Pedagogy is from the Greek agogos, which means “leader”, a paidagogos was a slave who led boys to school and back. The word education is derived from educare (Latin) “bring up”, which is related to educere “bring out”, “bring forth what is within”, “bring out potential” and ducere, “to lead.
I believe the role of the teacher is to lead the learner to create her own learning. This has been called “constructivist learning”, where the learner constructs their own learning – not the teacher. The teacher is a “guide on the side”, rather than a “sage on the stage”. I see the learner as a holistic system, with her own map or story of reality. If I as a teacher, would like to change the “story” of a student at my school to include many of the understandings I have of permaculture design, then the best way that can occur, is if the student takes responsibility for making that change. “People learn what has personal meaning to them” – not what has personal meaning to their teacher. “People learn best by talking; people teach best by listening”.
I approach learning as a holistic system, similar to the way I see the learner as a holistic system. I have a story about the world – my reality. It is a story that makes sense, or it creates discomfort for me. My mental health is dependent upon my making sense of my story. Depression is a situation in which a person’s story has conflicts that don’t make sense. When I encounter new information that is not part of my existing story, but which makes sense to me on its own, I experience discomfort in integrating the new information into my story – a process which I call “learning”. After I am able to integrate the new information and change my story to include the new information, I have learned. I now have a new map of reality. In this way, the teacher is a catalyst for change – for “leading” the student into a place of discomfort, so that the student can resolve the new information into a new map of reality.
Again, I draw upon holistic systems as a means for organizing new information for students. A project is a whole system of information. A system with a purpose – with components that must fit together in a holistic way in order to make sense. When a student chooses a project – for example designing/installing a residential garden – she must create a story out of the project so it will make sense and serve the purpose that the client requests. There may be many new skills and knowledge that the student will have to integrate into her story in order to complete that project successfully – designing and creating that residential landscape. By taking responsibility for the entire project, the student is taking responsibility for learning everything needed to successfully complete that project (co-incidentally one of the student’s designs for her Permaculture Diploma). Project-based learning (PBL) is useful for many reasons, beyond enabling the learner to construct her own learning. PBL is an excellent vehicle for collaborations among students, teaching teamwork and cooperation in order to create even more intelligent designs and more successful project outcomes.
Another benefit of PBL, is for assessment of the learning. There is no need to give a test afterwards to assess the learning. Instead a project outcome provides the “performance-based assessment” itself. I developed a project with a client that fit her needs and my own. Then I completed the project successfully. My documentation of the process and the outcome becomes “authentic assessment”, and is part of my portfolio. When I present my portfolio to a panel of stakeholders for their feedback, I get even more learning from the project-based learning – Performance-Based Assessment.
A large part of my learning has come through relationships, particularly mentors who cared about me and my learning. I use a tool called a Personal Learning Plan (PLP) as part of that mentoring process. Each student creates her own PLP from the beginning, and modifies it regularly as needed. The PLP is used for personal growth and for guiding the student’s learning throughout the Diploma process. It is a vehicle for the student to ask these three questions:
- Who am I?
- What doI want?
- How do I get there?
I’ve used these three questions to guide my own journey in life. When it is time to reflect on my life, and revisit those questions, I may redirect my life path accordingly.
These questions and the right mentor for a student can help the student to discover her Soul Essence. When I understand my Soul Essence, I know my gifts and can find the path for sharing my gifts -for having those gifts received and appreciated by others. We all have a genie within us – our true genius. My purpose as a teacher is to use my gifts to help others discover their Soul Essence and to find out how they can share their gifts and find their right livelihood in the world.