Open school – open to the world

Ebbe Hoyrup
CEO, LMS – Live Music in Schools
Chairman, Young Audiences Music Committee


Wonders of the world – and education

In Denmark the term ”Open School” was introduced in 2014 as a part of the latest reform of the public school system. In short, it is about increased interaction between schools and the surrounding society in the form of sports clubs, museums, businesses and cultural institutions. To me this is a most encouraging development towards enriching education by realizing the learning and the “bildung” that the wonders of the world can offer. It is also an opportunity to bring school and its surrounding in closer touch with each other and avoid that schools become small parallel universes.

The best way to learn is through play – and we play the best when we are totally absorbed in what we are doing, in a state of seriousness and joy. In an open school many realities can be invited inside and make a great difference if we can attach a pedagogical handle to them. Experiences, inspiration, enthusiasm and magical moments can be the sparks that ignite the joy of learning, and they can supply a lot of raw material for knowledge and insight. Also for kids having difficulties with the traditional school form. It means offering more “languages” to grasp the world and to evolve as a human being.

Professor David Kolb says that learning to require at least four facets: concrete experience, reflective observation, abstract conceptualization and active experimentation. Schools of today are strong in conceptualization and reflection. Experience and active experimentation are strengthened considerably when the wonders of the world are brought into play.

Good teachers have of course always involved the outside world in their teaching. Nevertheless, the potential is far greater if the structures and systems of schools, art, culture, sports and local associations are tuned towards cooperation, and I think it is the duty of all parties to commit to that wholeheartedly.



To truly vitalize the school system, the cooperation with the outside world must build on professionalism and quality in the meeting between the various fields. The required professionalism is largely a new one, focusing on the common “room” in which the cooperation takes place, and it must have full respect for both the school and the outside partners. Furthermore, it must add a professional view on what it takes to create a successful encounter and possess skills and knowledge on available options and methods.

It is important that school is school and outside partners are what they are. Authenticity in experiences, encounters and processes are vital for establishing a solid common ground. For instance, an artist should not be a teacher, and a teacher not an artist. Instead, they should both contribute with the skills that are unique for them and their profession.  It is vital that we have a focus on quality in in the contributions from both the artist and the teacher, and in the design of the encounter. The challenge is to make two worlds meet in a fruitful way that promotes experience, inspiration and learning.


Enthusiasm and structure

Enthusiasm is very, very important for successful projects. But in the bigger picture it is paramount to have systems and structures that can support the enthusiastic individuals and make their good projects last and thrive. Good initiatives deserves not to dry out if one teacher leaves. Also there should be possibilities for knowledge to dissiminate in teams, between schools, municipal school administrations and professional circles. It all depends on time for professional dialogue, support from management and available experts to consult.

Enthusiasm must be present all through the food chain, and involving school with the outside world offers many advantages: Pupils will get different and more varied experiences and inspirations, and should be involved in decisions and get responsibility also. Teachers will obtain more inspiration and new eyes on their subject. Parents will see kids that are more excited, and they may actually be involved themselves. Schools will get a closer integration with the local society, and municipalities will get stronger cohesiveness and will benefit from better use of existing resources. Finally, the whole society will benefit from having more well-educated citizens with a stronger and wider cultural foundation.


Helpful systems in schools

There are many things we can do to systematically back up school relations to the outside world. One thing would be to involve pupils in decision-making and responsibilities as we do in the Danish KulturCrew system. Pupils in KulturCrews are active planners and organizers of concerts, theatre and dance performances etc. in their school and often in their local society too.

For teachers it will be important to have an “open-school-coach” available, maybe based in the school library/media center. Such a coach would have competencies to advice on local and national offers from art institutions, museums, companies etc. and would be able to advice and give feedback in planning subjects, aesthetical learning processes and so on. This will require some further training and education of the coaches.

The “open school coaches” should have access to a municipality based “open school consultant” who could also be responsible facilitator for school-to-school networking. Furthermore this consultant should be up to date with national and regional schemes, recent development in the field, evaluation practises etc. Luckily, many municipalities in Denmark already have this kind of person employed.

On a national level, a close contact between ministries of education and culture is of great importance. General policies, support services, teacher training and research are areas where the national administration has a great role to play.


… and in the surrounding world

Outside the walls of the schools, all the different partners and collaborators must also be ready to adjust themselves to the common “room” created with the school. It means that they have to familiarize themselves thoroughly and respectfully with the mission, raison d’etre and circumstances for the schools. This includes will and appetite for dialogue with the educational world. These cultural, artistic and other partners have to have a professional approach in targeting their services in a way that make them relevant in the educational agenda ruling in the schools.

Can you put such demands on every artist, football trainer or business owner? Of course not. Here the “cultural umbrellas” or competence centers come into the picture. In Denmark Levende Musik I Skolen ( is one of them. They are important channels to the wonders of the world, and their task is to be super sharp in making the raw material of the surrounding world relevant for pupils, and to be experts in presenting it in a way that makes sense – without losing any authenticity on the way.

It is also relevant to expect the umbrellas to cooperate and share experiences and knowledge to ensure quality and continuous dynamics in the their work.


Set the course, start moving  

So, there is plenty to do. But at the same time there are many who can contribute from each their starting point. And the nice message is, that in many countries it is not even as much a question of more money as a question of better focus and stronger consciousness. A lot of valuable competences, activities and knowledge is already available. The understanding of the common goal seems to be somewhat missing, and a stronger focus on professionalizing the mediator role between school and art etc is also needed to glue things together. It should be a possible task for any wealthy society – especially when the gain is better, more joyful and sparkling learning and education!


November 2016

Trinity of Arts Education

– get inspired! – learn! – do it! – 

To have no access to music and other art forms is bad! Only thing worse is if we have an unqualified, simplified and out-of-balance access! It may scare us away for a lifetime. How we introduce art to kids is really important business and should be taken up in a serious way with all the attention, focus and skill that we would put into any other professional endeavor.

To start somewhere we need to realize that bringing art to children and youngsters is a holistic task, and that a successful approach need to integrate at least three different spheres: experiencing/inspiration (I), learning (L) and doing (D).

Musikklode ILD
Full circle

Together they form a full circle, and without any of them, something will be missing, and the other two will not really work. I, L and D all have to be there to make it give any meaning. Take the example of a medic: The “learn” part is obvious with studying diseases, cures, anatomy etc. But also watching and being inspired by experienced professionals is a must. And finally: Only in practicing and doing it, makes it all real and turn you into a useful medic.

This is so obvious that it is almost embarrassing to mention. But we have to! It seems a human tendency to complicate things and forget simple basics in the process. So my objective here is actually just to remind us of realities already staring us into the face.

In Arts Education especially we cannot afford to forget basic elements like these. Many people still consider art a luxury in the educational system which means that there is not much room for failure (actually art is not a luxury as I have discussed in other articles). A qualified holistic approach is essential to succeed.

The danger of tunnel vision, where we only recognize the small area each of us happen to work with, can spoil a lot. If for example you help children make their own music, you need to be aware that they also need to experience great professional performances and acquire knowledge about what they are doing. Someone else may help them with that, but you must facilitate that it happens. You have to be aware of the ecology, you are a part of.

I – inspiration

A breathtaking experience in a concert, in front of a piece of art or at a theatre performance is often the spark that ignites our inner passion, and in some cases even changes our destiny. In any case it is a quantum leap on the ladder of development and learning. When we are inspired, our whole system is geared to receive relevant information, generate ideas and build up the necessary energy and joy to process it all.

Inspirational events activate the emotional and intuitive parts of our intelligence. It is widely recognized that emotions are critical to create the patterns that help us learn, and similarly inspiration builds a basis for relating to art. The quality of results we achieve depends on the quality and “richness” of our awareness and attention. Compared to reluctant learning, inspiration speeds up the process and retention rate manifold.

The ignition capacity is invaluable when we speak of inspiration, but it does not only matter in the beginning. In Arts Education and in all development and growth we start over and over again, entering new fields and meeting the unknown. In all these steps inspiration is necessary to fuel the process and to show us things we don’t know yet. Confronted with mastery we become gradually aware of how far we can aspire and get a boost to our motivation.

L – learn

To make a good experience stick and become productive, it must combine with learning and doing. Otherwise we are more in the entertaining business where things enter and leave our system without making us develop and grow.

Learning comes in many shapes, but generally is about creating patterns in our mental and cognitive spheres, that connect experiences and pieces of information to each other and making it possible to compare them, remember them and pull them out whenever needed. We understand what we are doing, and why.

A primitive approach to learning indicates that if you place the pupils on a chair and pour down information on their heads, they will learn.

TragtNothing could be more wrong. They may at best remember a few of the things that we want to teach them, but rarely much, and surely innovation and creation of new ideas will be absent.

Actually learning is a vast area, and can be described with a holistic circle of its own, indicating at least five elements that are all necessary to make real learning happen. Actually quite much overlapping with the I-L-D-model.

Learning circle

– Experiencing the world, phenomena, expressions, ideas etc.
– Conceptualizing them and placing them in context with theory, history etc.
– Reflecting on their meaning.
– Experimenting with them, testing, trying.
– And letting go of them in order to let the subconscious work (like the important pause in music)

Like a spiral, learning bring us through these stages over and over, making learning progressively deeper and wiser.

D – do it

Third element is where you have to act. Do it, struggle with the obstacles, marvel at the results, “getting your hands dirty”, fail, try again, succeed… Here we are involving physically with the body and the brain to make knowledge and visions concrete, manifest and useful.

Some speak of 10000 hours of practice to attain mastery – as a surgeon, a violinist, a painter, or anything. Though a quite doubtful and populistic statement, it indicates how much training it always takes to be good at something. There is no quick fix to excellence.

To make the effort endurable, it surely helps if you are inspired and enthusiastic about it, so it becomes joyful playful. There is a huge difference between reluctantly doing what you are told to do, and doing it because you are fueled by passion, ignited by strong and inspiring experiences.
So let us make sure that inspiration, learning and doing are always available somewhere in the ecology of Arts Education activities and programs. Not all the elements can be present in every activity, so for professionals in the field it is paramount to have a wider view of what is going on and a sense of understanding the role you and others play in the holistic picture. With such an awareness there is a good chance that Arts Education stays on the agenda and evolves the way it deserves!

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Be inspired / learn / go there …
Daniel Golman: Emotional Intelligence. Bantam Books, 1995
Howard Gardner: Multiple Intelligences – New Horizons in Theory and Practice. Basic Books, 2006.