• Ph.D., History – National University of Singapore (2013)
• MSc, Education – Mercy College (2015)
• MBA, International Business – Thunderbird School of Global Management (2000)
• MA, International Relations – University of Denver, Joseph Korbel School of International Studies (1997)
• BA, International Affairs – Lewis & Clark College (1995)
• Post Graduate Diploma, Leadership – Emeritus Institute of Management (2021)
• Post Graduate Diploma, Design Thinking and Innovation – Emeritus Institute of Management (2020)
Dr. Benjamin Freud is an educator, advisor, writer, and podcaster. He is the co-founder of Coconut Thinking, whose ambition is to create spaces for purposeful thinking and action that contribute to the welfare of the bio-collective. Coconut Thinking imagines learning ecosystems that extend beyond physical and conceptual walls, and are inter-generational and collaborative. These ecosystems teach future-saving ethics such as “practice eco-reciprocity,” “stand up for justice,” “share with solidarity,” and “act with kindness.”
Benjamin was born and grew up in Paris, France. He moved to the US when he was 15 and spent eleven years there in different cities, before living in the UK, Japan, Singapore, Hong Kong, Saudi Arabia, and now Thailand. He started his career in consulting for Internet start-ups in Silicon Valley in the late 1990s, working with people whose ambitions were no less than to change the world. This experience had a profound effect on Benjamin’s outlook on education, innovation, and entrepreneurialism. Benjamin continued to consult for larger and smaller firms in London and Tokyo in Technology, FMCGs, Financial Services, Pharmaceuticals, and Media.
Benjamin is also the Whole School Director of Learning and Teaching and Problem-Based Learning teacher at Prem Tinsulanonda International School in Chiang Mai, Thailand. Benjamin focuses on the ‘lived’ curriculum: on pedagogy, and what classroom practice looks like. He thinks about how to develop a culture of active learning, where the boundaries of disciplines start to disappear and learners engage projects that are meaningful and have an impact on themselves, others, and the world.
Benjamin was the Head of Upper Primary and Middle School and Academic Coordinator at Misk Schools, which, as the school of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, is the most prestigious and high profile school in Saudi Arabia. Along with being responsible for all day-to-day operations and leadership in this role, Benjamin developed a unique curriculum to nurture and develop creativity, competencies, and entrepreneurial spirit in learners. He was responsible for designing authentic and Problem-Based Learning experiences across the school and for developing and implementing Personal Learning Pathways for each learner, to understand their academic and personal needs so that they can best thrive. He also taught Problem-Based Learning classes. Benjamin also served as the Technology Programs Manager for Misk Academy, like Schools part of Misk Foundation. He helped develop a curriculum for a range of high tech courses offered; build the Career Center to enable graduates to find employment; and nurture partnerships with private and public organizations.
Prior to Saudi Arabia, Benjamin was the Vice Principal of the Middle School and High School, Whole School Curriculum Developer, and teacher at the Harbour School, a progressive PK-12 international school in Hong Kong, which was a “21st century learning school of the year” finalist. There, he grew the High School every year by a grade and saw its first graduating class in 2018. In the meantime, he created an advisory structure, set up Personal Learning Plans for every student (which drove student-generated and led projects), forged linkages with Syracuse University Project Advance to establish a concurrent enrollment program, and, rewardingly, created structures so students could explore their interests independently and weave these back into the curriculum.
Benjamin speaks English and French natively, Spanish fluently, and German, Japanese, and Vietnamese, all at rusty intermediate levels.
In his spare time, Benjamin loves to read, practice yoga, and serve as a jungle gym for his kids.
• Cultivating connections starts with recognizing our interconnections.
• Curriculum must be lifeworthy.
• Less us, more them.
• Schools should be communities of learners, built on relationships and respect.
• Life is about embracing challenges and new experiences.
• “Meaning and fulfillment are the new wealth. Contribution is the only way to accumulate it.” —Joanne McEachen
• “No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.” —Aesop
Here is the (re)school Sprint 22 Sparkling Insight talk I gave, that I believe is a solid encapsulation of my values and approach. It will serve as well as any statement.
Learning Philosophy & Ethos
I was born and grew up in Paris, France and since 1989 have lived in the US, the UK, Japan, Singapore, Hong Kong, and now Saudi Arabia. I started my career in consulting before moving into education, working with Internet start-ups in Silicon Valley in the late 1990s, hired by people who were literally changing the world. I continued in consulting in London and Tokyo, expanding into FMCGs and Financial Services. This exposure gave me a unique insight into how schools can prepare learners to be successful in the world that lies beyond school. It also provided me the experience and confidence to innovate to meet learners’ individual needs.
Recently, I have been thinking quite a bit about the challenges we face: climate disaster, socio-economic injustice, an how we treat each other and all other living things. I am increasingly interested in post-humanism, specifically the framework that breaks the binaries of you/me, us/them, and humans/nature. I believe that the binary within ourselves is also false and that we cannot separate the cognitive from the affective, just like we cannot separate the self from the social. This is not a new age woo woo concept, this is the idea that we need to move beyond the humanist dualism if we are to embrace ways of thinking and action that serve all living things.
I believe we should move away from an anthropocentric worldview (where humans are at the center) to a bio-centric worldview (where life is at the center). This means that we should have a set of ethics and purpose that directs thinking and action to maximize positive impact (how we contribute) to the welfare of the bio-collective—all living things that have an interest in the healthfulness of the planet. Simply put, we need purpose to give our actions meaning and that purpose should be the bio-collective. Otherwise, we’re just doing more of the same.
I want to create and nurture ecosystems where school extends beyond its physical and conceptual walls, where all members of the learning community live the ethics that will re-direct the course of history away from ecological and socio-economic catastrophe. Alongside future-ready skills, we should teach future-saving ethics such as “practice eco-reciprocity,” “stand up for justice,” “share with solidarity,” and “act with kindness.’
My pedagogical philosophy rests on the belief that deeper learning can only occur when it is meaningful to the learner. This is a deceptively simple phrase, and is in practice a web of complex processes. Meaning, by definition, is personal. Meaning involves not only relevance to the learner, but also accessibility and interest based on the right level of challenge at the right time. It naturally encompasses purpose and joy. Learning takes place in solitary or social settings, and I believe that the role of a school community is to activate and nurture learning through the cultivation of curiosity, empowerment, and relationships.
I take a constructionist approach to learning, one that, in the words of Seymour Papert, believes that “the best way to learn is to build something tangible—outside of your head—that is personally meaningful” (Papert, 1990). Learning is the result of one’s interactions with the world and the opportunities to apply new competencies and knowledge to different contexts. Learners learn best when they operate independently, guided through sets of challenging and enriching experiences by a more seasoned individual (the teacher, who is just a more experienced learner). Such contexts provide learners with the opportunity to acquire learning and apply it at the (roughly) the same time, cementing understanding and making it transferrable to other contexts, which is evidence of learning. This is the apprenticeship model of learning.
Learning is best activated by a guide when learners engage in projects that explore questions that affect their lives. Schools should not just prepare students for the future, they should prepare them for the students’ present in order for there to be meaning. Open-ended questions, creative possibilities, public performances of outcomes… these are some of the ingredients for creating worthwhile learning experiences. It also speaks to what David Perkins describes as “junior versions of the whole game.” By engaging in authentic projects and activities that are pitched at the appropriate level of challenge, students develop and apply their core skills, work on their soft competencies, and discover and hone their interests, which is the fuel to even more sophisticated levels of learning.
This model can only flourish in a culture where respect, voice, choice, and collaboration. I am honored to have developed strong and deep relationships with students in every school in which I have worked. This has rewarded me by opening them up to learning with me, informed my planning and unit designs, and allowed me to support them when they found themselves in need to speak with someone. Inside and outside the classroom I aspire to cultivate these relationships, which are important if we are to be educators of the whole child.
As a professional and a human, I value kindness, collaboration, and pushing oneself to have new experiences and to grow. I believe leadership comes from modeling attitudes and actions. It should also create a safe environment for everyone to express themselves and take risks, without fear of condemnation. Lastly, everything in a school should be driven by the idea that we need to provide for the needs of each child, whatever these may be, at the right time, the right place, and at the right level of challenge.
Most Meaningful Life-Long (Professional) Learning Experiences
Bio-Leadership Fellow (2022)
Project Zero: Teaching for Understanding—Harvard Graduate School of Education (4 month course)
Project Zero: Classroom—Harvard Graduate School of Education (1 week at Harvard)
Project Zero: When Thinking Becomes Routine—Using Thinking Routines as More Than Activities—HGSE
Ron Ritchhart: Cultures of Thinking—Harvard Graduate School of Education (2 day course)
The PBL Practioner: Master Project Design Skills—PBL Global (20 hour course)
The PBL Facilitator: Be in Tune with Learners—PBL Global (20 hour course)
The PBL Change-maker: Reimagine PBL with Passion-Driven Projects—PBL Global (20 hour course)
Several IB certificates (cats 1,2,3)
Launching Innovation in Schools—MITx
Coaching Skills for Managers Specialization (4 modules)—University of California, Davis
Introduction to Computational Thinking for Every Educator—ISTE/Google
Adaptive Schools—Thinking Collaborative
Cognitive Coaching—Thinking Collaborative
Yoga Teacher: 200-hour certificate (RYT-200)
Academic Honors & Awards
• Emeritus Scholar Distinction in the Postgraduate Diploma in Leadership, awarded to the highest achievers in the entire program.
• Recipient of a Research Scholarship at the National University of Singapore, including full tuition and monthly stipend.
• Winner of the Graduate Students’ Teaching Award for Semester I 2009-2010 rec-ogniz-ing excellence in teaching for the entirety of NUS’s Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences. I was the award’s first recipient ever as 2009/10 was its inaugural year.
• Winner of the Png Poh Seng Prize, 2008-2009, awarded to the student in NUS’s History Department with the best average grades for all modules taken in a given academic year (only year I was eligible).
• Recipient of full scholarship to Thunderbird School of Global Management.