If you want to change the world, it starts with your next thought.
Several years ago, when I was developing an outdoor education programme for primary schools, I signed up for a permaculture design course. I endured the inevitable jokes from family and friends about knitting my own sandals out of lentils but it didn’t take me (or them) long to realise that what had started as a way of making school growing spaces sustainable and productive, in fact, was going to change my approach to more than just gardening. Permaculture design has the power to reframe how we see the world. It is truly transformational. Holistic, solutions-focused, creative and with a firm belief in the power of making connections and working cooperatively, it has much to offer the classroom teacher, school manager and student.
As a teacher I try to employ permaculture principles in everything from classroom management to curriculum design. Nevertheless in the cut and thrust of daily life in the classroom with its focus on an increasingly heavy knowledge-based curriculum, assessment objectives and target grades, it’s sometimes difficult to get beyond a ‘design’ and ‘do’ approach to solving problems. The school holidays provide the time and space for the reflection, thinking, researching and redesigning necessary to do the best job possible in the classroom.
This afternoon, while my daughter spent a few hours running around a rugby pitch training for the next Dorset and Wilts game I read Looby Macnamara’s accessible book on creative thinking, permaculture-style. Much of the advice I already knew but a gentle reminder about what’s important is vital when you’re reflecting back over the last six weeks and deciding upon your approach to the second half of term, especially with GCSE and A level classes. It’s a good read.
I have highlighted below my top ten pieces of advice from Looby, which any teacher or student might find useful. They are in no particular order but all are part of my approach to teaching and learning.
- Celebrate what you have done, rather than focusing on what you have left to achieve. Glass half full, in other words. A positive attitude can keep you afloat even when your workload seeks to drown you.
- Talk and respond to each other in nurturing, kind ways. Kindness is monumentally underestimated. Try it. You’ll be surprised not only how good it makes you feel but how much more productive it makes you and those around you.
- Think in terms of ‘responsibility’ not ‘blame’ and ‘contribution’ not ‘gain’. We live in a fractured society where who is to blame and what we can gain seems king. A classroom where everyone is encouraged to take responsibility for their actions and make a contribution, where blame is not the culture and competition is second to cooperation is a happy and productive place. A microcosm for society I hope.
- Identify the outcomes you hope for; then actively seek ways to bring them about. Every journey starts with a single step. It’s not rocket science. Working backwards from the end point allows students to plot a course through the most demanding times in their school careers – public examinations. Often they will visualise a worst case scenario and how they got there so that behaviours can change before it is too late.
- Foster beneficial working relationships; build a sense of community; align yourself with like-minded people. Think beehive or ants and what they manage to achieve together. It’s powerful.
- Harness the natural ebbs and flows of energy of yourself and others. There are times in the day and times in the week when I feel more or less energetic. It’s a waste of time marking at midnight, for instance. Saturday morning lessons with my students are not the times to introduce new concepts. Experience has taught me to schedule work according to energy levels. There is no point fighting this. I work with it.
- Take time to be still and reflective. All the better if this also involves a walk in the fresh air. Creativity can only happen when you have time to do nothing. And I mean nothing. No phones or tablets. We would all be wise to heed this mantra.
- Live in the present but think for the future. Does what it says on the tin. Live every day as if it is your last, but bear in mind it probably won’t be and act accordingly.
- Seek ways of moving from your comfort zone into your stretch zone. Solutions come through movement. If water doesn’t move, it becomes stagnant. And so do we. Be prepared to take some risks. Students and certainly parents in general seem more risk-averse than they did when I started my teaching career in the 1990s. This is not a good thing.
- A diversity of interests, skills and opinions brings about the best solutions. This is true for individuals and groups. Harness the power of teams of individuals with different skills. Encourage students to use skills developed in other subject areas in your own classroom. My love of gardening and cooking has taught me much about being a good parent; directing large-scale theatrical productions has improved my ability to lead whole-school initiatives and deliver them on time and under-budget.
Judging by the amount of tweets from teachers over the weekend, I’m not the only one taking time to review my classroom practice and think creatively in the down time of Half Term. It’s what school holidays are for – along with cooking, sowing a few seeds, reading and spending time chilling with my own children.