Transformative Learning into a new Paradigm

As a young woman of 19 years, I joined Friends of the Earth in Manchester in 1989 as joint Rainforest Group Coordinator.  We had all the research about the link between the timber products on sale in our stores and the cutting down of the Forests.  We were passionate, young, and had big dreams.  It was an exciting and hopeful time, the first ever Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro was held in 1992, when i graduated in Environmental Management. This lead to the adoption of Agenda 21, a wide-ranging blueprint for action to achieve sustainable development worldwide.  You can never forget it, if you felt it.

“Working for the earth is not a way to get rich; it’s a way to be rich.” Paul Hawkin 2010.

I remember this now, because i want to acknowledge that people’s all around the world throughout time, way before the 1990’s,  understood that our lives are held within a natural system, and their cultures reflected this fundamental knowledge.  It is common sense. Thanks to so many people and experiences of places, this sense of life transformed from a seed into an organisation.

For the last 2 years Circle of Life Rediscovery has been hosting Salvatore Gencarelle –  teacher and author of ‘A man among the helpers’.   After listening to a recording of him speaking with Jon Young some 3 years ago, my interest was peaked and I ordered his book.

This story shares his own personal journey from being a young man of 15 years old who has an unexplainable experience (some would call a Vision), which led to him living in South Dakota with the Lakota people.  Here he apprenticed for 17 years to Godfrey Chipps, an extraordinary healer, from the Woptura family lineage. He entered a paradigm that was both new and as old as the land itself.  This kind of education was not handed to Sal on a plate, he had to learn by doing.  Mentored through an unbroken lineage, to understanding how to help people to be healthy and happy.  This knowledge has been preserved against all odds.

In our organisation, we have made a commitment to move people to a mature and respectful relationship to the natural world.   This notion of maturity is significant.   In my mind, the elder is peaceful (not passive), generous (not selfish), wise (not ignorant) and through experience is willing to share their knowledge and vitality to support the wider community.  The young, are playful, see what is in front of them, but not beyond, are in their bodies, initially self-absorbed.  Until, with the right support, they understand that the world does not only revolve around them.   At this point the development can move from the ‘I’ to the ‘we’ and can make a huge difference to their community.


A mature person knows that the world does not revolve around them.   He/she has a bird’s eye view of what is happening.  They know that the earth and all the species are not only in service to humans, but vital to the health of everything. From experience of life, we begin to see that we are in fact a huge family – currently dysfunctional, but a family non the less.  Our survival (and happiness) relies on healthy relationships to other families. The ‘nucleur’ family model has focused our attention and love on our immediate family, to the exclusion of any other living being.   We protect who we love, who we have a relationship with – forgetting that the rest of life, enables that protection, health and happiness. We compete for a piece of love in our relationships, as if there was a limit to love.   Perhaps as part of our development towards maturity, and indicator would be the capacity to feel love?

” The process of fulfilling our wants and needs is stripping the earth of its biotic capacity to produce life; a climactic burst of consumption by a single species is overwhelming the skies, earth, waters and fauna.  Every living system on Earth is in decline. ” Paul Hawkin 1993.

Can we create systems – of education, energy, government, corporation that does not destroy, directly or indirectly the world around us?  I think we can, if we want to.  Our human destiny is inextricably linked to the actions of all other living things.  I have sought role models from all walks of life.  I understand that to have maximum influence everybody has a part to play.  Yet as humans we need all our parts switched on (literally neurologically), our mind, body, emotion and spirit.  Ray Anderson, CEO of a billion dollar carpeting industry felt it.  This video is at the beginning of his journey.  As one of the ‘mountain climbers’, his company’s greenhouse gas emissions decreased by 82% and are on target to reach zero level by 2020.

Through Sal’s teaching, I am beginning to see that for me to be effective and mature, I need to develop among many other things, the capacity to understand the niches of individuals and species, what each  person or species brings to the web.    To understand that humans are the great creators and caretakers, insects the great pollinators, for example.  Each human has the capacity and choice to bring forward their piece of creation.

The planet has a very clear set of operating instructions – lets call that Natural Law.  We need to collaborate, share expertise to create the conditions that are conducive to life.  To have an education system, that mirrors what we know about healthy child development.  An education that includes both an experiential immersion in nature, alongside a broad-based understanding of the environment.  Encourage creativity and innovation, so that our children can come up with solutions that derive from connection not disconnection.

I have sat in meetings with key stakeholders of environmental organisations and charities, and concluded that we would be more effective if we shared a common vision, rather than our individual missions.  It was once mooted that we would make more change if we could use technology and celebrity to be the voices of this vision – if they really felt it.

Last week, i was send a You tube video of Richard Williams, better known by his stage name Prince Ea,  an American rapper and activist.   I think like Ray Anderson, he felt it.  We are approaching a Tipping point.  Thanks to the ‘early adopters’, the ones that have not given up, the people who are on this journey.   Our ancestors.  When this applies to all our society, and all our governments, we would be winning, but not complacent.

We are never powerless.  Never victims.  Let’s have humility and bring forward the bit we can offer.

new logo

What is our Forest School Programme Leadership all about?

I have been working with young people outdoors since 1989.  I have always been in awe of how visually beautiful the natural world is, and that it is impossible for a human to recreate this.  Of all the things we are capable of, the natural diversity that this planet offers never fails to amaze me! Greenland sunset 4 I have been involved in ‘education’ in one way or another for a long time and have focused my career on how to move people to a more mature way of relating to the natural world.  Anything that involves people, requires an exploration of both how we feel about ourselves and how we relate to each other.  So, whatever we ‘teach’ we follow the essential mix of exploring our relationship to self, others and nature. In our culture, we have adopted a ‘fast food’ model of education, where everything is standardised, but unfortunately in many cases this does not create conditions where we can flourish.  Being human is an organic process and growing up well, involves feeding our passions and following what excites us, whilst not hurting ourselves, others and nature! We are obsessed with getting into college, and if our education, educated for the whole of us (mind, body, spirit, emotion), we may not get a degree, but we are likely to find a niche which is fulfilling. cropped-P1000044-copy.jpg Sir Ken Robinson, rightly, in my opinion has articulated this in so many ways.  In his many talks, he offers pertinent examples of people who were challenging in the classroom, who wouldn’t stop figeting and moving, whose actual treatment was the permission to move. Not labelled or criticised.   Our bodies are much more than the transportation for our thinking heads.  A fireman, who was told throughout his education by his teacher ‘to aim higher’ than his desire to be fireman, years later saved his former teacher from dying in a fire.  Ideally we want to be able to customise the learning to a child’s interests, to support them to develop their own solutions, and to be excited about life and learning. nbtracking_cropped We are all talented at something and we generally make poor use of our talents.  Life is wonderfully interactive, our brain thrives on interaction and relationships.  Neural pathways are strengthened as they are used, and pruned if not.  We are emotional, creative beings, with most of what we experience, happening ‘below the brain’, and through our senses. Like everything in nature, we grow up.  In an agricultural, non-industrial model, if we have the right conditions to grow, we flourish.  If we are lucky enough, we journey to become mature and satisfied, with the capacity to be generous towards the next generation. cropped-blindfolded-stringwalk2.jpg So what’s this got to do with Forest School and the Certificate in Forest School Training – formally known as Forest School Programme Leadership Level 3 Certificate? Forest School, a long-term process in natural spaces develops young people’s whole beings.  It’s builds on what we know works – draws on a multitude of outdoor and theoretical disciplines, and aims to foster sparky, happy, connected, resilient children. Children who can make mistakes and bounce back, adults who can support young people’s personalised learning, be authentic, and encourage the diversity of talent and skills that every human is born with. IMG_9982 Forest School is based on a rich heritage of outdoor learning going back at least to the 19th century.  Philosophers, naturalists and educators in Europe and the UK such as Wordsworth, Ruskin, Baden Powell, Leslie Paul (who founded the Woodcraft Folk in 1925), Kurt Hahn (who founded Gordonstone and was the inspiration for our first outdoor education centres), Susan Isaacs and the Macmillan sisters all laid the foundations for what is known as Forest School today. During the 1970s and 80s our education system moved toward a more teacher/outcome-centred approach in an attempt to improve numeracy and literacy, in particular, and we had the introduction of the National Curriculum.  Somewhat in response to this, there was a growth of ‘alternative’ educational models in the 1990s and it is in this context that Forest School emerged. (For more information please link to the Forest School Association). 56a14c11dd74a6d09fbe717928e117a7_large Our Forest School Training puts together a range of key areas. They include learning theories, child development and neuroscience; nature awareness, activities & crafts; woodland management and ecology; tool use and fire making across the ages; health, safety and risk benefit management; planning and delivering child-centred outdoor-based programmes, and so much more…… Our outcomes?

  • To move people to a more mature and personal relationship with the natural world.
  • To help trainees to deeply reflect on the learning and the principles of Forest School.
  • To provide extensive and engaging ways to inspire children, and understand the benefits.
  • To equip trainees to deliver Forest School to a high standard and to be committed to continued professional development.
  • To challenge what we take for granted, change perspectives, change lives.
  • Qualify the trainee to become a Forest School practitioner, able to set up and run an excellent, life-enhancing Forest School programme.

What qualifications does our trainers have?
In order to deliver any accredited qualification (in England and Wales) the trainer is required to have a minimum of a level 4. This is the case for all the levels of Forest School awards. This may be a PTTLs level 4, or a secondary teaching qualification, going up to masters level. Our lead trainer is qualified up to Level 7 in Environmental Education and Management, qualified primary school teacher, with over 25 years working with young people in the outdoors.  All our trainers have specialisms, including wild foods, extensive bushcraft skills, nature connection experience and are passionate about nature. Marina Robb and Anna Richardson have co-authored the acclaimed book, Learning With Nature, forwarded by Chris Packham. circle We want our children, their parents and the wider community to lead healthy and happy lives.  Our work introduces us all to a wider network of family – the trees, birds, animals, creepy crawlies, the water, wind and sunshine.  We develop our capacity of empathy to go beyond care of our immediate loved ones, and extend that a little further.  This is both personal, below the brain and rational and scientific. cropped-cropped-IMG_5702.jpg If all the insects were to disappear from the earth, in 50 years life on earth would die. We are inextricably linked to each other.   Children as young as 5 get this.  Their worldview remains animistic. Our intelligence is diverse, distinct and dynamic.   The principles under which we are currently educating our children was created in a different context, serving an industrial model and is not on the whole equipping our children to thrive and care take this extraordinary life we are born into. Take a step outdoors, re-engage your senses, remember what you loved as a child. kids-walk-wood-parent