Why and how I teach

Submitted by tomas on Tue, 03/26/2019 - 18:20

Seeing as I advertise all these courses on my website I thought it would be good to share share how I came into teaching and how I approach it these days. I started teaching in 1996, just a year after my permacultrue design course (PDC), with all the zeal of a fresh convert. Luckily I began small (if not slow) with short workshops at gatherings and events. Through this I quickly realised that enthusiasm alone is not enough, and that I needed to think about how I teach as well as what I am trying to get across.

I was fortunate to hear about a teacher training offer during a PDC at Keveral Farm that summer, and I joined the course run by Chris Evans, Mike Feingold and Bryn Thomas. All three of them were deeply inspiring, and I learned a lot from their different approaches. The main lesson I took away from the sessions I taught myself was that less is more when it comes to “talking at” people. Some people are naturally good at lecturing, but I realised that’s not me.

Over the years this has led me to seeing learning as a shared adventure, where my role became to create spaces where people can explore a theme or subject together. This way, learning becomes a conversation rather than a trasnsmission of knowledge. In the words of Paolo Freire, the great Brazilian educator, “the teacher is no longer merely the-one-who-teaches, but one who is him/herself taught in dialogue with the students, who in turn while being taught also teach. They become jointly responsible for a process in which all grow. “ Discovering Freire’s work, especially his Pedagogy of the Oppressed, has been a huge influence on the way I work now. I recommend his books to any permaculture educator.

I’ve never aspired to teach permacultrue (or anything) full time. I’ve always needed the immersion in basic practices – be they land management or restoration, ecological renovation, collaborative living and working – and teaching has been a way of sharing my own learning from these experiences. Conversely I have often found that this mutual learning process has given my own practice new inspiration and led to new insights.

Having been fortunate to teach in many different places across the UK and Europe, I have come to appreciate how differently the core teachings of permaculture can be applied in each new setting.

When I organise courses the course programme evolves out of a conversation between the hosts, the place we find ourselves in, the neeeds and passions of the students and my own interestes. Key questions at the planning stage are “Where/what is the need?” and “How can we intervene to make positive changes?”

Design projects are a great way of empowering people in the learning process, and during PDCs I am always keen to give people more than one chance to practice their skills in real life situations. This has often led to fantastic results, and many projects conceived during courses are still going.

In recent years I have started to branch out from “only” teaching permaculture in the narrow sense and have followed my own life passions to develop a range of courses from forest gardening and planrt skills to community building and cooperative working. I find that practical expressions of permaculture such as these are a great entry point for people with specific needs or interest.

If you are interested in using a permaculture approach to teaching, do come on the Applewood Training of Teachers in July 2019 – it is a great chance to get skilled up and develop your own way of sharing your passions and your learning!