Open School - Open to the World

How can schools and cultural institutions join hands for better, more joyful and sparkling learning and education?
12 Apr, 2017

Wonders of the world - and education

In Denmark the term ”Open School” was introduced in 2014 as a part of the latest reform of the public school system. In short, it is about increased interaction between schools and the surrounding society in the form of cultural institutions, sports clubs, museums, businesses etc. To me this is a most encouraging development towards enriching education by realizing the learning and the “bildung” that the wonders of the world can offer. It is also an opportunity to bring school and its surrounding in closer touch with each other and avoid that schools become small parallel universes. 

The best way to learn is through play – and we play the best when we are totally absorbed in what we are doing, in a state of seriousness and joy. In an open school many realities can be invited inside and make a great difference if we can attach a pedagogical handle to them. Experiences, inspiration, enthusiasm and magical moments can be the sparks that ignite the joy of learning, and they can supply a lot of raw material for knowledge and insight. Also for kids having difficulties with the traditional school form. It means offering more “languages” to grasp the world and to evolve as a human being.

Professor David Kolb says that learning to require at least four facets: concrete experience, reflective observation, abstract conceptualization and active experimentation. Schools of today are strong in conceptualization and reflection. Experience and active experimentation are strengthened considerably when the wonders of the world are brought into play.

Good teachers have of course always involved the outside world in their teaching. Nevertheless, the potential is far greater if the structures and systems of schools, art, culture, sports and local associations are tuned towards cooperation, and I think it is the duty of all parties to commit to that wholeheartedly.


To truly vitalize the school system,the cooperation with the outside world must build on professionalism and quality in the meeting between the various fields. The required professionalism is largely a new one, focusing on the common “room” in which the cooperation takes place, and it must have full respect for both the school and the outside partners. Furthermore, it must add a professional view on what it takes to create a successful encounter and possess skills and knowledge on available options and methods.

It is important that school is school and outside partners are what they are. Authenticity in experiences, encounters and processes are vital for establishing a solid common ground. For instance, an artist should not be a teacher, and a teacher not an artist. Instead, they should both contribute with the skills that are unique for them and their profession.  It is vital that we have a focus on quality in the contributions from both the artist and the teacher, and in the design of the encounter. The challenge is to make two worlds meet in a fruitful way that promotes experience, inspiration and learning.

Enthusiasm and structure 

Enthusiasm is very, very important for successful projects. But in the bigger picture it is paramount to have systems and structures that can support the enthusiastic individuals and make their good projects last and thrive. Good initiatives deserves not to dry out if one teacher leaves. Also there should be possibilities for knowledge to dissiminate in teams, between schools, municipal school administrations and professional circles. It all depends on time for professional dialogue, support from management and available experts to consult.

Enthusiasm must be present all through the food chain, and involving school with the outside world offers many advantages: pupils will get different and more varied experiences and inspirations, and should be involved in decisions and get responsibility. Teachers will obtain more inspiration and new eyes on their subject. Parents will see kids that are more excited, and they may actually be involved themselves. Schools will get a closer integration with the local society, and municipalities will get stronger cohesiveness and will benefit from better use of existing resources. Finally, the whole society will benefit from having more well-educated citizens with a stronger and wider cultural foundation.

Helpful systems in schools

There are many things we can do to systematically back up school relations to the outside world. One thing would be to involve pupils in decision-making and responsibilities as we do in the Danish KulturCrew system. Pupils in KulturCrews are active planners and organizers of concerts, theatre and dance performances etc. in their school and often in their local society too.

For teachers it will be important to have an “open-school-coach” available, maybe based in the school library/media center. Such a coach would have competencies to advice on local and national offers from art institutions, museums, companies etc. and would be able to advice and give feedback in planning subjects, aesthetical learning processes and so on. This will require some further training and education of the coaches.

The “open school coaches” should have access to a municipality based “open school consultant” who could also be responsible facilitator for school-to-school networking. Furthermore, this consultant should be up to date with national and regional schemes, recent development in the field, evaluation practises etc. Luckily, many municipalities in Denmark already have this kind of person employed.

On a national level, a close contact between ministries of education and culture is of great importance. General policies, support services, teacher training and research are areas where the national administration has a great role to play

… and in the surrounding world 

Outside the walls of the schools, all the different partners and collaborators must also be ready to adjust themselves to the common “room” created with the school. It means that they have to familiarize themselves thoroughly and respectfully with the mission, raison d’etre and circumstances of the schools. This includes will and appetite for dialogue with the educational world. These cultural, artistic and other partners have to have a professional approach in targeting their services in a way that make them relevant in the educational agenda ruling in the schools.

Can you put such demands on every artist, football trainer or business owner? Of course not. Here the “cultural umbrellas” or competence centers come into the picture. In Denmark Levende Musik I Skolen (Live Music in Schools – is one of them. They are important channels to the wonders of the world, and their task is to be super sharp in making the raw material of the surrounding world relevant for pupils, and to be experts in presenting it in a way that makes sense – without losing any authenticity on the way.

It is also relevant to expect the umbrellas to cooperate and share experiences and knowledge to ensure quality and continuous dynamics in the their work

Set the course, start moving

So, there is plenty to do. But at the same time there are many who can contribute from each their starting point. And the nice message is, that in many countries it is not even as much a question of more money as a question of better focus and stronger consciousness. A lot of valuable competences, activities and knowledge is already available. The understanding of the common goal seems to be somewhat missing, and a stronger focus on professionalizing the mediator role between school and art etc is also needed to glue things together. It should be a possible task for any wealthy society – especially when the gain is better, more joyful and sparkling learning and education! 

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