Leading Learning From Self: An IFS-Inspired Approach to Nurture Capacity in Schools From the Inside Out


  • Joanna Curry-Sartori
  • Jody Nelson


What Do Our Schools Really Need ?

Many of our educational communities, intended as safe havens for our children’s learning, growth and self-discovery, have become centers of fear, competition and conflict. Schools are reflecting and absorbing our collective stress.  National polarization and global crises have placed extreme strains on our educational community and our students show it with increasing signs of dis-engagement, dis-regulation, and diagnosable mental health concerns. Dedicated educators, having gone above and beyond, trying everything in their toolbox, are overwhelmed, exhausted and discouraged. They wonder if they can continue in what was once their life passion and calling. Despite a continuous attempt to solve these problems with new programs and initiatives, our social and emotional health, which is essential for learning and teaching, is suffering. Consequently, the very possibility for schools to realize their core mission is in jeopardy.

Everything we do in schools—our approach to learning, choices, assumptions, reactions, attitudes, and beliefs—arises from our underlying operating paradigm.  From within our current paradigms, we keep trying to figure out what to do differently—more testing, more lessons, more curriculum. Perhaps we need a solution that isn’t about more to do, but essentially, a new way to see each other and to be together. We need a simple but profound way to access our core capacity to be calm, compassionate and courageous together, as we navigate through the myriad stressors we face daily. We need a fresh understanding of how we engage in our everyday interactions—the relationships in which we actually nurture and experience social and emotional well-being.

IFS Offers a Unique Possibility

We propose a unique framework that can essentially transform our individual and collective experience of well-being in schools. Inspired by IFS (Internal Family Systems), a profound psychological framework and philosophy for living,

Is more of a context paragraph needed such as: "As marriage and family therapists working in community agencies and as consultants in schools, we appreciate the tremendous need of teachers, students and schools at this time.  In this article, we want to share the hope and practical possibilities offered by a unique model, IFS (Internal Family Systems). Centering human capacity and dignity, this model has the potential to release to release our individual and collective potential for healing and collaboration.  The essential shift our schools need....