<aside> 🌳 Who’s this for? *We have writtten this short report to share key insights, reflections and learnings from the inaugural RegeneratED retreat, which took place at The Quadrangle in Kent, May 2023.
We write this to serve those engaged in systems change work, those building impact networks, and those who wish to centre nature in their change-making efforts, whether you work in education or other sectors.
This work is part of a wider ‘regenerative education movement’ that transcends any particular organisation. Through our shared thought leadership, collective imagining and exploration, we are noticing the pockets of the future emerging today. Our aim is to grow this movement through building open source networks, communities of practice, and by sharing and learning in the open. Please get in touch if you are interested to connect and learn with us!
Max Girardeau, Director & Co-Founder, The Visionaries ([email protected]) Nikki Levitan, Co-Founder, The Visionaries ([email protected]) Jessie Teggin, Director, The Quadrangle ([email protected])*
“This retreat was an example of how education can be.” - School Leader
Sponsored by Be The Earth Foundation, The Visionaries & The Quadrangle together launched the inaugural RegeneratED - an annual gathering that convenes leaders from across the entire education ecosystem to explore how to grow a regenerative, ecological transition in education.
Education hasn’t evolved to meet today’s unprecedented, intersecting and existential crises. Young people are demanding we address the root causes of climate and ecological destruction, that we tackle social and racial injustices, and build a citizen society that values their voice. How might we evolve educational practices with the wellbeing of future generations in mind?
Whilst we know our survival depends on us growing more regenerative futures (i.e. socially just, nature-connected, within planetary boundaries), such futures are impossible without more regenerative education systems.
The education sector is struggling with record levels of staff burnout and adolescent ill health, a recruitment and a funding crisis. Despite these challenges, we must find ways to bring health back into the system.
75 studies have shown a powerful link between nature connection and pro-environmental behaviours, but current interventions (e.g. the new Natural History GCSE) focus on environmental knowledge (2% improvement) rather than nature connectedness (69% improvement).
Our prevailing culture and educational paradigm inadvertently disconnects younger generations from nature as they mature (4 year olds are more ‘nature connected’ than 18 year olds). We are interested in changing this story as part of our vital and urgent response to climate and ecological breakdown. Education can, and must become a tool for our social and ecological regeneration.
We launched RegeneratED to explore three core beliefs about how to support a paradigm-shift in education.
A new community, united through delicious communal dining.
<aside> 🌳 Regenerative /definition/
Put simply, something is regenerative when it helps all life to thrive, people and planet, now and in the future.
Regeneration in education means evolving the learning and culture to rehabilitate and enhance the health of the entire ecosystem of a community, society or place.
*“Meeting and learning from a range of inspiring educators has really fuelled my desire to lean into education again but in a whole new way, unafraid to explore new directions and to let go of outdated ways of educating. On a personal level it was very healing for me, allowed me to step back and reassess what's important. The biggest takeaway has to be the sense of coming away as part of a community working together towards a common goal.”
- Harrison Wavell, Freelance Educator*
*“*I’ve been reconnected with my educational purpose in life. It’s very profound, remembering why you started teaching at a fundamental level. I have nearly left education a number of times in the last 25 years but I think this is the first time that something has gently reached inside me and presented me with my own inner knowing.”
- Felix Green, Teacher
Our education system is chronically under-funded. As long as schools struggle to afford basic like paper and glue, many education leaders struggle to invest financially in creating the space for big picture, long-term, visionary thinking and field building. Those outside of mainstream academies and well-supported schools find this even more challenging.
“When we go into nature, a different kind of knowledge emerges.” - Andres Roberts, Bio-Leadership Project
We convened 25 education leaders over a 4 day residential gathering that combined a wellness retreat, sharing nature-based practices and resources support their wellbeing, guided through the arc of Joanna Macy’s Work That Reconnects, with Open Space Technology, a participant-led methodology where attendees lead sessions based their most pressing needs and interests under the broad umbrella of ‘regenerative education’.
Our aim was to help participants;
Rediscover their intrinsic motivation for being an educator and discern smart next steps via a collective imagination process, exploring regenerative education as a key ingredient in shaping a healthier future.
Resource them by meeting a truly diverse and supportive community of education leaders; unlikely allies, working in many different ways, whilst sharing one core commitment: to better support future generations and nature to flourish.
Revitalise them with a restorative and restful weekend in a beautiful natural setting, nurturing their health, wellbeing and nature-connectedness.
Together we created a diverse, multi-disciplinary space that was as restorative and rejuvenating as it was insightful and provoking. Convening in this way created opportunities to move beyond knowledge-sharing and simply thinking about our challenges, towards emobided, emotive and imaginative approaches.
We cultivated our imagination, optimism and belief in the power of collective, creative action. Drawing on participants’ diverse strengths and perspectives, the retreat space came alive through poetry, music, space for enquiry, fireside storytelling, theatre, embodiment practices, communal dining and wide range of nature connection practices, including an hour long ‘sit spot’ in the gorgeous bluebell woods up the road from The Quadrangle.
‘Open Space Technology’ in action
Roles - Headteachers, Heads of Year, Youth facilitators, Educators in self-directed learning, Music teachers, Youth workers, Leaders of nature-based education projects, Forest school leaders, Council youth engagement staff, Those provide education to refugees and asylum seekers, Climate educators, Embodiment Practitioners & an art teacher.
Organisations - State schools (primary & secondary), Independent schools (primary & secondary), Agile learning centres Local Council employees, Youth Justice charities
<aside> ⚠️ Interested in doing something similar? We want more transformative events like this to take place, so we thought we’d sahre the retreat finances publicly. The budget below provides a high-level overview of what it took to put on the event, with explanatory notes.
Explore some of the beauty that was created at the retreat…
Our co-created centre-piece
Developing sensitivity and listening
A group discussing ‘how do we support more regenerative education practices in mainstream settings?’
Setting our community agreements at the start of the retreat
Where the magic happens…
Music, song and stories around the fire
We gave ourselves permission to be human
The gorgeous woodland setting for the ‘sit spot’ - where participants were invited to spend some time in stillness, tuning in to nature.
Participants back together again after their sit spot
Dreaming into further collaborations to build the network
Rolling down the hill with joy, the only way to return home after a sit spot
Discussing our personal post-retreat actions and commitments
The river that nourished us
One of the glamping bell tents
Max & Nikki, our guides for the retreat
As well as creating space to think about the future, it is vital that we also cultivate how we imagine and feel the future (read more about the power of collective imagination activism here). We can’t simply ‘think’ our way towards a healthier education system, we must also have an embodied understanding of what we want this to feel like.
During the retreat participants drew on creative practices to help us collectively feel, dream and embody the world of education we wish to create. We are grateful for Joanna Macy’s Work That Reconnects as this provided one of several ‘maps’ used at the retreat. We were guided to spiral through the process towards collective action.
Poets in action
Our co-created word board
Everyone at the retreat was invited to spend 10 minutes freewriting on the theme ‘from hope to action’ (the final stage of The Work That Reconnects). We then each read back through our writing, pulling out words and phrases that stood out to us as significant in some way. With all these words on post-it notes, a group of participants spent 30 minutes writing poetry drawing on our co-created word board. The poems, made from our personal and collective imaginings, were then shared throughout the remainder of the retreat. Not only did this practice help in bringing us together, but it also was powerful reminder of our innate creativity and what we can create together in such a short period of time. Have a read of some of the poems here;
Chee Tee Diri Diri, Harrison Wavell
From Hope To Action, Liza Lort-Philips
Hope is an Antidote, by Maya Bahoshy
From Hope to Action, Max Girardeau