In June 2018 I and two colleagues Hans and Jona from Permaculture Sweden joined the ten day Training of Teachers course at the Inkpot in the UK, co-taught by Hannah Thorogood and Aranya. We participated as part of Permaculture Sweden’s "Capacity Building for Permaculture Teachers 2018" project, funded by Erasmus+ Adult Education Staff Mobility, Learning Experiences for Individuals.
The Training of Teacher’s course was particularly developed in and for a permaculture teaching context. Covering tools and techniques for teaching, facilitating permaculture learning, and the practicalities of convening and running courses, the course blurb tantalizingly states: “If you've ever wanted to inspire others about how Permaculture design can help with many different aspects of living on this planet in a sustainable way, then this is the course for you.” I couldn’t agree more.
Figure 1. Hannah leading a session.
The course has been “bootstrapped” – developed from the ground up – by UK permaculture teachers who identified, from their own learning and teaching experiences in permaculture contexts, the skills that permaculture teachers needed in order to become better, more inspiring teachers. I’ve taught in several academic contexts, from secondary school to university and graduate program levels and I still had a thing or two to learn. For instance, during a micro-teaching exercise, I led a practical on green roof building. But I hadn’t emphasized enough the health and safety aspects. I also learned how variations on simple routines can go a long way in terms of actively engaging learners and adding social value to a learning experience. For example, if you need to pair up learners you could do the more usual thing, with numbers for example, or, you could go out instead into the garden, find pairs of leaves, rocks, flowers, etc., mix them up in a pile and ask the would-be pairs to each pick one. After each has picked and all then proceed to find their matching pair, observe the richness of the interaction that ensues. Other teachers I have introduced this pairing method to have appreciated it as least as much as I did.
I carried this body-activation and social-interaction-while-learning lesson through in our final teaching exercise. As part of the exercise I asked the participants to physically form the layers of a forest garden. This was the result:
Figure 2. How would you physically sculpt the layers of a forest garden with your bodies?
There was plenty of more formal knowledge content as well. Despite having already taught this course several times before it was inspiring to see Hannah and Aranya having long meetings during the late night hours to give each other continued feedback and discuss possible adjustments/improvements. One unexpected very personal moment for me was during a round of sharing when I described how it felt to constantly be asked, in Euro-centric contexts, where I’m from, as in, where I’m from outside of Europe. Especially when it’s one of the first questions received right after an introduction. This happened during the course as well. It’s a constant marker – however innocent the question may seem - that I can’t possibly be from Europe, despite having lived here for decades. Does it affect one’s sense of belonging? Sense of place? Of home? Definitely. I haven’t talked about this much – why bother – who would understand? But this time it felt like I was really heard.
Figure 3. Forest garden sculpture revived during the group photo.
When I was handed my course certificate, I quipped to Aranya that this certificate was more important to me than my MIT degree. I was only half-joking.