Schools to inspire new thinking

This year has been all about thinking outside of the box. As the new academic year starts to settle in, lots of educators and activists around the globe are calling for us to view the pandemic as a push to reform traditional schooling methods by implementing hybrid models or questioning the future of exams. However, 2020 hasn’t just been about changing models of learning but also the content we teach. There have been conversations about social justice and equity in the classroom with topics such as decolonising the curriculum and navigating race also resurfacing. 

Amidst all of these discussions, there have also been increasing comparisons between traditional and alternative methods of schooling such as homeschooling or forest schools, with the hopes that these schooling methods are the safest under the current circumstances, and provide students with the continuous learning support that current reopening strategies may not. 

Here at Teacherly, we’ve taken a step to see what exactly it is that alternative schools offer and how we can inspire new thinking from them:

  • Self-directed education

This form of alternative education appears in different ways such as ‘self-managed learning’ or ‘student-centred learning’ but the premise is ultimately the same:  schools place the learning process in the hands of the students for them to initiate the learning process by themselves. 

Often these types of alternative schools will adopt a democratic approach to schooling: students are trusted to take responsibility for their own learning and to take care of the school community. Their community is not segregated by age, rather, students can choose to learn from whomever and however! 

Students who engage in democratic schools will benefit from the higher self-esteem and confidence that comes from being active in your own learning through democratic participation. Another study was conducted in Israel and shows that the decline in interest in science that occurs regularly in conventional schools did not occur in democratic schools. 

  • Montessori schools 

Montessori is a method of education that incorporates self-directed activity, hands-on learning, and an emphasis on collaborative play. Montessori classrooms are crafted environments designed to meet the needs of children in a specific age range, where teachers offer age-appropriate activities to guide learning. 

The key difference between traditional schools and Montessori education is teacher facilitation. In a traditional school, the teacher directs lessons and subjects as well as assigning tasks for students to complete. In a Montessori school, the children choose the task they wish to work on, provoked by their natural curiosity in an environment that is specially designed for their intellectual development.

A study concluded that the Montessori approach represents an ideal solution to the ‘vicious circle of math anxiety’. By defining the teacher as a director and playing the role of an observer as well as class manager, the Montessori teacher will not teach in the first person but guide the students towards development. 

By promoting processes of teaching-learning that enhance confidence, resilience, self-esteem and self-efficacy, they are fundamental in order to avoid high rates of math-anxious pupils. 

  • Forest schools 

Forest School education is a child-centred inspirational learning process; it’s an opportunity for holistic growth and is a long-term program that supports play, exploration and supported risk-taking.

Forest schools are designed to be completely outdoors and provide ample outside time with natural play and typically small class sizes. There is a strong belief that nature-immersive programs are the perfect fit to address the stress-free, healthy environments we will need to provide for students.

There is a great deal of research on the impact outdoor education programmes can have on different genders. Research shows that women are ‘evolutionarily programmed’ to respond more positively to therapeutic interactions with natural settings (Baines, & Pellegrini, 2003), males, however, have been found to benefit more from being outside, as the environment allows them to take part in physical activities that they would be disciplined for indoors 

Whilst these schools are typically depicted as ‘alternatives’ of schooling, they can inspire us to rethink how we set up our classrooms,  and demonstrate that education isn’t limited to the traditional school structure. 

If you’re looking to be inspired by teachers from all across the globe and different schools or curriculums, Teacherly is an online platform that supports global peer to peer coaching and collaboration. Feel free to email me on to find out more or sign up for your free account on