With last month’s launch of the local projects, this month the Community of Practice held space for navigating any challenges that arose. It was important for the education practitioners to first celebrate the momentum generated from all the planning and weaving in of the school communities. And then, we took a step back to face head on anything that was or could be blocking the biggest impact we dreamed of. This is where the beauty of Community of Practice is revealed: no matter what one of the partners was trying to figure out, someone else in the group had experienced something similar. With a collection of decades of experience working with young people, parents, teachers, community members, and wider stakeholders on education inititatives, we trusted that solution would emerge.
We recognised the patterns and identified three main challenges:
- How can we find time to work on the projects in addition to lesson time and other extra curriculars?
- How can we ensure the project implementation stays relevant and interesting for the young people, so they remain motivated and engaged?
- How can education facilitators, who are not experts in all areas of regenerative activities, keep the project on track as we are also learning while doing?
From these challenges, we can pair some permaculture principles to find the solution.
Balancing time between projects and curriculum:
The most freeing way to ‘gain time’ is to stack functions, or integrate rather than segrecate. So instead of competing project time with lesson time, integrate them! You don’t need to choose one when you can do both. And as a bonus, each of them are actually enhanced by the other. Weaving interesting practical projects into lessons can be a highly effective way to engage students and deepen their understanding of the material. And vise versa, by showing how curriculum content can be applied in practical life, students become more motivated to master it.
Some examples of this related to our Youth in Action Projects could be – during math lessons, calculate the waste diverted by the recycling programme or the potential amount of food produced from the garden. During art lessons, design murals for the new community space. During language or history lessons, examine storytelling about the natural landscape and biodiversity or traditional building methods of the region.
Keeping the project relevant so young people remain engaged:
Most young people don’t need to be promted to do tasks they enjoy. In fact, when they really love something, it can be hard to pull them away. So the tip to ensure they want to participate in the project is to observe and interact. Simply watching them select the activities that bring them joy can reveal so much. Or even how they work through less enjoyable tasks in a more fun way. (For example, cleaning with the music on.) Depending on the age, you can also directly ask them. Once you gain that insight, genuinely step into that wonderful world with them and try to understand what it is that fascinates them. It is from that place that an educator can start to make connections with the larger project and work with the young people to make their own connections.
Some examples realted to our projects could be – for those who love movement and sports, create an obstacle course within the project space as the project ‘heavy lifting’ is taking place. For those who love to socialise with their friends, create a buddy system where they work together or give a tour of the project. For those who love animals, find out which non-human creatures will be positively impacted by the initiative and intentionally create a special place for them.
Educators learning while doing:
Often when teaching curriculum subjects, educators feel they must master the material before ‘teaching’ it to the students. Yet an exciting part of project work is that you can let go of a lot of that and embrace the valuable lesson that students can learn by watching *how* their teacher deals with unknown, seeks out information, asks for help, and tests theories. This fits with the concepts of using edges and valuing the marginal as well as creatively using and responding to change. Both of these principles, and allowing young people to see that adults *don’t* have all the answers, mean becoming vulnerable, which is actually an incredible teaching tool.
There are endless examples related to our projects – many of our partners have some experience in creating community spaces, installing vegetable gardens, natural building, waste management, and improving biodiversity. But none of them have done those in this setting in this time with this constellation of their community. So each of them are leaning into that vulnerability and joy of finding out new solutions – while also shifting the focus to the students to propose ideas. As they collectively seek input from local mentors, they highlight the power of community and regional knowledge. And the young people are empowered by their active role in both their learning and in manifesting positive change.