Beyond the Schoolhouse: Transformative Education

Transformative education, according the Bill Cope and Mary Kalantzis (2008), represents “an open-ended struggle rather than a clear destination, a process rather than a formula for action, and something that recognizes the educational legacies of the past in order to design better educational futures” (page 34).  Cope and Kalantzis divide education into eight dimensions, which, when applied to transformative education describe learning that is ubiquitous, and lateral – where success comes from working in a social context from experiences in partnership with peers and teachers rather than directed by teachers.  Facts aren’t told to students, rather learners uncover truths through inquiry and explorations, and there might be a new, broader sense of the “basics” of an education.

Researcher Charles Leadbeater (2010) describes transformative education as including disruptive innovation in informal educational settings.  Below is a TED talk in which he describes finding the future of education – transformational education – in the most unlikely of places, the urban slums of East Africa and India, where a lack of teachers and other traditional trappings of education are scarce.  Leadbeater notes that real change in education to meet the needs of the exploding population on Earth (nearly all of which will come in the poorest urban slums) is to make learning productive and practical, doing away with the traditional western idea of a broad core curriculum and facilitating it to take place in untraditional settings.

In his presentation, Leadbeater highlights two programs that represent the current iteration of transformative education even if they still hold some vestiges of the education of the past.  Harlem Children’s Zone, brainchild of Geoffrey Canada, represents disruptive innovation within the confines of the traditional school model – and thus is not quite transformative.  However, the philosophy behind HCZ is that learning takes place well beyond the walls of the school building, at home, in playgrounds, in the streets – wherever people interact.  HCZ works with all parts of the community – expecting parents, new parents, infants – “from cradle to college” they support the entire community to break the cycle of poverty.

Another example of transformative education is the Big Picture schools which started in Providence, RI, with the Met School and have expanded to schools nationally.  These schools offer no traditional content classes, as students are guided by mentors and families to create their own individual learning plans where academic skills are identified that will be necessary to complete internships in fields of interest.  In the video below a student describes her experiences:

Again, there are some remnants of “traditional” schooling – the buildings themselves, the progression from 9th – 12th grades, the state testing, but the ideas behind the learning in the school seeks to transform ways in which learning occurs.

As Cope and Kalantzis (2008) note, current systems of education and teaching will have to reform or they will soon become irrelevant (see previous post on the Higher Education Bubble).  Rapidly changing digital technologies will further transform these learning opportunities – disconnecting them from physical buildings, traditional progression through school, and state and federal curricula – to become individual, lifelong learning, founded in connections and construction of knowledge through innovation and necessity.


A Tour of Met Peace (2008, November 6). [Video File]. Retrieved from

Cope, B., & Kalantzis, M. (2008). New learning elements of a science of education. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Leadbeater, C. (2010, April). Charles Leadbeater: Education innovation in the slums. [Video File].  Retrieved from

UNFPA (N.D.) Linking Population, Poverty and Development.  Retrieved from


About Katy Foster

I am an Assistant Principal in Larkspur, CA. I blog to publicly reflect on my own learning in leadership.
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