The Human Side of Changing Education Seminar, Queen's University, Belfast, Northern Ireland

Welcome to March! This month is full of travel and meeting new people - starting with a trip to Northern Ireland. In the next few updates I will share my learning from those adventures, starting with a visit to my alma mater, Queen's University, in Belfast Northern Ireland.


On March 8th I was honored to lead a conversational seminar on The Human Side of Changing Education, co-hosted by Denis Stewart of the International Futures Forum and Tony Gallagher, Acting Dean of Research, Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences at Queen's. Denis masterfully coordinated the moving parts of the seminar and organized the conversation around three questions:

  1. What's worth learning?

  2. What needs to change?

  3. How can transformative change be enabled?

We had a diverse group of participants – including local and international masters and doctoral students, beginning and veteran teachers, and representatives from local and international government agencies. Although there was significant diversity of background, experience, and professional focus, there was shared agreement with regard to the skills knowledge and habits of mind that are worth learning and the (sometimes overwhelming) nature of the work in facilitating the level of change we need.

Tony summarized the conversation beautifully by highlighting that our capacity to lead the kind of change we need is directly proportional to our individual and collective appetite to embrace uncertainty and risk. A topic we don’t often discuss in education as so much of what we do is grounded in “knowing” – in too many schools, the worst answer you can give to a question is “I don’t know” – for students and adults alike.

We also discussed the power of collaboration. Prior to the seminar I had thought of collaboration as a tool in the change leader’s toolkit, but in Northern Ireland, Tony has been leading work where collaboration is as much the end as the means. For over a decade he has led work in bridging the divide between Catholic and Protestant students through a collaborative model. I encourage you to read his 2016 paper from the Oxford Review on Education on the topic: Shared education in Northern Ireland: school collaboration in divided societies.

Briefly quoted here are the five core elements that emerged from the shared education model:

  • “First, they need to be based on bottom-up, locally tailored solutions, as each school partnership needs to address local circumstances, challenges and opportunities…

  • Second, partnerships are unlikely to be successful unless they involve teacher empowerment…

  • Third, the importance of regular, sustained contact was confirmed…

  • Fourth, the importance of combining economic, education and social goals was also confirmed. Partnerships should seek to enhance social, educational and efficiency gains for the participating schools…

  • Fifth, our experience was that connections between people were crucial to cultural change and sustainability...”

Tony’s work on the collaborative educational model is gathering significant international interest and he is working on associated initiatives in Israel and California. It strikes me that as we become more and more divided as a citizenry, both locally and globally, there is much we can learn from this work, in every neighborhood. Equipping a generation of students to not only value difference, but to transcend its limitations, gives me hope that they can and will bridge the divide that too many have inherited.