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Research-based framework

The Sagol Purple Schools Initiative is designed to facilitate in-depth pedagogical and organizational change in educational systems, recognizing the challenges of achieving and maintaining such change over time. To achieve this goal, the initiative is grounded in state-of-the-art scientific theory that integrates fields such as education, contemplative neuroscience, developmental psychology, and organizational and system change, as well as implementation science. The initiative draws on established models that recognize the importance of qualities such as awareness, self-inquiry, connection, and purpose in fostering systemic well-being and transformation at all levels – from the individual to the whole school.

Theory of change

Individuals are complex systems in which embodied minds and hearts interact to produce internal mental models that drive behaviors and their capacity for connectedness with others. Schools are also complex systems, with organizational ‘mental models’ that emerge from the interdependence of the individuals and the artifacts (routines, structures etc.) that constitute the organization. By cultivating mindfulness and compassion, individuals and organizations can gain the capacity to become aware and identify the mental models and relational patterns that may be hindering beneficial change. They can then work together to clarify their collective purpose and develop more beneficial relational and mental models that align with their collective values and goals. This process is central to our theory-of-change.

Mindfulness and Compassion in everything we do

The Sagol Purple Schools Initiative emphasizes several key qualities, including awareness, self-inquiry, connection, and purpose, as well as mindfulness- and compassion-based practices and tools. These qualities serve as the foundation for all programs and activities within the Initiative.

They allow school leaders to shift in consciousness, from ego-based thinking to a more collective and open-hearted awareness, engaging with others in a way that creates shared meaning and understanding. They are the basis on which these leaders foster a new common language, new organizational rituals and structures, and a more cohesive and unified culture in their schools. These qualities are the basis for creating classroom and staff environments that cultivate generative social fields which support the basic psychological needs of all school stakeholders; this, in turn, can increase their sense of motivation and agency to work towards a common goal. These qualities are also the basis for the professional development of the staff, enabling them means to nurture themselves and in later stages inquire into their teaching beliefs, perceptions, values and goals. These qualities also form the basis for development of new pedagogies that value of the students’ inner world as sources of knowledge and means to feel connected and engaged, supporting their social-emotional-cognitive development. Finally, these qualities support the gradual integration of system thinking, and system sensing capacities into schools since they form the basis for paying attention to and gathering information about the present moment and the environment, supports the transformation of schools onto learning organizations, enabling individuals and the organization to develop a more comprehensive and nuanced understanding of their surroundings and adopt a growth mind-set (openness to new ideas and perspectives and a willingness to implement new practices courageously while also embracing mistakes and failures as a necessary and important part of the on-going process of learning and development).

Holistic approach

Understanding that school and educational systems are complex systems with many components, we approach these systems in a holistic approach. In schools our work in with the Whole School: the school leadership, the staff, the organization, the community and the pedagogy.

The Sagol Purple Leadership training is a three-year program (120 hours) designed to help school leaders develop the skills and qualities necessary for effective and mindful leadership. This includes mindfulness, self-awareness, emotional intelligence, cognitive flexibility, values-based decision making, active listening, mindful communication, and systems thinking and sensing. The program is inspired by the work of organizational thinkers such as Otto Scharmer and Peter Senge, and focuses on developing abilities such as “presencing” – bringing the future into the present moment – and deep listening and dialogue, as well as openness to new ideas and multiple viewpoints, a willingness to adapt and embrace complexity and uncertainty, and systems thinking.

Through this training, school leaders learn to  develop a new school language and view their school as a complex system with multiple interconnected parts, and to approach challenges and opportunities in a more holistic and effective manner. They engage in fostering systemic well-being at all levels of the school, from the individual, to the class level, to the organization level.  This may involve considering the needs and perspectives of different stakeholders, examining the long-term impacts of decisions, and seeking to create more sustainable and equitable systems within the school. By cultivating these skills and abilities, school leaders can better navigate and address the challenges and opportunities facing their school and create a more positive and supportive learning environment for students and staff.

Pedagogical examples: the Corthagen Onion Model, the Capabilities Model (and Icon Kit)

The Sagol Purple mentorship program aims to help school leaders transform their school artifacts – such as pedagogies, structures, routines, metrics and even physical spaces –  in ways that support systemic school change. The mentors, who are experienced practitioners with knowledge in school organizational change, use system-thinking and system-sensing tools to help schools become learning organizations that move towards becoming mindful organizations. Twice a month, school leaders are mentored to apply the tools and knowledge they gain in the Leadership program to their specific schools, adapting them to the needs of their schools and encouraging local initiatives. The mentorship program is a central component of the program as it allows the school leaders to continue to develop system-thinking and system-sensing abilities while attempting to  implement practices and routines that support contemplative practices and pedagogies, values-based decision-making, and need-supportive staff and classroom environments.

Example: working with the Islands Map

The purple staff training is a three-year training (90 hours) intended to support the educators and staff of the school that are not participating in the Leadership program. In the first stage, it provides teachers with skills and tools that assist them in becoming aware of their own mental models (emotions, thoughts, sensations) in ways that can support their personal flourishing and well-being. It also encourages inquiry into the values, perceptions and beliefs that shape their work and assists value-based decision making. In the second part of the training, teachers are supported in developing pedagogies and learning tools that create need-supportive classrooms, encourage generative social-fields, and honor the bodies, minds and hearts of children. This includes, incorporating contemplative pedagogies  and need-supportive teaching throughout the curriculum and daily activities.    

Pedagogical examples: The ACT Choice Point Model, the 3 Rooms Model, the Activities Fan

The Purple Lab

The Purple Lab is the heart of the program. This is where the other components of the program are constantly developed and refined and where various tools are invented, adopted and adapted to the needs of school leaders, educators, children (and recently, also district and municipality leaders). One of the main tasks of the Purple Lab is to develop, through the Leadership and Mentorship facilitators, means for systems-thinking and sensing and to support their gradual incorporation into schools as part of the regular routines.

The Purple System-Sensing tools are based on the concept of  Plan-Do-Check-Adjust cycles (PDCA) that are gradually incorporated at all levels of the school. In our program, PDCA cycles are regarded as a form of mindfulness because they involve a systematic and intentional approach to problem-solving that requires a focus on the present moment and an awareness of the current situation with a accepting, curious and non-judgmental stance. By continuously evaluating and adjusting the plan based on the results, the PDCA cycle encourages continuous learning and improvement, which can help individuals and school leaders stay attuned to their surroundings and adapt to changing circumstances. In this way, the PDCA cycle can help cultivate a mindful approach to problem-solving and continuous improvement.

One of our goals is to replicate the model of an R&D “Purple Lab” to the schools themselves. This process starts on the 2nd year of the program and intensifies on the 3rd year. Leading staff as well as other teachers form local labs in the school which work to develop mindfulness and SEL-based content and tools for implementation, according to the school’s needs and based on data collected through PDCA cycles and other evaluation tools that the school employs, with support from the program. These labs are an invaluable tool for developing a learning organization mindset, culture and skills as well as nurturing systems thinking and sensing abilities. They are also effective in “keeping the momentum”, that is, making sure that schools take ownership of and responsibility for their own development and growth, so that the changes occurring during the 3 years of the program will be sustainable in the long run, and not dissipate once the program has reached the end of its 3rd year.      

Main theoretical concepts

System thinking is a way of thinking that focuses on understanding the relationships and interactions between the various components of a system, and how they work together to produce the system’s overall culture and behavior through their interconnectedness. It involves looking at and understanding the system as a whole, rather than as a group of individual parts, and considering how the various parts influence and are influenced by each other. In a school setting, systems thinking will be expressed as understanding how the school climate and culture are created and influenced by the complex relationships between school leadership, administration, teaching faculty, students and parents and by school artifacts like physical facilities, curricula, policies, metrics, structures and routines.

System sensing is the process of collecting and analyzing data about a system in order to understand its current state and how it is functioning. It involves gathering and analyzing real-time information about the various components of the system, as well as their interactions, relationships and mutual influences, in order to gain a comprehensive understanding of the system’s behavior and dynamics in the current moment and over time. Importantly, in mindful organizations (such as Sagol Purple Schools) this will be done using a mindful approach and contemplative methods encouraging members of the system to intentionally pause and contemplate on the system’s current status with a beginner’s mind, a non-judgmental attitude and the ability to accept things as they are in the moment prior to devising solutions and necessary changes.  In a school setting, system sensing will be achieved through various evaluation methods, from formal evaluation using tests, questionnaires, structured interviews etc., to informal evaluation methods such as daily observations of what is happening in the school as well as informal talks with members of the school community.

Mental models are psychological constructs or schemes an individual uses in order to understand their physical and social environment, their inner psychological processes (e.g. thoughts, feelings, emotions and sensations) and the connection between them. These models develop over time through sensory, motor, mental, social and emotional experiences and are used to construct meaning and create a sense of coherence in one’s life. Mental models will influence how individuals interpret and respond to information and will shape their understanding of the world and their behavioral tendencies. In a school setting, a teacher can operate under a mental model that assumes that their first and foremost role is to provide formal curricular knowledge. This might lead the teacher to put an emphasis on cognitive skills, memory and rote learning in their lesson as well as on test grades and other formal measures of academic achievement. A different teacher will operate under a mental model that assumes that their most important role is to nurture social-emotional development. This might lead the teacher to put an emphasis on teaching and fostering social-emotional skills in their classroom along with formal teaching of the curriculum.

A learning organization is an organization characterized by a culture emphasizing continuous learning, adaptation to change and improvement. Learning organizations will develop and implement systems and processes that support and encourage learning. Individuals and teams will be encouraged to be proactive in seeking out new knowledge and ideas, and to continuously reflect on and improve their practices and processes. In a school setting, the school community (from leadership, through faculty to students) will be data-oriented when making decisions regarding the school as an organization or themselves personally. They will be open to and actively implement various evaluative tools which gather data both in short and long cycles, allowing for real-time changes as well as measuring the school’s development and change-capacity over time. The school culture will enable collecting, working with and sharing data in an accepting, compassionate and non-judgmental manner, highlighting evaluation processes as mindful and capacity-building tools rather than punitive tools.     

Mindfulness is a quality of mind and a state of awareness which involves intentionally paying attention to the present moment with an open and non-judgmental attitude. Such a state of curious and accepting observation and inquiry enables the individual to notice when habits and automatic behaviors are about to emerge, thus allowing individuals to become less reactive and more proactive in their chose of behaviors as well as patterns of thoughts and emotions. Compassion is an emotional state characterized by empathy towards others coupled with a subjective sense of care and kinship that promotes supportive relationships and caring interactions. As such, compassion can lead to acts of kindness, generosity and altruism and may dampen the influence of prejudices, stereotypes and misconceptions about other people. In a school setting, mindfulness and compassion can be nurtured through mindfulness- and compassion-based formal educational interventions introducing and supporting these practices among members of the school community. Over time, these qualities may become part of the school’s culture and values, reflected in its routines and dynamics as an organization (e.g. the quality of interactions between school members, the way the school day starts, what a student’s report card measures and looks like and as an integral part of pedagogical practices in lessons).   

The Social Field is the innate, pre-given structure of relationships among individuals, groups, organizations and systems that give rise to collective behaviors and outcomes. All human beings participate in co-creating the complex social contexts they live in and engage with, creating and undergoing experiences derived from interacting socially with other people and operating within various systems and structures of the social field. A generative social field will be experienced as beneficial, creative, connecting, integrating and enabling. A degenerative social field will be experienced as restrictive, demotivating, disconnecting and unfulfilling. In a school setting, the social field will be composed of the personal relationships between the school community members as well as the influences of school artifacts like physical facilities, curricula, policies, metrics, structures and routines.  

Self Determination theory (SDT) posits that individuals’ basic psychological needs for autonomy, competence, and relatedness influence their internal motivation for change, as well as their well-being. When individuals’ basic needs are met, they are more likely to feel motivated, engaged, and fulfilled. When these needs are frustrated, individuals may feel demotivated, disconnected, and unfulfilled. 

Many teachers and students frequently experience alienation and dehumanization in schools and that their basic psychological needs of autonomy, competence and belonging are frustrated. This can be caused by a lack of personalization or individualization in instruction or a lack of support from teachers and other staff. Attending to the basic needs of all individuals and stakeholders in the school is essential for fostering a sense of shared ownership and responsibility for the school, and for building the trust and support needed to facilitate school change efforts. Such conditions will increase the emergence of generative social fields between individuals (and decrease the occurrence of disruptive or degenerative social fields) – a central driver of organizational change. It is important for educators to be aware of the potential for alienation in the classroom and to try to create an inclusive and supportive learning environment that helps students feel connected and engaged. The school leadership has a central role in creating school cultures that support basic needs for both staff and children.

Mindfulness and compassion can support the fulfillment of basic psychological needs, such as autonomy, competence, and belonging in schools and reduce experiences of alienation, dehumanization and devaluation. For example, mindfulness can help individuals feel a sense of autonomy by helping them become more aware of their own thoughts and feelings, and by giving them the tools to make choices and decisions based on their own values and goals, creating a sense of coherence and meaning to one’s action in the world. Mindfulness can also help individuals feel a sense of competence by helping them develop skills such as focus, attention, and self-awareness, nurturing a growth mindset. Finally, mindfulness and compassion can help individuals feel a sense of belonging and relatedness by promoting empathy and understanding of others’ thoughts and feelings. Thus, contemplative practices that cultivate mindfulness and compassion are valuable for teachers and students for creating environments that support generative social fields. In such environments, individuals and teams can better observe and learn from their experiences, be more open to new ideas and perspectives, and help to create a more positive and collaborative work and learning environment.


Contemplative pedagogies are teaching approaches that incorporate mindfulness, introspection, experiential learning and self-reflection to develop greater self-awareness, focus, and clarity of thought, as well as an attitude of kindness and caring towards self and other. They are used in a variety of educational settings, including K-12 education and universities, in conjunction with traditional teaching methods and can be applied to a wide range of curricular subjects (e.g. the arts, humanities, sciences). By combining formal knowledge with experiential personal insights reached through contemplation, the learned content becomes deeply connected to the learners life, leading to a better understanding of one’s self and the potential influence of one’s actions on the social context in which they operate, from interpersonal relationships to wider social circles in which they are embedded (class, school, neighborhood, city, country and even earth’s ecology). In a school setting, contemplative pedagogies will be employed by teachers in the classroom as an integral part of the lesson. For example, a biology teacher may invite the students to participate in a mindfulness exercise in which they are asked to pay attention to and focus on their breath when teaching about the biology of the human cardio-vascular system, or organize a tree-planting activity in the school’s yard when teaching about the role of trees in producing oxygen. Insights from these activities can include grasping the way our physical and psychological well-being are interconnected and how we can harness basic bodily functions such as breathing to self-regulate and ground ourselves in stressful situations, or the implications of the interconnectedness between all living things.

A growth Mindset is a mindset characterizing individuals who believe that intelligence and skills can be developed and nurtured through practice and effort. Individuals with a growth mindset will usually be batter able to cope with frustration and difficulty when carrying out challenging tasks, will be open to feedback and instruction and will have high levels of grit. Prof. Carol Dweck at Stanford University has carried out extensive research on Growth Mindset, showing that it is linked to better academic performance and supports social mobility. Prof. Dweck has also shown that Growth Mindset can be cultivated in various ways.

Agency is the ability of the individual to act autonomously and with a sense of capability in the world. Moreover, agency entails acting with self awareness, awareness to others and to the environment and a sense of responsibility towards them. In recent years, the development of skills and capabilities supporting agency has become an important educational goal.