Islands schools- how do we create more bridges in education?

I start with a BOLD idea from Robert Moss Growing Big Dreams book: the superheroes appear through slips

I would imagine in little cracks, that is where the innovation, resilience, future foresight comes from, we can play with this perspective in this article. As such, you might choose to direct your attention towards the margins of what your education (teaching, learning) is and not to the ordinary, normal, unsurprising predictable, calculated next step. 

What is an “island school”? It is my term for prototypes (hybrid etc) forms of schooling that will not follow the system path/stringency and create bridges for re-imagining education. Why this idea of “islands schools”? I would say we should envision supporting disruptive prototyping schools (within traditional systems) that have the potential to scaffold and lean forward the entire learning system towards a new/innovative/future direction. How can we create space for the superhero potential to appear in the “slips”, in the cracks? How can we support these island schools’ existence without asking them to fully be in compliance with the system (some compliance ensures their scaffolding, bridging with the system)? 

wind storm day, kids were outside doing their sport lessons, or breaks, October 2021

Meeting Charlie Moreno in Tallinn and the school was a work of synchronicity or future foresight for me. A friend, of a friend, said “ speaking of Democratic-led schools” as you work in Finland, have you visited Charlie in Estonia? On the first occasion, I emailed Charlie a positive answer came quickly and I was on my way on a (very) stormy day via the Baltic Sea to Tallinn, to visit Suvemäe school.

This framing article is my own process and toolkit, an invitation to teachers, educators, and anyone interested in learning,  it is not a description of the school, and I invite you to experience yourself at such schools.

Shifting mindset

While I have read, and seen, and studied different case clinics of schools offering democratic, free learning, shifting mindset is THE no1 challenge, we are warned about. Some scholars and researchers offer arguments for the length of this period and being patient and supporting the process of shift for students for as long as it takes. You might like to have a look at the reference section for more arguments on this point. I would take the time here to point towards a different perspective, one of MOMENTUM, fine tunning, doing the micro changes work.

In other words, as I am doing my own personal work, the shift composed from many different micro-changes can happen in an instant, as long as I direct my attention on the process and look at the ripple effect of micro-changes. 

Here are some practices:

Be the change you want to see

Be the change you want to see in others –  as a teacher, educator, parent, facilitator, from the role you would like to see the shift happening, do your work, your inner process. This will not simply mean the child will copy your process (thus that might be), it will rather be a gentle invitation( we have what neuroscience supporting education calls mirroring neurons). “Be the change you want to see in others” at the micro-level, would translate as, what is my own expectation, what is my own learning, my intention. As I can only actually change myself, thus changing the world around me. Answer and follow systemically these answers for yourself. 

The power of peer learning

Practicing feedforward and constructive and healthy feedback, a place of nurturing the learning accelerates the shifting mindset. As I feel seen and heard to my full potential by my peers this creates, fuel for change via actions. In other words, the change comes from actions (inner). Make space for a culture of peer learning in your teaching. Students learn from by “learning” other students, creating opportunities for student-led lessons, they have the opportunity to practice communication and job skills, compassion and active listening ( with feedforward).

What is “your economy?”

What is “your economy?”- Align the vision of the school to the higher vision of the community and society you are serving. What is the driving force for which this school/education works “for”. As we prepare to be enlightened citizens what is the dream/ the vision for this enlightened society? And most important what is my contribution to this? I once in a training had a group of teachers feeling what they experienced in the last few days of training ( spaces and ways) the almost enlightened society they imagine, and in their co-creating, co-learning in a short time they came up with the vision for their schools, had a wellbeing state of mind and aligned six different cultures they represented. That is the power of vision. 


Equal footing- as a management tool, allow students to be part of the school management, administration, as they will have a saying they will feel the responsibility of what a school (including householding) is. Offering occasion to practice being responsible for the infrastructure, for the computers, for the food, for the renovation etc. That will align with feeling responsible ( with joy and curiosity) about own learning, something vital in 21st-century education. 

Look for the cracks

Here the invitation is not to struggle/ focus on shifting students mindset/ looking for intrinsic motivation (which is the hardest work and takes time end continuous effort), yet build on little success, on micro-changes. “ You cannot build on the success you don’t acknowledge”. Create check-in, check-outs moments during the day, and showcase moments during the semester, when students have a chance to reflect back with amazement “ I did this?…”. Your role will be to guide the process, patiently and as “a silent teacher” keeping the process for “the image of the one doing the work/learning”. The aim is to allow the small/micro-changes to become visible and create a moment of awareness, with that moment both students and teachers can observe the ripple effect of small success and build an infinite mindset for learning.


  1. Wonderful song, Opening the Heart, the Mind and Will in educatin, learning in diversity, students enjoying a great song
  2. More about Suvemae Democratic Led Public School in Tallinn Estonia, school here
  3. For superheroes approach, as I use a lot this concept in education, my approch is inspirational expressed in this poem by In-Q
  4. Regarding shift mindset from traditional to democratic/free learning, In the book Free to Learn: Why Unleashing the Instinct to Play Will Make Our Children Happier, More Self-Reliant, and Better Students for Life, Peter Gray. You might like to read about “ unlearning”, how much time it takes to shift between the “extrinsic” motivation based formal system of education and one based on self direted learning, democratic led. Also Cal Newport in Deep Work, brings different research and studies around new routines for deep learning, and working, and another resource around for the exponential impact and acceleration of learning once “the old mindset was unlearned” in the book Code of Talent by Daniel Coyle.
  5. Regarding Micro-changes or systemic approach to change  Karen O’Brian professor in the department of sociology and human geography at the University of Oslo teaches and writes about social systemic changes, social quantic, micro-changes is one small change you adopt and then you focus on the ripple affects in your life by sustaining this “small” change here are some resources
  6. ” what is your economy?” words of Manish Jain, free school founder , in a dialogue with re-imagining education, october 2021.
  7. infinite mindset for learning, in this interview by Simon Sinek together with Jim Kwik
The “island” reference might also come with the nature that supports free learning and democratic led, and this patch of forest was my first stop before entering the school 🙂

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