The Art of Social and Emotional Learning in Mexico


Bring to mind an experience you’ve had with a fruit. Visualize its color and texture. What is its consistency, its smell, its flavor?

Pause for a moment. Really connect with that experience.

How do you feel now? What memories are coming to mind? Who were you with when you had this fruit? Where were you?

These are the types of questions that begin a process called generative mediation, one that is working its way into the educational discourse across Mexico. A facilitator places a piece of art in the front of a room. A group of participants observe the art, and the effect it has on them. With a skilled facilitator, the conversation can move rather quickly away from the art itself and toward the experience that the art evokes within the participants themselves. Difficult emotions or subjects are often shared and talked about in an environment free of judgment, where anything one wants to express is heard, is valid, is welcome.

Last week, Otto and I participated in a gathering of 400 educators in Mexico City called Dialogos to hear how this disarmingly simple pedagogy, which is called dia, is creating new types of learning environments in diverse contexts around Mexico. It's shifting the way teachers relate to students in schools, how young people in Mayan communities reconnect to their own wisdom, and how inmates in some of Mexico City’s maximum security prisons relate to each other and themselves.

In the weeks ahead, I'll take you inside some of these places to see the process in action.

For now, you may still be wondering what happens after you visualize the fruit. Here’s how that exercise continued. We sat in groups of three or four at small round tables. After those first reflective questions, the facilitator showed us this art work:


She then asked, what’s happening here? We took a few minutes to share our observations of the painting. Next, she asked us the following questions:

  • What do you discover when you visit a new market in a new place?
  • In a word, what does the experience in a market remind you of?
  • What difference is there between a supermarket and a market?
  • What is it that nourishes you?

Underlying the dia methodology is the idea is that art can serve as a vehicle for personal and social transformation. Art opens up a space of possibility where new insights about the world, about each other, and about ourselves are possible.

At Dialogos, 20 mediators shared ten-minute stories about how they are using this methodology. Elizabeth (below) talked about her work with young people in prison. For the first time, they told her, they are feeling seen for their humanity rather than for what they've done. Hector, a teacher working in a community beset by violence, started incorporating the methodology into his classes. It opened up a space for his students to talk about what they see when they're outside of school: gun violence, drug overdoses, and more. This opened a new kind of space for dialogue amongst students, teachers, and parents.

Elizabeth, dia mediator, talking about her work in prisons
Elizabeth, dia mediator, talking about her work in prisons
Hector, dia mediator, talking about his work in schools
Hector, dia mediator, talking about his work in schools

In the posts and stories that follow, I’ll get into detail by sharing stories from around Mexico City and the Yucatan Peninsula.