Fabio Pirola started looking for something innovative because he was worried about the results at the school. He was absolutely sure that there was a school in the world that works. In a book called “Drive” by Daniel Pink, he read about the “Big Picture Network” of schools. He got in touch with the people form BPL and he decided to import the methodology to Italy. At the beginning they started inside an European Project with the already existing BPL Netherlands.

You can find the full transcription of the interview below:

Importing the BPL methodology to Italy

We were worried about the results in the school because it was absolutely clear that the system doesn’t work. So I decided to look for something innovative, a school in the world that works because I was absolutely sure that there was a school that works.

So in a book called «Drive», is a book by Daniel Pink there was a mention about this school, Big Picture Learning network, so I wrote them. For me was absolutely interesting the methodology of big picture so I decided to import this methodology in Italy but with a different approach. We use a bottom up approach instead of top down because we were only a little crew of teachers.

At the beginning, we started inside an European project. In Netherland there was already this BPL school. We started learning about the school, I also went to visit it to the USA. It fitted perfectly with my vision of the school. We tried to start inside the public system but it was hard so we decided to try a different way outside and we found two partners, the Pistoleto foundation and Sellalab. In 2016 we started an experimental class and after two years we have been recognized by the regional direction of the Ministery.

«You have to see the Big Picture of the student and don’t focus only on the contents»

BPL means that you don’t have to stop only in the content, on the transfer of the knowledge but you have to see the Big Picture of the student, what he has inside, you have understand his life, his passion, you have to find the way to engage them in learning. The students actually don’t need knowledge but they need to learn to learn, this is the main goal and they need a lot of skills. Some of these skills in the past were something absolutely normal, that you were able to learn in the family or the community but now is not working. Some skills are totally new, so you have to work on that, you cannot find it reading a book, you have to experiment it.

When you need something the network works really well and helps you specially to transfer the innovation. That’s very interesting because you don’t need to talk so much but they understand you very well and quickly and they help you.

The main problem is that the culture is very different, the governance is different, so they can help you but no so much because you have to find your way to allow the school to perfectly fit your environment and not put in your culture, your system, your environment something that is alien.

«As student you have to find a school that fits with your values»

When you teach you are not neutral you pass your values to the students so not all the schools fit for all the students because your values are different from the family, from the environment, form the culture. But it’s very important that you find your teacher and your school that fit for your values and help you to fight for it because the main problem with the teenagers is that they feel their values but they are not able to understand or to know the way to develop them.

«They have to learn how to do the tests but they don’t have to be corrupted by them»

A test is a standard from the system so they have to be able to do the test in the best way. They don’t have to be bonded by the test or corrupted by the test. The most important thing in evaluation is your evaluation, to understand if you are able to learn and you have done your best.

«You cannot learn by example if the adult is over you, giving you orders»

When I start to treat them like adults they start to act just like adult. That’s very interesting. The people that work here, you know Bank people or the co-workers, they say “I have to do my job, I am not interested about human behaviour, so I treat you just like the other people”. At the beginning it’s very confusing for these teenagers “Here they treat me like an adult, usually in school they treat me just like a stupid”, so they change behaviour.

At the beginning they are quite confused but when they understand that they only have to have a normal behaviour the people respect you for that, they stay close with the adults, that is special for this generation that is not so usual because they stay in the school, in a sport team, they stay in something done for the teenager, you don’t have so many opportunities to have a peer relation with the adults. And you know, you learn by example usually. So it’s impossible if and adult gives orders to you, as a teenager your are in your position and sometimes your role is to break the rules, also because it’s very important to be a teenager and break the rules.

For us is very important to pay attention to the world because we usually speak about school, school, school, but not students, not boys, not girls, not about their passion, we speak about law, regulations, but we don’t speak about them.

«We don’t follow the regular school calendar. We are adapted to the enterprise calendar so we have more quality time for learning.»

Informality is the best place because the students show themselves and it’s absolutely important to have their trust. You have to speak very much, you have to talk very much, also we have to fight very much, but it’s very important the respect and if you create this trust environment the feedback is natural.

We start at 8:30, we have a little meeting with the students, half an hour so we can organize all the activities during the day. We can have free feedback with them, we can communicate all different new activities that we can do.

Sometimes there is a professional that comes and speak about his or her job. This is very interesting, after that the lesson or the normal work study starts, instead of doing it at home you can do it at school.

There is always with you an educator that is the advisor that can help you with the study to organize your life, to organize the study, that’s very important.

There is a little break for lunch, one hour. And after that in the afternoon there are lesson or individual work until 4. If the student want, they can stay here, go in the co-working space, and continue studying if they prefer to study here. The goal is to create an office, you are working just like a co-worker, in fact, we don’t have the holidays like the normal school, we follow the holiday calendar of the enterprise. Also because usually in the school there is less time, during some special periods you have to do test, test, test, we run very much, very fast, with so much stress, we say more time but with more quality of the life and the study.

«You have to make parents understand what your project is about. They come from a very different system»

It’s absolutely important because if you don’t engage the parents you have a lot of troubles. We have to create an agreement, a partnership to grow up the students. We have to work very much to communicate them our values to understand if we have the same values. Because if you don’t have the same values it cannot work. If we are able to establish this partnership the student changes in a very few days or weeks.

We need the trust of the parents that is very important. And also for them is very hard because they grow up in a school methodology, to understand something different, innovative, it’s hard to understand. Sometimes they have to accept our leadership in education. They have to accept or to be happy to be helped which is not a weakness but something that shows that you are strong. This is not something innovative, in the past happened, there was a community, it’s the same. We try to recreate a community.

«If you want to be innovative you have to do experiments and of course mistakes»

The internship is one of the main innovation that BPL has done since 1995. That’s very interesting because the students can start to stay with the adults again, to learn the jobs in the skills that are important in the real life. In Italy now it’s easier because with the last reform it started the Alternanza Scuola-Lavoro, and it’s easier to send students to a place, because usually for the under-age, the law about job in Italy are very tough.

Usually the enterprises are not very happy of having an under-age inside the work place. The main problem is that you need the professional inside the school to find the place that fits for the student so the student don’t go to a place because they have to do this internship and waste their time but have to find a place where he or she can learn something really interesting and relevant. Also to have a better knowledge, because he starts to understand why study is so important.

But it’s not easy because the enterprise and also the co-workers are quite busy with their job, also in Italy because we are struggling with an economic crisis that never ends.

The problem is also the failure, it’s something that you are very ashamed of. But if you want to experiment you have to do mistakes, a lot of mistakes and then to restart again.


I am a telecommunications engineer, teacher in innovative education and freelance filmmaker questioning not the "Why?" but the "Why not?" in every aspect of life. Since 2017 I travel the world looking for stories worth telling.

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