So, there I found myself in Ballarat on a balmy sunny Saturday afternoon, at Steve Burns’ Chestnut farm in White Swan road, outside Ballarat, together with a group of people almost as diverse as you can get, going through those awkward informal introductions, quietly wondering what I let myself in for. However soon we were sitting in the balmy sunshine enjoying a cup of tea, getting to know everyone in relaxed circumstances. He’s got a good selection of tea, our man Steve, not to mention his collection of home-made preservatives and elder flower cordial that he hides in a cold dry room under the classroom.
Our formal activities started with a tour of the inner part, let’s call it zones 1 and 2 and a bit of 3, of Chestnut farm. Instead of describing everything in detail, I will let the photos tell the story.
Our training started in earnest on Sunday morning at 8:30 sharp. From day 1, in our role as teachers, punctuality was, in typical permaculture style, understatingly emphasised and imposed, without you realising it was happening. Our classes started at Chestnut farm, but then were moved to Invermay community hall. The hall was much less farmy and a bit impersonal, but as the week carried on, it turned out to be a blessings in disguise. As a cold wet spell settled in for quite a number of days, the massive hall with its fully equipped kitchen and separate dining room came in very useful for breakaway sessions and even large group physical activities.
Our teachers for the course were Rosemary (Rowe) Morrow, amazingly experienced and widely travelled permaculture elder, teacher, speaker author and do-er, and Brenna Quinlan, multi-talented (that’s an understatement) illustrator and permaculture educator at Milkwood, while Steve Burns and Penny Tomes managed all the admin without a glitch (well, not that we were aware of… I’m sure behind the scenes they had their “fair share” to deal with.)
Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would encounter the term “meta“ outside of IT (where I’ve dealt with metadata since the nineteen-whatevers…). But a lot of our learning was based on meta-teaching, where we would teach ourselves using the methods and tools we were learning about. Using some seamless and at times hilarious co-teaching methods very effectively, Rowe and Brenna weaved us like mats between our roles as learners and teachers.
One minute you would be absorbing an approach, and the next minute you would be using that same approach to convey some related (or totally unrelated) concept to your co-learners. All throughout the permaculture ethics, principles, theory, practices and so forth were emphasised and used as examples.
It was so refreshing – coming from a very formal educational background and an industry where powerpoint dot-points are king – to go through six days of intensive training without a single slide. We experienced so many teaching styles and such a wide array of teaching tools!
As the course progressed, we did more and more micro-teaching – short little bursts of teaching, applying every thing we learnt, and even more. Rather quickly, the rallying call of the course became “micro-teaching is awesome!” (Mmmm… I should have made a little recording of that one – words can’t do it justice.) I wonder if Brenna and Rowe knew what they let themselves in for when Brenna introduced the slogan? Because later almost everything became “awesome” (with a slight bazza-ish infliction).
We ended the course by teaching a class to the whole assembly what our group-designed PDC syllabus would be, why it was good, the process followed and so on. What? teach? class? These five star performances resembled (and in some cases outshone) game shows, theme parks, TV shows (sir David Attenborough even made two appearances) and a Greek goddesses get-together to discuss what interventions are needed on earth (simulated grapes, wine, and authentic dress , headgear and all). I have to slip in a morsel of pride – we actually got the group to “teach” (convince) themselves why our syllabus and approach would be “awesome!” (oops, there it is again…)
Although, the course was full-on – 8:30am to past 9:00pm every day, plus some after- and before hours preparation – there were so many fun and energising activities in-between, the majority with a meta-teaching aspect built-in, that time flew and energy levels were pretty high most of the time.
This one is hard to express in words, so I’ll just put it brief – there was an absolutely fantastic amazing group of people on this course. Everyone pulled together, worked together, grew together with so much mutual respect and support. So to my now co-teachers, I just want to say an “awesome!” thank you and looking forward to co-teach with each of you somewhere were destiny, a calling or a simple twist of fate let our paths cross again.