Schools as Ecosystems
Introducing a purpose-driven mindset redefining success
Posted October 25, 2016
As more schools become interested in applications of theories of wellbeing and developing positive education programs, many are seeking robust frameworks to establish clear school strategy. Recently, a graduate from the Masters of Applied Positive Psychology at the University of Melbourne, Ash Buchanan, has further developed Carol Dweck’s foundational fixed and growth mindset theory.
Ash Buchanan is a design and developmental consultant whose experience spans the areas of wellness, leadership and sustainability. He believes in creating spaces – physically, psychologically, socially, and ecologically – that open the mind, engage the senses and touch the soul. His work is informed by a love for the natural world, and a passion for bringing people closer together.
Ash writes: “When we think regarding ecosystems, it’s clear to see that wellbeing and flourishing cannot be understood in isolation. Systems don’t thrive because everyone tries to grow and reach their potential independently of each other. That would end in disaster and ecological collapse. Rather, wellbeing and flourishing are better thought of as an interrelated systemic property, the result of a rich web of contributive relationships. Contribution unites and elevates everything within an ecosystem. Flourishing occurs when there is rich diversity performing in concert – where each element can play a unique and valuable role in the healthy functioning of another.”
Introducing the Benefit Mindset
Buchanan’s insight has significant implications for the way schools integrate teaching around fixed and growth mindset. He further asserts, “Today, a growing community of educators are using this ecosystems perspective to rethink the purpose of school fundamentally. At the core of this community is a simple question; what does it mean to be successful in life? As Albert Einstein argues, “Try not to become a man of success, but rather try to become a man of value.” Rather than being driven by individual gain, this community is finding there is the real value, in being of value - to themselves, to others, to nature and the future. It is a purpose-driven mindset that is redefining success; from being the best in the world, to being the best for the world. It is the Benefit Mindset.”
Learning about Buchanan’s take on this intrigued me. Buchanan writes, “The Benefit Mindset describes society’s everyday leaders who look beyond personal achievement, to promote wellbeing on both an individual and a collective level. It builds on Carol Dweck’s pioneering research, on how beliefs about the nature of intelligence can profoundly shape our ability to learn and grow. This framework takes her Fixed and Growth Mindset to the next level - towards a richer definition of success in school and life”.
For those of us who are at the chalk-face introducing wellbeing at scale in educational systems, there is an alarming lack of robust theoretical frameworks. The majority of research focuses on the impact on individual programs. Rath they than considering schools as creativity ecosystems, especially recognizing the wellbeing takes place within a clear values framework.
Buchanan states, “What sets our everyday leaders apart from their normal achieving counterparts is how they aspire to discover their strengths, to meaningfully contribute to causes that are greater than the self. They question ‘why’ they do what they do, and believe in making a meaningful difference”.
Buchanan understanding of the leadership opportunities that are faced by Principals, in particular, encouraged me to ask him to expand on this more. He said, “Everyday leaders recognise while it’s critical that everyone learns how to grow and uniquely differentiate themselves, this is best done when contributing to society and global ecosystems. They acknowledge that humans can’t thrive in isolation, but rather, thriving is something we must do together. There is no such thing as human flourishing without ecological flourishing.
Therefore, when adopting a Benefit Mindset, wellbeing and flourishing don't only mean the pursuit of success, growth and personal health - as it is often referred to as meaning in psychology and the wellbeing sciences. Rather, it means creating cultures of contribution. Cultures where each of us can uniquely be of value, where individualism and collectivism can flourish side by side”.
Flourishing in an Interconnected World
I had the opportunity to discuss the Benefit Mindset in more detail with Buchanan in Adelaide at a major bi-annual positive psychology and wellbeing conference. He claimed, “The key take way is this; if we actually want young people to live meaningful lives in a flourishing global society – they need to learn how to do it contributive. This step is where the real leverage lies. Imagine what would be possible if we had generations of students finishing school with a richer appreciation of how their unique strengths could make the world a better place. Imagine the ripples of change that would be possible with whole generations living their lives with purpose. Imagine everyone in your school flourishing in concert with each other and nature. It’s time to boldly reimagine what’s possible in education – and prepare young people for a flourishing future".
I am excited about the Benefit Mindset and how it can strengthen the application of positive education more broadly in schools. Stay tuned Ash Buchanan's work is one to watch.
Capra, F., & Luisi, P. L. (2014). The systems view of life: A unifying vision. Cambridge University Press.
Dweck, C. S. (2006). Mindset: The new psychology of success: Random House.
Meadows, D. H. (1999). Leverage points: Places to intervene in a system: Sustainability Institute Hartland, VT.
Sahtouris, E. (2000) EarthDance: Living Systems in Evolution: iUniverse
Scharmer, C. O. (2009). Theory U: Learning from the future as it emerges: Berrett-Koehler Publishers.
Scharmer, C. O., & Kaufer, K. (2013). Leading from the emerging future: From ego-system to eco-system economies: Berrett-Koehler Publishers.
About Ash Buchanan, Director, Cohere
Ash is a design and developmental consultant whose experience spans the areas of wellness, leadership and sustainability. He believes in creating spaces – physically, psychologically, socially and ecologically – that open the mind, engage the senses and touch the soul. His work is informed by a love for the natural world, and a passion for bringing people closer together. Ash holds a Master of Applied Positive Psychology and a Bachelor of Engineering from the University of Melbourne, and is a past Fellow of the Centre for Sustainability Leadership.