Opening the doors of perception: Regeneration in Latin-American schools.

“Man knows himself only insofar as he knows the world,

becoming aware of it if only within himself,

and of himself only within it.

Each new subject, well observed,

opens up within us a new organ of thought.”

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (Botanical Writings ed.1952)

Red de Escuelas de Aprendizaje

The largest educational project based on the development of socio-emotional skills in South America was carried out in 2018 and 2019. The Program of School Climate and Emotional Education was part of the Learning School Network, an initiative of the General Directorate of Culture and Education (DGCyE) of the Province of Buenos Aires aimed at improving learning by mentoring 2,000 public schools.

The program was implemented with the goal 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 and to integrate social-emotional learning into their classes. The underlying assumption was that by strengthening human capacities usually often not explicitly addressed in schools, such as emotional intelligence, communication, and social consciousness, students’ learning and motivation would improve. To scale the program, we developed geographical communities composed of principals and teachers to support one another with exemplary practice and innovative approaches.

The School Climate and Emotional Education program was divided into two work teams because of the size of the project. One team targeted preschool and kindergarten, while the other targeted primary and secondary schools. The primary and secondary public schools’ team was composed of one coordinator, 17 facilitators and one content coordinator (I served in this role) We faced two main challenges: how to harness the resources we had at that time, and the scalability of the project. The first challenge urged us to create content that would help awaken in each participant a path of self-revelation and of self-deconstruction, to gradually open up to experience the world through holistic learning. The second challenge led us to create communities of practice to generate learning and collective awareness, which could then lead to organized sustainable action within each school.

Content and Form: Theory U and other threads.

“Please remember that it is who you are that heals, not what you know”.

Carl G. Jung

Facilitators community of practice

We bring forth a world we notice. What we notice depends on who we are and our current state of mind. Maturana and Varela wrote: “the world everyone sees is not the world but a world which we bring forth with others… the world will be different only if we live differently.” . Our emotional selves are a fundamental part of what we bring into the world, as well as an organ of perception that allows individuals to fully connect and make meaning of everyday situations. When our emotional selves are to some extent wounded, our responses become distorted and we become disconnected and estranged to others and our own context. When we only use our thinking to relate to the world, we miss relevant information to make meaning of ourselves, social situations and the world at large. When we open ourselves and integrate our feelings, sensing and intuition to be in resonance with that which is alive, we respond wisely individually and collectively.

Education so far has valued thinking over any other way of knowing. This has produced consequences. Jacques Delors (1996), who anticipated the challenges that the new century would impose on education, defined four pillars 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; Learn to live together.

Schools today place little emphasis on the last two pillars, or do so timidly. The Program of School Climate and Emotional Education developed these areas: learn to be and learn to live together, which invariably impacted the first two.

Theory U and the learning experience with the Presencing Institute that started in 2015 onwards shaped and informed my thinking on the sequence for designing a transformational process and the importance of sustaining hubs as incubators of collective change. Our content began creating awareness of the field and the systemic implications that govern education today. This was followed with a deepening understanding on the individual contributions to the system on how we shape and are shaped by it. We worked with contemplative practices to potentiate deep listening and emotional awareness through journaling and careful sharing conversations. The 4 levels of listening and generative conversations were the backbone of our communication module and we decided to pair them up with non violent communication from Marshall Rosenberg. We finished with social consciousness by introducing interbeing and practicing coaching circles to face everyday challenges within institutions, which reinforced the comprehension that in unity we can ignite collective intelligence to bring creative solutions.

We developed content on seven modules. Two were specifically on school climate, and one each focused on self-knowledge, emotional regulation, critical thinking, effective communication and social consciousness. Each module included a deep process of reflection at the end and journaling. 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.

Developing Communities of Practice

Similar to hubs, the program of School Climate and Emotional Education worked in “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. 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 self-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. There was a downward cascade effect that reached the school as a whole from each facilitator’s 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:


“Live experience is intrinsically holistic” said Henri Bortoft in one of his classes at Schumacher college. Theory U tools such as the 4 levels of listening, generative dialogues and the coaching circles 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.

Hubs or communities of practice became incubators and safe spaces for participants to explore themselves through their own experience as well as in relation to others. They functioned as accelerators of individual processes, supported by collective learning that brought awareness at two levels:

● One’s own practice

● The social organism to which we belonged

The participatory nature of the community was a source of constant growth and vitality that allowed each participant to experience their world with curiosity and a great willingness to learn. It also allowed for the discovery of the potential of the collective which fostered a narrative shift from a mentality of lacking resources to a mentality of possibilities, thus creating spaces to collaborate that facilitated purpose and reflective discussions.

Finally, contemplative practices fostered presence, allowing participants to fully show up for themselves and others to better tap into the present moment and its myriad of possibilities, just as John Dewey wrote: “We always live at the time we live and not at some other time, and only by extracting at each present time the full meaning of each present experience are we prepared for doing the same thing in the future. This is the only preparation which in the long run amounts to anything.”(p. 49 1986).

Circles of Community Response

In 2019, Argentina voted for a new president from a different party;they decided to terminate the program. Most of our community of facilitators (13 people) went on working for a private foundation called “Vivir Agradecidos,” based on the teachings of Brother David Steindl-Rast. Here I joined the authors and facilitation team of the Presence in Education Program. With a beautiful team of people and based on what we learned in the program, Theory U tools and other collective transformation craft, we created Circles of Community Response which employs creative processes to face every day challenges with collective intelligence, creating new processes and transforming current structures of the educational system.

Laura Storm and Giles Hutchings define regenerative as: “creating the conditions conducive for life to continuously renew itself, to transcend into new forms, and to flourish amid ever-changing life-conditions.” If we are to collectively transform society it must acquire these qualities, and in order to begin the change, education must lead the way. Each school that we came across was an expression and part of the system. One way of designing the future is by ensuring that the social fabric of the educational system is regenerative. If we take the responsibility to create relationships based on trust and respect, understanding that we do not need instant solutions ignited by fear, we will be able to continue working together so that coherent answers emerge to our collective questions.

This year the program is expanding to Latinamerica. If you want to follow up the Presence in Education Program and the Circles of Community Response here is the link:


- Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von. Goethe’s Botanical Writings. translated by Bertha Mueller. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1952

- Maturana, H. R., Varela, F., & Behncke, R. (1984). El árbol del conocimiento: las bases biológicas del entendimiento humano (Vol. 1). Organización de Estados Americanos, OEA.

- Delors, J. (1996). de la publicación: La Educación Encierra un Tesoro. Informe a la UNESCO de la Comisión Internacional sobre la Educación para el Siglo XXI. Laurus, 14(26), 136–167.

- Dewey, J. (1986, September). Experience and education. In The educational forum (Vol. 50, №3, pp. 241–252). Taylor & Francis Group.

- Storm, L. and Hutchins, G., 2019. Regenerative leadership. S.l.: Wordzworth Publishing.



How can we build our collective capacities for transformation in the face of accelerating social and environmental breakdowns?

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Delfina Terrado

Delicate Activist/Educational and Regenerative Development/ Social-Emotional Learning Specialist/Learning Communities/ Wellbeing Design.