Our approach to teaching and learning

Our approach to teaching and learning

The holistic pedagogical paradigm as practiced at Schumacher College places interdependence at the heart of ecology, economy and society – and indeed of the learning journey itself.  The innovative approach to teaching and learning at Schumacher College can be summed up in the following terms:

The Gandhian philosophy of learning at different levels and the Tagorean principles of ‘practice research’ are powerful tools in the personal transformation of those who attend the College. Staff and participants – as a single community – interact and share in the gardening, cooking, cleaning and reflection that form the rhythms of the day. The power and gravitas of the model has attracted pioneering scholars and thinkers from around the world to teach and participate in the learning”  Phillips, A. (2007) Holistic Education: Learning from Schumacher College. Green Books.

Key elements of the approach include:

  • community living and working within the residential setting of Schumacher College;
  • acknowledging and developing the whole person – intellectual, emotional, ethical and practical;
  • valuing transdisciplinary approaches and different ways of knowing (analytical, sensory perceptive, feelings and emotions, and intuitive);
  • emphasis on embodiment and practical action in participants’ own lives;
  • engaging with a range of teaching and learning methods from lectures and seminars to participatory and experiential learning methods and reflective inquiry;
  • attracting participants, teachers and practitioners from all over the world.

Within the context of the current course, an important element of interdependence resides in the connection between our inner values, aspirations and cultural stories and their outer manifestation in the world in the form of the socio-economic systems we have collectively created.  The economy is not a separate entity, but rather a set of relationships that we constantly co-create and re-create, which over time become embedded in institutions (such as governments, policy frameworks and enterprises) and social and cultural institutional norms.  Economic relationships stem from our own values and behaviours as we strive to satisfy our own wants, needs and desires.  This manifests in our economic relationships with society (as consumers, employers, employees, investors, savers, citizens and so forth) and with nature (in terms of use of natural resources and services and as a direct source of well-being)

Consequently, the ‘outer’ learning journey into economic paradigms, schools of thought and enterprise models needs to be complemented by an inner journey of transition.  The aim is to encourage students to become more aware of their values and behaviours; how these are both framed by and causative of the dominant economic paradigm and indeed, the emergence of a new economic paradigm; and how to consciously bring their values and behaviours into greater alignment with their lives as economic, social and spiritual beings.  Sometimes, we refer to this as a practice of ‘becoming’ the new economy rather than just learning about it.

The inner journey of transition draws on two distinct but mutually reinforcing threads. 

Developing a practice of reflective enquiry

Students will be helped to develop practices of reflection and reconnection at three levels:

  • relationship with self (soul)
  • relationship with others (society)
  • relationship with the other-than-human world (nature)

Relationship with self

Students will be encouraged to explore and make explicit their own values, qualities and life purposes as well as different ways of experiencing and knowing the world. Throughout the course and life at the College, opportunities will be woven in for self-reflective inquiry.  For example,

  • sessions on ‘living life as inquiry’
  • inner and outer transition sessions – faculty will introduce practices for self-reflective inquiry.  Students will also be encouraged to offer their own practices to the group. 
  • Inner Transition workshop with Sophy Banks from Transition Training.  This workshop will draw on theoretical psychology and eco-psychology models (from leading thinkers and practitioners such as Ken Wilber and Joanna Macy) and experiential practice for students to gain greater awareness of the dynamic between inner transition and outer transformation
  • learning groups – these will be set up in the first module and will continue throughout the academic year (and hopefully beyond!)  These will be an important tool for reflective inquiry.
  • Learning journal -  this is a vehicle for reflection that can take multiple forms (written, sketches and painting, photographs and so on) – in which students explore their insights, the ways in which their worldviews are challenged; and their emerging ideas and perspectives.   Students will be encouraged to keep a learning journal to record and and reflect on their learning journey throughout the course.
  • Meditation practice.  There is a daily space for meditation practice at the College (from 7.15 – 7.45am). Students are invited to regularly join these sessions and to offer to lead these meditation spaces.  We also have a Buddhist Sangha group that meets regularly at the College – interested students are very welcome to join.
  • Mindful community work. An important part of the pedagogy at the College is the experiential practice of living in community.  Students will be encouraged to develop this practice in a mindful way, encouraging others to do so when participating and leading community groups. 
  • Reflective spaces integrated into the formal course teaching sessions.
  • Nourishing our well being workshop. This will be an opportunity to use theoretical models of well-being (such as Max Neef) applied to our own lives and experience.

Relationship with others

Students will be introduced to concepts and practices that explore community living, service, giving and cooperation, leadership, power relations and conflict within groups. The role of the facilitator and group dynamics will be explored throughout the programme.

Learning groups will be created to provide support and as a forum for collaboration and the exploration of group dynamics.  These will meet regularly throughout the first two terms. 

Community groups:  The opportunity for students to take care of the learning environment and each other is an important act of service and giving that is consciously built into life at the College.

Meditation practice:  An opportunity for students to focus their meditation practice on loving kindness and compassion for all beings.

Relationship with the other-than-human world

A core element of the worldview and pedagogy within Schumacher College is our interdependence within the web of life, in which we are no more or less than one thread.  We will work with experiential exercises aimed at developing our ‘ecological selves’ and fine-tuning our sensitivity to our membership of the community of life.  These will include practices developed by the systems theorist and deep ecologist, Arne Naess.

  • The focus of module 1 is on the interdependence of all life and how this knowledge can be explored through concepts and theories as well as experiential practice.
  • Deep ecology sessions led by Stephan Harding. These will be experiential sessions for students to reflect on their service to wider planetary health and to develop their own personal ecosophy on what this looks like in practice in their own lives. 
  • Ecological field trips. An opportunity to experience the theory of ecological concepts in practice during field trips where the carbon cycle or deep time walks will be experienced in an embodied way.
  • Meditation: an opportunity for students to focus their meditation practice on the interdependence of all life as part of the morning meditation sessions.

Developing a Personal Transition Plan

Interested students will be supported to create their own personal transition plans, in which they will be encouraged to reflect on their own purpose and role in the transition towards low-carbon, high well-being and resilient economies. This may be seen as the outer manifestation of the students’ growing sensitivity and awareness resulting from the practices of reflection and reconnection described above. 

In group workshops, the students will explore how the economy impacts on us and how we in turn impact the economy using various frameworks such as Manfred Max Neef’s Framework of Human Needs; Otto Scharmer’s Prescencing Framework including the 8 disconnects and the 3 divides; and Arne Naess’ Framework of the Ecological Self.  Experiential practices will be introduced to explore how the students could embody the new economy in practice in their own values and behaviours.

The diagram below, from The Center for Contemplative Mind in Society, illustrates the wide range of contemplative practices that might be included within a personal transition plan:




















Reading list

Baker, C. (2010). Navigating the Coming Chaos: A Handbook for Inner Transition, Publisher Universe

Brown M. and J. Macy.  Teaching Sustainability: Whole Systems Learning


Garcia Notario, M. Arne Naess’s Concept of the Ecological – Self: a Way to Achieve a

Healthier Self.  http://www.inter-disciplinary.net/ptb/ejgc/ejgc4/notario%20paper.pdf

Harding S.  What is Deep Ecology?  http://www.schumachercollege.org.uk/learning-resources/what-is-deep-ecology

Marshall, J. (2011). Living Life as Inquiry,


Max Neef, M. (1991). Human-scale Development. http://www.max-neef.cl/download/Max-neef_Human_Scale_development.pdf

Nachmanovitch, S. (1999). Creating Space for a Creative Life. www.freeplay.com <http://www.freeplay.com/> .

Parker J. Palmer (2004) A Hidden Wholeness:  The Journey Towards an Undivided Life.  Jossey-Bass.  Chapters 1 and 2.

Reason P.  Learning and Change through action research http://www.bath.ac.uk/carpp/publications/action_research.html 

Richardson, L. (2000). Writing: A Method of Inquiry (revised and expanded).

Scharmer O. and Kaufer K. (2013)  Leading from the Emerging Future:  From Ego-System to Eco-System Economies.  Berrett Koehler.   Intro and chapters 1 and 2.

Nhat Hanh, Thich. (1990) The Miracle of Mindfulness. Berkeley:Parallax Press. Also see: http://www.guardian.co.uk/sustainable-business/zen-master-thich-nhat-hanh-love-climate-change   

Zajonc A. (2009) Meditation as Contemplative Inquiry.  Lindisfarne Books.  Chapter 1.