How to kill a great organisation?:

Personal responsibility and self-determination have no place in education!

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The teaching mission of schools is to accompany young people so that they can lead their own, meaningful lives, locate themselves in society and set their sights on goals.

The Open School is an answer to what it actually means to accompany someone and what school can do beyond the conventional framework.

Markus Haider is a teacher, educator and founder of the Open School project. He talks to Markus Petz about new teaching and learning settings at a Viennese school, what contributions teachers, students and parents can make and how the Open School project is changing the culture of the school organisation.

A form of school in which everyday school life and the educational mission are lived differently 

The culture of an organisation is essentially shaped by two factors: the founding history and the leadership of an organisation. Haider believes that a system, including the school system, can be „kept in motion“ with irritation. At the same time, the school system has historically been shaped by a rigid framework based on beliefs and legal requirements regarding the school’s mission. 

Haider refers to this mission to accompany young people so that they can lead their own meaningful lives, locate themselves in society, make plans and move towards goals. Haider questions the meaning of accompaniment:  

„What does it actually mean to accompany someone as an educator? In my understanding, it doesn’t mean telling someone what to say later. It also doesn’t mean that I determine what is allowed into my head and what is not. Rather, it is the understanding that you open up a space in which the possibility to develop is as high as possible. „ 

Based on this basic idea and the cooperation with educators, students and private individuals, the Open School format was created, where the aim was, or still is, to generate a school format where everyday school life in the public school system is set up in a completely different way than it has been up to now. 

Self-responsibility, development and empowerment are at the heart of the Open School 

Haider names 3 ingredients that make it possible to open up a space for development. Firstly, independence or the ability to decide, to be allowed to do something and to decide how to do it. This happens through the learning office, where students learn independently at their own pace and achieve their goals on their own responsibility.  

The second pedagogical tool they use is workshops. These serve to arouse curiosity, to get to grips with know-how. Students work with experts in groups and choose the workshops according to their interests. The third ingredient is inspiration and motivation, which are served in the form of project work in the so-called Open Lab. 

Haider describes in concrete terms what everyday school life looks like at the Open School, from project work, workshops and Open Labs to the students‘ personal, weekly coaching sessions with their learning coaches. 

The experiences with Open School, also from the students‘ point of view, he describes like this:  

„The first big change is that there is a lot of confidence that the student’s personality will grow and succeed. We always assume that someone will create something and that something will succeed. We always assume that everything one does is an addition to what is already there. It can only become more. And I can discover myself. That’s where the unfolding lies. It is a school of doing and experiencing. „ 

We summarise

How to kill a great organisation or our education system:

  • Do not let pupils decide for themselves. Set the curriculum and the pace of learning.
  • Leave school in its rigid form. Do not mix years and subjects!
  • The educational mandate is to impart professional competences. Everything else is secondary. 

Count on the independence and self-responsibility of the students

  •  Focus on human education in the educational mission. The aim is to accompany pupils on their personal educational path and to support them in achieving their individual goals. 
  • Become a facilitator and open up new spaces and opportunities for development.  
  • Encourage cross-grade teamwork and mutual support between pupils.
  • Have students work on topics together with experts and teachers to promote inspiration and team spirit.  
  • In self-selected project work, pupils develop their potential and strengthen their personal talents.

The full length interview:

This text was translated by a machine and clearly shows that we still have a long way to go before we are in danger of being rendered obsolete by A.I..

Markus Petz: Welcome to the new episode of the „How to Kill a Great Organisation?“ podcast. Here we talk to people who are crucial to the long-term success of their organisation. Let me introduce myself briefly: My name is Markus Petz. I am one of the co-founders of MetaShift and my guest today is Magister Markus Haider, the founder of the Open School project. Hello, Markus.

Markus Haider: Hello, thank you for inviting me.

Markus Petz: Yes, with pleasure. Today we want to dedicate ourselves to the central theme „How can new education succeed? And before we begin with your heartfelt project, may I ask you to introduce yourself very briefly to our listeners.

Markus Haider: Yes, with pleasure. As I said, my name is Markus Haider. My profession is teacher, in the broadest sense pedagogue. I started my career by studying to become a teacher, not with the focus of becoming a teacher, but to continue my work in other ways. But then I ended up in school, which was lucky for me and I think it was also a good thing for the school system. And it has always interested me a lot. In the course of working with students in secondary school, so I taught at the Gymnasium, to develop things and to look: What else can school do? Even beyond what people think school has to be able to do? And I was always looking for: Yes, what possibilities are there to build up teaching and learning settings and to see exactly how learning actually works and what contribution can I as a teacher make and what contribution can I not make?

Markus Petz: Up to now, the topic of schools has been discussed, I would say, for a long time and also controversially. We hear again and again that the main components of schools are built in the way that Empress Maria Theresa laid the foundations for them, and that has been the case for a long time. Now the question is: What is it that you have brought to life with this new Open School project?

Markus Haider: Well, if we assume that an organisation or the culture of an organisation is essentially shaped by two factors. So one is the founding history and the other is the leadership of an organisation. So I thought to myself. Okay, what levers can we pull when we say we want to do in the existing school system? Do things differently. And the exciting thing is that you can always keep a system in motion with irritation. I assume that the framework that has been built up by the conventional school is very strong, namely because there are so many beliefs about how things have to be. On the other hand, we have a legislator who actually tells us what the mission of school is. And if we read, for example, the general part of the curriculum, of the Austrian curricula, then the mission is to accompany young people so that they can lead their own meaningful lives, that they can position themselves in society, that they can make plans and move towards goals. And these are very noble goals. If you take that seriously, it really is about accompaniment. And that was the first step in thinking about „What does it actually mean to accompany someone as an educator? In my understanding, it doesn’t mean telling someone what to say later. Nor does it mean that I determine what is allowed into my head and what is not. It is rather the understanding that, if you take the English word „facilitator“, you behave in such a way that you open up a space in which the possibility to develop is as high as possible.

Markus Haider: And of course there are points of friction and I can name very simple cornerstones, such as 50-minute units or the corset of a timetable or the corset of subject silos. And these are all things that I have started to question over time, not to attack, but just to question and to find a way for myself to approach it differently. Of course, you can’t do something like that alone; it’s a learning process that works best in a group or with partners. And that’s where I found a congenial partner in Roland Reichart-Mückstein, also a teacher, whom I got to know during my time as a teacher. And together we set up a development group, which was not made up of teachers, but mainly students, pensioners, private individuals, people who were simply interested in getting something further in education. And out of this development group, the format „Open School“ emerged, where the aim was, or still is, to generate a school format where everyday school life in the public school system is set up in a completely different way than it has been up to now. And we developed that in a process of about one and a half, two years. And then we were curious, said, okay, we want to see how that works. We got on our feet and found a place in Vienna, in the 20th district, in the Spielmanngasse, in the Neue Mittelschule Spielmanngasse, where we have actually been running and developing this format „Open School“ for four years now and are quite proud to see what all is possible that one previously believed was not possible.

Markus Petz: Now you have said a keyword that I find wonderful, namely opening up space so that development becomes possible. And that resonates with me a lot, because I also believe that it’s about opening up these spaces, whether it’s in a school or in another organisation, and inviting and encouraging people to develop themselves. Now that’s quite easy to say on a very abstract level. Can you give us a bit of a feeling? What does that mean in concrete terms in this project? So that we also get a feeling, because school/ We all went to school. That means that we have also received a certain amount of socialisation through it and can perhaps now compare it in the sense of: What does it mean in concrete terms to open up such a space for development, as you make it possible?

Markus Haider: Exactly. Essentially, we need three, how shall I put it, ingredients that we serve so that development can really get going. And then I explain from the point of view of a pupil what everyday school life is like here. Then you will understand it. But I would like to focus on what we believe are the key points. One of the key points is: we need independence or the ability to decide, to be allowed to do something and to decide how to do it at one’s own pace with the ingredients that help me to tackle something independently, self-responsibly. So self-responsibility is a big issue. Second topic: We have a pedagogical container for this. We call it a learning office. We didn’t invent it, but it is an instrument, a pedagogical instrument that was developed in Berlin, in the school, in the centre, the Protestant school, in the centre. Back then, when Mrs. Rassfeld was the director. We simply copied that and developed it for ourselves. The second pedagogical tool we use is what we call the workshops. That means we try to set up something like a colloquium, a kind of seminar. What does it serve? It serves to arouse curiosity, to get to grips with know-how that you didn’t know existed before. Inspiration is the key word. We need inspiration, and from it we derive the new motivation for the third space we hold. For us, this is in the form of project work – we call it Open Lab – in other words, opening up the space where I am allowed to delve into things on my own.

Markus Haider: So, that’s a bit theoretical. Now let’s make it very clear what it looks like in everyday life. So our pupil goes to school in the morning. In the morning means for us, because she is a 13-year-old. So we are in full puberty. Seventh grade. She goes to school in the morning and arrives at about 8:50-8:55, because the whole thing starts at 9:00. As we know from developmental psychology, this is the ideal time for pubescents to start. Earlier is unreasonable and unhealthy. She just arrives and goes to her so-called briefing group, which means she meets with her eleven other classmates who are in the same briefing group, in the Open School. And this briefing group is led by her so-called learning coach. This is one of the five teachers who work in the Open School. The whole Open School is organised as a micro school with 50 pupils, cross-grade 7, 8 and together with five teachers. So she goes into this briefing group. In ten minutes they discuss what is on offer that day. And it is also agreed which offers will be booked by which pupils. I.e. she announces to the coach and the group that she will continue to work in English today in the learning office, for example, on an English competence that is about listening and understanding. Announcements at international airports or something like that. So that’s what she announces are going to be working on. Then the second thing she announces,

Markus Haider: There is a choice of three different workshops and she chooses one of them. Our workshops are topic-centred. That means, for example, one workshop is called „The importance of beekeeping in relation to agriculture“. The second workshop is called „Is life on Mars possible?“ And the third workshop is called „Upcycling. Is this the future? Is it a viable one for the economy? Can viable industries come out of this?“ Like what? And she says, yeah, okay, I’m interested in that. And the last workshop, my workshop the most. I’ll book that, I’ll attend that today. And for the project work, she says: I have another project going on. I’m organising the school sports week for us. And I will sit down again with my team, with our organisation team, and we will plan further. So, then this briefing group disperses. They go to the learning office and look for the materials they need to continue learning, deepening and practising the area they mentioned in English. And there are ready-made, prepared materials in the office that she can access and work with. After this learning office, she has a break and after the break is the daily sports session. In the sports session she goes to the group, to the sports group and whatnot. I now invent something that is offered that day, for example: A long run from school to the Danube Island and back again.

Markus Haider: And then she does this during the lesson, then she comes back again and then it’s called workshop time. Then she goes to the workshop where the topic is upcycling. And there is a heated discussion and she deals with the topic of upcycling itself. And what does that have to do with the economy? And then maybe even other topics come into it a little bit. People even talk about dumps or about recycling. What is the difference between upcycling and recycling? Then you come to the topic of Earth Ship. Aha, you can build whole houses and whatnot. It gets insanely inspired and discussed. And the expert? In this case it would be a colleague, a teacher, who has taken up this topic and also thinks it’s totally cool, totally inspires the kids and they say: Wow! So there are some things that I don’t know yet and she writes a little list of notes about what she could delve into when she has time in the Open Lab again, i.e. when she doesn’t want to go into depth. Exactly then she has a lunch break and after the lunch break she comes back. Then it’s always a bit of a reading time, where you come back and delve a bit into all kinds of different literature. And after the reading time, she goes together with her group to work on her project, which she mentioned.

Markus Haider: In the morning just the planning of the week, where she works together with her planning group and then continues to set up the sports week. So – and then at 16:30 school is over. So that’s how you can imagine a student’s working day. From Monday to Thursday, it’s more or less according to this pattern. On Friday, there are the personal coaching talks, where the learning coach, who always does the briefing in the morning, really takes time for his students and works out in a one-on-one talk what has happened during the week? They look through the joint portfolio. They adjust and steer. What should happen in the office? What about the workshops? Because I have only mentioned the topics of these workshops. But of course you can assign them to subjects, categories and curricula. That is quite simple. If you read the curriculum a bit, you can see immediately how it is connected. Do you make a checklist, so to speak, and what have I done so that I fulfil everything over the year? So they have this portfolio where that is also documented inside. Exactly. And they discuss how to proceed and the pupils remain responsible for controlling their learning, for setting the pace they have or need in their learning, and for working towards the goals they set themselves at the beginning of the year.

Markus Petz: Now I’m also very interested in how the young people deal with it. Because it sounds a bit different from the way we know traditional schools, because it emphasises this theme of self-responsibility. What are your experiences? Because I could imagine that it takes a bit of courage to get involved in the first step.

Markus Haider: Yes, that is something new, namely that someone or that one has the feeling as a pupil that this is actually expected of me in the sense of being trusted. That is already the first big change. That there is so much trust, that the student’s personality grows from it and also manages it. We always assume that someone can do something and that something will succeed. We always assume that everything one does is an addition to what is already there. It becomes. It can only become more, actually. I can’t get worse. I can only become more. And I can discover myself. And I can there. That’s where the unfolding is. Of course, something like that takes a little time to arrive. And there is help for that. We don’t just throw the kids in at the deep end, but we also accompany them. On the one hand, it’s not only the teachers who accompany the pupils, but also the year group that has already been there for a year. I said that it is a multi-grade system, in our case two grades, which means that if the eighth grade drops out at the end of the year, then the seventh grade moves up at the end of the eighth grade and a new seventh grade is added.

Markus Haider: That means there is an experienced group that can pick up the newcomers and accompany them, which is very helpful and somehow a bit like a kick-start or like a turbo on a turbo diesel. And of course the educators also accompany the people very closely. That is, what is so great is that we have a group, a team of teachers, who exclusively look after this Innovation Open School and the students in it and therefore know them very well and can organise everyday life with them at eye level. And I think that’s the new thing, or the new thing is actually not true, because in village schools, where there used to be several levels, it was the same. But that’s what’s special, that we’re really building a real team culture here that supports each other and also has a generator in it. We’re about everybody getting better, developing and educating themselves in their capacity and being curious and and just doing what? It’s also a school of doing and experiencing.

Markus Petz: Now you have outlined so beautifully that there is a solid bond between the different school levels. And that makes it possible to build trust and courage in action. Can you tell us a bit more about how this works in practice? This cooperation across the school levels, this team feeling that I can get support, not only from the teacher, but also from other pupils.

Markus Haider: Exactly. So we make this possible by seeing the Open School as a unit, i.e. administratively. Of course, the pupils know which class they go to, so to speak, but that is only an administrative mask in the background. In itself, the students say, no matter whether they are in seventh or eighth grade: I am part of the Open School. That is one thing. That there is this self-image. In everyday life it looks like this. We don’t have classrooms where classes sit in cohorts, separated by year. Instead, it is something that we have developed together with the students, for example, during the learning office time, the rooms that we have made available are given one room per 25 degrees. We use one room as a so-called co-working space, which means that the desks are set up in such a way that they are group workplaces where people learn and work together in exchange. And the other room is the so-called Silent Office, which means that there are also individual workstations that are set up in such a way that they do not disturb each other’s field of vision and that they can really work in peace and quiet. This means that a pupil who says: I would like to work in the study office in silence and have my peace and quiet, goes to the Silent Office and it is guaranteed that this person will not be approached and can work alone. If they need help, they leave the room and look for help, for example in the coworking space. Or with the teacher who is also in the Silent Office, so to speak, as a companion.

Markus Haider: But if someone goes into the co-working space, then that means okay, I know it will be rather noisy in there. I have to expect that people will talk to each other there. But I also have the advantage of being able to learn with each other. That means people get together in groups and work on their topics and can constantly ask their peers for help and ask questions. In concrete terms, it looks like this, for example: We have a seat island, where house number six students sit together. That doesn’t mean that all six are doing the same tasks at the same time. It could be that two are working on German, one on maths and the other three on English. So the funny thing is that they also kind of listen to each other when questions are asked. And that happens really quickly. The one in maths asks something and gets into the group. The group gives an answer. Someone in English hangs out somewhere, asks the question, the group gives the answer. It’s a totally networked hustle and bustle that we often can’t comprehend, and it’s insanely stimulating. And that means that the younger ones help the older ones and the older ones also let themselves be helped by the younger ones, because that doesn’t just mean that because I’m younger, I might not already know my way around various topics. And that’s how you can imagine it. And if, for example, a question arises that the group cannot solve, then the next step is to first go to a learning guide and ask the question or ask a learning guide to come and briefly work on something with the group.

Markus Petz: What is your feedback from the young people now? What? What do those who experience it say? How do they deal with it? What do they hear?

Markus Haider: So I was at the school again today and had a conversation with a pupil who will be leaving the school after this year and he said he is very sad that he has to leave. And for him it is very clear that he will not go to another school, because there will not be such a great school as the Open School if we only go to an Open School. He has other plans for his life, he knows that. He will do an apprenticeship. He already has something in mind. And what I find so great is that he said he already had to go through an entrance procedure, his assessment, for this apprenticeship. And she set him up in mathematics. And now he knows exactly what he has to work on, because he was able to do all the other things. And now, together with his learning guide, he has also put together a package that he is pretty sure will make it at the next attempt, which will now be in four weeks. So they are also very focused on where they want to go. And that’s what I think is so great, that you get the motivation from within, from your own need quite often. Or if in this case, the inner need in this example I gave is: I want to do an apprenticeship in a certain field, there’s an assessment and now there’s the extrinsic motivation, but it’s intrinsically driven, it’s okay, I just have to bite through mathematics now, I can’t help it. And at this level, that’s a stroke of luck for him, but it’s a stroke of luck that you can also very often create with other pupils. We try very hard to be in touch with reality with what’s going on at school.

Markus Petz: So far it’s been like this: If school is successful, then on the one hand, of course, the pupils are at the centre. Then, of course, the teachers. At the same time, I think parents also play a role. To what extent is it important to integrate the parents into the new school, so that they can also provide the best possible support for the renewal of the children’s potential? Or is it not so important?

Markus Haider: So we now see that our self-image of school is that we say that there is a certain educational mandate that we should fulfil. And we are very much concerned, in our respect, as I quoted in the law, with the education of people in the sense of what will happen to me in my life and how will I cope with the challenges? And with certain basic skills, such as reading, writing and arithmetic, one can further deepen oneself in other disciplines, which then have scientific names such as biology or so, if one wants to put on the glasses, geography and so on. So there is a very clear educational mandate for which we feel responsible. The parents have a weight for us in that we say: First of all, they must somehow support the fact that their children go there and approve of it, because it is a change for the parents. For the parents, for example, it is extremely unusual and difficult to bear that they no longer have to pay for extra tuition. For the parents, it is also very surprising that their children no longer carry school supplies or do homework. And if they do work from home, it is highly voluntary. And because they are interested in doing what they want to do at home, because they just want to keep at it or because they want to delve deeper. So there is already a big change.

Markus Haider: What is important in such systems is that the parents are involved in the sense that we say it is an open school, they can dock, but they don’t have to. And we? We sometimes issue invitations, for example within a very clearly defined framework, saying that we need experts who can simply tell us something about various topics, tell us authentically. Maybe the parents themselves know something better than we do or have chosen a certain profession that would be interesting to present, where you can also get to know the concept of life behind it, so that you can really bring the pupils into contact with real things. On this level, for example, we like to bring in parents or we also like to bring in parents when it comes to supervising certain projects. We say, okay, we’re going to make something, I don’t know, a workpiece. And it would be good if a carpenter could come for a day and show us a few tips and tricks, because it’s great to see that the outside world is also a place of learning. It’s not only school and we don’t only need to believe what the teachers provide, but aha, the world outside, that’s very interesting, isn’t it? What does the tax advisor actually do? Why is there such a thing? And then we bring in someone who perhaps has this profession, if possible from the parent body, and then that is clarified.

Markus Haider: The other level is, of course, celebrating festivals, just like in other schools. It is very important that the parents are involved and can also make their contribution and network, that we bring them in and say: Hey, room, school is open, you can also see what is happening here. Or if there are big question marks about which Open School ticks in a completely different way and perhaps uncertainty arises as a result. Which of course goes hand in hand with big changes, that we invite the parents. Well, then just spend a day with us here at the school and have a look, live with us or spend a few hours or so with us and then you will realise what it is all about. It’s much more difficult to describe that and to set off in your head what’s going on, the way we’re doing it now. So if you really go there and look at it. I would also like to invite you to write me an email, so that you can of course come and see what it looks like in live operation.

Markus Petz: I would like to emphasise that once again at this point. If someone is interested and says: Ah, that sounds fascinating, that inspires me. It doesn’t matter if it’s a teacher who says, I’d like to take a look at that and I’d like to get in touch. And probably there is also the possibility when a headmaster says: Okay, I think this is an absolutely suitable, complementary offer for my school. What can they do? Who can they contact? What is the best way to reach you?

Markus Haider: Exactly. The best way to reach me is via email. I mean, I’m happy to give the email address now. That was probably too fast now. For the record. You’ll just have to rewind. Or maybe we post that too. I don’t know how he did it. If you have had such a function, you can gladly give it to someone else. You can also find the contacts on our homepage You can also find documents about the Open School there. What I would like to emphasise is that this will probably be a question that comes up in people’s minds now. Well, it’s a public school and it certainly costs more or school fees. I can say no, this is a school format that we have specially designed so that it can take place in a public school. That means we are also establishing it. We are already working with other schools in other federal states where we have already established this. It is a format that can actually be carried out in a public school and, as we have proven, works really well.

Markus Petz: Yes, dear Markus, I would like to take this opportunity to thank you very much for bringing this new project to our attention. I find it totally exciting and I hope that many listeners will now be similarly inspired as I was, that they will become curious and want to take a closer look at it, and that they will want to get in touch with you. I would like to take this opportunity to say thank you very much for the conversation with you, dear Markus.

Markus Haider: Gladly.

Markus Petz: Yes and yes. Thank you very much, dear listeners. If you enjoyed the episode, we would be very happy if you subscribe to us via your favourite podcast app. And of course we would be even happier if you would give us a five-star rating or recommend us to a colleague or someone in your circle of friends or family who might also be interested in this episode. This helps us to continue to attract exciting guests and to be able to explore new topics around transformation, change and transformation for them. See you on the next episode. Best regards, your MetaShift team.

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