I recently discovered this absolutely gorgeous photobook about unconventional schools. It's an amazing book, it's ground-breaking. I've never seen a book like it. If you are passionate about schooling or unconventional methods of education you might like it too!
Let's Do This is a photo book with nearly 300 images of six unconventional schools from around the world. Featuring schools from Bali, San Diego, Netherlands, Denmark, Finland and, California. Touching subjects like; Making Movement, Nature Schools, Engaging Education, Project-Based Learning and Interdisciplinary Learning. This book is visually stunning, I had chills reading it, it will take your breath away!!!
"What does it look like when school happens outside in a forest, at a soldering bench, or in a pig shed? When school leaders make a curriculum that follows the way a child thinks and grows, not the other way around? When class means building a roller coaster, robotics, or a biodiesel motorbike? What do we see when school truly engages kids, all the while really helping them develop the skills they need in life? This book is here to show you that none of the above is just a daydream: it's happening right now at schools around the world." - Clien Wintzen author, Let's Do This.
On a Montessori note, the Montessori school featured is in the Netherlands. The imagery is authentic and feels true to Montessori, it's so so beautiful. There are many photographs of the school, the environment, the students and they all feel very raw, organic and honest. There are interviews with Dr Laura Flores Shaw and Dr Steve Hughes (founding chair of the AMI Global Research Committee) who are perhaps the most well-known advocates for Montessori schooling. There is an interview with a former teacher and now Manager of the Casa Bilingual Montessori School, Tessa Wessels, and current PE teacher Panji Zeijpveld. There is also an interview with a former Montessori student and parent. It is insightful and inspirational.
I honestly loved this book so much that I wanted to speak to the author Clien Wintzen about it. I couldn't help myself, I messaged her as soon as the book arrived! Below are a few questions that Clien so thoughtfully responded to.
1. Can you tell us a little about yourself and the concept behind Let’s Do This?
I am from the Netherlands, where I currently live with my husband and 2 sons. Professionally I am originally an art director, but I also owned a college for digital arts in California where we lived for a while. I am dyslexic, I have a passion for human development and I love books. All in all, a background that almost inevitably leads to this book.
The main reason I am interested in education is because to me it is the most important source on which we have an influence, that can change human behaviour and lead to actual, much needed change in the world. In order to make a shift in education, we need to get all stakeholders on board, including parents. For this reason, I wanted the book to be accessible and attractive. Using photos is helpful and inspiring as it shows what else school could look like, which is otherwise so hard to imagine when you are only familiar with traditional education. On top of that images speak to anyone; parents, teachers, dyslexics, but also avid readers, while text books filter a lot of people out due to time constraints, disliking reading or the popular believe that a book about education must be boring. I am convinced a shift in education will not come from governments, but from the ground up; from a demand. So I wanted to give parents and teachers a tool, a source to find inspiration or ideas, big or small, to implement in their schools.
2. You feature some brilliant schools. How did you find them? Did you personally travel to visit each school?
I looked for schools that are already doing things significantly different. And as I had been exploring schools for a while, I knew I wanted to know more about Making, Forest Schools and Finnish education. I had also heard great things about Green School and High Tech High, and I wanted to see for myself what they were about. Many, many other schools were sent to me by friends, but I wanted the schools I featured to be in existence for at least a decade, so they’d had enough time to build a bit of a track record, and I preferably wanted them to be publicly funded. This eliminated about 80% of what was sent to me. Honestly a lot was filtered by my gut too. The one thing that swept me off my feet unexpectedly was Montessori; a genius system which I had known about it all my life, but I never understood what it was about.
Once I had my short list, I gave it my all to get permission to feature these schools in my book and personally visited them all, some even more than once, together with photographer Tony Dočekal.
3. You feature Casa Bilingual Montessori School in Pijnacker in The Netherlands. I love that you featured a Montessori school! What was so special about this school?
Casa is different for several reasons. First of all, it is almost completely publicly funded. Unlike many other countries, that is common in the Netherlands, even for Montessori (or Waldorf for that matter). However, this school is very true to the original ideas of Montessori, focussing on the principals of AMI (Association Montessori Internationale, founded by Maria Montessori). This is not common in the Netherlands, as almost all other Montessori schools made more adjustments toward the regular school system and/ or adjustments to “modern time', while research shows that this actually diminishes student outcome. On top of that, Casa offers choice in the daily time schedule and also in when the children have vacation. Unfortunately, the law under which a flexible vacation schedule is allowed in the Netherlands is going to be revoked. My hopes are that people will get inspired by reading about this in the book anyway, in other countries, and bring the concept back to life as I believe such schedules are very helpful on many levels. To this I have to add that in the Netherlands you are not allowed to take your children out of school outside of official school vacations by very strict laws.
4. What do these schools have in common? What makes these schools successful? What can educators learn from these schools?
These schools turned out to have a lot in common. If you read my conclusion in the book there are 12 things that stood out, but I think the 3 most important things are:
Well-framed freedom; having clear objectives while children have room to choose;
The fact that these schools look at students and their education holistically; including looking at soft skills, adding subjects such as Making and nature, and letting equity play an important role;
And the third one is about the importance of relevance; teaching things that have a connection to the children's real life.
5. What are your hopes for education in the future?
My hopes are that we move away from a focus on testing, and move onto broadening our horizons both in subjects we offer children; reentering creativity, soft skills, movement etc, and in the way we evaluate children; by looking at their personal learning needs, and looking at their capabilities, putting more emphasis on comparing a child to their own capacities, rather than to (inter)national numbers.
6. Do you have another project in the works? Another book perhaps?
This my first book, that I just launched, so this will keep me occupied for a while. But I have several ideas.