Volume:2, Issue: 1

Apr. 1, 2010

Authorial Schools: Definitions, Typologies and Tendencies of Development
Tsyrlina-Spady, Tatyana [about]

DESCRIPTORS: an authorial school; innovative schools; effective schools; school leader; school culture; a scale of real implementation; typologies; an authorial school-model; an authorial school movement; a new paradigm; tendencies of development.

SYNOPSIS: The purpose of this article is to introduce the readers to the results of the author’s earlier long-term research of humanistic authorial schools in the 20th century. Considering an authorial school a specific phenomenon of the educational reality allowed the author to analyze its main characteristics, to point out primary definitions and tendencies of its development; it also permitted to build some classifications and typologies of such schools. In a way this article is meant to become an introduction to a number of descriptions of different authorial schools presented in this journal issue, starting with the papers of some school founders such as Olga Block and Jack Mc Gurgan, moving further to those who have been implementing authorial concepts in practice (Yael Barenholtz, Kathy Slawson and Betty Disney), and finally introducing researchers   of some famous authorial schools of the past (Mikhail Boguslavsky, Richard Scheuerman and Arthur Ellis, Rosa Valeeva).

Authorial Schools: Definitions,
Typologies and Tendencies of Development

The research is very clear of the overall demand for developing knowledgeable and creative personalities, prepared for a life in the 21st century. In this respect it is difficult to over-emphasize the necessity and importance of good teachers and a high-quality teacher education. The solutions to these problems are not easy to find, as they demand combined efforts of politicians, academics, and practitioners, and of virtually everyone else who cares about the future. Regardless of the fact that various educational innovations are growing in numbers, many of them do not last for long though some innovations have remained stable for quite some time. Even more stable are some educational tendencies, such as, for example, to preserve and further develop current authorial schools, especially of the Waldorf and Montessori type. Together with these theoretically and practically approved authorial concepts, new ideas gradually become a basis for new authorial schools. 

The term “an authorial school” became very famous in the Russian educational mass media and practice in the 1980s. But ten years later it was almost forced out by such fashionable terms as “innovative schools” and “experimental schools” with the idea that they were identical in meaning.  Our research of these new terms and their definitions given by famous Russian academics and educators [М.М. Potashnik, 1996; V.А. Karakovsky, 1996; А.G. Asmolov, 1995; А.G. Kasprzhaк, M.V.Levit, 1994; А.М. Sidorkin, 1992, etc.] showed numerous differences which clearly signal for their inability to substitute for the term “authorial schools.” We have also identified a number of primary components that jointly represent Russian pedagogical approaches to the analysis of the concept and term “an authorial school”. These components include:

  • An author who is the leader of his/her pedagogical team.
  • A unique author’s concept.
  • An experimental type of school activities and a constant search for new ideas.
  •   A combination of a certain pedagogical credo and a particular world outlook with innovative strategies and technologies.
  • A predominance of creative school activities. 
  • Teachers, students and parents who behave as active supporters of the original concept.
  • Stable and effective results.

This list is sufficient enough to define those components that single out authorial schools and show their differences from mere innovational or experimental educational establishments. First of all, it is the presence of an author – a school leader, then stable and effective results, and finally, and most importantly, the synthesis of a theoretical concept (for example, Rudolf Steiner’s anthroposophical ideas or Lawrence Kohlberg’s «just communities») with innovative strategies and technologies [Asmolov, 1995].  This last statement and our research in general allowed us to conclude that authorial schools are more productive in comparison with innovative schools because they help “to strengthen” their educational effect. They are powerful due to a new concept that is further enforced by the personality of the school’s original creator. In other words, his/her subjective personal features empower the implementation of the school’s concept in actual practice.

The term “an authorial school” is very new for the Western educational literature. More common are such terms as “effective schools,” “alternative schools,” “magnet schools,” “schools of quality,” “key schools,” etc.  [J. Bonstingl; St. Covey; G. Davis & M. Thomas; M. Apple & J. Beane; P. Sammons; J. Patterson; St. Purkey & M. Smith; Th. Sergiovanni, etc.].  Our analysis showed that the closest to the idea of authorial schools is the concept of «effective schools» which have a number of different definitions with an enumeration of various factors of effectiveness. Some of these factors are close enough to our understanding of authorial schools – an orientation towards high results, a school principal as the leader of his/her school team, favorable environment, close communication and cooperation among teachers, their strong support of the school mission and goals, and finally an active participation of parents and the local community in the improvement of school activities.

A number of research papers and books present detailed “portraits” of famous Western schools that (in our understanding) can be considered authorial. Regardless of some inevitable differences in approaches to their analysis, we can still clearly decipher the school features which Western researchers are pointing out as most important: a role and a personality of a school principal – a school leader, his/her management style; relationships among teachers, their communication peculiarities in dealing with students and the students’ parents; an attempt to include everybody in any important decision-making process; and a favorable school culture. 

The study of Russian and foreign pedagogical literature about authorial schools and our own research allowed us to define primary indicators of such schools. We believe that the first three out of the given indicators are the most critical:

  • The importance of the creator's personality and of his/her subjective influence on the school ethos that allows to build an educational establishment radically different from mass practice.
  • A well-developed and consistently implemented original concept which forms a school philosophy and its mission.
  •  A specific school culture affected by the school's core values, an atmosphere of interaction, a cooperative type of relationships, and a common creative orientation of school activities.
  •  The most favorable conditions for developing a certain type of personalities with a clear impact of the school ethos on this process.
  • Professional and personal traits of school teachers who share an authorial concept and who identify themselves with the school's core values.
  • An attempt to turn students and their parents into strong supporters of the authorial concept.
  • Stable and long-lasting positive results.

Taken together these indicators provide us with the following description of an authorial school.

An authorial school is an educational establishment which has its own unique culture and which has been created by its founder or his/her followers on the basis of the original concept. The latter is accepted and followed by the teachers, school students, and their parents which provides the school with long lasting and positive educational results (Tsyrlina, 2001).

The research is very clear that authorial schools could be better analyzed if we use “a school culture” as its main integrative characteristic.  School culture has a system-forming character, which to a certain extent defines the essence, purpose, and direction of every authorial school, bringing together all its components. School culture also allows neutralizing and making more objective the subjective position of its author and creator.

The historical overview shows that authorial schools always existed in the past, since ancient Greece and Rome. For example, Plato’s Academy and Aristotle’s Lyceum were definitely authorial schools, and the same term could be applied to Comenius schools, Pestalozzi institutions, Leo Tolstoy’s school and others. All of them could be called “houses of happiness and joy” for the students, but most of them never had any continuation. The death of the school’s founder typically meant the simultaneous demise of the school itself.

Only in the 20th century has the situation radically changed, only then, such schools not only did live and survive but also found followers, which allowed creating schools with common philosophical and strategic design. The same situation can be clearly observed today. The research shows that regardless of the nature of the authorial concept, and the time and space of its implementation, the development of authorial schools has never been straightforward and direct, instead it has always been a spiral character.  In the last century authorial schools have practically become a dominant factor in the development of educational establishments and in creating pedagogical reality. They have been performing the following functions:

  • Demonstrating humanistic values and personally oriented education.
  • Being an attractive model that allows newly created schools to compare their own activities with high standards, set by authorial schools.
  • Playing a role of an “engine” for stimulating teachers’ creativity and their professional development.
  • Illustrating to today’s teachers the possible future of education, showing how schools might look like with certain innovations.
  • Defending the children and their childhood and often helping the teachers to preserve their creative potential within the boundaries of international organizations.

Among other conclusions, the analysis of authorial schools allowed us to formulate several of the most common tendencies of their development:

  • At the end of the 20th century one can notice a strong tendency for the appearance of many new authorial schools and stabilization of existing ones which can be explained by the most favorable social-political and cultural conditions.
  • At the beginning of the last century authorial schools were created primarily within the boundaries of “new schools” or “new education”. But later on there came a clear differentiation in their development, acquiring more “personal” features, such as Waldorf or Montessori schools.
  • Again in the 20th century a number of humanistic authorial schools has increased, becoming the dominant type of such schools although we can observe the presence of authoritarian schools as well.
  • Development of authorial schools primarily happens in accordance with two main scenarios:  (1) remaining within the dominant pedagogical paradigm of its time, a certain authorial school enriches and “widens” its conceptual core; (2) overgrowing the dominant paradigm, a certain authorial school starts to function in a new pedagogical sphere, creating the basis for a new educational paradigm of its time.
  • Finally, during the 20th century there is a clear value shift in the activities of authorial schools: from freedom in the first quarter of the century, to pacifism – in the 30s and 40s, to humanism and democracy – in the 50s and 70s and then – to liberal values at the end of the century.

In general, the influence of humanistic authorial schools on the development of the educational theory and practice was steadily growing alongside the growth of the progressive pedagogy.

Finally, let us briefly turn our attention to the possible typologies of such schools. On the one hand, the uniqueness and specific character of such schools makes it impossible to create any typology, on the other hand, we offer a classification not of the schools themselves (as unique «living» entities) but of their models which definitely allows us to «think above» the realities and be more abstract and to view any authorial school as a theoretical phenomenon which we can certainly analyze and classify. The specific nature of authorial schools made it necessary to choose no less specific research methods that together established a kind of  «dialogue» between the past and the present. This demanded the study of not only books, articles, and research materials but also of different papers from archives; it also prompted the necessity to visit contemporary authorial schools, meet and talk with their principals, teachers and students. In combination it allowed us to more thoroughly understand the basics of such schools, to discover new insights and to make a better prognosis for the future,  as well as to define different criteria and to determine different school types.

One of the most important criteria is the scale of real implementation. In accordance with this criteria all authorial schools could be split into:

  • an authorial school as a single phenomenon that exists as a unique sample;
  • authorial schools as models which share a common value “core,” responsible for it dissemination;
  • authorial schools as movements which combine a high level of development of their primary features with the well-developed implementation strategies, which allows to adapt them to any space and time peculiarities; 
  • and finally,  authorial schools as a basis of a new paradigm that are so flexible and so highly technological that it makes their dissemination easy and fast.

1. An authorial school as a single phenomenon.

This is a school of one principal (or one “school building”), which is characterized by its unique culture, and which does not possess any mechanism of reproducing itself in other circumstances, and which totally depends on its founder or the place of its existence. In case of the principal’s death or move to another place such schools usually stop developing and innovating and transform into average educational institutions. A good example is Vasily Sukhomlinsky’s school in Ukraine. But there always remains a possibility of another scenario as well – a pedagogical team stays faithful to the original concept and traditions, preserves and develops the authorial school after the founder’s death, for example Helen Bush School in Seattle or Ethical Culture School in New York. But in spite of high results these schools remain unique.

2. An authorial school as a model.

This is a cluster of schools, working in accordance with the original founder’s concept. The concept is flexible enough to be used and copied in different historical situations and in different geographical circumstances. In a school-model there is a conceptual value core, which while being used by different people, still preserves the peculiar traits of the original concept. A good illustration of such a model is “just communities” founded by Lawrence Kohlberg in the 1970s and then spread all over the world (see: the article The Just Community Approach in Israel: Process of Adaptation by Yael Barenholtz in this issue) and Vladimir Karakovsky’s  “collective creative education” in Moscow School No. 825 (see: the article School of Practical Humanism by Vladimir Karakovsky and Dmitry Grigoriev, www.rus-ameeduforum.com Vol.1. No 1. 2010).
A wide or a restricted usage of a school-model mostly depends on its flexibility, well-developed concept and a number of accompanying educational strategies. It also depends on the level of creativity of the author’s followers, on their capacity to use an original concept in a totally new or modified environment. The latter demands constant systematic observations, analysis, and pedagogical reflection.

3. An authorial school as a movement.

This is a majority of schools, which function on the basis of a certain concept. It is strategically and technologically so well developed that it could be used in different time-space spheres and different geographical zones. In comparison with type two, these schools possess a very high level of adaptivity and a capacity to foresee the future. To bring ideas of such schools closer to reality, research-based educational organizations and specific teacher preparation activities might develop. As an example, we can mention the necessity for special training for future Waldorf or Montessori teachers. The best illustration of this type is Rudolf Steiner’s first Waldorf School, founded in Germany in 1919 that became a true inspiration and a stimulus for the entire authorial Waldorf movement with over 600 schools all over the world today. Naturally, these schools have to adapt themselves to the “geography” and culture of the place of their existence but at the same time they manage to preserve all the system-forming traits of their mother-school on both the values and technological levels.

4. An authorial school as a basis of a new paradigm.

This is a system of the primary conceptual guidelines of a certain educator, which have a clear value basis, a high level of adaptivity and high potentials of being used by a great number of teachers. The best example here is John Dewey’s Chicago Laboratory School.

All the four types possess certain similarities because they all work on the basis of an original authorial educational concept that is implemented in practice either by the author or by his/her followers. The main difference between these types of schools is their organizational level, the capacity to reproduce themselves and the presence of certain “reproduction mechanisms.” The difference also comes out of the representation of such schools in real educational practice, which is closely connected with the stability and duration of their existence and the “scale of replication” in different time-space and socio-cultural environment.

The analysis of over forty authorial schools in different countries during the 20th century allowed us to conclude that the capacity of an authentic authorial school to develop into a model, movement, or finally to become a basis of a new paradigm, is affected by the following:

  • «Rigid – flexible» dependence on the founder's personality. If the concept is very closely connected with the specific traits of the founder, then the implementation of  his/her ideas by other people is hardly possible. That is the reason why so many schools so quickly degrade and decrease in value after their founders die or leave the school.
  • «Radical – adaptive» value core. When a school concept is based on absolutely new ideas and values, that are hardly connected with existing school practice, then the implementation of such ideas in other schools is practically impossible.
  • «Technological – unique». The future would belong to the schools that have a highly developed strategic and technological component, which, in its turn, will allow using the concept in different time and space circumstances.
    These are just some of the main ideas and conclusions which we made while researching the field of authorial schools. There is much more to be done and learned, and we strongly  consider returning to this topic in some future journal issues.


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1 Tsyrlina-Spady, Tatyana V. [In Russian: Татьяна Владимировна Цырлина-Спэйди], Ph. D., Professor of Education, Vice-President, Regional Open Social Institute (Kursk, Russia), Editor-in-Chief, Russian-American Education Forum: An Online Journal.

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