As a young person, who was fortunate enough to participate in alternative and experiential education growing up, I know by experience how powerful interactive learning environment can be. Stimulating educational environments where students have a physically and emotionally safe space to challenge themselves for growth are the most conducive to learning.
I still remember and cherish certain discussions facilitated by my group leaders abroad from almost a decade ago. In my own practice, I strive to create an atmosphere where students can reach their full potential through taking risks and questioning the world around them. I am passionate about facilitating group discussion, reflection, and team building as it relates to agriculture, farming, and the environment — to create an environment where students can reach their full learning potential.
Touching back on Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed, it is crucial that educators act as guides on a learning journey, rather than teachers who disseminate information to pupils. All classrooms and all students are unique in their specific learning styles including visual, auditory, and kinesthetic engagement. Classrooms should have access to a variety of activities to benefit different learning types and abilities.
Students all have different needs and should to be met where they are. Every student has unique skills and attributes that they can individually bring to their own education, and the greater learning of the community. In addition to hands-on learning, striking a balance between individual and cooperative work is key to simultaneously providing students with individual autonomy and collaborative skill building.
Activities that tie the curriculum back to self-reflection are also key to building emotional intelligence and awareness. For instance, in a recent course I led on food systems and sustaining the environment, I encouraged students to take an online quiz examining their personal consumption habits that presented them with an estimated carbon footprint. In this instance I wanted students to relate the material, readings on consumption and production, back to themselves so that they could further engage with the course concepts.
I strongly believe in community based learning where students are encouraged to develop tangible skills, demonstrate leadership abilities, and be facilitators and change makers in their communities, especially in co-operative agricultural environments. Some of my inspiration to practice this outlook comes from my permaculture background and looking through a “problem is the solution” lens. In order to support this I always bring an open mind, positive attitude and gratitude to the classroom, alongside consistency, diligence, and warmth to my job in the hope that I can ultimately inspire students in their own trajectories of lifelong learning.
Additional goals I have as a teacher are to leave students feeling inspired and with a “joie de vivre”, or joy of life, rather than the all too common narrative in education of students experiencing complacency and disempowerment. During my most recent class with Verto Education working with students in Costa Rica I have been able to accomplish this goal, particularly through having the outlets to pair classroom theory learning with fieldwork and local community engagement.
Engaging young people in reconnecting with their food systems and becoming conscious of their connectivity to the natural world is key to addressing our growing planetary challenges. We have a growing and urbanizing population, a changing climate, increasing challenges growing food, a depleting water supply, and a building disconnect to the environmental impacts of our current behaviors. One of my overarching objectives is fueling a fire in young people to reimagine systems, create community, and return to the land.
I left my students with this quote from Buckminster Fueller in our last seminar: “You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.”