“If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people together to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.”
~ Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
As my time to TA with Jude Hobbs at the upcoming Advanced Permaculture Certificate in Permaculture Teachers Training is approaching, I am preparing myself (physically, cognitively and spiritually/emotionally) to be present there.
I’ve been immerse in the “educational” world for many years: while my first studies dealt with psycho-pedagogy (or “the art of teaching with a deep understanding of psychology), my studies and experience involve more than children and I am currently finalizing my PIDP (Provincial Instructor Diploma Program, lead by VCC and a consortium of other institutions)…a program I highly recommend taking to anybody seriously thinking in teaching adults.
The Permaculture Teachers’ Training is an ambitious week-long course where Jude skilfully condenses what it took me almost a lifetime to learn. Impossible? Quite, but also inspiring…
I will try the same here: to summarize what’s needed for those of you considering teaching Permaculture (or anything that goes that way).
One: Define your purpose/Know yourself:
Why defining your purpose is important: because embedded within your purpose are your philosophy, values and beliefs and they will deeply impact your teaching: from how you organize your curriculum to how you actually teach to who you would accept in your courses.
To define your purpose, you may try the following questions:
My reasons are many and diverse: I am passionate about building true resilience in people and communities; I feel the deep call to give back to the ecosystems that sustain me; I think Permaculture’s system and ethical approach is probably the only way to navigate through the many predicaments we are facing and I am the best “me” when I am surrounded by permaculturists and their projects.
I expect to transition to a life fully centered into Permaculture and use it to generate enough support so I won’t need a regular job or this would be minimized.
Notice that I don’t talk about “income”: if used wisely, through Permaculture I could generate the food, water, shelter and energy I need and even have an ethical exchange with others where both their and my needs are compensated by our mutual cooperation. Although this is a dream, it is the base of my expectations when I set out to “teach” Permaculture.
At a least personal level, I expect those who come and learn with me leave inspired and curious to start their own projects and activate their own changes at whatever level they are called to do so. And I expect to be able to learn from them and with them as much or even more than what they may learn “from” me.
We all have them: from the desire of belonging to a particular “group” to things linked to “image”, “profile” and their consequences. Other expectations may be travelling, meeting diverse people, “paying” for something you feel conscious or unconsciously guilty, “fame” and even money.
There is nothing right or wrong with these, but they also shape your teaching philosophy and approach, so you may want to explore yours…
You may have skills, education (formal or informal), experiences and passions from your pre-Permaculture life: what are those? How do they connect to the different elements of the PDC curriculum or the Permaculture flower?
Some may discover that they feel fully alive out in the gardens quietly tending the plants and animals; others may be re-energized when surrounded by people and working in teams while others may get their “rush” from researching or designing or sharing through art.
This one is important because your passions (along with your strengths above) may dictate whether you may do better with guest speakers covering the areas of the PDC you don’t feel as strongly attached to…or they may indicate areas you want to explore further. I, for example, decided to take a formal “Introduction to Sustainable Horticulture” program at a local university because one of my passions is soil: I love touching it, smelling it, playing and working on it and building things with it, but I also want to know its secrets, its history and how to regenerate it and a PDC doesn’t give me those specifics.
This is another important factor for teachers: we tend to project what we fear, avoid what we don’t feel comfortable with (or we don’t know how to deal with) and become defensive when others touch the areas of our fears and gaps.
Knowing our limitations help us to reach out when we need support instead of trying to be perfect and do it all. It also helps us to “sit with our imperfections” and our discomfort and accept ourselves (and others) as we are: an arrow thrown towards perfection that never reaches home.
In summary: Knowing yourself well and becoming fully aware of both your goals and biases is important for any good teaching, Permaculture or any other.
Two: The Practical
You can explore this by visiting, asking those who studied with them or even taking a PDC with them.
Knowing what’s already out there tells you whether what you are offering would be “more of the same” or not and may give you an idea of “edges” you can explore: not everybody wants (or needs) the same from a PDC and every teacher will teach it differently, with a focus on “design”, “social”, “resilience”, “hands-on” or “philosophy” or even other areas…
Interest can be built by offering free introductions or small “pieces”. You can also invite interest by creating designs (or even better: a Permaculture demonstration site) so people get curious about it.
Conversations on Permaculture can start at any point: from food sovereignty and animal rights to social justice, communities’ empowerment, impacts of pollution, climate change or resource depletion…even therapeutic horticulture/gardening, self-reliance, individual wellbeing and survivalism topics may be a good start for a Permaculture conversation
PDCs need to be at least 72 hours long, but most cover 90 or more hours. They started as full-immersion courses where sharing with others in a farm-like location was considered essential to learn all the ropes: while it is true that you’ll have a life-changing experience when attending a full-immersion PDC, this is not realistic (nor desirable) in all the cases, both from the learners’ and the instructor’s points of view: as more and more people from all walks of life approach Permaculture, you’ll find people from cities and suburban areas, working full-time jobs, mothers of small children, retirees, immigrants and people with chronic conditions or disabilities for whom a full-immersion PDC may not be doable.
And this includes your own needs and preferences: some PDC teachers need more space and time to be by themselves and a full 2-3 week course may not be the right model for them.
Depending on the format (full-immersion, spread over weekends, once a month or online), you’ll need to think about locations: you would probably need a location with access to a kitchen (preferable) for potlucks; some roof and area to sit for design, discussions and lecture-like time and access to nature for either observation and hands-on activities.
Depending on how hands-on you want your PDC to be, it would be great to have access to land and, when possible, places where your participants can have access to natural building such as cob, etc.
When the PDC is not full-immersion, it is a good idea to think in various locations not only for variety: one of the tricks of PDCs is to get people “out of their boxes” both figuratively and physically.
Some practical considerations include: you may need to pay for renting spaces or figure out agreements where your group does some work in exchange for the experience; you will need to book the places in advance and it would be better if you can visit and make sure they are what you are looking for. In any case, it is a good idea to always have a “backup” in case the location becomes unavailable when your PDC starts.
If you are running a full-immersion PDC, you’ll need to think about sleeping areas, washrooms and access to showers, kitchen and areas to teach, socialize and eat. If you want to give people alternatives, check for opportunities to bring their tents, hostels nearby and other in-site arrangements. You’d need to figure out what works for you and whether or not you want to offer these alternatives to people.
How people get to your locations and how they mobilize is also important: if your PDC will take place in remote or difficult to access locations, consider what would happen to people who don’t drive or don’t ride bikes. Is there public transportation available? It is too costly, accessible? What are the options?
Asking all your participants to ride bikes between locations may be fun and “green” but is not inclusive unless you plan to share this as part of your requirements when people register. The same applies to any other assumption about how people travel, where they stay, eat, etc.
The content of a PDC was outlined by Bill Mollison and can be found here: http://www.permaculture.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/PDC-Outline.pdf
On the top of that, teachers can add depth on the usual topics or decide to emphasize more certain parts, which will extend the original 72 hours.
Some other resources where to find content are:
Four: Teaching/Learning Philosophy/Approach
Heads, Hearts and Hands:
No matter your teaching philosophy and approach, there are some truths about learning you need to know:
Some implications from the above:
Five: Curricula and Lesson Plans
Curriculum is nothing more than organizing your expectations (outcomes/objectives) for the course and the participants. It also takes care of the details about what, how, when and why. You don’t need to be formal here, but it would help if you can “translate” the content you want to teach into outcomes so you know what topics you’ll be teaching and how you expect to assess them.
Lesson Plans are usually based on one single lesson: for example, “trees” or “design methods” or “principles”.
A lesson plan contains: the topic and its objectives or sub-topics, the time you have to teach each one, the materials you will need and the activities you are planning for achieving your objectives.
The lesson plan allows you to have some control over the time and activities so you don’t miss important topics.
When you are creating your lesson plan, allow enough time for questions and comments
Also allow time for physiological needs such as eating, washroom visits, rest and exercise
Six: Teaching Strategies and Activities
The important thing about teaching strategies is: remember that people learn through their MINDS/HEADS, HEARTS/FEELINGS and HANDS/ACTIONS or BEHAVIOURS.
This means, don’t be boring!
You talking all the time (i.e. lecturing) is tiring for you and extremely tiring on others unless they are in love with you and you are a queen/king of the speech and a wonder to stare to during all day.
Forcing everybody to constantly move, dig, carry and switch things around is tiring for the body and doesn’t allow for reflection and emotional time.
Group work may not be for everybody and you’ll lose the shy or more reflective ones.
Mix! Be creative!
Teaching strategies include:
For a more detailed list, you can check here
Some tips for planning activities:
Seven: Materials and Supplies
Eight: Assessment and Feedback
Most PDCs have no formal evaluation and no explicit assessments. I think this happens because most permaculturists try to run far away from the “formal” educational model where people are judged, compared, forced to compete and “graded” as if learning had a starting and ending point and any letter (or number) attached to it.
Assessment, however (not evaluation) is important as a learning and teaching tool: if nobody assess what’s happening, you don’t really know whether change is being produced, if you are being effective and worse: some participants may feel lost, not having any parameters to measure whether they have truly learned something.
So, how do you asses?
Think on the relationship that is established between mentor and mentee, or coach and (coachee?): the mentor or coach doesn’t necessarily know “more” nor has any power or authority over the mentee: but they take time to observe, assess and guide the mentee through questions and, if required, action steps within an “action plan”.
Most PDCs only require participants to create a design towards the end of the course and present it to the group. Some of these designs are teamwork efforts, some are individual. There is no need to implement the design and there is no rubric or checklist towards which to measure (or compare) these outcomes.
And this is OK as long as you and your students are OK with it.
But it would be nice if you can offer mentoring and assessment (i.e. feedback and short meetings to discuss concepts, insights, etc) to those who want to take it from you or from their peers.
Remember: assessment IS NOT the same as evaluating and does not involve any judgement. You can assess through “ethical dilemmas”, “head, heart, hands”, etc.
Here are two examples:
Ethical dilemmas: ask your participants to reflect about an ethical situation (one where they may have to make a difficult or quick decision). They can answer anonymously, or they may share with the class. If anonymously, you can share the results during the next class, for example: “the majority chose option A as opposed to option B”. You can also ask them to think about ethical dilemmas and questions around them and discuss them in groups or with the full class.
Some examples of ethical dilemmas:
“Heads, hearts, hands”: this activity can be used as a closing activity after a full day, a module or c course. You simply ask participants to share what’s in their heads, hearts and hands after that activity, module or learning experience. They can share anonymously through paper notes, may share in small groups or with the entire group.
Here are the questions:
Head: “what’s in your head? What new concepts, processes or ideas stay with you or you would like to explore further?”
Heart: “what’s in your heart? What insights, ideas, interactions or projects have challenged or inspired you? What attitudes, values and beliefs do you feel have been or anticipate will be impacted”
Hands: “what’s in your hands? What projects and actions are you planning to start change or continue after this activity or learning? What behaviours have been impacted or you anticipated will be impacted?
Nine: Communication and Follow Up
Ask yourself and clarify for your participants ahead of time:
Ten: Your PDC “Rules”
This is in direct relationship with your expectations, needs, philosophy and approach and that is why the first part of this document refers to “knowing yourself” very well.
In some PDCs, you may find people who are highly judgemental of others: they may not accept people who drive or may criticize what others bring, eat, wear, etc. Some may not like the way decisions are made and some may have very different expectations of you, the group or Permaculture itself.
The best way to avoid misunderstandings and conflict once your PDC has started is to be clear about what you offer and how and what your approach is.
You may also want to explore the potential participants a bit to ensure a safe and healthy environment for all when the PDC starts.
Here are some suggestions:
As in any course you prepare, make sure you have all your materials, lesson plans, participants’ contact info and anything else you need well organized.
I use binders and boxed that I can carry with me anywhere. Use whatever works for you, but remember that if you are committing to this, you have a responsibility towards your participants: you need to figure out how to protect their personal information and always provide high quality for the time and money or resources they have invested.
Participants in any course would appreciate to know in advance:
If you are like most permaculturists, someone who can read the land and design Paradise out of it, you can do this and much more: now go and teach!
Category: Active Hope, Adult education, Adult Learning, Diversity, Holistic Education, Inclusion, Learning, Learning Strategies, Learning Theories, Lesson Plan, PDC, People Care, Permaculture Training, Simplicity, Social Permaculture, Teachers Training, Teaching Permaculture, Teaching Strategies