Prague, Czech Republic
What an honor it was for me to have been invited to participate in a very unique thering of education leaders. For three days in mid-April, in the ancient city of Prague, 40 educators and visionaries gathered to explore “The Soul of Education.” This gathering, the first of its kind to be organized by the emerging Soul of Education Initiative (http://soul-of-education.org) was a truly global collaboration. At its core the Initiative was an invitation to envision a more holistic and humanistic integrative education paradigm, and to explore the culture, practices and implementations needed to help create a more responsible, connected, sustainable and ethically based society.
The Prague Gathering brought together leading educational experts, researchers, scholars and policy makers from around the world. The event was devoted to exploring, discussing and discovering the essential core purpose of education, and envisioning the vital global shifts needed in our schools, universities and educational communities. 40 participants made their way to Prague from 20 countries around the world including Israel, Czech Republic, Qatar, Denmark, Mexico, Poland, Russia, Portugal, New Zealand, Estonia, Hong Kong, Croatia, Austria, UK, Thailand, Bhutan and USA.
Major themes and explorations for the Prague Gathering included:
ï What is our unique contribution to the future of education? How can we work together, connect to other innovators and initiatives, and enhance the educational changes needed in the world.
ï How can we best integrate our unique narratives and themes (i.e. mindfulness, positive psychology, holistic education, social-emotional learning, and deep ecology) towards a holistic integration which is bigger than the sum of its parts?
ï What is our individual and collective contribution to competently enhancing education? What are the methodologies and pedagogies that we have discovered, uncovered and refined?
ï How can we envision the future of education? Schools? Curriculum? How can future models better meet the needs of both young people and the planet?
This gathering grew out of initial conversations between integrative medical practitioner and thought leader, Dr. Nimrod Sheinman from Israel and Thakur Powdyel, the former Minister of Education from Bhutan. Both of these men were present and provided leadership throughout the gathering. Facilitation was beautifully offered by Virgilio Varela, a global facilitator from Portugal.
Far deeper than the pursuit of stated objectives or preconceived outcomes for the gathering, what clearly emerged was a soulful presence, as these 40 people brought their individual and combined perspectives, insights and wisdom to the floor with humility and grace.
Powdyel eloquently reflects:
There were no ceremonies or inaugural fanfare nor was there media-presence. We had neither any learned speeches nor formal structures though everything flowed seamlessly. The retreat started with a humble Bhutanese invocation to the God of Learning and my brief submission on the vision of our gathering.
Our sessions were long but deeply engaging, often relieved by relaxation exercises and mindfulness moments as well as moving songs and thoughtful poem-recitations. Our small personal stories wove themselves effortlessly into the big stories of our educational mission.
Larger themes were taken head on as workshop-groups delved into the essential core of issues and filled the walls with illuminating insights. Our excellent facilitators captured the essence and found common patterns and shared visions.
Wisdom circle with Dr. Phil Gang, USA, Dr Thakur Powdyel, Bhutan, Dr. Aostre Johnson, USA and Dr. Prapapat Niyom, Thailand
As the retreat ended, there was no neat statement or grand declaration that events of this scale are accustomed to issuing. There was enough material though to manifest the soul in the role as educators seek to walk the talk.
As was to be expected, this conversation was more of a journey inward, a dialogue with the self, a time to listen to the call of the inner voice. It was a quest, a confession, an epiphany.
It turned out that it was not so much of the discovery of the soul but its re-discovery, re-affirmation and revitalization that is the call of the moment, the need of the hour, the warrant of time.
The bottom-line was clear: If education succeeds, no nation can fail; with education failing, no nation can succeed. But, it has to be education of a high order – powerful, purposeful, and meaningful.
There will be ongoing conversations that will plot the course for the next stage of development in this nascent but potentially very powerful initiative. Stay tuned for announcements regarding possible future events and publications as we continue to earnestly seek to reanimate the Soul of Education.
Mr. Powdyel again:
The gathering in Prague was, therefore, not to lament the loss of paradise but to renew our faith and build hope. The stakes couldn’t be higher.
Education is power, learning is strength. Knowledge can empower people, change societies, and transform nations. It makes sense to build schools, colleges and universities and collect the most precious segment of our societies – our children and youth – keep them there for extended periods of time.
Our institutions and practitioners of education ought to carry this conviction of the power of learning and manifest it in their operations. Our roles should keep returning to the soul and deriving vitality and vigor from it to remain relevant, purposeful and fulfilling.
This is the way to the soul.
Head of School