Storythread and the Transformation of a School: Creating Emotional Safe and Practically Mediated Spaces for Change

By Ron Tooth.

Published by The Humanities Collection

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

There are growing demands in society and in schools for the formulation of a new purpose for education that offers leaders, teachers and students a way into more sustainable and ethical ways of living and learning. This is part of the move towards more ecological and culturally situated approaches to whole school reform where environmental education and sustainability are seen as critical to implementing mainstream educational agendas. How this transition might actually be achieved, is however, anything but clear – and more studies are needed. One such study of whole school reform is glimpsed in this paper. It provides insight into how an educational leader used Storythread (an arts and place-based approach to environmental education) to move an educational community through a process of profound cultural change. What this paper proposes, based on insights drawn from a nine year journey of change in a school, and building on understandings taken from a combination of Complexity, Psychoanalytic and Activity theory, is that effective leaders find ways to deal with the creativity and anxiety generated by change by providing the right mix of ‘transitional objects’ and ‘cultural tools’ to provide teachers with the ‘emotional support’ and ‘practical mediation’ that will help them engage successfully with innovative new ideas. In this case, the principal kept Eco State School willingly balanced at the creative edge of change as teachers experimented with new forms of teaching and learning. In this way, the she created a ‘safe space’ where teachers felt free to experiment with alternative ideas and a ‘practical space’ where they could begin to master new forms of education practice. What eventually emerged was a re-vitalized learning community.

Keywords: Storythread, Place-Based Environmetal Education, Whole School Reform, Complexity, Transitional Object, Cultural Tool

The International Journal of the Humanities, Volume 5, Issue 11, pp.45-54. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 775.617KB).

Dr. Ron Tooth

Principal / Director, Pullenvale Environmetal Education Centre, Education Queensland, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia

Ron Tooth began teaching in 1971. In 1981 he was invited to establish the Pullenvale Environmetal Education Centre on the western outskirts of Brisbane. Since that time, Ron has led a talented and creative team of teachers in the development of the Storythread Approach. This unique model of teaching and learning has brought Pullenvale EEC international recognition as a leading facility in the field of environmetal education. Ron gained a Masters of Education in 1986, focusing on the use of Story, Drama and Setting in Environmetal Education. He has recently completed a PhD at Queensland University entitled - Storythread and the Transformation of a School. Pullenvale Environmetal Education has just been selected as one of small number of lead schools in Australia for the 2007/08 Values Education Good Practice Schools VEGPS Stage 2. Ron is faciliating this project across a cluster of eight State Schools.

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