Creating the Right Ecosystem for Student Growth with Chris Menagé
January 3, 2023
Creating the Right Ecosystem for Student Growth with Chris Menagé

We’re not supporting our youth in developing into well-rounded individuals, and one of the culprits is our educational system, which isn’t set up to inspire greatness. This is a challenge we can remedy. So why aren’t we?

Especially when there are educational leaders, like Chris Menagé, who create systems and opportunities to do things differently.

This week on the podcast, Chris is sharing the importance of developing human and social capital in a way that works for our youth. That means making sure our students are inspired and seeking out learning for the sake of learning instead of sitting through old school lessons. And it means finding ways to prioritize thriving instead of simply surviving.

Chris stresses that encouraging children to find balance and use their intuition in the classroom is incredibly important so they can take ownership of their learning. Education is an investment in our children, but only when it empowers them.

About Chris Menagé:

Chris is an educator who believes a world of change needs learning to change so he designs award winning learning experiences that are all about meaning, not things. Through e²: educational ecosystems’ framework, Chris advocates for education’s upstream role: to learn from, share with and contribute to, building capacity in social capital.

Jump in the Conversation:

[1:36] – School transformation interest through life experiences
[2:06] – Focus on relationships and holistic approach to education is a lifelong process
[3:00] – What is human and social capital and how to use it educational systems
[3:31] – Social capital is combination of our collective wherewithal – collective abilities, skills, dispositions, lived experiences
[5:25] – How to use this capital in educational systems
[6:26] – Move from restrictive mindset to more collaborative approach
[7:53] – Effective learning strategies build capacity to be eco-centered
[8:51] – Balance and intuition as two senses
[10:21] – Where can we start to create the whole experience
[11:26] – Be okay with the imperfect process
[12:57] – COVID provided an opportunity to pause and reassess our drivers
[15:30] – Education is a resource that’s intensive and costly; we don’t look at this work as an investment
[18:01] – When you invest in resources, kids start learning with passion and purpose
[18:50] – Turbo Time
[20:03] – What people need to know about activating human and social capital
[20:32] – Diagnosis vs. intervention is an approach to well-being
[21:26] – Despite all the advances we’ve made, if we were to look at trends we see at the moment, I don’t think we have much to lose to look at things differently
[25:56] – Chris’s Magic Wand
[27:17] – Maureen’s Takeaways

Links & Resources



Maureen O’Shaughnessy 0:03
Hello fellow parents and educators. Thank you for joining me at Education Evolution, where we are disrupting the status quo in today’s learning models. We talk about present day education, what’s broken, who’s fixing it, and how. I’m Dr. Maureen O’Shaughnessy, your host and founder of education evolution, micro school coalition, and co founder of active, I consult and train with schools and leaders who are fiercely committed to changing the narrative, reimagining the education landscape, and creating learning that serves all children and prepares them to thrive. If you are new, welcome to the podcast. Please subscribe on our website to get it delivered to your inbox weekly. If you’ve been around a while, have you left a review?

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 1:08
Hi, Chris, it is so good to have you on education evolution.

Chris Menagé 1:12
Thank you very much, Maureen. lovely to be here.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 1:14
And listeners today I am chatting with Chris Menagé of educational eco systems in Australia, we are going to unpack the human centered learning design. So Chris, our schools must evolve to serve all learners. Where did the story of school transformation begin for you?

Chris Menagé 1:37
Ah, it’s a it’s an interesting question, Maureen, because I’m not sure that we can pinpoint some things to a specific point in time, I suspect it’s more a accumulation of a lot. And maybe reflection, or reflective part of our experiences, we look back on things and then over a period of time we process that. So for me, I think the way that I view education, and what I believe is our purpose as educators in terms of the support that we provide our students, and the people in our care is to focus on the relationships and the holistic approach to to education as a lifelong learning process. Now, that can sound a little bit like buzzwords, but um, I think what I’m the point I’m trying to make is that we need to embrace the full gambit of our experiences throughout life. And I think that that realization for me came after, you know, several positive experiences and also challenging experiences, as, as it will for everyone’s everyone’s life journey.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 2:52
Absolutely. Talk to us about human and social capital, and how we can use more of this capital in our educational systems.

Chris Menagé 3:02
Sure, Maureen. Look, I think, first of all, I’ll also preface what I’m saying is, this is a, you know, one individuals perspective, I certainly don’t have the solutions for everything, by any stretch of the imagination, or, nor do I believe that it’s a one size fits all. So you know, what we discuss here, in terms of this approach won’t necessarily work in every context, I think it’s really important to acknowledge that, of course, my interpretation of social capital is that it’s the combination of all of our collective where with all if, for want of a better word. And our wherewithal, I would describe as our, our collective abilities, skills, dispositions, lived experience, things, which, perhaps in years gone by, would have been more expressly and explicitly handed down or passed down through the generations. Certainly, if you look at if you look at some of our indigenous cultures around the world, or perhaps some of our more strongly aligned cultures that are strongly attached to the past, or traditions and things like that, I think you see that there’s, you know, rites of passage, there’s very explicit milestones. What were the community, you know, coalesces around some, some lived wisdom or some experiences, and it’s through the collective strength that, you know, there’s progression and there’s a, a momentum forward. So I see social capital in a modern context as that power of community voice where people come together and contribute to a cause greater than themselves, essentially.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 4:56
I love that and I appreciate to that you’re acknowledging the wisdom of cultures that are more collaborative by nature than definitely been been the United States. So if we acknowledge this capital exists, how might we use it more fully in our educational systems?

Chris Menagé 5:18
Very, very, that’s the that’s the elusive needle in the haystack, isn’t it? It is. Look, I think, I think just to come back to one of the premises of your, of your reflection there about, you know, modern Western society, in terms of how we frame our worldview, and our lens, up to now is certainly in the last, you know, 200 300 years, it’s certainly been focused around a competitive a materialistic view of things. And, you know, that certainly served a purpose for a period of time, you know, it was the it produced extraordinary outcomes, and obviously, great standards of living for many people around the world. However, as we’ve seen, the world context change, I think there’s been a greater call or need for a different, a different worldview and a different appreciation of what makes us tick, and what is sustainable and regenerative in the long run. And so one of the things that I address through E squared is is these mindsets and these worldviews through a model called nuance squared, where I try and illustrate the, the movement from a very quantitative, prescriptive, binary, competitive mindset. And that will infuse everything that we do all the structures, all the policies, you know, the goals, the expectations, and there’s been a shift or there needs also to be this shift from that to a more collaborative, qualitative, subjective, eco centered approach, as opposed to that ego centered approach. And, you know, these things are then typified through things like, you know, if an organization believes that it has a social responsibility beyond just providing employment, and you know, driving profits, higher and higher every year, then the argument would be that that type of organization that does contribute to something greater, will do better will will do more than just survive, it will thrive,

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 7:37
other than the idea of looking at the nuances and going from eco from ego to eco centered. So as you work with your clients, what are effective learning strategies that help us build our capacity to be eco centric, and nuanced squared and have this capacity to tap into social capital?

Chris Menagé 8:06
Yeah, it’s in some in many ways, it’s really quite simple, Maureen, in the sense that we just bring it back to the basics. And it’s a little bit of biomimicry. And also going back to that comment that I made earlier about what makes us tick. So if we focus on, if we reflect on the times in our lives, when we have been the most present, and we try and characterize and observe, and then replicate the conditions in which we were at that time, when we try and replicate that in, when we establish a learning engagement opportunity, then we find that we’re more likely to have a, you know, a productive and really fulfilling experience. And so what I do is I usually go back to the very basic things of the 567 senses that Ken Robinson refers to. And in there, he includes balance and intuition as the sixth and seventh seven senses. And therefore you design the really basic things like the context, the physical context, the furniture, the lighting, the how much what sort of air we were breathing. And then we started to think a little bit beyond things like you know, the props and the food that might be served. And then we take it one step further, and we consider the issues that we’re grappling with all the topics that we’re focusing on, do we ensure that there’s a vested interest in there that there’s buy in that there’s ownership, agency, all of those sort of key aspects of what we know, we resonate with as human beings because as human beings, we are part of a we are part of nature, and we work we exist within a greater context and therefore if we can design our learning experiences with that same mind one frame. But I think that we have more chance of getting it right.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 10:04
I agree this sounds very intentional. And I know as an educator, a lot of times I’m just like, trying to get the content together, and how can I make sure that kids, you know, I can pick one or two of the things that you said, but to create the whole experience, whether it’s with our students, in our families, wherever in our businesses, what might be a couple of steps we could start with, because this seems like an awful lot.

Chris Menagé 10:35
So true. And you know, and this is what becomes overwhelming, you’ve hit the nail on the head in terms of our physiological and mental response to these sorts of concepts. We’re like, Okay, sounds great, but how do you put it into practice? And I think there’s several sort of layers to that response. The first one is our own mental frames of how we measure success and what we are putting our expectations towards. Now we will, I think, recognizing that if we are driven by the academic outcomes, and purely the academic, academic outcomes in terms of an A or 90%, then yesterday might be, the quickest possible way of going of getting to that outcome is to, you know, rote help a child to write learn something and to regurgitate it and replicate it robotically by can. However, if we adjust our thinking, and if we think to ourselves, we’re okay with the fact that this might be an imperfect process, we’re okay with the fact that this might take longer, we’re okay with the fact that the end result will be different for every single child. And we then create a curriculum and a framework which is flexible, and which is tailored to that individual. In my experience, then we get far more positive outcomes. However, I do acknowledge and as you do as an educator, and we all live in the real world, and we have responsibilities, and we have compliance issues, and we have targets and all those sorts of things. And so the trick, I suppose, or not the trick, but the challenge is to, is to be able to do this in a balanced way where we can still get the intentional outcomes that you just mentioned, whilst still appeasing all the many gods that we have in this in this modern life.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 12:28
Definitely sounds tricky.

Chris Menagé 12:31
And there was it is, Maureen you know, me on social media recently, when I posted, I thought it a posted something he’d written about empathy, and that we should be teaching empathy and trust. And, you know, fellow gear teacher, a colleague that, you know, challenged me and said, Well, how do you do that explicitly in a school. But again, I think for me, it’s about looking at a different way of seeing things. And you and I spoke the other day about, you know, post COVID. Also, during COVID, what we found was this opportunity to pause and and sort of reassess what, what our drivers are. And during that time, we’ve, we saw a lot of people reflecting on where they’re at. And there was this notion of the great reset, and then the great resignation, and then now we’re back to the sort of postcode COVID normality, so to speak. But in schools, there are existing opportunities, abound, of how to do this, for example, we already run camps, we already run, you know, expeditions, outdoor expeditions, we already we already do community partnerships, we already do work experience, we already have internal physical structures, like classrooms, which would allow us to have students present their findings were we can invite external industry collaborators in to interact with our students and, and learn alongside them. We have community services, who could be invited in and and we could go out and also interact with them. And, you know, CES, whether that be an intergenerational learning with nursing homes, or what have you. So all of these things already exist. It’s about how we map the outcomes of those to the existing national curriculum or, you know, whatever the objectives that the powers that be have have decided, so important.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 14:37
That makes really good sense. And if we’re talking about something like empathy, I know, pre pandemic, my students got to work with memory loss, older people. And it was amazing and I don’t think moral of the month this month is empathy and let’s do these lessons, cuts it, but going from hesitant, and I don’t know to wow You know, it was really fun, we got to cook together, we did art together, that connection and that common humanity. So I completely agree with you, when we can make it experiential, and look at the resources, we’re already doing bits of it or other schools are. So if we can just get more intentional and see with new eyes, it doesn’t have to be totally revamping our schools and our education to be much more meaningful.

Chris Menagé 15:30
No Look at the challenge is that this is resource intensive, it’s time intensive, it’s labor intensive. It’s costly. Therefore, because we in again, in a modern paradigm, we measure productivity and efficiency and success according to how many units of time, you know, and units of measure ought pause, how many, how much things cost, and how much time we’re spending on something as an opportunity cost, as opposed to flipping our thinking to an investment and upstream investment into something. And so if I was to come back to your previous question about social capital, and link back to that, if we were to frame education in learning, as an upstream investment into capacity building, in all learners, then what are the potential downstream benefits and savings, financial savings, that may arise as a positive consequence of that intentional systems design and policy design? So if I continue that string and thought for a moment, when we read all of that, you know, many of our various reviews that we have, or reports into issues in society, whether that be, you know, crime in a particular area, or declining trust in democratic institutions, or what have you, we we tend to find these responses, these reactive responses where we plug holes in the dam, you know, we put fingers in these holes in the dam that we’re not truly addressing, why is a dam becoming porous? Or why is it cracking and, and I believe my feeling is that if we go upstream, and we invest more heavily in our educational systems, and in how we learn, and if we validate different forms of learning, then effectively we will, we will be able to invest in a sense, a greater sense of belonging in others, and a greater sense of purpose, which I think the research will show that will prevent some of these downstream issues. Yeah, I’m not sure if you would agree with that moraine or your thoughts on?

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 17:56
Absolutely, absolutely. And that’s why I started my microscope. That’s why I highlight so many different models. Because when people do use extra resources, and invest instead of considering it, present day cost, then we do have kids that got learning in a way that worked for them that piqued their interest. So they had passion purpose, and they were ready to go out and do life, do college, do whatever, with some zeal and some direction. So we can pay now or we can pay letter later, we can consider it a cost or an investment. So I completely agree with you.

Chris Menagé 18:37
What really well said I couldn’t have said it better myself.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 18:40
I was repeating you so far more. I love it. Chris, I’m gonna shift to turbo time because I always like for our listeners to get to know a bit about the person behind the concept or the program. So are you ready for me to fire some questions at you?

Chris Menagé 19:00
Strap myself in? I’m ready.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 19:02
Awesome. What’s the last book you read?

Chris Menagé 19:05
The last book I read is the future of smart buy. I’m going to say her name wrong but you’ll see. I forgotten her surname, the future of smart, really good book.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 19:16
And two inspirational folks you’d love to meet.

Chris Menagé 19:20
Oh, that’s a difficult one, isn’t it? I would love to meet Ryan Holiday. And Eckhart Tolle I think

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 19:31
I know Eckhart Tolle is who is Ryan Holiday.

Chris Menagé 19:35
Ryan Holiday is an author who writes about stoicism. And the role of stoicism in you know, potentially as a worldview. He’s written three a trilogy of books. The obstacle is the way the Ego is the Enemy and something is the key.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 19:54
Okay, well, that gives me the gist of it. Thank you. What is the biggest thing you wish folks knew about activating human and social capital,

Chris Menagé 20:05
the potential that lies within the downstream benefits, and the self of fulfillment and well being and wholeheartedness that comes through it.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 20:17
And when you say well being I just think mental health, and I think of how many of our youth and young adults are really struggling with that. So it’s not just like, wouldn’t that be nice for people to feel good, we have a problem right now.

Chris Menagé 20:30
More interest on it, I think it’s really important to touch on this, this distinction between the diagnosis and a truly interventionist approach where we not only address the issue, but the underlying causes to that issue. And when when we talk about those issues that you just talked to, you just mentioned with our youth, the escalating rates of mental health issues, you know, addiction rates, trauma, etc, etc. These are all manifestations, it’s an expression of an underlying issue. And a diagnosis is only one thing, it’s an observation of what’s taking place. It doesn’t necessarily doesn’t always explain, whitening, or what must be done to resolve the issue from happening again. And I think what human centered learning and what these alternative ways of seeing education that you just mentioned, your be at a micro school, like your own, what these framework for want of a better world attempt to do is to address exactly that. That’s missing, which is to try and bring us back to that point of departure of okay, well, if we were to reframe things a little bit, what would be the downstream benefits of that? And I’ll tell you why. It’s a pause. Despite all the advances that we have made, if we are to look at some of the trends of what we’re seeing at the moment, I don’t think we have much to lose, to attempt things a little bit differently.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 22:04
I agree. And turbo time is supposed to be just these super light questions. But this is not light. And I and I feel like you’re saying something super important. A diagnosis is a label. And then what I see oftentimes is, here’s a pill that can help you maybe not feel that, and we never get to, you know, where can we make it so kids are not as anxious? How can we hear what they need? Do they need quiet? Do they need more space? Do they need smaller? Do they need more time? How can we help them develop a sense of who they are, what they need, and permission to ask for what they need. So that maybe some of this anxiety and depression and loneliness, maybe we’re changing the scenario instead of, as you say, giving them a label, and then a medication. And we don’t have a lot to lose right now, except for a generation of amazing young people.

Chris Menagé 23:03
Again, Maureen could not have said it better, beautifully summarized. And that is the tension. That is the space that we are operating in at the moment. We’re juggling these contending priorities and contending issues.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 23:20
Okay, taking a breath, we will return to turbo time. But it just felt really important to pause there because you are offering something that helps us create a way where maybe we don’t have some of these human problems that are a result of not attending to the ecosystem. Tree kind as usual. Next question, what is a pet peeve of yours?

Chris Menagé 23:49
Thought Leaders, thought leaders, thought leaders, I think it’s easy to I think it’s easy to have a thought. I think it’s far more difficult to do.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 24:00
Exactly, yes. How about a passion you bring to educational ecosystems.

Chris Menagé 24:07
I bring my authentic self, you know, as imperfect as fundamentally flawed as that might be. It’s sincere and it’s a living demonstration of the things that sort of percolate in the in the in the recesses of my mind

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 24:30
and in this age of perfectly posed selfies to bring his our authentic selves is is a true gift.

Chris Menagé 24:40
Maureen isn’t there’s absolutely nothing perfectly about me. I’m a I’m a middle aged divorcee horsy, who has been through some severe challenges professionally personally. But what I do know is I’m in a good space because Those challenges in that adversity through the love and support of family, friends, colleagues, and some own, you know, some personal grit and resilience and so forth and a willingness to engage in what Hugh Mackay calls wholeheartedness. I think I’m in a bit of space now.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 25:18
Yes, yes. What is something that most people don’t know about you?

Chris Menagé 25:25
Something that most people don’t know about me. I used to be able to run I used to be able to run marathons.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 25:33
Wow, impressive.

Chris Menagé 25:36
Well, yeah, I wish I could still run. But the body has decided to remind me that maybe swimming is better and some other non impact exercise.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 25:47
Okay. Yeah. And, Chris, I like to wrap up with a magic wand moment. So I’m handing you the educational magic wand. And what would you create, so that our youth have the schools that really resonate for them.

Chris Menagé 26:12
For them to be given to give themselves not to wait to be given, but to give themselves the confidence and the belief that they can be true to who they are. I think people who, you know, that authenticity that we were just talking about, I think people who have come to that level of self acceptance, we tend to be gravitated towards such people, they have a they have an amazing appeal about them. Not because they are something to aspire to. And they’re amazing, but because there’s something very waiting, mentally drawn to work towards something that’s appealing and beautiful.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 26:54
Perfect, Chris, I really appreciate what you’re doing and what you’re bringing to the forefront. Thank you so much for being our guest on education, evolution.

Chris Menagé 27:05
Maureen, absolute pleasure, thank you for having me.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 27:17
I really appreciate how Chris is taking our thinking to a simpler and healthier time. And that when we look at our ecosystem, from his holistic perspective, we find there is so much human and social capital that we can be accessing, to make our learning environments rich and personalized for our wonderful rainbow of learners. I’m intrigued by his idea of biomimicry of using our five senses. And two more that I didn’t realize sir Kenneth Robinson had unpacked that of balance and intuition. And using the senses to replicate the environment that resonates for us. Think about that. It seems like so many times, we let our physical space be done to us, or our parameters presets. What a wonderful idea for us to intentionally create both the physical and relational environment we want our children learning in. Chris listed some great steps we can all be taking. First of all, looking at how we measure success. Our youth are asking to be seen and valued for us to be available and to put our screens down to and really connect with them. Success, our definition has to include physical and emotional well being. And we have to be invested as heavily in those aspects as we are in academic success. Holistic means the whole child.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 29:00
And Chris, his magic wand started off with a kicker. His wish was not about us bestowing anything upon our youth. It’s about our youth giving themselves the confidence and belief that they can be true to who they are. How can we create the opportunity for this concept to be explored? And how can we mirror back how amazing our youth are right now. self acceptance is much easier in a holistic, relational, caring environment. Let’s make sure we’re creating these in school and in the rest of our children’s daily life. And thank you for being a part of this education evolution.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 29:55
I know how challenging it is to make changes inside your own school or community I’ve spent years working with schools around the world on creating learner centered programs. And it always struck me how much schools were able to get done with the right tools and guidance. If you’re ready to make changes like this in your own school, let’s talk and put together an action plan. Visit for a free 15 minute call. And let’s see if we’re a good fit for more work together. Thanks again for listening. To support the education evolution. Subscribe so it lands in your podcast app and gets out to more decision makers. Then rate and review it. For more information in shownotes go to education evolution listeners, you are the ones to ensure we create classrooms where each student is seen, heard, valued and thriving. We are in this together and we need you. Let’s go out and reach every student today. Thank you for listening, signing off. I am Maureen O’Shaughnessy, your partner in boldly reimagining education.

Transcribed by

Latest Episodes

Life with Passion and Purpose

The guiding principle of Education Evolution has been to light passion among educational leaders and to spark them into action. Over the last few years, I believe we’ve done just that. And while the work isn’t over yet, the time has come to put a pause on the podcast....

Unlocking the World of Literacy with Marnie Ginsburg

Reading is simple, right? Not for everyone, and it’s especially challenging for those who don’t have access to all the tools and resources they need to be successful. This week we hear from Marnie Ginsburg, founder of Reading Simplified, who has dedicated her career...

Leading Like a Teacher with Miriam Plotinsky

The further away administrators get from their roots as teachers, the more they forget what it’s like to be in the trenches. The result is often either a real or perceived lack of empathy for teachers. Both teachers and administrators have vital roles in the school,...

Latest Blog Posts

Why Isn’t Educational Change Happening?

School change is so much harder than I thought! When I did my doctoral research on school innovation and created a hands-on learning school-within-a-school in the 90s, I had no idea that I’d spend the next few decades making tiny changes. Changes that often...

Instilling a Practice of Gratitude in Uncertain Times

Thanksgiving looks different this year. Traditions are being shattered in 2020 and new realities are emerging. Thanksgiving is no exception. After Canada’s Thanksgiving in October, COVID statistics jumped, reminding us that, sadly, the pandemic isn’t taking a break...

Building Interdisciplinary Learning into Traditional Classrooms

A traditional classroom setting is just that...traditional. Teachers must teach specific subjects for a required amount of time, often using prescribed curriculum materials that may be a decade old. There’s little consideration for the individual learner--their...

Coming Soon!
Listen to Education Evolution on Apple Podcasts
Listen to Education Evolution on Spotify
Listen to Education Evolution on Stitcher
Listen on Google Play Music

Related Posts

Unlocking the World of Literacy with Marnie Ginsburg

Unlocking the World of Literacy with Marnie Ginsburg

This episode explores the multifaceted world of literacy and emphasizes the importance of equipping our children with the tools they need to unlock the joy of reading, even before they step into a classroom.

Leading Like a Teacher with Miriam Plotinsky

Leading Like a Teacher with Miriam Plotinsky

This week on the podcast, we’re welcoming back author and educator Miriam Plotinsky. She’s sharing about her latest book, Lead Like a Teacher, and talking about what school leaders can do to build more trust and a more collaborative school environment.

Sign Up for Podcast & Blog Announcements and Get our Free Guide: Five Interdependent Hacks to Lead the Creation of a Learner-Centered Culture!

By providing your email address you are agreeing to receive email communications from Education Evolution. You can unsubscribe at any time.