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Human-Centered Transformation with School of the Nations

Human-Centered Transformation with School of the Nations in Brasilia

Linda Henke, Executive Director of the Santa Fe Center, spent a week in July learning with the staff of School of Nations in Brasilia, an amazing international school growing from Baha’i beliefs. Our human-centered model is a natural fit for the Bahia School where a focus on service to others, the environment, and world citizenship are all critical elements of the work. The preK-12 school is bilingual, offering learning in both English and Portuguese, and most of its students graduate with proficiency in at least three languages.

Early childhood teachers at the school were eager to rethink their curriculum with children, and wanted to explore concepts and practices undergirding the early childhood work in Reggio Emilia, Italy. The schools in Reggio have long been considered the best early childhood programs in the world, nurturing inquiry, creativity, and language development. Linda spent three days introducing this work to a group of fifty teachers from School of Nations and neighboring schools. The participants delved into four key topics in their study of Reggio’s teaching and learning:

  • The image of the child that emerges from the work at Reggio;
  • Creating spaces that nurture children’s creativity;
  • Shaping curriculum around students’ questions; and
  • Examining how to use art materials to explore questions and build theory.

As the week progressed, teachers began to think about learning environments differently, and one afternoon spent experimenting in their classrooms brought about amazing changes in the spaces. Teachers removed clutter, created rich centers for block play, organized writing and construction materials on accessible shelves; brought nature into their classroom with materials gathered from outside, and developed mini ateliers (art spaces).   External spaces became topics of discussion, as well; and plans for small gardens, an outdoor atelier, and natural play and exploration areas elicited animated conversation.

Exploring Learning Spaces in a More Intentional Way

School of Nations Teachers Experimenting with Art Materials

Linda also collaborated with leaders of School of Nations, exploring the power of collective aspiration to give momentum to a school initiative to revisit roots of the school extending back to 1980. School leaders brought the same enthusiasm as their early childhood colleagues to the study and demonstrated a deep commitment to the unique education the school offers its children.

As part of our work with schools, consultants at the Santa Fe Center believe that schools must develop a compelling purpose, a clear statement of what they are trying to create together. This we call “A Learning Profile.” Below is the draft of the learning profile created by the leaders of School of Nations.


The Learning Profile for School of Nations

We nurture a transformational learning culture that supports our students in becoming conscious, compassionate, and capable world citizens. In such an environment, learning is reciprocal: children’s empowered learning heightens adults’ own capacities as role models, activators of powerful learning, and passionate, influential citizens of the world. Thus our culture embraces the growth of all those involved in our learning community. In keeping with this broad goal, our schools foster five dimensions of human development:

     The capacity for scholarship, developed through deeper learning that

  • is frequently interdisciplinary and collaborative,
  • promotes children’s voice and choice in their learning work,
  • nurtures mastery of content applied in real world problems and projects,
  • recognizes the power of second language learning to influence understanding and perspective,
  • draws upon the arts to build and share thinking and to support development of imaginative expression,
  • provides opportunities to problem-solve, design, and think systemically,
  • uses technology to explore, create, research, and build, and
  • nurtures the capacities for inquisitiveness, suspension of judgment, and reflection.

     The capacity for moral and ethical action, developed through purposeful experience that

  • supports us in building community and practicing respectful interaction,
  • nurtures our ability to take multiple perspectives and reflect on action,
  • engages children and adults in service projects in the school and broader community, giving us opportunity to put values in action,
  • uses wide reading and study of history, religion, and culture to examine the breadth of human experience,
  • develops spiritual insights about the unity of all humanity and our relationship to the earth, and
  • nurtures empathy and compassion.

     The capacity for stewardship of the earth, developed through study and action in the outdoors that

  • builds skillfulness in and commitment to assuming our rights and responsibilities for caring for the Commons,
  • expands the ability to collaborate with others in discerning what must be preserved and what must be changed in order for future generations to thrive,
  • builds understanding of the economic, social, and ecological impact of our personal and collective practices,
  • uses imagination and intention in creating a vision of a desired future,
  • recognizes and celebrates the value of the social, economic, ecological, and architectural history of a place, and
  • applies systems and scientific thinking to understand complex ecological settings and problems.

     The capacity for global citizenship, developed through study and experience in both the school and the broader community that

  • supports us in building personal commitment to social justice, equality, inclusiveness, and peace,
  • builds understandings of the interconnectedness of our world,
  • helps us recognize that world citizenship often requires courageous and thoughtful action and a willingness to step forward to address injustices,
  • expands our ability to lead, to build consensus, and to stay with complex problems over extended periods of time,
  • extends our skillfulness in applying both historical understanding and the tools of the historian to current issues, and
  • encourages our appreciation for the richness of world cultures.

     The capacity for physical fitness and health, developed through study and practice that

  • nurtures our joy in physical movement and interaction with the physical world,
  • develops our understandings of the human body and mind and how to best care for ourselves and others,
  • builds our understandings of good nutrition and its role in insuring our health,
  • expands our abilities to practice mindfulness,
  • nurtures resilience in dealing with complex problems and settings, and
  • strengthens our commitment to healthy lifestyles.

This year, the staff is continuing to study their compelling purpose, as explained by their Director, Lisa Perskie, “We are in the midst of a year-long exploration of our mission concepts, being led by a member of the Baha'i community who has a PhD in Education and who serves as a spiritual counselor to us, Pejman Samoori. He will be helping us to develop texts with an explanation of our school's pedagogical discourse to insure a better understanding of them for all stakeholders.”

School of Nations, led by Lisa, exemplifies a human-centered transforming school. The members of the learning community are open and excited about new learning, and they come to their work with a passionate commitment to the ideals expressed in their learning profile—nurturing their students and themselves to become increasingly conscious, compassionate, and capable world citizens.