A small Argentine sample.
“To understand life is to understand ourselves,
and that is both the beginning
and the end of education.”
Krishnamurti (1953, p.14)
This text describes the influence that The Program of School Climate and Emotional Education has had in 2,000 public schools in the Province of Buenos Aires. The program ran from the beginning of 2018 to the end of the 2019 school year. During these two years, the program was implemented with the aim to develop human potential and generate contextual wellbeing, while increasing attendance and heightening learning in schools. To attain this, we trained teachers and principals in ways to enhance the general climate or atmosphere of their schools as well as integrate social-emotional learning into their classes. The underlying assumption was that by strengthening human capacities usually not taken into account explicitly in schools, such as emotional intelligence, communication, social consciousness and so on, students’ learning and motivation would improve. To reach that amount of schools around the province a well thought strategy had to be implemented . The strategy to scale the program was the development of geographical communities of practice composed by principals and teachers that supported each other with best practices and innovative approaches. All these ingredients were part of the emergence of a unique and, in many ways, challenging whole.
Education is about gaining a more holistic understanding of what it means to be human. As Satish Kumar wrote “ True learning occurs when the learner feels touched and moved by the experience, when what they learn is useful and helpful in their lives, when they acquire skills and techniques that enable them to express themselves and be part of their community”(2019, p.86) Western societies have developed a skewed understanding of what it means to be human by approaching life valuing intellectual development most of all and neglecting qualities such as social- emotional capacities. Today society suffers from the effects of this unbalanced situation. It becomes difficult to make sense of the changes that we need to bring to our education and the world if we are not tapping into our deepest potential.
One of the latest World Economic Forum articles on education (2020) discusses the symptoms that are emerging worldwide from sustaining a systemic model of education that has not been updated since the industrial revolution, and whose main purpose is to prepare students for a world of mass production and unequal wealth. The educational system’s main focus is on IQ and it routinely uses memorization and standardization to assess this. These are skills and capacities that do not on their own influence the way we relate to each other, the way we live together, nor the way we create and hold communities together. The skills and capacities people develop in schools are rarely about being together and creating a sustainable living. Jacques Delors (1996), who anticipated the challenges that the new century would impose on education, defined four pillars — or foundations — that were promoted in the renowned UNESCO World Report. This report highlighted an education that prepares students for life, for happiness and for being able to actively contribute to society. Delors’ four pillars of education are: Learn to know, learn to do, learn to be and learn to live together. Schools today do not explicitly teach the last two pillars. The Program of School Climate and Emotional Education developed these two last pillars: learn to be and learn to live together, which invariably impacted the first two.
The program was developed as part of a large-scale strategy by the government of Argentina called Red de Escuelas de Aprendizaje (REA) or the Learning School Network (LSN). LSN was an initiative of the Ministry of Education that focused on developing education in innovative ways. The program of School Climate and Emotional Education was one axis of this strategy. The use of the word “climate” here refers to the general social atmosphere of a school, which is defined by the perception that all actors have about the interpersonal relationships that take place in the institution (Cassasus, 2003) At the end of 2017, I was offered the job to co-develop the content and facilitate the training of the program in primary and secondary schools. This involved leading a team in designing the content for primary and secondary schools and creating a community of practice with an initial group of facilitators that would later be training school staff in each region of the Province of Buenos Aires.
Argentina was the first country in America to establish completely free, compulsory and high-quality primary, secondary and tertiary education. Having a free, high-quality public education has always been central to Argentine society. On the other hand, the country has a federal system of government and the different provinces have extensive autonomy in education. There are, therefore, regional disparities in the ease of access to education, for example, in education budgets, infrastructure, teacher salaries and the general quality of education. The Province of Buenos Aires has an estimated 17.4 million people residing in its territory which represents 38.7% of the total Argentine population (Portal educativo abc, 2019). The country’s capital is situated there, making it the richest province which enables it to allocate substantial funds to develop and sustain public education within its territory.
The educational investment made by the Argentine government is considered one of the highest in relation to other countries of Latin America. However, in the last assessments in 2017 by the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), Argentina attained lower educational results than other countries of the region. The Province of Buenos Aires was no exception. The educational level has not improved over the years, professional development has been poorly distributed and has not been updated. Moreover, Argentina has one of the highest high-school dropout rates in South America. Research (Contexto Educativo, 2018) has pointed out that high dropout rates from schools cannot be explained simply by socio-economic factors such as poverty, but are also due to the low motivation of students as well as structural problems within the education system. In addition, teachers’ hiring conditions are poor, salaries are fairly low and, in many cases, they must work in several schools to earn a living wage. Moving from one school to another once a day or several times a week makes articulation between staff members difficult within the same establishment, allowing for planning with minimal creativity or innovation in their preparation. Thus, it is almost impossible to provide comprehensive learning for a school’s students, since teachers feel they are in a race against time and do not have space or time to cultivate relationships with their colleagues or students.
At the same time, -public schools are spread far and wide throughout the province. Each region of the province has its own learning center for professional development. However, many schools are so far apart that teachers rarely get to share any knowledge, best or innovative practices, or work collaboratively to improve students’ learning. Professional isolation is a common state for teachers, who work alone without valuable feedback thus missing the richness that collaborative work offers (Hargreaves and Fullan, 2015). The teachers who are in the closest proximity to one another might engage in some exchange but this is not explicitly encouraged by the institutions, learning centers or the Ministry of Education.
The School Climate and Emotional Education Program was developed as part of an action plan to improve learning in public schools in the Province of Buenos Aires. It came into being in the Argentine educational system at a particular moment in time, politically, economically and socially. Politically, the country was mid-way into the first term of the country’s new president, with a center right government that came into power after 12 years of a center left government. The economic situation was critical. Government salaries were worth less because of a frequent devaluation of the local currency, and an increase in taxes due to inflation. Socially, we were a divided society in which half the population felt supported by a tradition of populist governments and the other half were inclined to vote for a more neo-liberal approach. Public servants were also divided; there was a lack of trust between them, however they worked side by side in the Ministry of Education. As a result of these circumstances, The Learning School Network was born as a strategy to change the outcomes of the educational system in the Province of Buenos Aires.
The Program Design
The program of School Climate and Emotional Education was part of the Learning School Network. The LSN was an initiative of the General Directorate of Culture and Education (DGCyE) of the Province of Buenos Aires which began in 2018 with the aim of improving learning by mentoring 2,000 public schools for two years. Schools were invited to be part of it voluntarily and were selected on the basis of their socio-educational vulnerability as well as the commitment of school principals to it. The LSN was based on an equity approach, offering public schools a “school improvement” proposal that was intended for children and young people to attend school, stay, graduate and, above all, learn in a meaningful way. It was a response to the need to strengthen the educational system without investing money the government did not possess at the time. To achieve its main objectives, the LSN proposed to generate inter-school networks and train strategic educational actors to work with the resources already within the educational system. The proposal focused on strengthening the capacities of the main educational actors such as principals, teachers and preceptors (a school actor who accompanies students through their academic trajectory), enabling collaborative networks to be created among those educators.
The School Climate and Emotional Education program was divided into two work teams. One team targeted preschool and kindergarten (Team P&K), while the other targeted primary and secondary schools (Team P&S). These two teams had different strategies to convey the content to the principals, teachers and schools. This article focuses on the primary and secondary public schools’ team (Team P&S) to explain the various layers of people involved in the project and how it was implemented.
The Team P&S was composed of one coordinator, myself as a content designer and 17 facilitators. First, we set up a community of highly experienced facilitators that we called the “mother community of practice”, most of them were educators or psychologists with experience in the educational system. Then we worked with the content, adapting and making changes to the facilitation as the facilitators got to know the participants, who consisted mainly of principals and teachers but also included other school personnel. The training took place in each region’s education center, once a month from April to September in six classes of four hours each. One of the main challenges for this team was to ensure change in the culture and climate of the schools around the province without being able to reach the schools directly. The program did not have enough resources to get to every school, that is why the educational centers became the space where facilitation happened for the teachers and principals of each region. To overcome this, we created regional communities of practice that were held monthly, that worked as a model to imitate and learn from and then for principals and teachers to take within their schools. These teachers became the leaders who, after each monthly meeting, would take what they had learned and work with this in their own communities of practice and classes within their schools.
The program of School Climate and Emotional Education thus used “communities of practice” as a way for the facilitators to reach the schools and create professional networks of teachers committed to the program to improve each schools’ overall wellbeing and social-emotional learning. A community of practice is a group of people who share a common purpose for something they do and where they interact regularly to learn how to do it better. The program worked to develop such communities of practice, which locate learning in the relationship between the individual and the world, and which consist of a learning system (Wenger, 2000). Communities of practice were formed as caring, supportive spaces. There was a community of practice for facilitators, several communities of practice in each region and then auto-organized communities of practice within schools, which fostered deep relationships between people who remained committed to improving the educational experience of all. Participants experienced these regular gatherings as emotionally nourishing, which proved essential for the process to continue within the public schools.
As the initial, “mother” community of practice, the key was to embody and share the qualities that we wanted to see in public schools. As facilitators we had to embody what we wanted to see in other communities of practice so we practiced the facilitation activities with each other during our monthly meetings. Experiencing ourselves what later was experienced by participants enabled facilitators to take the experience to the regional communities of practice and then participants to their schools and practice it with their colleagues. Hence, there was a downward cascade effect that reached the school as a whole from the facilitators community of practice, to the regional communities of practice to the self organized communities of practice within each school.
The intention behind the various levels of communities of practice was to:
● Create, apply, reflect, finetune and iterate content
● Nurture relationships within communities and schools
● Incubate individual learning processes and tap into collective intelligence.
The main purpose of the program’s curriculum for teachers was to develop contextual wellbeing and human potential. There were seven modules, with two specifically on school climate, and one each on self-knowledge, emotional regulation, critical thinking, effective communication and social consciousness. Each module included a deep process of reflection at the end. We saw the reflection as the pinnacle of the learning process, which refocused the value of learning back into the experience itself. We embraced the methodology of experiential learning or learning by doing, where the participants could learn through their own experience.
The facilitation plan was therefore centered primarily on the teachers’ experience. Since illuminating the social-emotional learning experience that participants had allowed them to take that new found awareness about themselves, others and the context to schools. They were the representatives of the program in their schools, so they had to embody their learning and share it with others. Validating their experience and discussing it with a reflective approach was a new and powerful moment for most of them. Teachers’ interventions followed the same pattern in schools with their colleagues and students. The P&S team quickly understood that people learned best when they were personally involved in an experience and that reflecting on the experience would allow them to discover significant meaning in it. We also realized that the possibility to move freely within the framework of the school climate and emotional education approach would help them feel empowered, enabling them to become agents of their own learning in a new way.
The content was still being created when the program was initially implemented in primary and secondary public schools. As the facilitators saw which parts of the content were effective and which were not in the gatherings with teachers, they began to contribute new ideas based on their own knowledge and strengths. As time went on, the facilitators paired up into “pedagogical facilitating couples”, to help one another and to assist the regional communities with their implementation plans within their schools. This emerged as a learning strategy, which created a supportive dynamic between facilitators that fostered trust and confidence. The first year was a revealing learning journey for me and the facilitators in adapting to what worked and changing what did not. The school staff that came to the course discovered their own resources such as the power of being present, of active listening, of regulating their emotions and so on. They noticed that by being aware of the strengths that they already had and putting them into practice they could foster trusting and supportive relationships that created climate. They were able to make space for expressing, accepting, understanding and regulating emotions. At a deeper level, it became about acceptance of oneself and others.
In the second year, as the leader of the “mother community” of facilitators, I worked on their facilitating capacities. While the basic content intended for the principals and teachers was the same, the facilitators were led to experience a deepening in their own practice. The new activities enabled them to become more aware of the qualities of feeling, sensing and intuiting, which shaped their art of facilitating. We focused on bringing forth a holistic understanding so that they were able to read their regional communities of practice as an emergent whole, alive with its own expression and uniqueness. Developing this capacity with them allowed the content, through the art of facilitating, to later permeate more deeply into the schools. We worked with nature observation, polarities, holistic learning, wholeness, morphology of the communities (how the communities were being formed), the practice of facilitating and so on. There was a major difference in the facilitators’ quality of facilitating between the first and second years. Their learning experiences were quite different, with the profound understanding that their practices had changed and in turn this meant that the content had changed to some extent as well. The community of facilitators opened up to their intuitive minds and to a world with new meaning, which they took to their communities of teachers. The activities that were developed that year taught me and the facilitators to hold the space and nurture the qualities within the communities of learning to allow each participant (the educational actors) to emerge more fully able to express their human faculties. The quality of the relationships that facilitators fostered in their regional communities of practice enabled systemic consciousness, this being the understanding that “as a teacher I am part of a system and I can influence it by bringing awareness of how the system works to the system itself”. This generated an impact in school networks intertwined in the broader educational system.
Being a community of practice and modeling this for other communities of practice was a challenge. We had certain crucial situations which resulted in us feeling that we were at the edge of becoming either a true community or simply a group of professionals. One of those challenges was a delay in salary payments for three to five months. The generosity of a few who distributed their salaries amongst the ones who had not yet been paid, strengthened the relational ties of trust and support. Another challenge that came soon after that was when there was an explosion in one of our regional schools due to a gas leak. The anger, frustration and fear were so strong that we had to discuss, as the community of school climate and emotional education, how we would support and hold a wider group of teachers and students through this grieving process. This case allowed us to connect and become closer with the educational community of Moreno, a region in the Province of Buenos Aires. It was a dark and powerful moment that brought us together and gave new meaning to the community and the program. We talked about the importance of healing ourselves and the communities on many levels. The challenges we faced made us stronger; we discovered a potential — not yet awakened — in the collective wisdom of both the community of facilitators and regional communities. That dormant potential was our humanity. These were opportunities that strengthened us to become a real community of practice.
All these challenges were a source of deep transformation. Creating and holding a community of facilitators was a learning experience; there was no recipe on how to do it, so we learned as we went. The participatory nature of the community was a source of constant growth and vitality that allowed each participant to experience the world with curiosity and a great willingness to learn. This has developed a new way of attending to our potential as a collective by beginning to regenerate the social tissue and the fabric of the educational system in the Province of Buenos Aires.
By the end of 2019, after the presidential elections it was clear that the program was going to be canceled by the new official party. That is why, I had the opportunity to research the program with a team of researchers for the provincial government and evaluate the impact that it had in the schools where the program was implemented. At the time we knew It was too early to have sustainable results so we chose to use qualitative methods to explore the two year experience and understand all unfolding phenomena that occur due to it.
The aim of the research was to understand the impact that the program had in public schools in the Province of Buenos Aires. From the 2000 schools, we selected a sample of 50 schools to visit. We interviewed three people in each school: the principal, one teacher representative who had participated in the regional training and a teacher who was not a representative but worked in the same school. With this triangulation, we assumed we could learn from those perspectives within each school. Of course, we also interviewed the facilitators.
We used Grounded Theory, a qualitative research approach that develops a theory about certain phenomena by systematically gathering data and making meaning of them (Strauss and Corbin, 1994). This type of research allowed us to grasp some of the fullness of what had happened. Main themes became apparent in the feedback from facilitators, participants and students within public schools, which gave us a better understanding of how the program shaped the educational context. The initial feedback from participants of the research showed that a formative force was emerging in schools, which is described in the next section.
So far we knew from the program report (2019) the following:
- In the kindergarten level more than 650 Emotional Education projects were received from teachers and principals.
- From an end of the year questionnaire administered to principals of the 3 levels, 1,167 responses uploaded, 96% ensure that the program has had positive results in the School Climate.
- Within the different dimensions that make up the School Climate (Interpersonal relationships, Security and Order, Teacher and Learning and Organizational Culture) , 93% of the respondents assure that the greatest impact of the strategies improved well-being and student motivation.
For the research we interviewed educational actors from 50 schools seeking to understand what the scope of said program was. Interviews and focus groups were conducted with directors, teachers that were trained in the program and teachers that were not trained, students and parents. The results of the research reveal that educational actors participated in a profound process of learning that transformed both the perspective on themselves, others and the school. The investigation reveals that the integration of the socio-emotional world in the school enables the adaptation of school practices to the needs of the individual in the classroom. In this way, empathy is developed by refocusing learning on the person, traversed by the context sociality that inhabits.
The main themes of the research are explained in the next section, since I believe it will bring a better understanding of the incipient effects of the program in public schools.
The research led me to several themes that emerge due to the implementation of the program in public school education. These incipient themes showed the generative force that could arise from a more integrated education as emotional education and school climate improvement became part of everyday school life. This enhanced not only holistic learning but also collaborative work, increased motivation, improving students assistance and created deep and meaningful relationships. All this happened due to an interweaving effect related to the content, the art of facilitation, the work in the communities of practice and their subsequent reach to the schools. The importance of each aspect and their interaction bring us to three of the main themes, which are highlighted below.
1. Holding Space
The English word “education” has two Latin roots;, one is “educare” which means to train or mold, and the other is “educere” meaning to lead out or bring forth (Craft, 1984). In Argentina, education has largely focused on training which develops the cognitive skills required to reach international standards. Leading out or bringing forth a person’s inner resources requires social-emotional education, which involves a set of qualities such as the practice of no judgment, vulnerability, empathy and compassion. Education today has little time to develop these qualities since it is based upon cognitive skills and results. However, it is impossible to develop emotional skills without involving the heart.
The program content was based upon a process that stimulated participants to understand how individuals, including themselves, think, feel and sense in their everyday lives, in interactions, communication, and with their community and society as a whole. Connecting with one’s own emotions is the first step in developing emotional consciousness, emotional regulation and in understanding what others are feeling. Social-emotional education enabled principals and teachers to increase their mastery of their own emotions by understanding themselves and others more clearly. This helped them to engage in more meaningful relationships and create a greater sense of wellbeing. This, in turn, allowed them to hold space for colleagues and students to bring their emotional worlds to the school. Leaning towards what is uncomfortable for us, such as our emotions must be done in a space that feels secure, that allows people to explore them without feeling the threat of being hurt. With this approach, the communities of practice became incubators or laboratories for participants to explore themselves through their own experience as well as in relation to others. One of the main discoveries of implementing the program was realizing the impact of having educators hold a certain quality of space and time that allowed for participants to engage with more of their human aspects. Facilitators, principals and teachers pointed out in the research that holding space was key to developing social-emotional skills.
In the second year of the program, the facilitation training modelled the art of holding space. The participants’ emotions, sensations and intuitions were able to be experienced, bringing relevant information about themselves, others and the world. From there they could make meaning of what they had experienced, with their heads, hearts and will. If we need to change our environment to adapt, we need to use our full potential. For that, the quality of holding a safe, non-judgmental space is vital. The facilitators held space in their regional communities of practice, allowing participants to engage with their experience more fully. This quality of holding space was mirrored in how the teachers went on to hold space within their schools, which became crucial to the success of the program.
While visiting the schools to research the impact of the program, I found out about one particular occurrence at an agrarian school on the outskirts of the City of Buenos Aires. The teacher who was trained in our program worked with a teacher trained in another program about sexual integral education. Together they facilitated a class integrating both social-emotional education and sexual integral education, which created a safe space for high school students. Safety, trust and empathy were the main qualities they brought to practice with the students in the school day. That day, seven teenaged students came forward and talked about previous and current sexual abuse. They felt heard and supported. Of course, this activated the protocol for the comprehensive care of victims but as importantly, a healing process started for them and the school. Although it cannot be categorically said that the School Climate and Emotional Education program enabled the students to come forward for help, the interviews with the school’s principal and the teachers showed that the teacher that participated in the training had embedded a great deal of trust in that class. The teachers had held the space to allow students to bring more of themselves into a caring, learning space that allowed for significant dialogues with one another.
Little by little, schools became aware of the importance of emotions and how they impact on the learning capacity of students. Principals and teachers acquired important insights by working with their own emotional worlds as well as new skills to apply with their students. Certain methods helped them introduce social-emotional learning into schools but the real learning happened in the communities of practice, where new pedagogical practices were developed for each school. Principals and teachers realized that there were no written texts that could prescribe the most appropriate methods on how to nurture and hold a space for others, they each had to be tailored to their particular situation.
The program found that holding space was a fundamental component of what was able to unfold of the social-emotional learnings that were taught in the regional communities of practice within the schools. Holding space secures a unique timing that is beneficial to connect to emotions, senses and intuition.
2. Holistic Pedagogical Practices
The program of School Climate and Emotional Education provided the possibility to rethink the purpose and value of education. It also introduced new pedagogical practices, some of them global, in that they could be used in every school and others specific to their local context. The word that was used by facilitators, teachers and principals was GLOCAL, meaning global but as well specific to each reality. The methodology of learning by doing guided teachers through a process that brought each person’s own experience to the forefront of their awareness and learning, prompting a reconnection with their emotional, sensorial and intuitive worlds. This enabled participants to engage with the qualities of openness, vulnerability and receptiveness to others within the communities of practice and in their schools. Their availability to explore and put their insights into practice also helped the realm of emotions to emerge for teachers and students. This in turn influenced teachers’ pedagogical practices. These included creating a safe space for other teachers or students to express their emotions, having empathy for their inner processes, and understanding others and allowing them to appear more fully as themselves. As a result, relationships strengthened, communication improved and trust grew between the actors in the schools.
In this way, the program fostered a sense of connection amongst teachers and between them and students and other staff. The desire to connect with others appeared after their deep experiential learning journeys. As participants explored their emotional experiences they connected with their inner world. With curiosity and empathy they then connected to other participants in their communities of practice and they took that desire to their schools. It was a journey inward towards themselves and outward towards the world.
When more emotional availability arose, participants felt the need to be in touch with more people in the program. This led to networks of teachers collaborating with other networks of teachers. Through this, even those schools that had not participated in the program were introduced to its content by Two main practices that we consider global radically changed relationships and communication within the schools. The first one involved welcoming the students each day as an opportunity to foster connection and awareness of the emotional state of each person. Teachers took a few minutes of the class to ask each student how they were and what emotion were they holding at the time. Primary school teachers used the weather as a metaphor and secondary teachers usually used types of songs. Another practice that worked well in the classrooms was “mindful moments”. Contrary to what most people believe, students of all ages incorporated fairly easy mindfulness practices. Teachers used this practice at the beginning of a class or after a moment of distraction or turmoil. Oftentimes, students were the ones to ask for mindful moments. After these short practices, teachers found that teaching became significantly easier.
One of the main local practices that we co-designed with a teacher was after a gas leak that caused an explosion in a school in 2018. Three people died and many were traumatized. A neighboring school was part of the program and the teacher asked us to help her design a practice to allow the students of her school to mourn and talk about what had happened. We created a safe space to talk about how each one of them felt regarding the situation and what actions we could take as a collective to support the school concerned. Creating a safe space to share emotions brought a shared sense of belonging and connection to each other. It was a bonding experience to realize that everyone in one way or another was mourning. That connection brought forth collective action and support. All people involved were shaped by it, teachers, principals, facilitators of the program and myself.
In these ways the program encouraged a more holistic education by enabling new pedagogical practices that empower participants to express more aspects of their humanity and this extended out into the broader community.
3. Rediscovering collective resources
Early in the program, we focused on the module of self-knowledge. Here we worked on the understanding of how emotions, thoughts and action work together for us to respond to everyday life events. We worked with mindfulness practices to pause and lengthen the gap between a stimulus and our response, in order to move from reactive to assertive behavior. The practice offered teachers the awareness to choose how to respond to what was happening in the present moment. This allowed them to develop a certain mastery in how to regulate their emotions, but also to be more empathic towards others. Being capable of understanding themselves and others better created stronger relationships and a healthier school climate. In addition, the content also offered the concepts of character strengths (Seligman and Peterson, 2004) which shifted the focus from flaws and weaknesses in individuals and the system to what was valuable and effective. By tapping into strengths there was a switch in what principals and teachers saw in their schools. They were able to identify resources and opportunities within their environment and in other people that they could not read before. An appreciative perspective arose that allowed them to identify available resources such as creativity, collaboration, innovation and so on that were previously overlooked when they focused on the lack of resources within their schools.
The beginning of the personal transformation process happened within the communities of practice, where there was a considerable strengthening of relationships between teachers from different schools. However, it also transcended these communities of practice. For example, in a small city at the edge of the Province of Buenos Aires, a network of principals managed to set up a study group with principals that were not part of the program. They worked collaboratively to create strategies to improve learning and socialize their experiences on the course with others. This became, in effect, a new community of practice, independent of the course. That held their own meetings and exchange learnings based on social-emotional learning based mainly on the course content. Relationships strengthened within the regional communities, outside in the territory with external people and also within their schools. Small communities of practice were held by various principals and teachers within their own schools and with their colleagues as an implementation intervention to improve the school’s climate and introduce emotional education.
All these movements ignited change within schools. I want to bring in a particular case of a principal whose perception of reality changed through her own personal transformation. She recognized that personal experience and her own practice of reflection in the process of gaining self-knowledge, enabled her to transfer these learnings to her professional context. She was able to explore and discover resources and opportunities within her school that moved her to model a proposal for school climate and emotional education at the classroom level with her students and gradually after that with her colleagues. A part of the proposal involved:
● Transforming the staff room into a healthy and productive exchange space, by opening channels of communication, active listening, building relationships and integrating all areas of school.
● Approving a virtual platform for training on and discussing emotional education reading material, exchange of ideas, suggestions and activities among all teachers.
● Bringing together pedagogical couples to apply the proposal.
● Conducting a survey for students, families and teachers to identify the underlying needs not being met by the school. It showed the need to prioritize interpersonal relationships and transform the school into a space where everyone wanted to be.
● Holding gatherings for teachers to reflect on what they needed to accompany students in their learning and strengthen their bond.
● Giving active participation to the students in the learning proposals and including them in the assembly of projects.
● Conducting several reflection workshops / workshops with students, families and teachers to strengthen assertive communication.
The improvements in learning and relationships generated enthusiasm in both teachers and students.
Our program showed that once relationships changed, collaborative synergy emerged as a natural response to the challenges that arose in everyday life. Collaboration became one of its most common features, along with sharing and socializing best practices. It involved an incremental spiral of learning from shifting perspectives to creative and collective action.
Limitations to the research
There were limitations to this research for the government, which included a small sample in a widespread territory and few resources to analyze and code the findings. A relatively small sample of schools was chosen for the interviews and research in comparison to the number of schools that participated in the program. This was because the research team was too small to interview every school, to code all the interviews and relevant information. There was also insufficient time to get to every school in the large territory and analyze all the data that would have been made available. The choice of which schools to select was related to the degree and quality of their participation in the program. This meant that the schools that were committed to the program gained the most from it and were available to be interviewed about how it worked. It was a government initiative to evaluate the impact of the program in the public schools that participated, hence the funding for the research came from the Ministry of Education.
This has been a unique situation in time that opened up a possibility to explore a scale-up government program with the aim to transform the educational system. I encourage further research on scale up strategies to reach all schools actors. To meticulously explore the learning experience of the participants of such programs and the communities of practices. Also discover how regional communities of practice interact with each other, what is the extent of the communities of practice within public schools and their characteristics of self-organization. It also would be useful to find out if teachers applied and sustained long time interventions that impact the school climate and colleagues’ social-emotional learning skills to determine the reach of those practices in time.
“Because after everything I have understood
That what the tree has visibly in bloom
Thrives from what is buried beneath.”
By Francisco Luis Bernardez
As I was traveling to my last interview for the research, I listened to a podcast in which David Orr (2008) talked about the meaning of the word education and how as educators we often forget it. He said that to draw forth something worthwhile from a person, it is a process of letting go, a process to give permission, to let the person be who they already are and develop into someone of genuine stature. This is a powerful statement which honors each person’s own humanity, their own way of being. It takes the focus back to the idea of bringing forth the innate qualities of a person. I believe that the contemporary system we have created for education has forgotten that the essence of each individual is what enriches, expands and helps humanity evolve. The result of education that trains and molds without nurturing the genuine expression of the learner has formed an impoverished version of education that has serious consequences.
Although we could not say with certainty that the aim of the program was reached, we can bring themes up that characterized the impact of the program in the different regions that were interviewed. These themes that emerged from the implementation process of the program such as what happens in a school when you hold space, apply holistic pedagogical practices and enable the rediscovering of collective resources were part of the outcomes of an experiential learning journey. I have explained them in the text to cast light on a variety of phenomena that began to emerge due to an underlying thread that I would like to call regenerative education. As Daniel Christian Whal (2020) defines it “Education for regenerative cultures is about the life-long process of enabling and building the capacity of everyone to express their unique potential to serve their community and the planet and in the process serve themselves.” . This text contributes with the practical applications that took place as a natural process of recovery and integration of our human capacities such as thinking, sensing, feeling and intuition to make sense of our learning experience which activates an alive social field we co-create with others.
The School Climate and Emotional Education Program attempted to cultivate a safe space to allow a variety of human aspects and qualities, such as our social and emotional capacities, to emerge which had little formal space in education before. Facilitating such an important experience that integrated the mind, heart and will of the participants was a major endeavor, full of stressful moments and beautiful processes. The content, the methodology and the strategy of creating communities of practice ignited in the participants a desire to rethink and redesign education within their schools. The program allowed for an understanding of the hidden potential of learning, holding space and embracing one another. It cultivated a culture of strengthening relationships, creating space so individuals would be heard and focusing on reconnecting with capacities such as emotions, sensing and intuition to experience the participants learning process. It catalyzed teachers’ pedagogical practices within the public schools by allowing them to create a more inclusive and integrated education for their students. Finally, the program showed that public schools could become more vibrant, enabling a relational consciousness within institutions that could change the way people engaged with themselves, others and our larger contexts.
I strongly trust the ripple out effect that started with this program and believe that it began to regenerate the social fabric of the larger educational system. Further research in the integration of school climate and social-emotional education has to be done to really acert this occurrence. For now this two year scale- up program was a unique opportunity that attempted to explore the transition from an old paradigm education to a new one.
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