Written by PAN Member, Liz Kelly
On February 25, 2017, 18 Permaculture educators and practitioners came together to discuss the continued improvement of Permaculture education opportunities in the northeast. Now that Permaculture, historically a fringe movement, has entered mainstream venues, conversations centered around community education standards and qualifications have sprouted within the network and grown. PAN has been organizing these conversations among teachers and practitioners for the past three years. The focus of the most recent winter retreat, hosted by D Acres Permaculture Farm & Homestead in Rumney, NH, was to collaboratively develop voluntary and community-driven pilot education standards inspired by and for the northeastern permaculture network.
Developing Educational Standards:
The group identified collective education standards as serving multiple purposes: to ensure our actions align with our intent as teachers, to provide a framework of best practices, to support a community of Permaculture practitioners, to produce clear processes for professional development, and to promote a culture of improvement by creating positive feedback loops within education. A beautiful aspect of the Permaculture movement is its functioning as a decentralized, and ideally, self-organizing system. The purpose of clearly defined standards is to improve redundancy and consistency, an important part of any ecosystem. The group found it important to define education standards in a way that would improve quality of education without stifling creativity and/or autonomy among teachers and to create a process of developing standards that is iterative and inclusive. Ultimately, all of us as educators want to ensure Permaculture practitioners, from beginners to seasoned veterans, receive high-quality educational experiences that provide them skills and knowledge to participate in earth and community based restoration work. Determining what content is most imperative for educators to communicate about when teaching permaculture was an important part of the day’s conversation.
The group determined that there were different considerations for content depending on the educational format that the educator was planning for (i.e. introductory workshop, PDC, advanced PDC, etc.). Such considerations based on format included the depth of core content to be taught (ethics, principles, process, systems thinking) and core curriculum topics (soil, water, plants, etc.). Regardless of the format, the group found it vitally important that educators integrate the history of land and people into the course content, that they create an inclusive space that builds relationships among participants, that learning outcomes are clearly defined, and that all types of learning styles are considered in the planning stages.
Some agreed upon teaching ethics the group discussed included promoting inclusion, being respectful, celebrating diversity, ensuring accessibility, creating an interactive experience, embracing knowledge of place, and embodying ethics.
Implementing Pilot Standards:
The group brainstormed a number of ways to present the pilot standards to the northeastern permaculture network and ways for individuals to commit to those standards. Implementation steps that were discussed include:
- Conduct direct outreach to other permaculture teachers and practitioners in the region not present that should be part of this conversation and receive feedback from them.
- Post pilot standards to website and publicize via press release, etc.
- Create a voluntary “PAN Pledge” where teachers can apply to become a “PAN-Certified Teacher” by agreeing to education standards.
- Create an online registry or database of northeastern permaculture teachers that have agreed to community standards and are PAN members. Registry could include teacher bios and be searchable by topic or location. The goal of the registry would be to improve transparency about who the teachers in our region are.
- Encourage peer to peer review. Our network is a valuable resource and we can learn so much about teaching permaculture from each other. PAN teachers could visit other permaculture classes taught by PAN teachers to provide feedback and mutual support.
- Encourage mentorship. PAN teachers can assist other beginning permaculture educators in learning/integrating education standards into their own work.
- Explore models of accountability to ensure Permaculture teachers who have agreed to community standards are upholding them.
A small sub-committee has formed to take these standards, refine them, and build from the suggested implementation steps to come up with a plan for rolling out the pilot standards publicly in the fall. The hope is that these standards will be refined further as more feedback is received from other teachers/practitioners in our community and will be revisited on a consistent basis to ensure they evolve as needed.
This is a grassroots, bottom-up approach to developing and rolling out pilot standards. Your input and feedback is imperative to this process!