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Col·legi Montserrat in Barcelona, Innovation and Impact

This week I had the opportunity to visit Col·legi Montserrat in Barcelona. In my role, I visit many spectacular schools and although they may share learning philosophies, similar mission statements or desired outcomes for their students, each of them is unique in how their vision is realized on campus.  

Col·legi Montserrat is a Jesuit school that is due to celebrate its 100th birthday in just a few years. The original building is an imposing stone convent, built into the mountainside on what was surely the outskirts of the bustling city of Barcelona, but now, located above a metro stop, it is as much a part of the city as anywhere. The entrance is striking for its contrasting architectural modernism; a purposeful rusted steel facade frames an underground parking structure and a minimalist entry door, hanging bougainvillaea tumble down from above. 

Once inside and up a few stairs, the view of the city is striking and the air and the energy are warm and welcoming. I am greeted by Madre Mar Izuel with a smile and a warm embrace although we had only just met a week ago while we were both visiting the REAL School in Hungary.  I led a short workshop to help the school find a leverage point for innovation towards the challenging energy crisis in Europe.  She and a few colleagues, Anna and Marta, had joined us for the conversation. Madre Mar and I met the following morning for a casual chat over coffee as I was eager to learn more about her work with the collective of Nazareth schools that support education in some of the most impoverished regions of the world.    

I am passionate about working to find ways to bring these important tools to the educators and students of the world and often, like many of my colleagues, find myself challenged by the reality that my work is easily and often readily adopted by cutting-edge, innovative, resource privileged schools like Col·legi Montserrat and many others in our network but it is difficult, sometimes even impossible to bring these tools to schools in the public sector. We want everyone to have them but the structure of government education, the exhaustion of educators, and the lack of flexibility in curriculum implementation make it feel like an insurmountable challenge to introduce this kind of work. This is a topic where Madre Mar and I connected immediately. Col·legi Montserrat had become a beacon of innovation and was dedicated to delivering quality, innovative education to the world’s most needy communities. She referred to the project as, “education that begins where the pavement ends,” and her work and that of her colleagues was to train educators from these schools in teaching techniques reflecting the cutting-edge innovation of the Nazareth schools, but that local educators could adapt to meet their resource realities and context. “I want to know more and see how to support you in this,” was my gut response, and from there came the invitation to visit her in Barcelona the next time I was in town.

Madre Mar invited me to lead her executive team in a conversation about global impact and student engagement as global citizens. After a lively discussion around the Sustainability Compass, we moved off topic to explore deeper the everyday realities at the school around educator engagement in maintaining order in their spaces and students’ lack of ownership around turning off the lights when they weren’t being used. Seemingly mundane topics, but as we discovered, they aren’t simple in their solutions and we spent some time using the Systems Iceberg to mull over opportunities and innovations in the deepest level of mental models. It was dark and rainy outside, but inside the room, it was filled with the light and energy of committed educators making time at the end of a long workday to dive deep into new ways of thinking and doing at their school. I am deeply grateful for the opportunity to connect with such thoughtful, authentic and dedicated educators, and I look forward to contributing and supporting this quality work in the world. 

Nicole Swedlow

Nicole Swedlow

Nicole Swedlow is the Executive Director of Compass Education, a global non-profit supporting education for sustainability through training in systems thinking practices. Nicole supported the team at the American School of Puerto Vallarta to develop their sustainability and service outreach initiatives. The school was awarded the Tie-Care, Tri-Association Award for Global Leadership in recognition of this work. As a consultant, she is passionate about helping schools and businesses integrate sustainable principles with a strategic, inclusive and conscious approach. Nicole’s work in nonprofit leadership and sustainability as Director of the nonprofit organization Entreamigos, has been recognized by the United Nations, as a finalist for the Global Equator Initiative, as a breakout speaker for the World Economic Forum, and by the Dalai Lama, as a 2014 Unsung Hero of Compassion. Nicole has a Masters Degree in Education and Global Change from the University of British Columbia.

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