From education to employment

Changemaking and The Crystal Maze

Dr Lou Mycroft is a nomadic educator, writer, and Thinking Environment facilitator.

In my last article, I wrote about how much energy it takes to change systems, and how FE needs systems change if we’re to have any chance of the culture we desire and deserve; with high levels of trust and kindness, where it’s OK to be vulnerable and uncomfortable sometimes, in order to grow; where our wellbeing is meaningfully nurtured, with plenty of rest and thinking space. We have to do the work on ourselves (and each other), to do the work.

FE is full of good intentions

All of this is going to take energy. FE is full of good intentions. I can’t think of any other profession that people come to later in life, after a full career, to ‘give something back’. But in the noise and busyness of it all, it’s so hard to find the changemaking space needed, to get good ideas over the line.

Our systems are set up in such a way that our culture becomes one of rushing from strategy to implementation, before we’ve gathered enough momentum to drive the plan though.

I have the joyful privilege of broadcasting to many of FE’s changemakers each weekday morning on Facebook Live (check out the JoyFE Collective Group if you want to join us). Although there’s only me talking, it’s a rich, multi-way conversation because people contribute in the chat space.

Recently, I was talking about marshalling energy for momentum, and the wonderful Susanna Brandon reminded me of 90s TV sensation The Crystal Maze (I am so aware of showing my age with this reference).

If you’ve never seen the show, it’s a live adventure game with teams competing to collect crystals in different domains, egged on by Maze Master Richard O’Brien (creator of another fan-favourite, The Rocky Horror Show).

If changemaking is the activation stage between planning and implementation, we need to collect these energy crystals to drive us through. 

A circle of red and purple gemstones with a quartz crystal at its centre, on a slate background

The energy crystals we need to drive us through

We need power, of both kinds. Potentia, the joyful changemaking power I’ve written about elsewhere for FE News as ‘FE’s Secret Sauce’, is a given, but we also need clout, the power-as-usual known as potestas.


Kindness is also an energy, expressed in appreciation for the human and recognition of their work: microjoys which help people feel valued. Think how draining it is to endlessly be around people who are not kind. There’s not an organisation I visit where I don’t hear how discouraging it is that kindness appears everywhere on posters, yet is so rarely seen in practice. 


I’m endlessly indebted to the work of Christina Donovan around trust,  which seems to be top of everyone’s list of workplace desires – but is always someone else’s responsibility. Trust only grows when we do something different, which people can unify around; it’s a chicken-and-egg situation but we have to start somewhere.

Idea Thinking Time

Ideas are vital, but where do we find the thinking time to nurture small seedlings of inspiration? The twice-weekly #JoyFE Ideas Rooms provide a vital service, free to all, but we need to create spaces in work time, around our colleagues, to generate genuinely new possibilities for unimagined futures.


And we need rest, because even thinking spaces can’t generate ideas in tired minds. I’ll write more about rest another time, because it’s the key to wellbeing on so many levels and we are thirsty for it as individuals, as workplaces and as a society.


The final crystal – of course – is community. I’ve hitched my life’s mission to it because I believe so much in its regenerative potential. It’s a truism that even when we know we’ll gather energy by engaging in community, we’re too exhausted to take the first step. This is a culture that has to change, and we’ll only do that by changing the way we use time, so that community is baked into our working lives, rather than a ‘nice to have’ extra.

I’m writing this at the very edge of exhaustion, after a busy few weeks changemaking. Nothing in my drive to change education has diminished, but I’ve learned to know myself and I can’t sustain this pace in the way I used to (unhealthily) do.

Community will keep me going through a day where thinking space is built in to work in a trust-filled space with potentia people, and I’ve no doubt I will be soon bouncing with ideas. But after today, I need to reach for the rest crystal until the next changemaking phase begins.

Dr Lou Mycroft is a nomadic educator, writer, and Thinking Environment facilitator.
By Dr Lou Mycroft is a nomadic educator, writer, and Thinking Environment facilitator.

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