Re-Imagining Vitality-Centered Education

Reimagining our Future
6 min readJan 28, 2021


Education can’t save us. We have to save education.
Dr. Bettina Love

The current Western educational model privileges linearity, preservation, and uniformity. The unsustainable values that this model perpetuates are now globally pervasive. From this design, practices emerge like standardized testing that promotes norming, a lack of creativity and adaptability, and uninspired learning environments that drain educators and learners.

Further consequences exist like a disconnect between learners and their communities, very few practices that foster healthy identity formation, and teaching methodologies that further a disrespect for the individuality of each learner and educator. The result: young people are mostly “stressed, bored, and tired.” The current model can be slow to change, with innovations addressing the symptoms of a faulty foundation, rather than the stifling principles at the center of the design. Even though the process is complex and rigorous, the orientation of the design itself must be addressed in education to move toward the vision of a more regenerative culture.

Vitality is a fundamental quality of the human experience and can be fostered in any person or system in ways that honor the individuality of the place and its people. Vitality-centered education is about bringing forth life; whoever and wherever we are. Awakening vitality within ourselves and within the community strengthens our capacity to courageously respond to the world’s emerging needs. When educational design arises from deep listening, the shape it reflects is collective orientation around something deeper. The design becomes something not perfect, but unique and surprising, and holds a vitality that unfortunately many of us are not accustomed to. Creativity, resiliency, and connection (to name a few) are more readily accessible. In a place where vitality is at the center, the love is palpable.

Vitality, like the wind or the water, or our very breath, cannot be defined, but we still know its presence. Even though we cannot put a fine point on what vitality means, we can point to it by creating communities that bring us more fully alive. The experience of vitality in the community is the evidence of the efficacy of the design. Through continued iteration, experimentation, and sharing our experience with others, at Springhouse, we are beginning to weave a web of communities seeking to foster vitality.

We face great challenges as a species and as a planet. It is time to wake up more fully to the vitality within and around us and to live in ways that take care of and awaken life in others. This starts with the adults, or people in power, listening to that spark within themselves and those around them (including the landscape we live with), and responding to it. In the world of education innovation, we often hear about what we should do to and for our young people. Change starts with adults actually doing what we hope for in our young people. If we want more creativity, curiosity, and vitality in our communities- let us have the strength to embody ourselves what we hope for in our youth.

Just the other day I (dan) was talking to my friend that teaches theatre to children. For most of her time learning, and as well as a practitioner, she has worked with youth that come from non-mainstream schooling backgrounds. Recently, she started working with youth that go to formal schools. She expressed to me that she immediately noticed a big difference between kids that go to mainstream and alternative schools, namely she shared: that the kids that were from the formal schooling backgrounds generally did not take initiative and that they shied away from responsibility.

To me, that sounded like the opposite of vitality. The formal structures of education, as well as our economic and other institutions, seem to be built on creating dependence as opposed to enabling resilience. In my personal journey, while I was going to school I did not decide what I wanted to study, or how I wanted to spend my energy. I was dependent on the teacher to dictate that for me.

A friend from India that went to an alternative university, after attending formal schools for primary and secondary education, shared with me that in the alternative space, there was only peer-peer and self evaluation, which was counter to his experience in formal schooling. He described how difficult it actually was for him to evaluate himself, as he had grown accustomed to other people doing that for him. He is now the co-founder of a startup, and expressed how important perpetual self-evaluation and self-directed learning are for him, as he is now his ‘own boss’. With greater autonomy, and space to explore, comes greater vitality, and ability to take initiative and responsibility.

In re-imagining education, which is vitality based, I imagine spaces that have loose structures balanced with individual exploration, which at times might feel a little chaotic and uncertain. I imagine children that do not develop ‘learned helplessness’ but rather become courageous, brave and connected to their communities and ecologies. Children that are resilient and able to critically think and adapt to new circumstances. I imagine if our education systems are more focused on vitality, and designed around complexity, individuals would start becoming stronger and more resilient, and subsequently our communities, cities, provinces, countries, the planet, and beyond.

Abraham Lincoln once said, “I learn something from everyone I meet. From most people I learn what not to do.” With education in mind, I think we can safely say, we have learned a lot about what not to do. And, although relatively fewer at the moment, there are people, organizations and movements that are leading the way, in re-imagining education, and can guide others in showing them what is possible.

Photo by MI PHAM on Unsplash

Lead Author: Jenny Finn (first 4 paragraphs)

Jenny is honored to work with the outstanding Springhouse team and is deeply committed to the Springhouse mission of designing vitality-centered education and sharing Sourced Design through Education Design Labs at Springhouse. The summer 2021 cohort has a few openings! Jenny lives on a farm in the Blue Ridge Mountains with her husband Andy and their two teenage children, Andrew and Lizzie.

At Springhouse, we have chosen to reimagine education by reorienting the design in ways that foster vitality in our young people and the communities they live in. Education with the purpose of fostering vitality is not only needed in our schools, which is what most think of when we hear the word education.

Jenny holds a Ph.D. in Sustainability Education from Prescott College and a master’s degree in Social Work from Colorado State University. She is an RSA Fellow and a Country Lead for the HundrED-an international collective seeking to transform education.

For the past twenty years, she has been committed to creating healthy culture by starting with an unwavering commitment to her own personal growth and transformation. As a result of her own journey with addiction and cancer, Jenny understands that a healthy relationship with the world begins with a strong connection to ourselves. In a culture that often fosters separation and disconnection, Jenny’s research, mentoring, and teaching invites people to deepen the relationship they have with themselves in order to serve the world with greater clarity, compassion, creativity, and courage.

Jenny’s work has taken many forms including non-profit management, trauma and hospice care, spiritual care and chaplaincy, clinical private practice, community building through the expressive arts, and educational design. She is a co-founder of Springhouse and sees community-based education as a primary agent to transform culture.

Anchor Author: Daniel Rudolph

Daniel Rudolph is interested in exploring alternative, experiential learning opportunities for people of all ages. He is passionate about forming community, and building public spaces for meaningful, transformational gathering. Currently he is spending a lot of his time learning juggling and facilitating gatherings. He also enjoys writing and sharing poetry.

Dan, and a small team, are in the process of publishing a series of articles titled ‘Live Human Signposts’ that showcases individuals that have taken alternative paths to higher education and/or are pursuing regenerative livelihoods, which is being commissioned by the Ecoversities Alliance. In March, Dan will begin an apprenticeship in Vermont at the MAPLE Monastic Academy.