If You Want Change, Change Your Schools Firsta chat with Margret Rasfeld

So here we are, wondering how we got into this mess. Funny thing is, the key to getting out of it lies in how we got into it. If only we dared to step out of conformity, out of the paralysis of business as usual, or better said: of school as usual.

When I first spoke with Margret, I was humbled by the energy and the vision she put into the dream of an education system that has the potential to save our future. She's one of those rare people who not only have a transformative idea but are also putting everything into making it happen.

Let me pull excerpts from my first conversation with Margret to the front once again, as they have not lost any of their relevance. Maybe they have become even more relevant over the last two years, given the mounting challenges we face in society and our environment around the world.

Things are definitely looking up: so many promising initiatives and institutions exist in the realm of education — whether it's U.Lab or a school like Ricardo Semler's Lumiar Schools — yet, they still haven't reached the mainstream, and it's time to change that. Because, let's be frank, if we really, I mean REALLY, want a different kind of (business) world, one where conscious leadership is commonplace, we can no longer leave it to HR managers and conscious companies to transform our mindsets — we have to start much earlier in life: at school.

Margret is living and breathing democracy- and awareness-based education. It's her mission to develop a school system that's not just about grades and winning but about the human values we need to create a better society — and therewith a more humane way of doing business. She's an Ashoka Changemaker Fellow and initiated an international conference on transforming education — the "Global Goals Curriculum" — in Berlin. Her efforts, together with her co-founders and colleagues at the organization "Schule im Aufbruch" (Schools in Transformation), have already brought about progress regarding new learning formats, structures, and approaches across Europe.

"Society has to change," Margret told me. "Which means we need to start in school to impact the business mindset in the next decades."


To Margret it's crystal clear that the drive for change cannot only come from students. The process of transforming beliefs about achievement and growing one's own potential is dependent on the parents' and the institutions' ability to do the same. They are interdependent. And this realization has to happen organically — within each of these groups. "Adults need to be willing to evolve too," Margret points out.

Such a way of thinking and acting cannot be coerced. The very foundation of the new educational system is an environment without fear, one where both the head and the heart are called for, and one where learning by doing is more important than cramming as much knowledge as possible into a student's brain.

"The school of today 'doesn't think'. It's just a tool for examinations, for a test-based system that is there to evaluate and give certifications, to select good or bad," Margret explains. It's full of triggers for competitive thinking, for putting your ego first. "Yes. Grades can have such a huge impact. When I talk about grades, I see that it's a very emotional topic. The audience has either very positive or negative reactions. Everyone is touched because of their experience in school."

So it's not only about what is taught in schools but how it's taught. "Self-organization, taking initiative and responsibility, showing empathy. Now you look at the current schools, and there is nothing of that sort there."

Margret then tells me about workshops she had with students, teachers, and Human Resources (HR) managers from different industries. "We talked a whole day. It was important for the students to hear directly from the HR leaders that what their businesses need is not available right now from either high school or university students. That there is a big mismatch between job-related needs and what is taught at school." One of those events has been filmed, and a short video is available on Vimeo (in German only).

One of the key skills missing turned out to be self-reflection — an attribute no conscious leader can do without. But that's not all: also change readiness and the willingness to change are not available at the level that HR leaders expect. "Many of us are so attached to safety, to processes, to what is," Margret adds. "Parents keep the system in place because they feel that to succeed, their children need to go through the same system, the same education that they experienced."

And so we are in an endless loop. At the same time, expectations are running out of control and pressures are growing exponentially. The traditional school system is teaching the "business system of now" and is making our kids sick. When Dr. Slavin of Saint Louis University School of Medicine surveyed 2,100 students at a high school in Fremont, California, right by Silicon Valley, he was shocked to find that 54% showed signs of depression and 80% suffered from anxiety.

More stress, more competitive thinking, more ego — is that what's in store?

"Yes, that's the future we are recreating," Margret says. It's what our schools — our minds — are currently perpetuating. "I am not saying that there has to be only one type of school. I am not about the institution of school but about the attitudes that are carried by it and within us, about the values and behaviors that we need to change to create a better future, also for businesses." And as the workshops have shown, many companies are already looking for something else: for less ego and more self-awareness and empathy.

"I've spoken to a company that consults on how to identify talents. The ladder career is shifting to the mosaic career. It's about skills, not status. So we then held another meeting with HR and company leaders and our students. I was talking about values and humanity. Others were talking about apps and talent development. Yet it meshed well. They are all things that impact our external cultural and societal changes, which in turn impact business."

And that's one of the keys: to realize that the different aspects of humanity and technology work together, that everything is interconnected, and should not be seen as separate. Each one can support and amplify the other one. The danger of today is that digitization appears to be more important than education, that technology appears to "win" over humanity.

We can change direction anytime. The consequences of education reach everyone and everything, every facet of our lives. And no, we're not too late in the game to turn things around, to dare to step beyond conformity. We just need to look into our heart and soul, whether as parents or students, as aunts, uncles, sibling, or simply as human beings that want to create a better future for everyone.

C'mon, let's step.

External resources mentioned in this story:

Global Goals Curriculum

Schule im Aufbruch

Video "Kompetenzen für die Arbeitswelt": Schule im Aufbruch on Vimeo

Ashoka Changemakers

Vicky Abeles, New York Times, 2016: Is the drive for success making our children sick? (Dr. Slavin, Saint Louis University School of Medicine)

U.Lab at edx.org: U.Lab - Leading from the emerging future

Lumiar Schools

© 2016, 2019

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