Opening up space for participatory, question-driven educational processes

Koen Wessels is a PhD-candidate in the Research Group Normative Professionalization, which is a collaboration between Utrecht University of Applied Sciences and Utrecht University. His research centers around the awareness of a preparation-participation-tension within educational thought and practice.

In currently dominant approaches to education, the school is, first and foremost, a space for preparation: the teacher represents all that the student does not yet know or is not yet able to and – through a well-ordered curriculum – transfers this to the student, who thus gets prepared for the next step in his or her life. Although this linear way of approaching education is attractive and has its value, this research explores the importance and implications of the opposite stance. This stance emphasizes that students are already living in the world they are preparing for and herein are committed to and involved in ongoing processes of formation. Therefore, in this approach open-ended questions and ‘the here and now’ are central in the educational process. This research project explores what might be the educational narrative if we create more space for such a participatory-stance. Within this exploration, the main aim is to identify and narrate viable ways for teachers to see their students and their own role in relation to them. The underlying assumption is that an inquiry into the narratives we tell ourselves about education – be it more conscious or unconscious – opens up the road to shape, and if desirable transform, educational practice wisely. A reflective-participatory methodology guides the research process and numerous teachers working in various educational contexts in the Netherlands participate as co-researchers.

About Koen Wessels

Next to his part-time work as a doctoral researcher, Koen Wessels is an educational change agent in the Netherlands. He is one of the founders of De Bildung Academie (, in which he co-created innovative educational programs for university students and collaborates with formal educational institutions in innovative projects and/or teacher professional development. In this work, similar to in his research, Koen is interested in ways for education to be a (more) dialogical, participatory process, in which teachers and students are both (more) fully engaged and encounter complex questions and challenges relevant in our (shared) lives. Koen is trained in the method of Deep Democracy, which he experiences as a methodology developed on similar lines of thought and integrates into his work frequently.

Project team

This doctoral research is supervised by prof. dr. Cok Bakker (Utrecht University & Utrecht University of Applied Sciences), prof. dr. Arjen Wals (Wageningen University & Research) and dr. George Lengkeek (Utrecht University of Applied Sciences).