In her 2016 book, Education for Sustainable Happiness and Well-Being, Catherine O’Brien demonstrates how living schools/campus contribute to the development of Leader Character (O’Brien, 2016, chapter 12). She writes, “I am convinced that understanding leader character is imperative if we are to realize the full potential of … New Pedagogies” (p. 148). The ways in which Living Schools can promote the development of leader character and 21st Century Skills is made clear in her tables and text.

But educators who have heard of living schools are wondering how to get there: a seemingly overwhelming task. I took this inquiry opportunity to ask, “how can New Pedagogies be the seed that grows into Living Schools?” It was clear to me that Leader Character development was the one of the key elements linking new, transformative pedagogies and Living Schools.

Through the lens of New Pedagogies for Deep Learning, I examined inquiry-based learning and project (passion, product, and problem)- based learning (PBL) to see how they could be used to develop leader character in students and teachers alike. Then I looked at outdoor and nature-based learning. The links I made between leader character and each of these pedagogies are below.

Inquiry-Based Learning

Inquiry-based learning is “an approach to learning that is directed by questions, problems, an hypothesis or a challenge that individuals and groups of learners work together to address” (Learning for a Sustainable Future, 2014). Inquiry can take several different forms but in all cases is highly student-driven and is designed around the interests of the student. In order for a student to be successful in inquiry-based learning, he or she must work on developing the following leader strengths*:

  • Critical thinking (judgment)
  • Analysis (judgment)
  • Creativity (transcendence)
  • Problem-solving
  • Open-mindedness, flexibility (collaboration)
  • Initiative (drive)
  • Takes responsibility, ownership (accountability).

These strengths, of course, are necessary to succeed, but are also (and more importantly) developed through participation in inquiry-based learning.

*note: Leader character strengths are taken from Seijts, Gandz, Crossan, & Reno, (2013), as quoted in O’Brien, 2016, pp. 148-157

Project-Based Learning

PBL stands for Project, Passion-, Problem and Product-based learning. There are variations among the four but we will stick with Project-based learning for the purposes of this article. Project-Based Learning is “a teaching method in which students gain knowledge and skills by working for an extended period of time to investigate and respond to an authentic, engaging and complex question, problem, or challenge” (Buck Institute for Education, 2016). Similar to inquiry, it is student-driven and responds to a question. Often a product is involved, for example, a physical product or an event, and students are expected to present their finished work to an authentic audience beyond the classroom.

A student’s success in PBL is dependent on developing the following leadership character strengths:

  • Accountability
  • Critical thinking
  • Reflection (Humility)
  • Authenticity (Integrity)
  • Resilience (courage)
  • Creativity (Transcendence)
  • Interconnectedness/cooperation (collaboration)
  • Passion, initiative (Drive)

Again, as in all transformative pedagogies, leader character is developed through mentoring and coaching, reflection, and self-evaluation.

Depending on the projects chosen, the following strengths can also be developed:

  • Temperance
  • Justice
  • Humanity

New Pedagogies for Deep Learning (NPDL) lists the following character traits to be developed through character education (Fullan & Langworthy, 2014):

  • Honesty (integrity/ justice)
  • Self-regulation (temperance)
  • Responsibility (Accountability)
  • Hard work (drive)
  • Perseverance (Courage/Drive)
  • Empathy (humanity)
  • Self-confidence (courage).

It is clear how these character traits link with the Leader Character strengths described by Seijts, Gandz, Crossan, & Reno (O’Brien, Education for Sustainable Happiness and Well-Being, 2016a, p. 157).

These new pedagogies require leader character traits but also help to develop them. This is important when trying to implement a system-based concept such as living schools. As Fullan and Langworthy remark,

“the inherent change model by which new pedagogies spread is different because the change comes from all levels. The new learning partnerships between students and teachers, teachers’ influence on their peers, and learning conditions shaped by leaders all converge to enable change. The difference that we see is that many changes start simultaneously and spread via multi-faceted pathways” (Fullan & Langworthy, 2014)

It is thus essential that teachers and students who would like to see system-wide change happen at their school develop the leader characteristics that will allow the pathway to open up from the classroom to the rest of the school. Those characteristics will be developed through the practicing of deep learning pedagogies and students and teachers will be better equipped to lead change.

However, we are not quite there yet: Living schools are more than places where deep learning happens. We still need a connector to bring us there. Living School attributes include:

  • demonstrating a concern for the living world;
  • A commitment to the health and well-being of all, including the natural environment;
  • Incorporating outdoor teaching and learning;
  • Developing environmental and sustainability literacy;
  • Developing strong ties to the community;
  • Explicitly exploring the links and interdependence between human health and the natural world;
  • and more  (O’Brien, 2016b)

How can we use new pedagogies to bring these attributes to our schools?

Outdoor and Nature-based Learning

There are many levels and types of outdoor education, starting from environmental education at school and going all the way over to adventure education and expeditionary learning. Here I would like to focus on nature-based/outdoor learning close to school.

Outdoor learning requires students to be self-aware and aware of their environment and of each other. There is an element of responsibility and personal management that comes with being comfortable in the outdoors. Students collaborate and share. They must often wait (for the right weather, for the animals to appear, for the plants to grow). They live through a certain amount of uncertainty and adversity. They are also in their environment, their community: they see how everything is connected and how they are connected to everything. Their curiosity is stimulated and they are given a chance to satisfy this curiosity.

As such, Leader Character strengths developed through outdoor learning include the following:

  • Transcendence (through appreciation of nature)
  • Collaboration
  • Humanity (through empathy and consideration of others)
  • Humility (through curiosity and realizing one’s place in the world)
  • Self-awareness
  • Temperance (through prudence, calmness, and patience)
  • Accountability
  • Courage (through tolerating adversity & uncertainty)

I believe that through outdoor and environmental education, and taking it further to Education for Sustainable Development (ESD), and in connecting to our world though transformative pedagogies, we can develop the leader character strengths in ourselves and in our students that will give us the drive, courage, and vision to make change happen in our schools. I would venture to say that outdoor learning is the bridge between new pedagogies and the Living School.

When we first heard of Living Schools the question came up for nearly everyone : “This sounds great, but how on earth can we make it happen?” Health-Promoting Schools and Living schools require system-wide change and support and cannot come to be if there is not widespread support from all levels. But I believe that new pedagogies, including outdoor learning, can strongly influence the development of the leader character traits that are essential for students and teachers to become change-makers. Teachers must intentionally focus on the development of these traits through the use of new pedagogies.

concept-mapThis is a concept map that I created when I was putting all my ideas together. At the centre of the image is new pedagogies and one individual teacher.  I hope it shows the influence that outdoor learning can have on all of the other advantages that come with new pedagogies (the green line). I also tried to depict that leader character is pervasive throughout (orange line),  because it is both developed through new pedagogies and  is strongly linked to the Living School concept (O’Brien, 2016a). Finally, I saw that the risk-taking that is so highly prized in new pedagogies is also the strength that is required by students, teachers, and administrators to become change-makers. If all of these qualities are put to use for the well-being of all, then we are well on our way to the Living School.


Buck Institute for Education. (2016). What is project-based learning (PBL)? Retrieved 11 03, 2016, from BIE:

Fullan, M., & Langworthy, M. (2014). A Rich Seam: How new pedagogies find deep learning. London: Pearson.

Learning for a Sustainable Future. (2014). Connecting the dots: Key strategies that transform learning for environmental education, citizenship and sustainability. Oshawa, ON: Learning for a Sustainable Future.

O’Brien, C. (2016a). Education for Sustainable Happiness and Well-Being. New York, NY: Routledge.

O’Brien, C. (2016b). The Ethos, Attributes, and Practice of a Living School (draft).

O’Brien, C., & Howard, P. (2016). The Living School: The emergence of a transformative sustainability education paradigm. Journal of Education for Sustainable Development, 10(1), 115-130.

VIA Institute on Character. (2016). The VIA Survey. Retrieved 11 03, 2016, from





[1] Leader character strengths are taken from Seijts, Gandz, Crossan, & Reno, (2013), as quoted in O’Brien, 2016, pp. 148-157

[2] Attributes taken from a draft document shared by Catherine O’Brien, October 2016, with students in the M.Ed course “Health-Promoting Schools” at Cape Breton University


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