Learnings from Black Rock City

It has already been more than two weeks since we took down the tree of knowledge and prepared the Koulu on Fire to be burned down with the Man. About time to summarize some of our thoughts on the experience and learnings from Black Rock City. 

In a nutshell, we designed and built Koulu School, in one of the best spots on the vast and dusty festival area: directly next to THE Man. Our team from Finland was given one of the eight 120 square meter guild spaces right at the Man Base. There, we ran a four-day learning festival. In practice, we helped people to discover their skills and knowledge, turn them into lessons, and gift them forward using our own Five Finger method for teaching excellence. During festival, teacher training was organised multiple times a day and about hundred new teachers were certified. All in all, Koulu on Fire gathered together thousands of enthusiastic visitors and new educators, and more than hundred lessons were taught. 

For all of its participants, Koulu on Fire was a place to learn and discover. The feedback from teachers and students was ecstatic. In particular, it was fantastic to see how people who had no idea what they could teach, came up with brilliant lessons, and how education professionals were turned into Koulu School advocates. Even a representative from the Finnish Consulate General came by and got excited about what we were doing.

Nothing is permanent and Burning Man is a manifestation of this. According to one of the Ten Principles, we left no trace to the Black Rock Desert. However, hopefully, the learnings from Koulu on Fire will stay around for longer. At least for us makers it taught many valuable lessons.

First, we learned how to build a Finnish school, an inspiring and engaging learning space where everyone feels welcome, in the middle of the desert. During the building phase, many things failed, were fixed, and finally aced. Koulu School did not come out totally as planned, but it was magnificent. 

Second, we learned how to make Koulu School work better. For Burning Man, the Koulu School concept had been tweaked to respond to the needs of this demanding audience and extreme conditions. Every day we learned how to make it work better. Now, after Burning Man, we will modify the concept to match with needs of other temporary settlements and challenging locations such as refugee situations in Europe, Middle East or East Africa, or sites with low and undeveloped infrastructure. Based on our experiences, we will be able to better help our teachers to discover and share their skills and knowledge as well as to make our schools more fun and attractive for students.

Third, in the course of the project, we learned to know each other and even ourselves better. Just to give a few examples, solving problems with delayed materials in a foreign country, or working together with a tight schedule in a sandstorm are some of the most powerful team building activities one could think of. After this, many smaller challenges will feel less significant, and, well, smaller. Can’t wait to see what is the next thing we can accomplish together! 

Finally, Burning Man as an experiment of temporary community taught us about the potential of people. Indeed, it is amazing how it is possible to have 70 000 people to abandon 'the constants of default world’ and embrace the 10 Principles of Burning Man - and what amazing outcomes it produces.  See for yourself!