients. 

The ultimate ingredient for a transformational teaching and learning environment is independencewhen young hearts and minds feel the confidence of independence, they are well on their way to recognizing and realizing their dreams. We give this to young people by including them in their learning, honouring their questions, providing them with the materials they need to explore, and guiding them so that they recognize the role they play in their world. 

To summarize, a world that provides the greatest opportunity for transformational teaching and learning includes opportunities to create, develop and express:

  • Empathy
  • Passion
  • Dedication
  • Belonging
  • Connectedness
  • Intellectual curiosity
  • Collaboration
  • Creativity
  • Confidence
  • Independence

Transformational learning is meant for the world—not for the classroom. If we can create a world in schools, in learning, that helps young people realize their dreams, then they will certainly be well-prepared to transform our world. 

— Jo-Anne Kingstone