Michael Becker Workshop in Creston

I recently had the immense pleasure of hosting Michael Becker in Creston, BC for a teacher workshop.  This idea started in August of 2016 at the Bullock's Homestead, at an Advanced Permaculture Design Course.  I was talking with a some of the other participants about my work with school gardens and trying to figure out how to take this work to the next level.  The answer of course, was to invite Michael Becker up to lead a workshop targeted at school teachers!

After running the idea by Michael, I joined forces with Paris of Fields Forward and we created a small working group of four people to organize the event.  We had help along the way from Columbia Basin Environmental Educators Network (CBEEN), Yaqan Nukiy School, and RDCK Area B.

The workshop was held at Yaqan Nukiy School during April 8-9, for 35 participants.  Of these participants, 23 were school teachers and the rest were community educators.   Most participants were from the Columbia Basin (even Michael!) so we had good local and regional representation.  Hosting the event at Yaqan Nukiy School wove in a thread of Ktunaxa history and culture, and how educators can bring in more Aboriginal perspectives and understandings into their teaching.

We also held a community presentation on the Saturday night and about fifty community members came- teachers, lawyers, parents, farmers, artists, politicians, planners, small business owners and kids.  This event helped to inspire the larger community about all the wonderful work Michael Becker has been doing, and grow the support for the teachers who will doing interesting projects with their students after the workshop.

Providing delicious, local food was also integral to this workshop. This is always challenging in the early spring, when supplies are low from the winter, and not much is growing outside, but we had a very resourceful team. With the cooking mastery from Lee Reidl and food from Cartwheel Farm, Canyon City Farm, the Pickle Patch, Famous Fritz, Tarzwell Farm, Mozart Bakery, Kootenay Meadows, Coffee and Arrows, Lark Coffee Roasters, Luv at First Bite, Kootenay Natural Meats, Fields Forward Juice, Silverking Soya Foods, Kootenay Sprouts and a gift card from Overweitea, we had a delightful feast all weekend.

Photo credit: A.Candy

Michael Becker is always inspiring and informative- and participants were on fire after the workshop!  Michael introduced permaculture as a way to bring a whole systems perspective to how we teach.  This allows us to see connections in the curriculum, find resources, and develop new solutions.  Michael also shared tools, attitudes and processes to developing meaningful place-based, transformative education.

Here are some tidbits from the weekend, that are by no means exhaustive of the whole experience, just some ideas I found interesting.  I know if I asked every participant to weigh in on what they found most interesting, they would come up with other perspectives, teaching tools and design tips from the weekend. Quotes are attributed to Michael Becker.

"The most important thing we can be doing right now, is building models."  We need models of sustainable, cooperative living on every scale- from your balcony, to your school garden, to your town's economic plan.

"It's our jobs as educators to create the optimal conditions for...?" creativity?, problem solving?, skill building? How do we create those optimal conditions for those intangibles to develop?

"Build projects that become part of the teaching staff."  Projects need to be integrated into what students are learning, and what they can learn from building, doing, interacting with the project.

"I'm a connectivity specialist" Our kids are learning the curriculum by making real links to their community, solving problems and taking action.

"All my students need to understand ecology, to be able to build regenerative systems and become problem solvers."  Even if they grow up to be accountants, software developers, doctors, or plumbers, they need to understand that they are part of a larger system and what role to play in the economy, their community and the ecology of the planet.

"Sure, my classroom doesn't look like a classroom 50 years ago....but what else does?"
Photo credit: A.Candy

Youth Empowerment
  • When we give youth the agency to design, plan, research and take charge of projects, we also give them the expectation of professional behaviour.  We ask them: "If someone walked by right now, would they be curious and interested in what you were doing?"  Or would they say... oh those kids are just goofing off being kids?
  • The students at Hood River School take engineers, architects, biologists and designers around on tours of the systems they have developed and usually end up teaching the professionals something new in their own fields. These youth are used to being heard, making informed decisions and communicating their ideas with their peers and adults. How is this different from how it works in your school?
  • Instead of doing a type of "Where's Waldo Science", let's do real research, where the teacher doesn't always know the answer.  "Why would you want to be limited by my knowledge and experience of the world?"  
  • After many years of doing projects with the students, there is now a legacy aspect to being a student at Hood River Middle School.  The students ask each other, 'What are you leaving behind? What are you building for the next generation of students?'
  • Students need to be a net producer of information in the classroom.  They need to bringing in resources and information that can further the work and research that they are doing in class. 
  • Have students present to elders, town council, professionals.  Ask them to refine their research, and prioritize questions so that they are making the most out of their time with guest experts.

"As we design we seek to maximize the productive yield while continually increasing and protecting the base capacity of the system.  Only when we protect/increase the initial base capacity of the system can we move beyond the idea of sustainability."

The big take away from Michael which is easy to remember is:

  1. Start small
  2. Obtain a yield
  3. Celebrate
  4. Get back to work 

What are you doing next week, next month, a year to make your life, your community and your environment more diverse, more productive, more interesting?  How can we be build models in our communities?

Here are some actions that our participants are going to take:

"Work on having an indoor composting system that the students can be in charge of."
"Going to have students create plans/ideas for our garden/outdoor space using the same design activity we did on the weekend."
"Give students greater ownership at their school."
"To integrate inquiry-based local learning and be a model for the region, the country, the world."
"Get gardening. Find some 5 gallon buckets."
"Ask the school students for feedback, input and design ideas for our wetland restoration project."

Photo credit: A. Candy
My favourite piece of feedback from the weekend participants was this:

"Inspiring. Learned way too much!"

Because when you start to learn about permaculture and whole systems thinking, it's kind of like riding a bike... you can't unlearn it.  Your whole perspective changes and you end up seeing opportunities, solutions and connections everywhere you go!

Big thanks to Michael, Paris, Brenda, Ginger, Lee, Yaqan Nukiy School, and all the participants of the weekend.  I am excited to follow the ripples of inspiration from this workshop!


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