by Greta Carroll – Permaculture Australia Board Member and Chairperson

The Permaculture design ethics and principles have always been used in physical landscape design. Growing in popularity and importance is their application in social landscapes and businesses. For example, Meg McMgowan used the ethics and principles to teach new officers in the NSW Fraud Squad, Permaculture for Refugees uses them for an approach to working with people who have experienced displacement, a museum curator uses them to set up new exhibitions, and PermaQueer use them to demonstrate the difference between extractive, reductionist cultures and more syntropic, regenerative ways of being in the world.

For the last five years most of my work has been in permaculture education. I spend a lot of time thinking about the way culture, methods, and tools create effective learning environments, and designing and delivering educational experiences in Australia as well as overseas. 

Below is a non-exhaustive and constantly evolving list of some of the ways I use permaculture ethics and principles as a teacher. I’ve drawn on content from Rowe Morrow’s Permaculture Teacher Training Book where I think it’s useful.


Earth Care –  What options do we have for catering in our courses? Can you passively heat or cool the venue to rely less on fossil fuels? Sitting under the shade of a tree is often much nicer than a hot, stuffy classroom

Can I find teaching tools that are reusable, recycled, multi-functional, biodegradable and/or locally produced?

What does the language I use say about the relationship I have with the Earth? Do I speak from a power-over- or anthropocentric paradigm? 

People Care –
What are the roles and responsibilities of learners outside of the classroom, and how can we ensure we’re accommodating them in our course designs? A needs analysis might tell us we need to offer childcare, provide something for breakfast for students who haven’t eaten, not teach on a Friday or start and finish earlier to miss peak hour traffic.

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In our facilitation, are we catering for a variety of learning styles, cultures and mobility needs? 

Teachers must be expected to model best People Care practices, including avoiding using sarcasm, ridicule or violence towards their students. There is never ever any excuse or reason to exploit the power a teacher is given by virtue of their role as a teacher. No sexual approaches by teachers to learners are ever OK. When they happen, a serious breach of trust and permaculture ethics has been committed (Morrow).

Fair Share   This can be expressed in many forms; from sharing questions among all participants rather than allowing one or two people always to answer, offering scalable fees or scholarships to allow people of all resource levels to learn, and sharing the boring work of cleaning and washing up.

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Acknowledge the local knowledge, custodians and history of the land (Principle 0) – 

What is my relationship to the land we’re teaching/learning on? Do I have permission to be on that land? Have I acknowledged the history and the custodians of the land we’re gathering on? 

Sometimes I teach in places where rightful custodianship has changed many times throughout history, and I acknowledge all the people, plants and animals who have passed through that landscape, carrying and sowing seeds, cleaning water and building soils over time. 

I think about the blindspots I have due to my social/cultural background. Is there someone better placed than I to share knowledge of certain things? Who can speak to the local languages of regeneration? Can others share their own story?

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And especially when I am in cross-cultural teaching spaces; What cultural ways of knowing, being and doing are in the room? How can I maintain and support existing ecological knowledge rather than imposing my own learning, opinion or culture? What are your seasons? How do you build soils? What foods do you like to grow? How do you store water and seeds? Can you draw your grandparents’ house?

Finally, whose voices, knowledge and perspectives am I referencing and sharing through my teaching? Are they all of the same straight-male-settler demographic?

Observe and Interact – 

Who are your learners? What do they already know? Can you observe what is happening in class and adapt to better suit their needs? This might mean returning to a topic to explain it more clearly, changing the class plan to better suit students’ learning edges and interests. Change lunch hours, or opening and closing times, speak louder, slow down, use graphics not words. You can think of more.

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Catch and Store Energy – 

Education itself is a practice of catching or gathering energy (information, skills and even physical resources) from people, projects, and landscapes around us and storing it in our communities and relationships for future use. 

As Tyson Yunkaporta says “relationships are the only way to store data safely in the long term”.

Integrate rather than Segregate –

Learning in groups is an effective teaching method that functions to accelerate learning and produce creative solutions and ideas. When the right conditions are created, cross-cultural exchange enriches learning environments and can build confidence in students. Are there opportunities for peer-to-peer learning? 

Did you know that group discussions are a highly effective tool for creating attitudinal change? When peers share stories in small groups, attitudinal change is more likely to occur through than through lectures (Morrow).

Design from patterns to details – 

Can you design learning experiences using this principle? Start with a needs, functions and products analysis of the learning ecosystem or community you are in. This will help identify your overall course objectives as well as the structure (length, days, times etc). Next consider the flow of the learning journey; the order and layering of topics or information. Write the session learning objectives, and finally choose teaching methods and activities to match.


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Obtain a Yield – 

I teach to learning objectives and ensure I can measure them. We know learning has happened when participants can explain it, make it, draw it or do it. Our yields in education are the competencies we see demonstrated by the end of a session and at the end of a course. This is critical.

Produce No Waste – 

Linked to the two principles above. How can you minimise wasted time? When we have structure and teach to learning objectives, we reduce the likelihood of going off on tangents and wasting students’ time. 

Also linked to Earth Care, can I choose learning/teaching materials that aren’t polluting? Such as refillable markers, pencils over pens, crayons or pastels over textas, masking tape and bulldog clips over blu tack or sticky tape (Morrow).

Use and Value Diversity – 

We need the student who always answers first to help us break the ice, we need the person who just gets on with the task just as much as we need the contemplative who asks us why we’re doing it. We need the enthusiast, the analyst, the artist, the expert and the critic. A healthy learning ecosystem recognises and values everyone; what they bring and where they are on the path.

Value the edges and the margins – 

The ecological edge is often the most productive. Our social edges are also just as abundant when they’re properly resourced. Can we build learning environments that welcome and support people of all genders, abilities, religions, worldviews, languages, and incomes? I consider whose life experiences aren’t included in the mainstream content or when I say ‘we’.  

Look outside the walls of the classroom to use often overlooked teaching environments. For example, erosion by the side of the road, the effect of boundary fences on vegetation, the moss growing between pavers.

In the middle of Kuala Lumpur – a densely populated and disturbed urban landscape – Rowe taught part of an environmental water class standing around an open concrete drain. Sure enough water snaked along the drain creating tiny riffles and pools, just like a river or delta. 

Practice self-regulation and accept feedback – 

Self-regulation is different for everyone. As educators we might ask ourselves some of the following questions: Was I telling people something, or asking for their knowledge? How long did I talk for in that session? Am I taking on too much in the coordination? How accurate is my content for this subject? Is ego getting in the way of being able to say “I don’t know” when I don’t know? Can I stay open to receiving feedback from participants and other co-teachers? If participants are not understanding a concept or task, can I be attentive, humble, and responsive enough to ask a different question or change the teaching method.

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Creatively use and respond to change – 

When things don’t go according to plan – which happens at least once every course – how can I best respond? If it’s raining and the workshop can’t be in the garden what are the other options? What if the projector doesn’t work or the power goes out, how else can I move through this content? Adaptability is the greatest asset as an educator. 

Each element is supported by more than one function – 

According to David Kolb, there are four modes of perception/processing (audible, tactile, kinesthetic, visual) and four ‘learning styles’ (reflective/analytic, creative, commonsense, active). Every person has their preferred or dominant combination. Knowing this, how can we design learning opportunities to suit all learning styles? Include a combination of facts, theories and evidence, discussion and reflection, active learning (such as group tasks, observation, videos, experiences) and practical skills (such as doing, designing, making). Using multiple teaching methods within each session will increase the number of students able to connect with new information and improve the quality of all learning in the class. 

Memory is scattered throughout the brain. To assist memory, learning in two or more modalities is very important, e.g. listen and take notes, see and try, do and discuss. (Morrow).

Cooperate don’t compete – 

We need as many teachers as possible. When someone emerges in your geographic area and wants to teach, can you welcome them? Consider how you can work together to create more effective education experiences for potential learners. Think of resource sharing guilds and distribute your work in different spaces and times. For example, someone offering design courses spread over weekends whilst someone else offers full-time residential courses, or working in different social demographics. Also remember no one can teach forever – can you embrace social succession?

Further exploration and discussion on these ideas is welcome.

For the Earth, 


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