07 July 2023

A strategy for the turnaround, or what a school should be. Essay by Joanna Górecka, Ph.D.

Why schools need to be transformed, what that transformation should look like, and what impact a Holistic Think Tank would have. This piece is written by Dr. Joanna Górecka, a teacher, a specialist in innovative education, and HTT's Ambassador of Educational Change.


For several centuries, the school has been constantly measuring progress, timekeeping, and striving to synchronize the learning of all students*. It appears as a supervisory institution claiming dominance over society, conditioning citizens’ abilities to receive market passes such as diplomas, certificates, and approvals.
Mikołaj Marcela

School of today. It is a means of destroying in children courage, pride, sincerity, generosity, and honesty; it is a means of killing one of the most precious human qualities – character, that is, courage and willingness to take responsibility for their actions, without excuses and pretense. And what children – such people; the public life of our society states at every turn the fatality of the consequences of our educational system.
Witkiewicz, 1920*

Ad fontes

The school, the educational environment should be a transgressive tissue, alive, not to say “neuroplastic” – after all, everything flows, as a famous philosopher reminds us. The sin of omission, that is, stagnation and reliance on administered methods, has made the school appears to be a monolith. A permanent structure framed by the increasing pressure of expectations of principals, parents, and the system itself. Documentation and paperwork have become the only rightful foundation of the institution.

Bryan Caplan points out that one of the things that strikes us when we think about education is how little it has changed over the centuries and how unified it is. Regardless of longitude and latitude, when we imagine a school, what comes before our eyes is the image of a teacher standing on one side of the room and students on the other side sitting at desks, passively listening to a lecture by a “talking head.” This model has lasted for nearly 900 years (the University of Bologna was founded at the end of the 11th century, and Oxford at the turn of the 11th and 12th centuries). This constancy of the shape of education, its resistance to change, according to Caplan, may have two explanations. Perhaps mankind has succeeded in discovering a universal, timeless formula for education and holds tight to it, adapting it slightly to current conditions, or this steadfastness is a sign of backwardness. The field of education has remained a virgin in terms of innovation. By force of inertia, we are exploring the same medieval model. From the 21st-century man’ point of view, this seems truly remarkable.

Regardless of which answer is correct – the school lacks the joy of thinking, action, the ferment of thought, and the Hegel’s antithesis that invites one to verify and contest established sanctified knowledge.

Digitization, socio-economic transformations, the appearance of the Internet, the consequent globalization, and easy access to sources of knowledge indicate that the “medieval model” will soon pass into the “lament of didactic thought.” Transmissiveness, not to say “tapeiness,” is not enough to build a modern school formula.

“Cultivating education” means not only engaging in rational action, goals, fundamentals, and programs of education but adopting a certain style of work, consisting of an attentive and empathetic view on the process of education. On generating ideas aimed at aligning education with the changing reality. After all, learning is about questioning and verifying dogma, not about replicating it.

Jan Masschelein and Maarten Simons define school in a similar way. They directly postulate that we should think of it in terms of profanity, that is, knowledge and skills that are separated from ordinary use, the sanctity of tangible meaning. Mikołaj Marcela – author of the book Selections. How School Destroys People, Societies and the World – expounds on Masschelein and Simons’ voice this way: What do they mean when they write this way? That the school – through this separation – gives young people the opportunity to experience themselves as a “new” generation. It is thus a playground for society – “finds here a reference to one of the Latin words for ‘school,’ ludus, which also has the meanings of ‘games’ or ‘play’ in it.” So school should be a place for turning various things and knowledge into play. Play, which (…) is the proper way of human learning.*

We should return to the etymologically sanctioned model of school to be, metaphorically speaking, a time filled with intellectual consideration, reflecting on the essence of the world and art. This is how the Greeks understood the essence of education – for the Greek scholē means “free time.”

School in spe

To exist is to change, to change is to mature, to mature is to go on creating oneself endlessly
Henry Bergson

The school’s responsibility is to design the future. In its current form, can it “program” the future: social, cultural, and technological? Reconstruction of the school, redefinition of its function and form is a necessity, as Prof. Mirosław Szymański notes: What is certain is that the school of the future must be different and much better than the present one*. It is hard not to agree with the researcher’s thoughts. The future is a change. A change is a school because it conditions this process, even as its promoter*. The stagnation of the school imprints itself on teachers, students, and society as a whole.

The continuation of teaching based on a behavioral model geared toward “bulimic learning” (memorize, vomit knowledge, and forget it) in a world of radical turnarounds rather than sustaining trends is not acceptable.


The school is worth precisely what the teacher is worth
Adolf F. Diesterweg

Revision of the school model and accepted views refers to the concept of change,

and the potential for change depends directly on teachers, their competence, knowledge, and commitment. At the same time, we should remember that teachers are representatives of an institution that emerged from the social demand for the implementation of certain expectations, is a unit in the system of the state, and its functioning and development are strongly linked to a wide context of conditions: external factors – contextual, as well as internal factors – affecting the school as a specific unit*.

The above assumption indicates that introducing change is a difficult and complex process due to certain constraints “lurking” for teachers, such as top-down directives, curricula, processes, tasks, or even “methodical habits.”

According to Piotr Łukomski*: teachers fear innovation and are initially negative towards it because innovation disrupts the status quo. This is because change is generally stressful, and people have to enter new roles and relationships, adopt new values, and manifest new approaches to work, especially teamwork. Teachers are characterized by resistance to innovation. The reasons for this resistance are complex and multifaceted:

– misunderstanding the need for innovation and its point,

– fear of making a mistake,

– a tendency to stick with old, proven patterns,

– lack of acceptance by other employees,

– fear of personal or professional failure.

Another group of factors of sources of resistance to change was identified by Sikora. These include:

– fear of reduced earnings,

– a belief that there is no benefit from the change,

– fear of additional workload,

– fear of breaking up the informal group,

– fear of losing one’s position,

– fear of lowering prestige,

– offending professional ambition.

It is also difficult to “fight” the systemic routine, get out of the comfort zone and enter the unknown ground of innovation. In addition, the fear of this unknown and the pressure of the “teachers’ room” are the “key inhibitors” of the transformation of the educational system. How meaningful are the words of Oktawia Gorzeńska from her book Project Change. From frustration to satisfaction with school work: “This lesson did not bring me to my knees,” commented another principal. “Your students are having fun, and that’s not welcome in our school,” warned a lady in the secretary’s office. “Why are you doing so much? You’re raising the bar for us,” I sometimes heard in the teachers’ room. (…) “You’re media whoring,” it was coming to me when I started an educational blog and started sharing inspirations on social media. And I couldn’t stop… Teachers shouldn’t stop on their way to a different and better education because if a system in a state of equilibrium is subjected to a new external factor or the contribution of individual external factors changes, the system will seek to reduce the influence of the external factor and reach a new state of equilibrium, close to the initial state of equilibrium*.

Therefore, it should be trusted that most educators will find enough strong will and self-denial to implement this new external factor and to oppose colleagues who adhere to the administration-testing pedagogy. In the context of the dynamics of implementing the change of educational processes, it is the teacher who plays a key role. It is on him that the attention of principals, leaders, and systemic solutions should be focused, which would enable him to realize the basic competence, which should be the “category of change,” that is, the openness of the teacher to the subjectivity and creative development of the student, to novelties and innovations. Openness to change means understanding the mobility of the modern world and one’s place in it.*

Joanna Górecka, Ph.D., author of this article

In the beginning was…, or where to start the (r)evolution at school?

You don’t have to be great to start, but you have to start to be great
Zig Ziglar

It is worth starting this section by recalling the two strategies for change outlined by Arkadiusz Potocki*:

1. Evolutionary strategy based on:

– introduction of changes “in small steps,”

– participation of employees in successive phases,

– the adoption of an attitude of readiness to undertake, introduce and consolidate the change.

2. Revolutionary strategy based on:

– top-down, sudden, unexpected, and irrevocable introduction of changes by the management,

– surprise effect, which will affect the lack of delays in the change implementation process.

Both “tactics” have pros and cons. The first requires time. Its undeniable value lies in the fact that the probability of resistance is minimal. The second generates a high risk of non-acceptance, while its advantage lies in its focus on priorities and rapid, radical change.

So which path should an innovative teacher take? Choose evolution or revolution? Given the nature of the school’s institution, it is worth referring at this point to Lewin’s force field theory, which assumes a staged approach to change:

1. Unfreezing of the existing state (equilibrium state).

2. Change – that is, transformation of the equilibrium state into a new state.

3. Freezing after the change made to consolidate the new state*.

Undoubtedly, the implementation of educational change should be in stages due to the nature of the educational system, its dimension, and its massiveness. Currently, there are more than half a million teachers working in twenty-nine thousand schools in Poland and about four and a half million students being educated.

In addition, the abrupt transformation of the school and “system” may discourage and imply resistance from teachers, students, and parents.

Certainly, the process of changing a school requires a critique of its condition, a vision of what it should look like, and a theory of change*, and teachers wishing to embark on the path should set themselves the following goals to begin with:

1. become an expert on learning;

2. understand what change is about;

3. set goals, identify values, stick to principles;

4. beware of dichotomies to solve dilemmas;

5. look within, look around, and look forward to see the whole picture, and above all, take action to improve the results;

6. involve students*.

If we take a closer look at the above list, authored by Frank Crawford, we can see that it refers primarily to the “soft” competencies of teachers and outlines the structure of an innovator’s reflection based on a certain cycle: learning is changing, changing is learning. Crawford states that teachers are the change-makers. Their approach to teaching and how they learn are key issues in changing the paradigm of the education system. In his view, the leadership of educators must be learning-oriented. In addition, teachers, as specialists in the field, should develop appropriate solutions for the scope and context of their impact. Research shows that change occurs in stages, and each stage requires understanding, support, resources, and effort. Without understanding the essence of change and what it consists of, it is impossible to implement it effectively and sustainably. German professor Hans-Günter Rolff states analogously with Crawford’s vision: there is no improvement in the quality of the teaching-learning process without teacher personal development and organizational development; there is no organizational development without personal development and development of learning and teaching; there is no question of teachers’ personal development without organizational development and improvement of teaching-learning processes.*

Returning to the thoughts of Frank Crawford, it is necessary to zoom in and discuss the four stages of the change process: preparation, commitment, realization, and consolidation.

Preparation – involves realizing the need and possibility of change. Managing the change is about engaging those affected and unleashing their potential. It’s about compliance and giving people (including students) freedom by delegating responsibility, authority, and control. Moving away from authority and putting it in the hands of students influences and builds a sense of agency and the responsibility that comes with it. Meeting these authentic needs increases the effectiveness of education. By giving power away, the vision of a school – a space of constant exchange, activity, and creativity on the part of students, teachers, and parents – has a chance to materialize. A school that guarantees a zone of action for every member of the community.

Commitment – continuous communication of the vision and creation of space for reflection. And here on the scene of change should enter the principal, who will create space for teachers to act. A principal who will promote and encourage the redefinition of the teaching model, and consequently the redefinition of the school model*, to take risks and make the vision of the “new world” a reality.

Realization – preparation of projects. At this stage, it is important to find time to implement the change. Here the maxim that less sometimes means more will work. Engaging in several projects at once or implementing change in a “revolutionary way” may result in unsustainable results.

Consolidation – finding support and raising problematic issues. Even after the transformation seems to have been implemented, we need to be sure that the changes made will become part of the way we do things at the school. Crawford stresses that at this stage, there is often resignation from further efforts and a return to old habits. It is therefore important to point out the obvious links between the change we have made and the improved results achieved by students.

Reflection on the model of change was also undertaken by Anna Witkowska-Tomaszewska*, who proposes three steps for changing educational consciousness. The first is an attempt to describe the way education is seen and perceived. According to her, this is the starting point for transforming school practice. To make this possible, the author points out that the innovative teacher should ask himself a fundamental question, what for him is the main purpose of educating children? The above question refers to:

– educational ideology, that is, the views and beliefs that form the basis of thinking about education, including the theory of the child’s mind – how does the child learn?

– the nature of the child – how this development is perceived.

– the essence of the teaching-learning process, that is, the purpose of educational interactions.

In the next step, Tomaszewska proposes to reconstruct the assumptions of her school practice, i.e., to evaluate the teaching work model by defining the assumptions of the individual hidden educational program. This means that the second, extremely important step in changing educational consciousness is to determine what educational activities – overt and covert – are the basis for the formation of the teaching work model, and in particular to the concepts of power in the educational process and language as a basic tool for creating the learning process.

The third step would be to determine how to organize the learning environment, which is one of the sources of the dominance of the behaviorist, directive model of education.

It is worth noting that concepts and studies addressing the issue of changing the paradigm of education (based on the “ideology of message and command,” behavioral conditioning, in favor of the implementation of a participatory, open, active learning-oriented model) have been developed in large numbers. It is difficult to cite them here due to the format of this article. Let the presentation of reflections and concepts in the field of changing the way of education become an inspiration for teachers and some indication of the path to follow in order to shape the subjectivity of the student and, consequently, a democratic and empathetic society.

Action Communication. From instruction to the “field of experience”

Looking at studies of the future, it is estimated that by 2030 employees in the workplace will spend much more time on problem-solving, critical thinking, learning mathematics, and verbal and interpersonal communication*, so one of the priorities of educational innovators should be the issue of the quality of communication in school. This quality should move toward empathetic dialogue and relationships. So how to change the course of the river of instructional education to constructivist*, from schematic to “casual?” This question was also asked by Anna Witkowska-Tomaszewska, quoted above. Her conclusion is as follows: To answer this question, it is necessary to go to the source, that is, communication. It is an undeniable fact that at the base of every interpersonal relationship – including the one between teacher and student – on which its clarity depends is interpersonal communication. It is this that gives the individual the opportunity to meet his needs, understand others, and be understood himself. Communication allows one to express thoughts, intentions, needs, and expectations of people, as well as feelings. Therefore, the key to understanding the new role of teachers is to reorganize the way teacher-student/student-teacher communication.

In doing so, it is important that teachers and students have the opportunity to co-create these new forms of communication and adapt them to their individual needs. This reorganization should be based on dialogue, mutual understanding and take into account the advantages of technology to create an effective learning environment.

One of the recommended solutions could be Shramm’s model*, which emphasizes the dynamism of interpersonal communication, depicting it as a cycle of constant interaction between people involving a constant search for shared meanings in the process of encoding-decoding interpreting information. In this understanding of communication, the educational process would be understood as the communication of individuals; its purpose would be exchanging ideas and sharing knowledge, information, and ideas*. Schramm brought to life the concept of the “field of experience,” explicating that the greater the shared experience of the sender and receiver, the better the communication. Unfortunately, the monologue, which is authoritatively guarded by the teacher, reigns indivisibly in nowadays schools. The vertical, hierarchical school is dominated by a certain “communication hierarchy” that consists of putting the silent student in the chair.

Another model that could be included in the “innovator’s essentials” and which would help build a partnered, empathetic environment that increases student engagement and teaching effectiveness is Marshall Rosenberg’s model of communication. It also frames a program of communication behaviors for dealing with conflict situations. This nonviolent communication is based on openly expressing one’s feelings, needs, and wishes and the ability to read them in other people’s words, regardless of the form in which they are transmitted. This form of communication the author calls “the language of the giraffe” – because the giraffe has a huge heart, and this way of communicating flows from the heart”.*

As Józefa Bałachowicz reminds us: interpersonal relations and “face-to-face interactions” are most important in kindergarten and school – communicating with others, relationships with teachers and peers, and children undertaking joint activities. It is through interaction with others that the child learns what culture is and learns the proper ways to conceptualize it. The relational and cultural nature of learning (…), the range of meanings constructed, the values and judgments used, the emotions that emerge co-determine the variability of a child’s experience and the construction of the child’s individuality*.

In the modern approach to education, teacher-student and student-student relationships become a key factor affecting the effectiveness of the educational process. Therefore, it is worth taking care to create a safe and empathetic environment for students because: It has been found that at low levels of anxiety arousal, learning efficiency increases up to a certain optimum, which varies from person to person. […] With increasingly severe anxiety, learning is obstructed*. In addition, an inspiring and supportive interactive environment promotes skill development, creativity, and innovation.

Director as the forerunner of change

The goal of many leaders is to get people to think more highly of the leader.
The goal of a great leader is to help people to think more highly of themselves.

Carla Northcutt

The perception of the function of a school principal has evolved significantly over the past few decades. Previously, the principal appeared to be a civil servant whose main responsibilities revolved around administrative issues: hiring and managing staff, taking care of finances, the smooth operation of the establishment, etc. Nowadays, in the face of civilizational and social changes that have affected the complex educational reality, the school principal faces multiple challenges that require a broader set of skills and a visionary approach. The principal is therefore seen as a forerunner and agent of change, emphasizing his/her key role in initiating and leading successful transformation processes. Principals should create an environment that supports the holistic development of students, prepares them for the challenges of the future, ensures high-quality “service delivery,” and supports the process of teacher improvement.

Professor Fazlagić catalogs the qualities of a leader principal as follows:

– leadership skills, the ability to guide, the ability to work in a team not only as a task executor, and a sense of belonging to the organization;

– openness to unusual situations and unsolved problems;

– independence, non-conformism;

– perseverance, understanding of deferred gratification, ability to self-organize;

– possession of self-motivation mechanisms;

– healthy self-esteem based on awareness of one’s own competence;

– the absence of an “inner critic and censor,” constructive use of criticism for self-improvement;

– tolerance for mistakes, seeing them as an integral part of the creative process, experimentation;

– broad knowledge of the world and readiness for continuous learning, self-directedness, cognitive curiosity; courage to take on new challenges, break thought patterns and take risks;

– a sense of responsibility for the common good on a micro (e.g., team, school, local community) and macro (national and global good) scale*.

In the context of the above qualities, it is also worthwhile to be tempted to create a decalogue of the leader and innovator:

Decalogue of an educational leader, agent of change, and visionary innovator:

1. Build relationships.

2. Promote teamwork.

3. Create a culture of trust and relationships.

4. Be resilient to failure.

5. Create opportunities for joint decision-making.

6. Appreciate the value of work and commitment. Engage yourself because the one who does not burn does not ignite either.

7. Accept ideas and allow polarization of the vision of teachers and students.

8. Do not exalt yourself.

9. Involve parents and students in creating the school’s work culture

10. Listen to the voice of students and teachers.

From vision to revision of the school model

An innovator director without a vision is like a soldier without a rifle. A vision is a kind of roadmap for human resource allocation and strategic planning. It must be clear and compelling to provide a solid foundation on which the “new school” will be built. The vision should be in line with the needs and aspirations of the school community. In addition, defining the purpose of the vision will help guide decisions and actions throughout the change implementation process.

Resistance to resistance

Agent of change – a principal who has decided to follow the path of innovation should remember that change generates a variety of reactions and influences people’s attitudes. It implies both positive and negative ones.

An essential factor determining the success of change implementation is resistance. From the perspective of science, the theory of reactance is based on the assumption that: in a situation where an individual has a subjective sense of freedom to choose between alternatives A and B, an attempt to pressure this individual to choose A or B by another person creates an unpleasant sense of threat to this freedom and a widespread motivation and even a desire to regain this freedom, through an effort to counteract the pressuring forces*. Resistance, then, is treated as a response to the threat to the sense of freedom and liberty and captured in terms of motivation and emotion*. Sławomir Pasikowski reminds us that a person in a state of reactance resists external pressures, guidelines, and recommendations, engages in forbidden activities, and finds it difficult to give in to persuasion. He can also demonstrate his reluctance through passivity, as this is a way to restore a sense of lost freedom. Put differently, resistance can express itself in various forms in the behavioral, cognitive, and emotional spheres*.

The above research reconnaissance refers to such tools and forms of work that will make students, employees, and parents want to build a new school together. Open and frank communication, emphasizing the benefits of change, will help neutralize resistance. Engaging and delegating authority and providing opportunities for input and feedback can increase the likelihood of successful implementation of change. A proactive approach, combined with effective communication, engagement, and development planning, will help overcome obstacles and create an environment that supports and perpetuates change.

Closing this part of the text, I will refer to the words of Marzena Kędra, who, in her book entitled Cogito, a school with a face of its own, shared her reflection that convincing teachers of their vision is a key issue. Change is possible only when teachers understand that it is beneficial to themselves, to their continued work, and even to the existence of the school, that it serves their personal interest.

The condition for the success of the principal was to prove to them that together with the teachers, she forms a “ring team” that plays for the school, the students of the environment*. As she confessed, this was not an easy task. It required dedication, commitment, and time: After many months of efforts to bring about change, I learned that what convinced the teaching staff most about my ideas of change was that I myself worked as hard and after hours as my colleagues. (…) This is how we began to create a school completely different from the ones children usually go to every day, and at the same time, a school that is so normal. (…) In situations of change, it is very important for the principal to approach the teachers and talk about their experiences, concerns, and ideas on a daily basis. (…) Teachers had concerns and resistance; we had a lot of discussions and analyses of the situation. I strived for mutual understanding and dialogue; my main goal was to make new ideas and educational change a reality*.

Among other things, the creative attitude of the director manifests itself through supportive and appreciative, but also inspiring actions. Taking into account the needs and expectations of all the “beneficiaries of the school” fosters a sense of responsibility and increases the involvement of all its “beneficiaries.” On the shoulders of the director rests the burden of creative leadership, and by establishing priorities and directions for development, they take great responsibility for the fate of the “mission” entitled “change”!

When analyzing the tools, strategies, challenges, and impact of change-oriented school principals, it is important to emphasize the importance of their visionary leadership in creating an environment of innovation in schools.

Understanding their pioneering role will also unlock a broad spectrum of opportunities for educational transformation and contribute to increased educational effectiveness, resulting in a better future for students in a rapidly changing world.

Without a student, there is no school

This truism leads to the statement that students are the “salt of the school earth” – the subject of change. How, then, to prepare and introduce children and young people to the process of transforming the school model?

I wanted to begin my consideration of the change in the student’s perspective on their role and function to be fulfilled in an innovative school with a quote from the book Freeing School from the Classroom System by Bogusław Śliwerski and Michał Paluch: Students associate school with boredom, wasted time, a sense of meaninglessness, promoting conformity and opportunism. There are also those who are used to treating school as a necessity to be passed and quickly forgotten.* School, in the opinion of students, does not fulfill its function – it does not satisfy their cognitive needs, which are nothing more than a child’s curiosity*. Why is this the case? The question, in its rhetorical formula, refers to the stiffness of the classroom system, which dehumanizes and is a kind of mental prosthesis, limiting causality and processes, focusing on the memorization of the content provided by teachers.

A study by American psychologist Jean Twenge showed that from the early 1960s to 2002, the number of children and adolescents aged 9-14 believing they were in control of their lives dropped by 80%. In contrast, research on students showed that at the beginning of the 21st century, most of them were driven by external goals (achieving high material status) rather than internal goals*. These studies show that the school as an institution has failed to fulfill its function; has failed to stop, and has even exacerbated consumerism and the rat race for the golden fleece of wealth and power. To counteract this, we need to realize that learning is a social process and should take place through interaction and action with self-development in mind. Experiencing one’s own subjectivity promotes the development of responsibility, controlling emotionality, and openness to others.

Are students ready for a change in the school model? There could be two answers to this question: yes and no. On the one hand, young people expect teachers to adapt their workshops and methodology to the expectations of modern reality. The chalk, blackboard, and bench certainly can’t compete with the computer, tablet, phone, Internet, etc. A talking head cannot satisfy the cognitive curiosity of young people, and reading one book throughout the year, i.e., a textbook, will not make students fall in love with school. Young people expect autonomy in thinking and acting. They expect an empathetic and open environment to prepare them for social and emotional life.

On the other hand, however, today’s school does not require the student to do anything but sit passively and silently on a bench. He does not have to undertake any activity other than avoiding the teacher’s gaze, “buying in,” and “spitting out” knowledge during tests. Passivity makes one lazy, conformist, and forced into cognitive patterns. Thus, the transition from a school model in which the teacher is not the main source of knowledge, and the student is an active organizer of learning can be difficult for a young person because, from the perspective of his bench, a change in the school paradigm would involve new challenges, engagement, an action that has so far been suppressed.

The same is true for parents who have experienced the traditional model of education. It is difficult for them to imagine a space where their child takes responsibility for learning because parents often demand discipline and “hard knowledge” from the school backed by a good grade in the diary. From their perspective, school is all about results, demanding and educating their child to succeed: get a high, well-paid position.

The above considerations again send us back to the comfort zone, fears, and demands of the technocratic world. The consumerist expectations of the education system and its “product,” i.e., the alumni, deepen the collapse of education. Today’s students will be the creators of tomorrow’s world. Providing them with a holistic education is one of humanity’s most important challenges. Developing talents and moving away from an object-oriented view of learning is the key to tomorrow’s education. It should be emphasized once again: forming future pro-innovative competencies cannot occur in rows of desks, silence, and fear of being called to answer.

Holistic Think Thank – synergy into the system!

Can’t synergy create a new scenario for future generations – one that is more connected to serving others and contributing to the common life, and less preventive, less based on conflicting interests, less selfish; one that is more open, containing more trust, focused more on giving than defending things; one that contains more love and caring, and less possessiveness and judgment?
Stephen R. Covey

The mass school reproduces the past. It has become an instrument in the hands of parents and politicians. It does not appear as an autotelic value; it is not a tool for development, so new ways of conceptualizing educational reality require new grassroots social-institutional initiatives; after all, Alain Touraine stressed that the social movement is the most important of the action subjects because social reality is created by the conflicts and negotiations of social movements, which give cultural orientations a specific social form*. Also, Mirosława Nowak-Dziemianowicz stresses that through the activity of social movements, people have a greater capacity for individual and collective action. Thanks to collective interaction, people can resist any limitations*.

The Holistic Think Tank is an incubator for innovative ideas and pilot educational programs, with a mission to create a space for experimentation, collaboration, and exchange of best practices and innovative ideas. As an influential body of experts and researchers, it can help transform the educational landscape by generating innovative ideas, conducting research, and providing evidence-based recommendations.

The Holistic Think Tank’s mission is to change education’s priorities and, above all, to implement a holistic way of teaching focused on values, trust, and collective learning experience.

Holistic Think Tank researchers, experts, and employees have developed an original vision for this change involving, among other things, the introduction of teaching guidelines for all school subjects into the educational system. The process has been named “humanization of school curricula.” Humanization is to be achieved through the implementation of a new teaching methodology – the Interdisciplinary School Subject (IDS). The IDS aims to provide students with a system of universal, humanistic values that will enable them to live an informed and fulfilled adult life.

The change pursued by the think tank also implies a modification of the criteria for evaluating knowledge in each subject. Its focus should be shifted to the area of skills, such as information processing and knowledge use (and not just knowledge acquisition). In the new paradigm of education, it is the area of communication, relations, and cooperation in the social environment that is to be the key element of the innovative “educational system” built by holistic visionaries of education.

The program proves that a caring, humanized school is possible, that we can start building it today.

What School Ought to Teach

The Holistic Think Tank, guided by the results of its research conducted in 10 countries around the world in 2022, has developed a list of 10 values that schools ought to teach in order to educate active and engaged citizens capable of living, collaborating, and communicating in an increasingly diverse world, able to think creatively and critically. Young people who will be able to solve complex problems with recognition and use of the potential of new technologies while avoiding the risks associated with them.

A graphic illustrating what a school ought to teach according to the visionaries at HTT:

The curriculum should be redesigned to broaden and deepen the understanding of the essence of value-based education. Also to give the school its place and meaning in the world. Redefine its pejorative connotation into an institution and tool that will take care of the multidimensional education of future generations.

The activities initiated by such “bodies” as the Holistic Think Tank, through their synergistic influence on teachers, parents, principals, and policymakers, have a real impact in drawing attention to the urgent need to formulate a new school system and establish a broad neo-constructivist reform movement in Poland and around the world. A movement that will make education a valuable resource for giving a voice to the people.

This is the end…

And, in fact, the beginning of a new path to a new education. An education that does not cause fear, does not breed resistance, does not indoctrinate, and does not kill imagination and creativity*. Education that respects and puts in the center of the school universe the student with his cosmos of advantages and disadvantages, talents and “weaknesses,” passions, dreams, and unfettered energy of living and learning the mysteries of the world.

And instead of a point, the meaningful words of Bogusław Śliwerski*:

Change is the way.

Through change, we learn.

Change comes from our fears and anxieties.

The problems of change are our friends.

We need to feed change constantly.

Change requires our strength.

The change we seek is systemic.

Systemic change begins within each of us.

So think globally – and act locally.



Vanessa Pusz
student of the 1st grade of LXIV of Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz High School. graduate of No Bell Elementary School in Konstancin-Jeziorna. Second place winner of the 3rd Olympiad of Polish Literature and Language for Primary Schools:

It is a strange paradox that school – in contrast to its purpose, after all, it should be a space conducive to development – usually has a hectic effect on the student’s educational process. The source of this contradiction perhaps lies in a certain inherent characteristic of schooling, let’s call it superficiality in learning. We learn a large amount of material from each subject, which, in a misguided pursuit of grades, we attempt to fulfill. This takes away from us the space and time for insight, in-depth analysis in the separate fields of interest. The problem noted in Volker Michels’ crossed-out preface to the correspondence of Thomas Mann and Herman Hesse, where we read that their academic failures – both Nobel laureates left junior high school after a while, and the author of “The Magic Mountain” had to repeat two classes – were due “not to a lack, but precisely from an excess of talent and goodwill,” because “\who, in turn, was occupied and moved by the learned material, like young Hans Giebenrath’s Odyssey in Hesse’s “Beneath the Wheels” fell behind and could not “catch up.'” A student is a man in the stage of searching for his identity, the healthy fluidity of which is tamed by the pile of often unnecessary knowledge “set” to be absorbed. Lack of the ability to decide about oneself within the scope of education makes us incapable of giving an answer to the question of who we are because it is contained in the here and now, which is consumed by schooling conducted by an overloaded program.

Marzena Kędra
Principal of Cogito Public Primary School in Poznań. Her heart is close to the pedagogy of C. Freinet. From it, she draws joy and strength to build a better school. She was honored with the titles of Professor of Education, Teacher of the Year 2012, Ambassador of innovative pedagogical ideas and practices, and Principal of the Year 2010. Author of numerous publications in the field of pedagogy.Chairperson of the National Coordination Board of the Polish Association of Animators of C. Freinet Pedagogy:

Most of us are afraid of change, thinking it is too difficult or even impossible to implement. We learn to adapt to situations instead of seeking new solutions and boldly implementing them. We need to overcome our fears, dissolve our inner resistance and change our thinking because that is where change begins, and that is what most guarantees its implementation.

Every change begins with an individual person and an individual decision.

First, a new idea emerges, then we share it with others, and we look for people who share it and want to take on new challenges together with us. In this way, the circle of our influence, still small, expands, and more and more things depend on us.

It takes a strong and confident conviction that change makes sense, is needed, and, above all, is possible.

I also think that if you “burn yourself, you ignite others,” and then they follow you, and the change is easier to implement. In my case, the change started in my lessons, came from the need of the heart and looking for such methods of work that would be best for children with different educational needs, and then moved to the school level. I found teachers who, like me, were not in favor of the traditional teaching culture. This first step was small, easy to implement. It was not a revolution at all. The change that followed was huge.

I am convinced that the longer we are stuck in the current patterns and beliefs, the more the crisis in education will deepen.

The system needs to change from the bottom up and from the top down. And we don’t see widespread agreement on this. Education needs mental changes, and these will not happen immediately.

Bad teachers won’t disappear, old habits won’t disappear, and conflicts perpetuated for years won’t die out.

But changes will happen if we start them here and now. They will occur, even if they involve a small group. We don’t have time to wait.

Dagmara Mirowska-Guzel, Tomasz Guzel
Hania’s parents. They made a shared decision to change the school, which was dominated by a transmission model of teaching:

Changing schools has been a long and exhausting process for both the child and us parents. At the beginning of education, with faith and confidence, without contesting, we agreed with the requirement that our daughter start school at age 6. At the time, we were optimistic that any institution, especially a private one, would be institutionally prepared to accommodate 6-year-olds, to handle pedagogically difficult situations, and, most importantly, we were confident that any private institution would provide a broad horizon in education. Nothing could be further from the truth. Money proved to have little significance in this area and perhaps even hindered the school’s ability to go above and beyond. Besides, the numerically small class size meant that no behavior escaped the attention of adults, everything took place under close supervision, and there was no space for children to experiment in areas where experimentation should be natural at certain developmental stages. We had been deciding to change schools practically since our child graduated from first grade, but for many years we had not found a school that was different from the dozen or so private schools in the area. We were aware that a change in this situation would generate additional problems without solving the earlier ones. All the more so because our daughter identified very much with her school from the very beginning. This educational experiment became unbearable in the penultimate grade when it became apparent that the number of hours in the schedule for 12-year-olds exceeded the number of hours of the standard full-time staff. We managed to get this number reduced to 43 hours per week, but continuing to participate in this educational experiment was no longer possible, although our child completely rejected the possibility of going to another school. At some point, exhaustion and lack of perspective prevailed. We had to make a decision and bear all its consequences.

Changing schools has been a long and exhausting process for both the child and us parents. At the beginning of education, with faith and confidence, without contesting, we agreed with the requirement that our daughter start school at age 6. At the time, we were optimistic that any institution, especially a private one, would be institutionally prepared to accommodate 6-year-olds, to handle pedagogically difficult situations, We decided to change schools full of hope and confidence, but our daughter did not share this optimism. Practically every day, we faced her sadness, trying to persuade us to return to the previous school, to familiar classmates and teachers. The first signs of improvement appeared after about a month. Suddenly, our child was singing on her way home from school, jumping up and down at home, happy, not worried about missing homework. We were probably atypical because we weren’t interested in what she had learned but more in how she was feeling, whether she had a good day and whether something interested her. Eventually, we were able to plan free weekends, family outings, and other joint activities without considering that she has so much homework that she will barely make it on the weekend. Of course, there were more difficult moments, including those in which we heard: “Parents, but I don’t learn anything here,” “Mom, but everyone doesn’t give a damn about learning,” “How can you not learn anything like this?”, “Parents, but I’ll be stupid after this school and won’t make it,” and other similar ones. This does not change the fact that she worked hard; having learned the rhythm of her previous school, she tried to complete assignments in the same way, turn in worksheets, and prepare materials. The biggest challenge was the project tasks. The very fact that she had to face the lack of involvement of other project performers, that she didn’t always have a say in their selection, had to pursue topics that were inconvenient for her was very frustrating but also stimulating. She was surprised to find that she did not have to learn from page to page, that it was necessary to compile knowledge from different areas, that not everything could be directly influenced, and that it was necessary to have a plan B. Undoubtedly, our child has become more confident, open-minded, and natural, but at the same time, aware of her limitations, although willing to step outside her comfort zone.

For us parents, the most important thing is that our daughter has learned to learn, to enjoy the learning process, even the learning that takes place in passing, to realistically assess her knowledge and her skills, to cooperate even under unfavorable or difficult conditions, to value the necessity and sequence of tasks, and sometimes to let go. We faced her frustrations, dissatisfaction, and resentment about the change, but these weakened over time.

Our daughter consciously and willingly thanked us for changing schools only a year after the change, and we firmly believe that she will do well in any school, regardless of the educational system she chooses in the future.

What to keep in mind – from our perspective – when making the change:

1. Don’t look at others and their needs. Many parents tested by the Polish education system are convinced that only a form of training will ensure a good future for their children, which in a way, is correct, given that completing primary school opens the next stage. If it is not compatible, the child will face the need to return to the old rules and framework, which can be very difficult.

2 Don’t be discouraged by the child’s dissatisfaction. It can be real, but it can also be apparent. The child needs reassurance from the parents that all is well. It is necessary to listen carefully to what he has to say and not necessarily convince that all is well, but rather follow the course of his thinking and fantasize “out loud” and what follows. Sometimes you will find that a difficult situation, from the child’s point of view, can be turned into a very positive one.

3. Always believe in what the child tells us, even though it sounds unbelievable and does not agree with our image. There is no perfect school; each has better and worse sides. It is not worth trying to “catch” the school on its mistakes and shortcomings.

Jan Czempiński
Geography teacher at No Bell Montessori Primary School in Konstancin-Jeziorna:

Change. Unidentified extraterrestrial object

If it were possible to grab all of school reality, condense it into a tiny organism that fits in the palm of your hand, and see how it is doing… if you could look at it closely with a magnifying glass and examine it centimeter by centimeter! It would quickly become apparent that many of the tissues of this organism are doing well. A few require medical intervention, some are completely removable, and most, unfortunately, have completely died out of old age. We cultivate many practices in schools that have become completely removed from the demands of the real world over the decades. The range of skills useful to adults in adulthood sometimes stands so far apart from the curricula that I sometimes get the impression of teaching a foreign language (rather than geography) or spells that will not work outside of school.

However, I am fortunate as a teacher to have ended up in an environment where the first activity I require – and we require – from ourselves when preparing classes is critical thinking. Over time, seeing the ineffectiveness (in terms of preparing young people for life) of my own actions, I began to add more and more little things to my lessons that made the tasks I set for my students take on a little more real color. And so – for example – lessons about national parks turned out to be more interesting if varied by finding nearby accommodation and gastronomy for the whole group; urbanization processes become more meaningful to the extent that the public transportation network has to be redesigned; Poland’s natural resources take on real value if they have to be bought or sold. Adding a second, practical leg to – somewhat absurd for a young person – issues has made the whole structure stand more securely and not wobble from side to side, threatening the biggest possible disaster at school: total boredom.

Mental stillness

While the practices described in the paragraph above are like letting fresh air into the classroom, no matter how wide we open the window, this action is no substitute for going outside. In spite of any logic and life experience, schools are giving up the opportunity to navigate the real world available at our fingertips in favor of theoretical classes among the absurd library rules of school desks.


Titles of books (in Polish) and the publishing used by the author of the article.

*M. Marcela, Selekcje. Jak szkoła niszczy ludzi, społeczeństwa i świat, Kraków 2021
*B. Śliwerski, M. Paluch, Uwolnić szkołę od systemu klasowo-lekcyjnego, Kraków 2021
*B. Caplan, Edukacja pod lupą. Dlaczego współczesny system szkolnictwa to strata czasu i pieniędzy, Wrocław 2020
*M. J. Szymański, Szkoła i nauczyciel. Rozwój nauczyciela i rozwój szkoły. Red. I. Nowosad, M.J. Szymański, Kraków 2023
*I. Nowosad, Singapur – azjatycki tygrys edukacyjnych reform. Fenomen makropolityki oświatowej, Impuls, Kraków 2022
*http://www.szkolainauczyciel.wpps.uz.zgora.pl/?page_id=266, access: 17.04.2023
*P. Łukomski, Zarządzanie innowacją w niepublicznej placówce oświatowej – perspektywa dyrektora szkoły [w:] Innowacyjne zarządzanie w polskiej oświacie. Post-conference publication. Warszawa 2009
*M. Zaborniak, Zarządzanie zmianą w oświacie, [in:] „Edukacja – Technika – Informatyka” No. 1/19/2017
*E. A. Zwolińska, Zachowania kreatywne w opinii uczniów, nauczycieli oraz rodziców, [in:] Edukacja kreatywna, sub. ed. E. A. Zwolińska, Bydgoszcz 2005
*A. Potocki, Zachowania organizacyjne. Wybrane zagadnienia, Warszawa 2005
*B. Kuc, J. M. Moczydłowska, Zachowania organizacyjne, Warszawa 2009
*K. Robinson, L. Aronica, Kreatywne szkoły. Oddolna rewolucja, która zmienia edukację, Element, Kraków 2015
*F. Crawford, Uczestnictwo w transformacji systemu edukacji, [in:] Jakość edukacji. Różnorodne perspektywy, sub. ed. G. Mazurkiewicz, Kraków 2012
*H.G. Rolff, Schulentwicklung im Systemzusammenhang [in:] H.-G. Rolff, K.O. Bauer, K. Klemm, H. Pfeiffer, (Ed.) Jahrbuch der Schulentwicklung: Daten, Beispiele und Perspektiven, Weinheim–München 1998
*A. Witkowska-Tomaszewska, W stronę paradygmatu uczenia się – o transformacji świadomości edukacyjnej nauczycieli. [in:] J. Bałachowicz, A. Korwin-Szymanowska, E. Lewandowska, A. Witkowska-Tomaszewska, Zrozumieć uczenie się. Zmienić wczesną edukację, Warszawa 2017
*K. Mudyń, Komunikacji bez przemocy jako metoda przezwyciężania i zapobiegania konfliktom. [in:] D. Kubacka-Jasiecka, K. Mudyń (ed.) Kryzys, interwencja i pomoc psychologiczna, Toruń 2003
*J. Bałachowicz, Szkoła jako przestrzeń budowania przyszłości, [in:] J. Bałachowicz, A. Korwin-Szymanowska, E. Lewandowska, A. Witkowska-Tomaszewska, Zrozumieć uczenie się. Zmienić wczesną edukację, Warszawa 2017
*A. Janowski, Pedagogika praktyczna – zarys problematyki – zdrowy rozsądek –  wyniki badań, Warszawa 2002
*Fazlagić J., Wkład oświaty w kształtowanie innowacyjnego społeczeństwa [in:] J. Fazlagić, M. Schmidt (ed.), Innowacyjne zarządzanie w polskiej oświacie, Warszawa 2009, https://issuu.com/frse/docs/iz2009_final_www/13
*A. Rokowska, Opór psychologiczny młodzieży: rola źródła i kierunku presji społecznej w kwestii ujednolicenia ubioru w szkole, [in:] PSYCHOLOGIA ROZWOJOWA, 2008, vol. 13
*M. Kędra, Cogito, szkoła z własnym obliczem, Kraków 2021
*A. Touraine, Wprowadzenie do analizy ruchów społecznych. [in:] J. Szupaczyński (selection and compilation), Władza i społeczeństwo. Antologia tekstów z zakresu socjologii polityki, Warszawa 1995
*M. Nowak Dziemianowicz, Orientacja temporalna w polskiej edukacji i szkole jako źródło paradoksów zmiany [in:] Szkoła i nauczyciel. Rozwój nauczyciela i rozwój szkoły. I. Nowosad, M. Szymański (Ed.), Kraków 2023
*E. Kulczycki, Dziedzictwo Schramma jako źródło specyfiki polskiej nauki o komunikacji, [in:] Lingua ac Communitas Vol. 21. 2011
*S. Pasikowski, Opór indywidualny. Teorie, klasyfikacje i diagnozowanie w ujęciu psychologicznym, [in:] Teraźniejszość – Człowiek – Edukacja, No. 68(4)
*J. Szulski, Nauczyciel z Polski, (no place of publication), 2021