Doing School Differently


Back to school. A different proposition in this first year of pandemic adjustments. Wearing masks. Different protocols for routines such as recess and lunch. Or maybe learning at home instead.

However it happens, there is general agreement that education is important. And most of us accept that the way we do education is the way it should be done. But not everyone agrees. Sir Ken Robinson, for one.

Today’s post is another in my series about imaginal cells—new ways of thinking that are waiting to become the full-blown systems of a more beautiful future. So far, I’ve introduced a revisioning of economics by Dr. Kate Raworth, whose model of doughnut economics ensures sufficiency for all without exceeding the limits of what the earth can provide. And then I brought you the story of how a huge international company transformed itself by changing the mindset of its leaders.

Back to Ken Robinson…

A New York Times bestselling author, Sir Ken Robinson is recognized as one of the world’s leading thinkers on creativity and innovation. Critical of the contemporary educational system that educates students to become good workers rather than creative thinkers, he advocated instead for a personal approach, one that treats kids as unique individuals with a diversity of talents.

He led national and international projects on creative and cultural education and, in 2003, was knighted for his contribution. His 2006 TED talk, Do Schools Kill Creativity?, has been  viewed more than 67 million times.

Ken Robinson challenges the premises and practices of today’s public education, a system that was developed in the mid-1800s to meet the needs of industrialization. As a result, education is based on output and yield, with emphasis on tests, scores, and everyone going to college to get a degree. As he says in the video which follows, schools are “places that have come to resemble, in many key aspects, the algorithms and standardization of factory life.”

Sir Ken makes the case that we should be focusing on culture rather than output—creating a climate in which learning takes place and children flourish—a mixed culture valuing sciences, arts, technology, individual talent, and the driving force of individual passion.

In May 2020, Sir Ken joined the Call to Unite, a 24-hour global live-stream event where he shared his thoughts on how we can seize the opportunity to transform how we educate our children, and how we approach our relationship with the world we live in. If the video doesn’t appear, watch it here.

The organizations he mentioned are Boundless and Hello Genius. He has authored five books. See them here.

His legacy…

Sir Ken Robinson died Aug 21, 2020, after a lifetime of work to bring forward a vision of doing school differently.  It is encapsulated in his closing statement on the video…

  • There is not any reason for schools to be the way they are.
  • We can reinvent school, we can revitalize learning, and we can reignite the creative compassion of our communities if we think differently instead of trying to go back to normal.
  • There is an opportunity to learn the lessons of this lockdown, to see beyond them, and to create a new sort of world and a new kind of normal.
  • It takes bravery, and imagination, and we have plenty of that in store.

The prison of your mind…

Living through a pandemic is challenging us all, in one way or another, especially in the days of lockdown when there were very few acceptable reasons for leaving our homes. In the midst of that, many were chafing at their loss of freedom even when they knew there were good reasons for this strategy. And even now, when we have more licence to be out and about, it’s a challenge to adapt to ongoing requirements for wearing masks and distancing.

Life has required some of us to adapt a lot more than others, even before we’d encountered COVID. Meet Dr. Sean Stephenson, motivational speaker, author, and therapist, speaking at TEDxIronwoodStatePrison in 2014. If the video doesn’t show up, watch it here.

His three lessons?

  1. Never believe a prediction that doesn’t empower you.
  2. You are not your condition.
  3. The real prison is your mind.

Why he was born?

To rid this world of insecurity.

His expertise?

“I am only an expert in one thing…and that’s how to be me.  And I do it well.”

His legacy?

Sean Stephenson died in 2019 at age 40. Here is how his friend and colleague, Rich Litvin, remembers him…

Maybe you’ve heard me talk about Sean Stephenson. He was born with a rare bone disorder and was expected to die at birth. He reached a height of only 3 feet and suffered more than 200 bone fractures by the time he was eighteen years old. Sean lived his whole life, confined to a wheelchair.

He faced so many reasons to give up, and he had endless opportunities to embrace self-pity.

Yet he become a motivational speaker and author. He taught countless people how to be more impactful from the stage. And his friends included Bill Clinton, Tony Robbins and Richard Branson.

Sean’s “Dance Party” video has had over a million views. I’ve played it so many times at my Intensives, over the years. It can get a crowd of hundreds of people moving their bodies, in seconds!

He is the smallest, yet most powerful man I have ever known. And over the years we’ve coached and guided and supported one another. We’ve shared deep secrets with one another. And we’ve challenged the heck out of one another.

As I write these words, I have tears in my eyes. I can’t believe he’s gone.

But I know Sean would never want me to leave things on a sad note. So, let me invite you to shake your booty, alongside my great friend, Sean Stephenson…

If the video doesn’t show up, you can watch it here.

The courage to see things differently…

As Brené Brown says, this is the time for courage over comfort.

That can be a challenge.

Comfort is so tempting.

Retreating to the familiar makes us feel safe. And that’s what our primal, survival brain wants above all, to keep us safe.

Where do we find comfort?

Comfort can be found in something as tangible as a food that your grandma used to make or as intangible as your viewpoint on how the world works.

Viewpoints are elusive because we often don’t know we have them. Like accents. I didn’t know there was a Canadian accent until i was 48 years old. I knew about accents and could recognize them when I heard others speaking accented English. But I spoke like all the people around me, so I didn’t have an accent as far as I knew.

The moment of awareness came when I made my first trip to Schumacher College in England. Students from several countries had arrived to study The Web of Life with Fritjof Capra. An American woman was next to me as we gathered for the first time. (I knew she was American because of her accent.) After a brief exchange of pleasantries, she asked me where I live in Canada.

Me: How do you know I’m from Canada?

Her:  Well, your accent, of course.

Me: I don’t have an accent. But you all do.

We all have blinders…

That experience was my first awareness of one of my mistaken beliefs. An accent is a trivial example, but the same is true of our mindsets and viewpoints. We tend to be so used to how we see things that we have no idea there is another point of view.

Image via

Why does changing our viewpoints take courage?

Changing our viewpoint challenges us to leave the comfort of the familiar, to step away from our current position and see how the world looks from another vantage point. If we go so far as to take the position of the other, we might see that what we saw to be true is no longer the case from that new viewpoint.

Then we have to deal with that new information. After all, our life and how we lived it was based on our original perception. Can we pretend we don’t know what we now know…and thus carry on as we had? Or will we have to integrate that new perspective because the knowledge will haunt us until we do? Faced with this dilemma, many of us dig in, entrenching ourselves in the position we know,to avoid having to make those hard decisions.

When we do take a new viewpoint, there’s also the risk it will disrupt relationships that have been forged over years. Your  tribe, the people you identify with, may not like it if you rock the boat. When you express a contrary view, they may feel challenged, as if you are being critical of them and their beliefs. The extreme result could be losing friends and estrangement from family. Not a comforting prospect!

And why is courage so hard?

According to Brené Brown, author of Daring Greatly,  you can’t get to courage without walking through vulnerability. Based on years of research, she says the elements of vulnerability are risk, uncertainty, and emotional exposure—exposure as being imperfect and therefore unlovable. All are things we try to protect ourselves from. Yet, the paradox is that pretending you are not vulnerable makes you the most vulnerable. But it is the willingness to show up that changes us. It makes us a little braver each time.

In this 2011 Ted Talk, Brené Brown shares what she had learned by then about vulnerability. It has had 3,750,575 views for good reason. If the video doesn’t show up, watch it here.

And in these days of the pandemic, vulnerability might look like asking for help when you need to. Do it. It’s good practice for getting used to being vulnerable. It will make you a little braver for the next time.

A new normal…or something beautiful on the other side of this?

Last week I said: This is an extraordinary time. Please, don’t let this time pass without reflection. If you are inclined toward reflection, here is a conversation I found inspiring.

Dr. Gabor Maté is a renowned speaker, and bestselling author, highly sought after for his expertise on a range of topics including addiction, stress and childhood development. Rather than offering quick-fix solutions to these complex issues, Dr. Maté weaves together scientific research, case histories, and his own insights and experience to present a broad perspective that enlightens and empowers people to promote their own healing and that of those around them.

A medical doctor with twenty years of family practice and palliative care experience, Dr. Maté worked for over a decade in Vancouver’s Downtown East Side with patients challenged by drug addiction and mental illness. For his groundbreaking medical work and writing, he has been awarded the Order of Canada, this country’s highest civilian distinction, and the Civic Merit Award from his hometown, Vancouver. He is also co-developer of a therapeutic approach, Compassionate Inquiry, now studied by hundreds of therapists, physicians, counsellors, and others internationally.

Dr Rangan Chatterjee is a medical doctor with over twenty years’ experience whose mission is to simplify health and empower people to restore their health and well-being. He practices what he calls progressive medicine, which takes a full 360-degree approach to health. His focus is on how the body’s systems can better work together to reduce the risk of chronic disease while improving vitality. He’s well known in Britain for his popular television show, Doctor in the House, and is the host of the podcast which follows.

Their conversation is timely and impossible to summarize. It’s well worth watching. If the video doesn’t show up below, you can watch it here.

Rebalancing Your Nervous System

These days, everything seems out of whack. That might include your nervous system.

Adjusting to life with COVID has been stressful, no doubt about it. I’m reasonably resourceful and resillient, but that didn’t prevent me from going through a cranky patch for a while.

It wasn’t just the daily dose of depressing news about social systems falling apart and the ginormous debt the country was accumulating to keep us afloat in the lockdown. Things that were easy now became complicated. I found that the activities of daily living were suddenly onerous.

I had to develop new habits like remembering to take my mask and hand sanitizer with me when I went out, to keep a proper distance from other people in the store, to follow the one-way arrows on the floor, to raise my voice if I needed to speak to someone, and to give up small talk or asking questions about products because it became more trouble than it was worth.

I had adjust to all sorts of new processes and expectations—like ordering food from a menu I had to download on my phone…while I was sitting in the restaurant that was serving it to me. I had to pack groceries myself when I brought cloth bags with me. I had to give up wearing my earrings (oversize clip-ons get in the way of installing a mask) and my collection of rings (not practical with repeated hand sanitization). All of these are little things in themselves but, coupled with all the bad news being reported daily, I was more stressed than I recognized.

I was coping, and then…

What made me realize that I was unduly stressed was my reaction when I had to pump my own gas. I had faithfully patronized the one remaining company that still pumped gas, hoping to provide positive reinforcement so they would continue for at least as long as I’m driving. But on my first refill after the lockdown, I discovered their pumps are now all self-serve. I was crushed! An inordinate reaction, and one that made me realize I needed to get a handle on my stress.

I sorted some things out in my mind, as I’ve written in two previous posts:

  • Reality check—where I recognized this is a predicament we are in, not just a simple problem to be solved.
  • Moral dilemmas—where I gained further perspective about the mental fatigue that comes from grappling with situations that have no clear-cut solutions.

Seeing the bigger picture of the current situation improved my disposition considerably. and then I discovered there was yet another element at play here—the condition of my nervous system.

Jumping to the end of the story: By doing a short series of head and eye movements, I dramatically increased my general sense of well-being and was able to leave the “cranky patch” behind.

Let me fill in the gaps…

What goes on in our mind and emotions is related to our bodies—in fact, about 80% in our bodies. So all the bad news and stressful adjustments were affecting my nervous system and, in turn, many bodily processes.

The final piece fell into place for me when I received a newsletter from Puria Kästele with a video demonstrating a few short and simple movements to rebalance the vagus nerve. I was drawn to giving it a try, with no expectation about what it would or wouldn’t do for me. Just curious really.

After a day or two, I noticed I was feeling a sense of well-being that I handn’t experienced for some time—long before COVID, actually. Not only did I notice, but friends commented that they heard a difference in me over the telephone.

So what is the vagus nerve?

Vagus nerve

Image via Bruce Blaus on me-pedia

The vagus nerve is a long bundle of nerves originating at the base of the brain. As you will see in the diagram, it connects the brain and the gut. Along the way it communicates with all the organs and, as you might imagine, serves many important functions in the body. When a doctor uses a tongue depressor and asks you to say Ahhh, it is to test the function of your vagus nerve.

Psychologists and therapists are now recognizing the importance of the vagus nerve in healing from trauma and chronic stress. Ideally, when there’s a stress response (fight or flight), your system returns to normal when the stress is over. However, in the case of trauma and chronic stress, the system can get stuck in either high gear or collapse. Here’s a graphic depiction of what happens.

The vagus nerve is important in reconnecting cells after a trauma. If it isn’t working properly, many aspects of the body do not function well. There are a variety of home-based techniques that stimulate the vagus nerve, thus improving your vagal tone. The movements demonstrated by Puria in her video are one example.

If the video doesn’t show up, here’s the link: Nervous System Regulation from Puria on Vimeo.

But sometimes drastic measures are needed…

The primal scream was popular in the 1970s as a means of dealing with pent-up frustration. Iceland is offering you an opportunity to “record your scream and we’ll release it in Iceland’s beautiful, wide-open spaces.” Here’s the website where you’ll find a “tap to scream” button and Instructions for how to participate. You may want to turn your volume down a bit before watching the video. If it doesn’t show up, watch it here.

If I understand correctly, you get to see the livestream of your scream being released. Let us know if you do this!

Moral fatigue…

When COVID hit my community, I first felt discombobulated. That seemed perfectly understandable.

But three months in, I was experiencing a deep sense of fatigue. That surprised me because I thought I should be feeling better, not worse, once I knew the protocols and developed new habits. But there I was—feeling out of sorts and profoundly tired of the whole thing.

Apparently I wasn’t the only one. In the midst of my wallowing in that unhappy place, I heard an episode of Tapestry that directly addressed what I was feeling. They were discussing the experience of moral fatigue that arises when we are faced with making decisions where there are no right answers and yet we can’t do nothing.

Moral disorientation…

Recently my Tasmanian friend Gill, now in her mid-80s, said that it seems the world has been turned upside down and back to front. I agree! As the pandemic has unfolded, it’s been deeply unsettling to discover that  things we thought were normal have been exposed as deeply flawed, eldercare being just one example.

The dilemma is that once we see something, we can’t un-see it. Not only that but, as decent human beings, we feel the desire to do something to make things better, without having any idea how one person can make a difference in such an enormous problem. This creates a high level of stress in the body, often resulting in a shutdown or freezing of the nervous system. On top of that, we are now recognizing that this predicament is not going away any time soon. No wonder we’re feeling moral fatigue!

And it’s not just these collective dilemmas that weigh on us. Our everyday decisions have taken on a new dimension. As I write this, the start of a new school year is looming. The government in my province has announced that a full in-school schedule will resume with COVID protocols in place, which some parents feel are inadequate. This re-opening is at a time when new cases are announced each day. Parents can choose to school their children at home, but that is fraught with another set of logistical challenges that have to do with family livelihood for many. How is a parent to decide what is best in a situation like this? The stress of trying to “get it right” must be enormous.

For further insight, I recommend listening to Tapestry with Mary Hynes, from June 28, 2020:  Navigating the moral maze of the pandemic. The program description says, “In our new COVID-19 world, decisions that were once easy — going to the park, visiting friends and family — are suddenly more complex and morally fraught. Philosopher Alice MacLaughlin and moral psychologist Azim Shariff offer some ethical guidance.”

And if any of this prompts you to share your thoughts, I’d love to hear them.


Unprecedented” must be the most over-used word in the English language right now. I’m tired of it. Especially because it’s used so often without thought.

Unprecedented means never done or known before; never having happened or existed in the past. True, the specific COVID variation of the coronavirus is new (hence the name novel coronavirus). But If we’re talking about pandemics, there’s nothing new there. Humans have experienced them throughout recorded history.

MPH Online is an independent online resource for public health students. In 10 of the Worst Pandemics in History, they say…

Scientists and medical researchers for years have differed over the exact definition of a pandemic (is it a pandemic, or an epidemic), but one thing everyone agrees on is that the word describes the widespread occurrence of disease, in excess of what might normally be expected in a geographical region.

Cholera, bubonic plague, smallpox, and influenza are some of the most brutal killers in human history. And outbreaks of these diseases across international borders are properly defined as pandemic, especially smallpox, which, throughout history, has killed between 300-500 million people in its 12,000 year existence.

It’s hard to get a sense of the relative magnitude of these diseases over the past 2,000 years. Here’s the best thing I found to give some perspective. Click on the image below to see the full pandemic timeline right up to COVID-19…

History of Pandemics

To bring this closer to home, here’s a photo of my maternal grandmother, who was born at the beginning of the twentieth century and lived until 1979. Click on her photo, taken in 1904, to see what she lived through…

My Grandma in 1904

And so…

If we still want to convey that we’re having an experience that has never occurred before, here are some synonyms to at least make our language more interesting and possibly more accurate. Take your pick…

What word best describes it for me? 

How about for you?

The making of an agile corporation…

This is the story of what it took for one huge company to transform its leadership and ways of working.

Why is this of interest to me?

It’s another of the “imaginal cells” that are emerging in this time when we see ever-more clearly that old systems are no longer working. As I mentioned in my post on Metamorphosis, I’ve been on the lookout for examples of different ways of thinking and the experiments that are testing these new paradigms.

The first was Doughnut Economics. In that post, we heard economist Kate Raworth describe her vision for an economic model that ensures sufficiency for all without exceeding the limits of what earth can provide. In April 2020, Amsterdam became a Doughnut City. I’ve just received further information about the application of this model for our post-pandemic future…

 In June, the city council of Copenhagen committed to turning  into a Doughnut City—a good life for all within planetary boundaries. Dozens of other cities and towns worldwide have been in touch with Kate Raworth, economist and author of Doughnut Economics, to indicate they are also interested. These commitments demonstrate very exciting and bold examples of leadership in how we can transform the crisis of the pandemic into an opportunity for human renewal.

Leading for agility…

Today’s imaginal cell story is about a huge corporation and its whole-system transformation. I learned about it through an interview on the coaching summit I mentioned last week.

I almost didn’t watch this session, though. The title was Scaling Leadership, Agility and Vertical Development Inside an Organization, and the organization is Hoffmann-La Roche (Roche), a global healthcare company with about 94,000 employees in more than 100 countries.

I’m a fan of localized business and the small is beautiful philosophy, so I was sceptical that I would find anything of interest in this conversation. But they used words such as whole-system, transformation, emergent, and sustaining. It seemed they were speaking my language.

…we will explore lessons learned and emerging insights from Roche’s whole-system transformation of leadership and ways of working. As one of the highest profile (and most currently relevant) organizational transformations taking place, Roche’s unique integration of agility, vertical development, and emergent change has resulted in significant impact across all areas of the business. They will also explore how Roche is sustaining transformation in today’s disruptive environment…

It was inspiring!

So I listened…and was inspired. I’d like to let you hear for yourselves but unfortunately the video isn’t available for sharing. So here are some of my impressions…

  • What Roche wanted was greater agility, which they define as speed and flexibility with stability.

  • Changing “how” starts with mindset, and requires self-transformation of company leaders.
  • The old leadership approach was reactive, trying to keep everything under control and putting out fires as they flared up. Leaders expected that there were right answers in any situation and they were the source of those answers.
  • It had become apparent that the level of complexity they were dealing with very quickly outmatched those traditional strategies.
  • The experiential program that Roche implemented was to shift leaders from the reactive mindset to a creative mindset, one in which they would proactively shape processes and structure to fulfill the company’s purpose and vision.
  • Leaders were coached to notice their reactive patterns, recognize their creative capacities, reconnect with purpose, and remember the key principles of the company.
  • The main competency they were aiming for was the ability to act in the face of limited data, ambiguity, and complexity where there is a high likelihood of not being correct, at least not entirely—and to still do it. In other words, they needed to find their confidence and inner knowing to navigate the predicaments that arise in this complex world we live in.
  • The courage of these leaders was acknowledged—courage to be vulnerable, to go into uncharted waters, to risk taking the next step when there was no clear path or right answer.
  • The benefit to leaders was a huge release of stress when they came from this entirely different place while carrying out their duties.

The language of agility is important…

Here were a few distinctions that were made:

  • invite (to encourage self-authority) …instead of… order or direct (which makes the person subject to someone else)
  • mapping (to see interconnections) …instead of… choosing (A or B)
  • value creation (when we can create value, it is unlimited ) …instead of… value capture (resources are limited and we have to compete for our share)

Summing up this approach…

  • People are invited to choose somethig new. A different way. A more empowered way. A more purposeful way. A less-frightened, more courageous way.
  • According to Tammy Lowry from Roche, “It isn’t about processes or practices, it’s a fundamental change in the way our organization works together. It’s a revolution.”
  • People are invited to courageously step into it and be prepared to do their own inner work.
  • If you’d like more details about what this deep-dive experience looks like, check out this article.

What makes this inspiring for me…

  • The program quickly moved through the company because the leaders who participated were so enthusiastic.
  • There have been measurable results in terms of company performance in relation to its purpose.
  • They are bringing leaders together to have connecting conversation in which they can benefit from learnings across all divisions of the company.
  • The initiators see this approach as translatable into society. It starts with shifting the mindset and creating an opportunity for reimagining how that might work. That is what excites me most!

The fact that this is happening in a huge company—the fact that almost prevented me from listening—turns out to be the convincing aspect. If this new mindset can permeate a large corporate culture, where else might it percolate? I wonder…