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What is Beautiful? A Transdisciplinary Journey

By Kevin Bartlett
What is Beautiful? A Transdisciplinary Journey

(Photo source: Common Ground Collaborative)

At Escuela Internacional Sampedrana (EIS), I have the privilege of a being a long-term “embedded consultant” as we transform the school into a fully connected Learning Ecosystem, in partnership with the Common Ground Collaborative (CGC). This model fits with the CGC’s commitment to only sharing ideas that actually work, in practice, in real schools.

At the heart of our Ecosystem is one simple Impact Goal…an idea that resonates with Simon Sinek’s Start with Why and with the Hedgehog Principle described in Jim Collins’ Good to Great. Our “one simple idea” is this:

We build Expert Learners, with deep conceptual understanding of ideas that matter, high levels of competency in key skills, and strong positive moral character.

In support of that long-term “just cause” we have dumped the energy-draining, low-impact practice of multiple teacher goals in favour of the energy-conserving, high-impact practice of one collective goal. Every teacher is working on planning, implementing, reflecting upon, and modifying one high-quality, inquiry-based Learning Module this year.

This is generally achieved in collaborative teams, who are provided with release time, good models, and “experts in the room.” It’s working wonderfully well.

For the Elementary School “specialists,” though, there was a dilemma, in that they work “alone” without a natural team. In working out how best to support them, we discussed options. We, the Learning Design Team (LDT), could help them create:

  • A “Disciplinary” Module in their specialist area.
  • An “Interdisciplinary” Module, with, say, two disciplines collaborating.

We could also consider a third option. We could take a trans-disciplinary concept (trans because it transcends disciplines) of true significance in all fields of learning and explore it through multiple lenses. I suggested the idea of Beauty... and made it clear that this would be a risky journey of exploration because, frankly, we had not done this before and, personally, I wasn’t 100% certain of how to do it.

That challenge was embraced by all, and we set out together, the teachers and the LDT. The journey turned out to be fascinating, challenging, and ultimately inspiring. We constructed meaning together, unpacking our Compelling Question: “WHAT IS BEAUTIFUL? Understanding the Aesthetics in Everything.” We developed a central narrative, “The Story” that speaks of the beauty in all things, if we can only see it. Following that central work, teams emerged:

Mari (Character Ed.) collaborating with Marisol (Physical Ed.) on
The Beauty in Teamwork

Fernando (Music) collaborating with Stephanie and Yarely (Visual Arts) on
The Beauty in Movement

Kenia (Design Tech.) collaborating with Kristy (STEM) on
The Beauty in Bridges

We used the central trans-disciplinary concept of Beauty to generate a connected suite of Learning Modules, combining disciplinary, interdisciplinary, and trans-disciplinary thinking. We did it as a team of educators trying something for the first time, and we did it together. Over the next few months, we will introduce these Modules to our learners, and enjoy our trans-disciplinary journey with them.

Kudos to these risk-taking teachers…and thanks for the ride!

“Everything has beauty but not everyone sees it.” - Confucius.

“Force yourself to find something beautiful in everything you do and you will only do beautiful things.” - Meir Ezra


Kevin is the Founding Director of The Common Ground Collaborative.

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