What is Integral Education?

What Is Integral Education?

An integral approach to education supports the continuing growth of learners and teachers along the entire spiral of development over the full span of life, in other words, from cradle to Kosmos!

Integral education attempts to discover how the many partial truths of educational philosophies and methods inform and complement each other in a coherent way, while acknowledging that the whole truth is still evolving and can never be completely captured. Integral education includes approaches to education from biological, neurological, societal, cultural, psychological, and spiritual fields of study. It involves considering the individual and collective aspects of teachers and students, as well as the interior and exterior modes of experience and reality, termed the four quadrants (see graph below). An integral approach also considers the many developmental lines in a human being —cognitive, emotional, interpersonal, artistic, moral, spiritual, and others. In addition, the Integral framework understands that these lines evolve in stages, or levels, such as preconventional, conventional, and postconventional, and that each human being passes through these levels and cannot skip any one. It also acknowledges the importance for an individual’s development and motivation of states of consciousness. Lastly, integral education considers types, people’s enduring tendencies and inclinations toward, for example, introversion or extraversion; agency or communion; and orderliness or spontaneity.

Summarized, an integral approach to education is one that works to include all of these different elements (quadrants, lines, levels, types, and states) as fully and as intentionally as possible in the learning and teaching experience.

Graph of the four quadrants

Selected queries for integral educators

The list that follows is a small sampling of queries that have been developed out of an integral framework of thinking about education. They may provide some helpful springboards for reflecting about some of the integral elements in our schools and classrooms.

Striving to attend to our own evolution and continuing growth:

  • What activities or processes do we engage as part of our own personal practice in relation to our roles as teachers?
  • How do we embody the values and aspirations that we offer in our teaching?

Working to create meaningful educational experiences:

  • What educational experiences can be potentially transformative and what kinds of “material” can be transformative?
  • How does taking different perspectives help to prepare the ground for personal evolution?

Observing and engaging different states of consciousness in the learning process:

  • What states do we observe in ourselves and our students…
    • while having a heated discussion with strong opinions and different viewpoints?
    • when the learning environment is fully engaged and flowing?
    • when there is celebration of individual or group accomplishments?
    • while reflecting deeply about a difficult problem or intellectually challenging concept?while imagining/remembering a particular moment or memory or experience, real or fictional?
    • when we are engaged in self and group examination and reflection?
  • How do we intentionally use different states of consciousness in our own teaching presence and in the ways our students are engaged as learners?

Attending to the intersubjective space of the learning community:

  • How is time spent doing/learning balanced with time spent in reflection on what and how we are doing/learning?
  • To what extent are all voices of the learning community included in the conversation?
  • What are the different leadership roles in the learning space?
  • How are these leadership roles developed, shared, assessed?

Examining and structuring the physical space of the learning environment:

  • How does each aspect of the physical space contribute to the feel of the learning environment?
  • What is the quality of the natural light and of the designed light?
  • What are the views to and from the outside world?
  • What are the materials that compose the furniture and other tools, toys, instruments or devices?
  • What is the arrangement of objects in the room, including the seating and work surfaces? What is on the walls? Is student work visible or displayed? Is there art? Are there living things, such as plants? Are there thoughts or messages being communicated by displayed materials?
  • How can one move through the space? How is time being measured in the room (what do the clocks look like ? are there “bells?”). What is time’s relationship to how the community gathers and departs?
  • Is the space warm? Is it beautiful?
  • Is there space for individual quiet as well as group collaboration?
  • Are there any distracting sounds?

Watching for shadow, maintaining an awareness of the shadow elements projected into the learning space:

  • How are the shadow aspects of ourselves or our institutional relationships projected into the learning environment?
  • Do we actively engage in an awareness practice to be alert to the presence of shadow in our learning space?
  • How do we use our community (colleagues, students, wise friends) to get valuable feedback about our practices and areas where we can grow in our own approaches to teaching and learning?

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