“Something old something new, something borrowed something blue”- new learning ways and spaces

“Something old something new, something borrowed something blue”- how to prepare for new learning ways and space

What is a learning environment? I believe is a space “where you can sense the future”. A space in which what one learns (through learning relations) will be accessible and upscaled in everyday life situations – for work purposes, taking decisions, solving problems for oneself and others -human and more than human, as well as to be accessible in very different circumstances. We might like to add to these two important elements a 3rd- one long-term impact, we might like to enhance our ability to integrate knowledge and create long-term memories or accessibility to that knowledge and learning. 

Researcher and book author Cal Newport that has been writing on the topic of deep learning, as well as Kirsti Lonka Head of Psychology of Education Department, University of Helsinki, are saying that what we learn now in the closed environment of a class has very little or no applicability in the real-life, outside those walls. Neuroscience and psychology of education are showing that what we learn in class stays there and that is why we NOW have and need a paradigm shift for 21st-century learning and education. 

With teachers’ program during Spring 2022, we practiced integrating multiple perspectives as a pedagogical approach. As future skills, multiple perspectives allow one to practice seeing what was not visible yet before, the learning becomes possible, as we move from an ego-centered education to an eco-centered education. What means this shift actually? 

We move from the ability to see change as ONE best practice and we all try to do the same, to change as the ability of people to perceive and do things in many different ways (future scenarios skills).

To allow development and change, we lower (eliminate) tensions between new and old, between what we would call traditional and innovation, tensions that consume the creative potentiality of teachers as well as space of reflection- as the ability to notice how is that we actually learn and then do more of that. We practice and develop the capacity to hold multiple perspectives, to allow diversity to dissipate the conflict. We replace tensions with bridges allowing “worlds to communicate”.

…as change [that] could happen through the almost invisible work of developing the capacity to hold/contain many people to see things in different ways.” ( Carol Sanford )

Why new ways? “ when encountered with new knowledge and (hard data) people tend to reinforce their previous mental models rather than changing their thinking based on the new information” ( Lonka, p 36). Hence with new ways for a paradigm shift, we bring awarness, translating this word as creating space and skill of the one observing (proprioception known from students’ process for learning how to learn, the metacognitive competence) with no immediate need to judge or put some label on how things are, instead of prolonging and cultivating the curiosity state; how is it that learning is happening, what is the potentiality of learning and creating conditions in the classroom for that potentiality to scaffold in meaningful learning for students and teachers. In the end, it is the everyday practice of truly being curious, that would translate into the inherent motivation of the environment, and when there is motivation there is the activation of the ones learning. This paradigm shift of new learning ways and spaces we practice in programs, of the inherant motivation rather then intrinsic/extrinsic motivation.  

These are some of the elements we notice they work as container processes to assist one in starting and continuing with planning new learning ways and spaces to transform learning from “ passive reproductive to active process preparing one to be a learner in a world of wicked problems for the 21st century: 

Something new, a mindset for prototyping

  1. Something new; a mindset for prototyping. In the language of system thinking this is a 0.8 idea which would translate as something that you teach with students as you sense its potentiality for learning and then you design this small action while as well you don’t know how it will actually work. This we can also call design-based learning. As you observe based on students’ interactions with it you can update it as the next version and test it again and the process continues. The effort here is on completely letting go of any control you think you have or you must have this way you create space for truly being curious and aware/ full attention to the potentiality of learning. As you do this students learn from your mental mode and feel encouraged, and we bring action-based learning as a new way of learning in the class, which means we translate, how is it that we would use that learning in everyday situations? This in the end is a sustainable curriculum, students and teachers learn what is meaningful to them.
prototyping and picture harvesting Antonio Andrade, principal and teacher from Portugal, May 2022

Something old, or the capacity to practice humbleness

  1. something old- or the capacity to practice humbleness, we could also name it traditions. Something old is as Kirsti Lonka (2019) described it “ resting on our ancestors’ shoulders as we look further”. The practice of the skill of being the humble teacher in the class is actually making it possible for the teacher to become a bridge instead of being some “supplier or holder of the information/or learning”. The teacher is connecting worlds for the students.

Something borrowed- multidisciplinary

  1. something borrowed- multidisciplinary, transdisciplinary approach; Courageously looking outside of one’s field/subject ( and comfort zone if we notice and are truthful to ourselves). Team teaching brings together art and science, languages and math, history and biology. As we shift the paradigm of learning and schooling, from IQ to EQ to WeQ, as we learn to learn together, to formulate and co-regulate for group learning objectives. That translates as multidisciplinary from students’ process perspective. 

As for teachers’ process, practicing and creating spaces in the school schedule for peer reflection, teachers as action researchers. Teaching and learning happen in the relationship and we courageously (the word comes from the french meaning “from the heart) create new spaces and ways to contain and encourage teachers and students to learn together. 

Something blue, practicing insightful-based learning

picture from the “blue team” harvested work of
Sofie Ponsaerts
, teacher from Belgium -May 2022
  1. something blue- practicing insightful-based learning. Creating spaces in the learning process, to allow everyday little insights, allowing the unexpected to become visible. I have to say that the biggest potentiality for innovation and change during our program and process came from the team looking for something blue in our extraordinary learning environment, why is that? As we practice suspending what we think we already know about something (for teachers’ process we call this Letting go and Letting come and for students unlearning) then we are able to create new knowledge, deeper understanding, and practice compassionate learning, which means looking at something from multiple perspectives, suspending any previous judgment that limits our solutions to what we already know. “Something blue” allows teachers to play and anyone likes playing once as adults we had the appropriate check-in process to actually allow us to tap into the playfulness model. I will say once more as all elements returned in our collective space, something blue holds the most potential for innovation, yet absolutely all 4 elements are equally relevant and stand on one another. Something blue invited and allow teachers to look for the unexpected, to see what they have not noticed before as they were inspecting the place with their pre-informed mind and view “of what is a learning space or a library and what is not”. 

We need an open roof for our learning spaces 

New learning ways and spaces as a school paradigm shift or “school development” means a building with an open roof, an atrium. As one of the teachers helped us clarify this idea, as he shared with the rest “ I still feel I would need a roof over my learning so I could connect all these”, exactly, yet we do not need any roof,  we need an open roof. Alvar Aalto the internationally renowned Finnish architect and the creative team around this name built new spaces in the 20th century including the amazing Aalto University campus. Many of these buildings have a glass ceiling, an atrium, and the light will clean and leave a healthy building/ space, his argument for a society that has seen its share of respiratory diseases along with history. So, with new learning ways as facilitator, I bring an open roof over our learning, we allow the learning to happen by paying attention to the process- the safety and trust that makes it possible- and we allow the light ( aware and deep learning) for the potentiality to become visible and each one will decide what is their one small action/step possible. 

For students process, how we take and apply this in the class, we as teachers are not holding the learning, they the students do not learn up to our ability to understand ( at this moment), learning is mutual, and as teachers the role becomes, with new learning ways, to hold the process and bring light to areas that have not been yet been considered, studied, keep the process ( no easy task) of holding and inquiring through multiple perspectives a subject, a topic. This is a practice for critical and scientific thinking in the classroom.

An invitation to Practice “something old-something new-something borrowed something blue”

Ideally, your might like to do this with a group of teachers, as part of exploring new ways and spaces ( my invitation is to consider any small action and step in a learning environment as a good enough prototype) it doesn’t have to have big budgets or grandiose objective, a new school altogether, that is very fine as well, yet even considering a small very small step and action that is most welcomed and invited here. With your team go to a new place where you might take inspiration from, where it is easier for you to suspend any pre-made judgment about how the place for learning should or should not be. A library, a museum, a co-working space, a park absolutely any space that wears for you potential of surprise. Take a moment of silence together, we underestimate the power of silence, and it is also fine for us to remember to be silent together, to tolerate silence and see it as nurturing, so practice intentional silence for a moment or two and then each of you can go explore the space on your own ( keeping the silence) and find something old, something new, something borrowed and something blue. Then as you are back with your team each can share and you can collectively journal what has emerged for you and continue critical work from there.

For information on New learning ways and Spaces teachers’ programs in Finland, you can contact us at info@actonlearnin.org and inquire about the next sessions. 


  1. Article picture harvested by Sophie Ponsaerts, teacher from Belgium, many thanks for her amazing pictures and visual harvesting that supported and clarified our work
  2. Deep Learning, Deep work Cal Newport https://www.calnewport.com/ 
  3. Phenomenon-based learning, Lonka (2019)
  4. more on moving from ego-centered to eco-centered education system https://medium.com/presencing-institute-blog/vertical-literacy-12-principles-for-reinventing-the-21st-century-university-39c2948192ee 
  5. New learning ways and spaces, the phenomenal space of Aalto University, one of the spaces in which we are with Nw Learning ways and spaces program https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_Eq8ug9CD1U 

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