How we got here...Inquiry into the field
The Source School began as an idea, a seed, planted years ago while Jennifer was teaching her class of 6th graders at Maine Coast Waldorf School: Could there be a school, free and open to all who want to join, where children and youth could experience equity and find deep connection to themselves, their communities, and nature as a foundation for directing their own learning and realizing their self-understood potential? After graduating that same class of wonderful young people at the end of their 8th grade, Jennifer spent time leading a charter school in Colorado and then an independent school in NYC. Both experiences allowed for a clarifying of the vision and a testing of the flexibility of the systems in which the schools were embedded.
The covid-19 pandemic brought clarity to all of us, and in Fall 2020 the seed was ready to germinate! The Source School was co-founded in Portland, Maine, by Jennifer, Jess and Paul Gebhardt and Teagan Wu. They joined the Presencing Institute’s u.lab 2x program for systems change acceleration after recruiting a team of over 25 members from around the world, many of whom are still actively guiding or participating in the work. The question we set out to investigate: Is this vision responsive to the needs of communities in 2021 and if so, how can it be realized?
We spent 6 months using the tools of Theory U to investigate within the national landscape and within two prototyping locations, Maine and Los Angeles. Our process included hours upon hours of interviews and conversations with youth, educators, parents, schools leaders, entrepreneurs, social workers, bankers, non-profit leaders, community leaders, and more in our two locations and around the country. We hope to publish here more about our process soon. Suffice it to say that out of those co-sensing research experiences, we heard that YES, this vision is shared, timely, and desperately needed.
It is clear—we need to design and implement learning environments that allow for:
- the healing and integrating of collective trauma accumulated from multiple sources,
- an acknowledgement of the past, a focus on the present, and prescience of the emerging future, and
- a new way way of seeing ourselves as both deeply individual on a spiritual level but also deeply connected on a social level.
What we do now...Programs, Policy, and Research
Check out our Programs page for our latest prototypes. Change doesn’t happen, usually, in one single leap. Our programs are avenues of exploration where we test hypotheses, learn, and try again. They are how we make progress on the ground, with community. Participants in our programs are co-creators.
We also seek to leverage current education policy to enable fuller structural and programming changes within schools and districts. In Maine, we are investigating the use of current legislation that allows for Innovative Schools, which are district schools—not charter schools—authorized by the school board and the superintendent and permitted to use innovative approaches and methods toward increased student thriving. We are also now exploring the reality of a “Seed Classroom,” a school within a school, so to speak. This allows schools to begin the process of transformation from the inside out, without the threats of cataclysmic change. The idea is to create a space for R&D right in the district in schools available to everyone. Isn’t this a wonderful idea? YOU can help us make this a reality, especially if you live in Maine. Starting an “Innovative School” is a community endeavor, requiring many hands and many voices. Be in touch if you’d like to hear more.
In Los Angeles, we using legislation that allows parents to direct funding to the educational providers of their choice, including organizations that provide support for homeschooling families. Like Maine, there is a large homeschooling community which has grown even stronger due to the covid-19 exodus from brick and mortar district schools. This project is intended to be a site for teacher training.
Long term systems learning
Simultaneous to our learning environment prototypes and local policy research, we continue to nurture the soil of our work through the national research team. This sub-group shares new and ongoing research, hosts spaces for collective wisdom to emerge, and keeps an ear and eye out for the far signals coming to us from the future—What is emerging from the future that can inform our vision and the work we are doing to realize it? The national research team also serves as education consultants to schools, educators, and parents interested in creating learning environments that prioritize equity of opportunity to thrive and realize one’s personal goals and connection to community, nature, and self.
Why we are called "The Source School"
What makes our work powerful is not our prior knowledge or our expertise, although those are important assets.
It is the open mind we bring to understanding the issues experienced by the community and the open heart we bring to co-sensing the system’s structures and impact and the design of responsive possible solutions.
And, perhaps most importantly, it is the open will we bring to the moment—the pause— in between listening/learning and designing/implementing possible solutions. The open will allows us to be open to what is emerging from what we don’t yet know (the future) to meet that which we do know (the past) at this moment in the now (the present). Otto Scharmer calls it “presencing,” and it is a connecting to a deep source of wisdom accessible to all.
Connecting to source allows us to hold all we know (the past) and open ourselves to understanding where our own paths as individuals in a community (our future) intersect with the situation at it stands, the landscape so to speak. What can we do here and now?
The Source School teams are dedicated to using this method of being and working to further the realization of our vision in meaningful, collaborative ways. We also know the importance of educational models that teach students how to access their own sources of wisdom, how to connect to “source.” People who can push the pause button before acting, to ensure their actions are responsive to the full situation and in alignment with their own emerging future, the realization of their own highest self, will lead more meaningful, satisfied, and impactful lives. Imagine a school that embodied this value and implicitly and explicitly taught how to do it and why it is important at every age level and in developmentally appropriate ways? That’s the Source School!
A Philosophy of Systems
A human being is a dynamic system and also a member of a multiplicity of systems, for example the systems of education, economics, family, government, technology, and the environment. We are investigating and prototyping toward these systems working at their highest capacity for the greatest good. Our particular focus is education because we hold that continuous learning and transformation literacy is a basic condition of a humane society and because to realize the inclusive, innovative, and sustainable communities and economies we desire, and to create the preconditions for other systems to thrive, the way we understand and define education, learning, and school must shift.
Our world is in a state of increasingly rapid change and destabilization; our youth need the skills to continually transform themselves in response to this reality. We say the youth of today are our “hope.” Let’s not simply “hope.” Let’s give them the tools to transform the systems that created the state of the world today, and that starts with youth being able to see and understand themselves as powerful actors in those systems.