In all of the work I have done as a sustainability/transformative educator in the past 12 years, what resonated most was the situated learning that we (my students, colleagues and I did) with people-place. We were being in relationship with – there was a sense that we were co-creating a sense of belonging and stewardship for country. The deepest and most profound exploration my year 9 students engaged in (from both their perspectives and mine) was a living histories project. Students would find an elder in their community (somewhere in south-west Gippsland) and interview them about how their place had changed over time; what life used to be like growing up as a young person in the area; places they felt the greatest connection with. I have thought a lot about what it was in that experience that engaged my students. Seeing this exploration happen over 4 years on reflection I feel more and more that it was this same process of coming into relationship with people-place, which deepened our sense of connection.
Something I longed to initiate during my time at the Year 9 Centre were relationships with traditional owners who might share their stories of connection with our learning community. Whilst we got the ball rolling, it is only now (4 years later) that these relationships have begun to form; things take time. There had been non-Indigenous people on Phillip Island who were offering a perspective on Indigenous knowledge and practices on country, but from a very different place; there was no relationship or authority.
Having the autonomy to generate a sustainability or place-based curriculum without huge constraints was a very liberating experience and offered my colleagues and I the opportunity to be creative in our design, experimental in our approach and tap into local issues and possibilities. An aspect of sustainability education that was being widely practiced which I reacted strongly to was the focus on resource consumption. For me this represented a discourse on maintaining the status quo and responding to critical issues from the same paradigm that conceived excess consumption and unlimited growth. The curriculum resources ‘out there’ in the educational realm reflected this conservative approach and … worldview. What motivated me to become an educator was primarily to facilitate learning that cultivates critical engagement, creativity and connection. I was not interested in working to a mandate of maintaining the status quo, hence the resources we used as a learning community needed to reflect this. A documentary that resonated with my transformative agenda, and challenges the dominant paradigm of how we relate to resources, was ‘Waste Equals Food’ (http://vimeo.com/3237777). The founders of the Cradle-to-Cradle approach explored in this documentary, chemist Michael Braungart and the architect William McDonough, seemed to open up a fertile space for learning that fostered critical engagement, creativity and connection. On watching this documentary both our students and we as educators felt a shift and sensed a space of possibility to think and work from. I feel compelled to describe the quality of this space, as it was distinct to others that we had been operating from in the past. It felt as though we had fewer constraints, more freedom to explore and create… access to greater possibilities and access to a real means of generating transformation. Perhaps it was around this time that I sensed what transformation education is and can be and began to speak differently about the type of learning spaces I wanted to generate.
Having my own and supporting students to have a strong sense of agency has always been of critical importance to me in my work. Seeing ourselves as generative participants (Addelson, 1994) in collective action and the performance of the social, rather than passive consumers of ideas and the material. For me this need for us to define and locate ourselves in the collective ‘we’ and as active participants in the society and place goes beyond having an identity as a global citizen with far reaching responsibilities; there is a deep listening and being in relationship with that I feel is trying to call itself into our collective action and consciousness.
For the first eight years of my being an educator, I only ever felt on the cusp of acting from a place of deep listening within my self. A catalyst for leaving full time teaching was a seeking to dedicate greater time to and reflection in my learning. Acts and processes of bringing greater self-awareness into my practice have been many and varied. What is emerging for me is a shift in the quality and depth of listening that I have for people-place. Coming across the work of those who are exploring the generative spaces and acts facilitated through deep listening (Brearley, 2010) and presencing (Scharmer, 2009) is both affirming and exciting.