What is Regenerative Learning?
What is Regenerative Learning??
Part 2 in a Series (see also Part 1, The Decomposition of School) based on the book, Learning in the Age of Climate Disasters: Empowering Teachers and Students Beyond Futurephobia, Routledge, 2023. By Maggie Favretti Photo by Paul Duddy
At this tipping point in geo-history, when gigantic mistakes have been already been made, humans need to be learning closer to the roots of life. The awesome secret of life is that it is regenerative--the organism or system (life) itself creates the conditions for more life, infinitely. When any organism lives and decomposes, their (remarkably similar!) DNA and basic elements of carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and nitrogen, their essential functions and the micro- and macro-organisms around them create a flourishing of life. This is how life continues on our home planet—through the infinite relationships and mutual responsibilities of every part of the whole biocollective. Regenerative farming aligns with and gives back to nature more than it takes. Regenerative, or “living” buildings (including schools and universities!) give back more to the environment than they take. The ethos of both is one of reciprocity and mutual thriving, imitating to the extent possible the fundamental characteristics of healthy natural ecosystems.
Healthy Regenerative (Living) Ecosystems Are...so Regenerative Learning Ecosystems Are...
*Inter- and Intra-related. Every ecosystem is made up of its relationships. From the micro-level to the biosphere and beyond, all relationships interconnect with others. No parts exist on their own, and if one part is damaged or removed, the rest is weakened. One might say, all are intra-related parts of the same living organism. Isolation, separation, and species loss are the main threats to wellbeing. From the root of interrelationship, grows a learning environment where human beings who have been separated come home to belonging in nature and:
*Focus on relationships more than on separate parts
*Collaborate across age groups
*Merge the disciplines
*Redefine success as collective and shared wellbeing
*Prioritize relational awareness and critical systems thinking/feeling with time built in for full listening, caring and compassion
*Coherent. Everything and everyone fits together in an autonomously functioning way. Nothing / no one is wasted, and similarly, there is no need for any outside agent to intervene. All aspects of the ecosystem have a purpose in holistic consistency. Fragmentation and imbalance are the main threats. The root of coherence contributes to regenerative learning ecosystems that are:
*Holistic (head, heart, hands/body, spirit) all involved in learning
*Healing and restorative
*Life—‘real world’ experience, driven by curiosity and wonder, deep reflection and authentic accountability to others
*Diverse. Biodiversity is necessary for life. every one of the millions of species that make up life on earth has a good reason for being there. A single ecosystem’s species each has its own niche, or role to play. The ecosystem becomes weaker and more vulnerable if any are removed. Monoculture (where everyone/everything is the same) cannot survive on its own. The energy from the root of biodiversity creates regenerative learning ecosystems that are:
*Safe for all beings
*Welcoming and encouraging of individual difference as contributing to whole community
*and where cultural brilliance held by individual beings adds to cultural ‘wealth’ of the whole ecosystem
*Regenerative. To “generate” means to create or make, or to bring into being. In natural living systems, when something dies, decomposition is the regenerative process that autonomously creates a flourishing of more life. In this sense, life generates the conditions for more life. Interrelationship and coherence and diversity make it possible for self-sustaining and autonomous living systems to continue infinitely. When the term ‘regenerative’ is used in front of agriculture, architecture or education, it means that the farming, building, or learning experience is intentionally using life’s principles to create the conditions for a flourishing of life. A learning environment rooted in regenerative principles is:
*Learning that draws learners deeper into learning
*Lifelong and intergenerational/interage/ancestral
*Changing. In healthy living systems, change is a constant. In infinitely interconnected living systems, conditions are changing and learning, and adaptation is happening in dynamic relation all the time. If to be alive means to be changing, then learning is life. And that’s why life’s foundational principles should intentionally undergird everything we do as educators.
Learning is one of the most natural things that humans do. Add in human capacities for imagination and reflection, nuanced language and the ability to interpret our own emotional genius, and we discover that our shared Mother Nature has given us great gifts. How will we use them to become good ecosystem relatives now and good ancestors for future generations? We will create regenerative learning ecosystems that are:
*Iterative and flexible, embracing of mistakes and failing as learning opportunities
*Growth-based rather than fixed or deficit-based
*Seeking of opportunities and challenges to support change
*Staffed by learning guides who are steeped in regenerative values
You will have noticed by now that healthy natural ecosystems are self-governing in their coherence. Power is diffuse and distributed. How does that root grow into regenerative learning environments? They are:
*Democratic--Learning Guides (educators) and learners co-create learning experiences
*Focused on feeding agency and civic responsibility by enabling space and opportunity for collective self-direction and responsibility
*Accountable--Authentic accountability determines success. Have positive changes actually taken place?
We all know from our own experiences that learning happens best for people of all ages when we feel comfortable and safe, able to take risks and make mistakes. Our brains need to be relaxed and open, our hearts nested in trusting relationships, calm from fear and excited by curiosity, compassion, imagination, possibility, purpose…these are the conditions that enable the neural sparks and flow that we recognize as meaningful learning, set through our evolution and as natural as our other bodily functions.
Pitting one student against another in hyper-competitive industrialized school systems have fragmented time and relationships, making learning into a series of potentially harmful unnatural and superficial performances. Decisions are typically made away from the students and based on efficiencies and outputs, rather than wellbeing and relationships and civic possibilities. This industrial and fragmented model has outlived its usefulness. But its decomposition gives communities an important opportunity to regenerate systems of care rooted in life so as to stimulate healing and generate wellbeing and the creative companionship and holistic change-mindedness needed in a transitional age of AI and climate chaos.
Aligned with basic natural principles, a regenerative learning ecosystem creates the conditions for healing and increasing holistic wellbeing, which in turn generates deeper and unending learning as an essential characteristic of flourishing lives.
Regenerative learning re-roots us and reacquaints us with our natural capacities and relationships, where we can belong and feel whole again. This feeling of holistic belonging generates a feeling of self- and shared confidence, a kind of civic courage and powerful agency to “bend the arc of the universe toward justice.” Simply by tapping into the powers that nature gave us.
For more about regenerative learning, read Maggie Favretti's Learning in the Age of Climate Disasters: Empowering Teachers and Students Beyond Futurephobia, Routledge, 2023.