top of page
  • Writer's pictureNeža Krek

TRANSCRIPTION: LEARN TO INNOVATE WITH HEAD, HEART, AND HANDS WITH SYLVIA BRONKHORST


Neža Krek: Silvia Bronkhorst is my guest today! Her program “Learning with head, heart, and hands” innovates learning at HAN University of Applied Sciences here in The Netherlands. The goal of her program is to get students and teachers excited about education that approaches the whole human being, rather than exclusively the brain. We worked together when the program started 5 years ago and had a bless every step of the way. We laughed so much, you can't imagine. And yes, it was work. Her vision of learning is to align and fully unfold from within. Rather than cramming things from the outside. Thank you so much for being here Silvia! And let's start with the first question.

WHY DID YOU BECOME AN EDUCATOR OR WHY ARE YOU STILL AN EDUCATOR?

Sylvia Bronkhorst: That is a difficult question. Why am I an educator? I guess because I am trying to be the person I needed when I was young. That's why.

NEŽA KREK: AND WHO WAS THAT PERSON THAT YOU NEEDED? WHAT WERE YOU MISSING?

Sylvia Bronkhorst: 20 years ago I graduated from Wageningen University. It was a big success. But when I think about it, I would always feel anxious and stressed out. To me, it was no success. I was just jumping all the hoops. Everyone showed me to jump, and I did it very successfully. However, in the end, I had no clue. So my career from there was a bumpy ride. I knew that something had to change in education. From the moment I went to school and university, hardly anything changed.

Neža Krek: If you look at the situation now, there has not been much change.

Sylvia Bronkhorst: Yes. There have been some adjustments, but not the big change that I think is needed.

NEŽA KREK: WHAT DO YOU THINK IS NEEDED?

Sylvia Bronkhorst: Acknowledging that what we are doing now is not sufficient anymore, and take it from there. The program I have developed and implemented is a way of responding to the way we are doing it now. It's been quite successful. There are lots of answers to the way we are doing it now. But just seeing, knowing, and recognizing the way we are doing it now doesn't fit anymore. Then experiment from there.

NEŽA KREK: WHAT DO YOU BELIEVE DOESN'T FIT ANYMORE RIGHT NOW? AND WHAT ARE POSSIBLE SOLUTIONS?

Sylvia Bronkhorst: The total focus on cognitive intelligence does not fit. I would love it if education was more like facilitating questions instead of facilitating answers. Sometimes I compare the educational system to a carwash. Every single individual is put through the same procedure. In the end, you get a product. But it's not right. Every single person that graduated from school should know who they are in that field. That's something we totally forget.

Neža Krek: So you would love to have the capacity among teachers and educators and also the allowance to go into these deeper questions of why we are here? How do you implement whatever you are into the future?

Sylvia Bronkhorst: Sometimes people think my program is all about the heart because that has a main space in the program. But we never forget about the brain, because it's really important that we use the knowledge. We want to have the right balance between the head, heart, and hands. We don't forget about brain intelligence. The aim of the program is to not forget the other parts.

Neža Krek: The metaphor for the education system that you have is the car comes out the same way.

WHAT IS THIS CARWASH PROCESS? WHAT TYPE OF SOCIETY AND YOUNG PROFESSIONALS ARE WE CREATING?

Sylvia Bronkhorst: The educational system has not changed over decades, but the world has. We are facing big challenges with the environment and war. The way we are educating right now is that school has the impression they know the answers. But they don't. We have to teach our young people that there are no answers to the questions we are facing right now. We have to facilitate them to work together and experiment and innovate, to make the world a better place. So they can have the impact that is needed, and that's not what we are doing right now.

Neža Krek: You mentioned the word innovate. This is something that I ask everybody on this podcast, there is no clear-cut answer. Everyone has their own answer.

WHAT IS EDUCATIONAL INNOVATION?

Sylvia Bronkhorst: Do we even need it? People think that my program is really innovative. But in the end, it really isn't. Hundreds of years ago, people talked about it and made sure it was part of education. The innovation is to bring it back because we ripped it all out. The one thing we left in, is the brain. Sometimes I think I should know what the main innovation should be, but I don't. I am not sure. Maybe that's the answer.

Neža Krek: That's beautiful, I am so happy you said that. That's where it starts, acknowledging with doubt that we are not all-knowing, that we are not perfect. Perfect is boring. However, many of us want to be extremely perfect. That doesn't get you to explore and discover, have fun, and enjoy the learning process.

IF YOU HAD A MAGIC WAND, WHAT WOULD YOUR EDUCATION UTOPIA LOOK LIKE?

Sylvia Bronkhorst: My dream education starts with every single individual. We start with you, the individual, the student. We start with unfolding from within instead of what we are doing now: filling up from the outside. Let's start with: hey, who are you? What makes you tick? Let's look at the world together. Let's see what's happening there. What is it like when you combine the insides with the outsides? What do you see? Where do you have an impact on the world? And then start learning from there. Start with the urgency. That's what we say in our classes of head, heart, and hands. What gives you that tickly feeling in your tummy?

Neža Krek: Exactly, what is the itch you want to scratch.

Sylvia Bronkhorst: It can be really frustrating. Maybe that's my age. I'm frustrated about my educational career. It was a disaster. But it can also be something really bubbly that's appealing. Anything goes, as long as it's itching enough. If you want to get out of the chair, let's do it, let's go!

Neža Krek: And it's very achievable. Let's go into how it could be achievable on a meta-level. Then we zoom in on the program you designed.

IF WE WANT TO HAVE EDUCATION WHERE STUDENTS ARE AT THE CENTER, WHAT DOES THE NEW TEACHER NEED TO BE EQUIPPED WITH IN ORDER TO BE ABLE TO HOLD SPACE FOR THOSE STUDENTS?

Sylvia Bronkhorst: We have to start with trust. Trust that the people in front of you are willing to learn and have the desire to become the best version of themselves. That's the basic attitude.

Neža Krek: If you don't believe in yourself, let me first believe in you.

Sylvia Bronkhorst: With every single student I start with a lot of trust. I’m sure you can make it, I’m sure you are going to make it. Let's find out how. Let's find out what I can do to help you along the way. This comes with trust, then leaning back more than we do right now. My own great challenge is to lean back, the initiative is not mine. It’s theirs. It’s not my life, it’s theirs. So lean back and create space. That’s what we do in our program. We create space, and within that space, you can explore, learn, have an impact, make mistakes, fail, learn, and do it again differently.

Neža Krek: You are not the only one, even when I’m teaching facilitation it's a big challenge for me. For many educators, the biggest challenge is to let go and sit with the unknown.

WHY DO YOU THINK IT’S SUCH A CHALLENGE FOR YOU TO LEAN BACK?

Sylvia Bronkhorst: Acknowledging that you don’t know everything is difficult. Maybe when you try to, in front of the class, it gives you some confidence just having the impression that you have all the answers. That makes it difficult. Teachers are eager to help, that’s what makes us sit on the tip of the chair. To hop out, assist and be there all the time. Creating and giving space is more helpful than being in someone's neck all the time.

Neža Krek: What you’ve pinpointed is beautiful. This is something that I’m finding a lot in my work with teachers. Many of them, me included, went into education because we wanted to help. In my case, I wanted to help my peers understand that learning can be fun. However, there was also an expectation attached that they would get it the way I got it. Almost like an ego thing.

Sylvia Bronkhorst: That’s interesting because students tend to give a lot of power to teachers. They do that to me as well. They ask me:

“Sylvia, should I go take a break for a year? Or should I do another study? Or do you think I should actively try to find my passion or just wait until it finds me?”

I have no clue, that’s for you to decide. I can help you discover, help you to find the courage to choose one of them. If that doesn’t fit, you go back and take the other side.

Neža Krek: You’re touching upon a very different role of a teacher or an educator than what we’re used to. I love that. That’s the change I would like to support as well. This type of work is not for everyone. And there is nothing wrong with that. We should not forget about the cognitive. However, we can make it much more effective if we enrich it with other parts as well. You were frustrated about missing this when you were in university. Then you started working for HAN. You’ve been working there for a really long time. I’m assuming that's a journey in itself.

WHY DID YOU START LEARNING WITH THE HEAD, HEART, AND HANDS PROGRAM? AND WHAT WERE THE CIRCUMSTANCES?

Sylvia Bronkhorst: I was a project leader in completely different fields, not an educator. I’m one now. I was walking around in HAN and looking around the classrooms. Big white spaces with 30 different tables, and chairs, in an exam setting. I saw 30 students, a little bored looking at their phones and a teacher was telling them something with a PowerPoint. Probably a bit boring. I thought: “nothing has changed.” Then I got frustrated. The assumption that nothing has changed, I saw that everywhere. It was not sufficient.

Neža Krek: That's how good projects start.

Sylvia Bronkhorst: But this is not how it really started. My fear of failure never got addressed at university. Fear of failure made me talk about it for over a year. I did not have the guts to go and actually do something about it. Because there is a risk that it fails. So I just complained, talked about my frustration, and did nothing.

NEŽA KREK: WHAT WAS THE SPARK?

Sylvia Bronkhorst: I don’t know what made me do it. It took me a while to take the hurdle. Deep down I knew I had to do this. The fire was bigger than the fear. It took me a while because I was, and still am a bit afraid.

Neža Krek: Of course, you are a human. Not a robot or a psychopath.

WHAT IS THE PROGRAM ABOUT?

Sylvia Bronkhorst: The head, heart, and hands program is about learning with more than your head. We try to tap into multiple intelligences. Unfolding from within, instead of filling up from the outside. It’s for educational programs. We serve students, teachers, and total educational programs within HAN University.

Neža Krek: You and I met when it was at the beginning.

HOW DID IT GROW FROM THIS LITTLE CHICKEN INTO A VERY FUNCTIONAL, WELL-INTEGRATED PROGRAM?

Sylvia Bronkhorst: It started as a kind of play garden and I did not try to change the system. I tried once, but that was very tiring. I was pushing and trying to break through, and that doesn’t work in any way. I got a tip from someone, to start with a playground. That’s what I did. That was a magical tip. Create something really bubbly, fun and effective. Make sure teachers and students using the playground are really enthusiastic about it. That way it will spread.

One day, the big boss of one university spoke at a big conference and mentioned our program. That was the first time the system was flirting with me in the playgrounds. When he gave our program recognition, something changed.

NEŽA KREK: SOMETHING CHANGED IN YOU OR IN HOW PEOPLE RESPONDED?

Sylvia Bronkhorst: In both. It gave me more confidence but also changed something in the system of HAN University when we said he should take this really seriously. I still remember his quote:

“Let us HAN University be the first university of applied sciences that embraces learning with head, heart, and hands.“

The system invited us in. I can advise this way of working to anyone who wants to make a change. Start with a playground on the outside, not with a revolution from within.

Neža Krek: You created something you wanted for yourself. You knew there were colleagues who would respond to it and would find it interesting. But there was no commitment. It was something fun on the side. It was an invitation and then you waited. You also really communicated well about the program. Whenever I turn on LinkedIn, you’re there. It’s so important to make it top of mind for the people you are serving. But also the people who need to give you recognition so that others say:

“I'm allowed to play on the playground.”

YOU TALKED ABOUT FUN AND EFFECTIVENESS. WHAT ARE THE MECHANICS OF THE PROGRAM? WHAT IS FUN ABOUT IT? WHAT ARE THE EFFECTIVE PARTS? AND HOW DO THESE 2 GO TOGETHER?

Many people think these 2 don’t go together, but they do!

Sylvia Bronkhorst: Let’s start with the four principles. The first one is that you learn about yourself. If you learn with head, heart, and hands, the first thing you learn is about yourself. The second one is, you learn in a close-knit community. The third one is you learn by experimenting. And the fourth one is, you would love this one, you learn with a lot of fun. There should be fun involved.

The effective part is that we start with every individual. We start with you. Who are you? That makes the learning really effective. I will give you an example. I already mentioned my fear of failure. We always explore what is holding you back. Every student I meet has a drive. However, many are not acting upon it. Exploring what’s holding you back is crucial, juicy, and vulnerable.

“Admitting I’m scared to fail. I know I’m not good enough. I guess I don’t trust myself. I just have to make sure everybody likes me.”

Everyone has feelings that hold them back. Acknowledging that they are there, recognizing, sharing, and exploring together how you can deal with this. Because it’s not leaving my life, it has not left. But I’m dealing with it! I face fear every day. After a couple of hours of working together, you break through a wall.

Neža Krek: Instead of making icebreakers you do this, and it’s so much more effective. I’m a bit allergic to icebreakers. Let’s do the things that actually work.

Sylvia Bronkhorst: Along the way, we’ve learned a lot from scientific and neurologic reports. We know what makes what work in learning. Moving is very important for your brain. Feeling safe with yourself and the people around you is important for your brain. So we do a lot of that. It is fun and has to do with moving, and connecting with other people. Fun and effective at the same time.

NEŽA KREK: SHORTLY TELL US THE TECHNICAL PART OF THE PROGRAM.

Sylvia Bronkhorst: The program involves a few parts. We have one that teaches students to create their own business done the head, heart, and hands way. We reach 100 students a year with that program. It’s a half a year program. Four times a year we do a course for teachers. We try to teach our teachers how to improve their skills in a head, heart, and hands way. And we try to adjust educational programs to make them more head, heart, and hands.

NEŽA KREK: DO PEOPLE NEED TO COME TO YOU OR DO YOU GO TO CERTAIN PARTS OF THE UNIVERSITY? HOW MUCH INFLUENCE DO YOU ALREADY HAVE?

Sylvia Bronkhorst: To be honest, we have a really effective program and the influence is way too small. The roots of the way we have been doing things are so deep, it’s difficult to get out there. We are stuck in the interludes.

Neža Krek: If we go back to the start of this program. I remember you brought on really brilliant people. Guus introduced me to you and we had a lovely collaboration. Now another tricky question.

WHAT IS THE LEADERSHIP YOU NEEDED TO MAKE THE PROGRAM OF HEAD, HEART, AND HANDS A REALITY?

Sylvia Bronkhorst: When we started I had to be a brave and creative leader. Now I have to be something different. That’s difficult because we are growing and I have to be more focused. I have to make sure other people get up on the stage and I have to pull back a bit. It’s really difficult and I’m in a bit of a struggle with that. But my people helped me.

NEŽA KREK: BEAUTIFUL. WHAT IS THE LEADERSHIP THAT YOU WERE ASKING OF PEOPLE AROUND YOU IN ORDER FOR THEM TO HOP ON THE TRAIN?

Sylvia Bronkhorst: I only work with people who truly believe in this program. Everyone who is working in the program is like me and totally integrated it. They are living the program. I don’t have to do much. Give them the trust that we would give students and create a space to explore the way they think you should learn with head, heart, and hands. Because it’s not mine.

NEŽA KREK: IF YOU WERE TO BE TALKING TO PEOPLE WHO HAVE IDEAS WITHIN THE SYSTEM, WITHIN A UNIVERSITY, AND ARE UNSURE. WHAT WOULD YOU SAY?

Sylvia Bronkhorst: To talk about it as much as you can! Don’t hold it within yourself. Take really small steps and then just make the first one. Just one step that doesn’t scare the hell out of you but is acceptable scary. A little bit scary is necessary. I still feel scared when I enter a classroom or have a new group. But I know that if I don’t feel that bit of scariness anymore, I have to stop. It’s a good filter.

I once did a training on pitching. I felt like: “I’ve got this, I can do it”. I gave the training and it was rubbish. It’s no problem because I did pitch as well. I asked my students what was good and what could be better. And they said: “It wasn’t really good”. They had all kinds of tips. My plan was to give them a really good pitch. Of course, there was a lot to learn about me not being so good. But then I knew, I’m only on top of my game when I’m a little bit nervous.

NEŽA KREK: IF YOU LOOK AT ALL THE PEOPLE WHO HAVE GONE THROUGH THE PROGRAM SO FAR. WHAT ARE THE IMPACT STORIES THAT CAME BACK TO YOU?

Sylvia Bronkhorst: Everyone tells us it changed their life. Or that we have given their life back, that it was the most powerful learning half year until now. The way you are teaching us gave us the fear of missing out. They were there every single day because they didn’t want to miss a thing. Brilliant feedback. All the students say it’s the first time they go to school with a lot of fun and pleasure and that the group we created are the best people they ever met. They say that the head, heart, and hands should be the only way university should be taught. Every single one is grateful.

They are also grateful for the work they put in. It’s all about the dynamic of a group and teachers. We can create space, they have to step in the game. It’s kind of a dance.

NEŽA KREK: HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE THE ROLE OF COMMUNITY IN THIS PROGRAM?

Sylvia Bronkhorst: It’s the main goal. When I enter a group, my main job is to build a strong group. It’s fundamental that the group feels safe, trusts each other, are bonding, and are open with each other. From there, we can learn.

Neža Krek: It’s interesting that you as an educator put so much effort into creating a community out of students. For me, that’s also essential because that’s who they can lean on when you are gone or no longer their teacher. They have each other. That’s also very important in the programs I facilitate. Maybe people think we are spending so much time getting to know each other and weaving a community together. But time and time again, the benefit of that investment at the beginning comes back to unfold later on.

Sylvia Bronkhorst: Exactly. One of the teachers in my program asked after a few days when we are getting started. I also hear that from students. In the end, they get that that was exactly what I wanted. That’s where they made the biggest progress that gave the leap forward.

Neža Krek: It’s a detail, but it’s not a detail. It’s a detail that so many people want to skip because it does require an investment of time, energy, and skills. There are power dynamics and group dynamics. It’s such an important investment in the success of learning.

HOW DO YOU MAKE SURE THAT THEY DON'T JUST COPY WHAT YOU DID, BUT THAT THEY REALLY IMPLEMENTED THE WAY THEY WANT TO DO IT?

Sylvia Bronkhorst: I guess that’s a risk because when people or some of my colleagues enter the program they want me to teach them didactics and ways to work. The starting point of every program is you. Whether it’s a student or a teacher, we’re starting with you. Explore yourself within your profession. Every teacher explores him or herself within this profession. They will not copy me, because they will learn something from me and the program and then tweak it in a way that fits them.

For example, we know that moving is good for learning and the brain. I will often start dancing in class. But if it doesn’t fit you, please don’t do it. However, you should do something with moving. Walk around, have a stroll, or whatever works for you. Tweak it for you, only then it’s authentic, effective, and fun.

Neža Krek: Fun and effective. That’s what I would love to have in future education. Your program is a big contribution to that. If people get inspired by this and want to connect and learn more: what is available from here? What can they do if they’re not from HAN? Are you inviting them into any type of connection? How do you want them to reach out?

Sylvia Bronkhorst: I would love to connect! I would love to help or assist someone as well. Find me on LinkedIn, I’m very active. If there are future educators or innovators who want to make adjustments in education: I have the head, heart, and hands training for teachers. In every training, we also invite teachers from other universities, because it enriches the group and gives more perspective. Please send me a message on LinkedIn, I will certainly give an answer! Sylvia Bronkhorst | LinkedIn

Neža Krek: Thank you so much for being here! And thanks everyone for listening. I hope you feel inspired to experiment and inject more of yourself into the classroom. You can do whatever you set your mind and heart to. If you are looking for more inspiration, and practical tips, sign up for the newsletter where I share exclusive content related to the podcast episodes. Jump to www.nezakrek.com/newsletter to join a community of fun ambitious educators like yourself.

Recent Posts

See All

Commentaires


bottom of page