Thursday, 11 June 2015

Teaching holistically and making the most of your experiences

by Wenderlynn Bagnall

My journey as a Permaculture designer and educator has taken many directions. There have been times however when I have questioned the direction I was taking, leaving me wondering not just if I was capable of becoming a designer but more importantly whether being a Permaculture teacher was for me. 

Over the last couple of years I have seen and felt myself evolve into an imaginal cell, becoming part of the wings of change. I had hoped that attending the Permaculture Educators Course (PEC) in Friland, Denmark would give me the answers I needed.

Being a member of the Permaculture Association offers numerous opportunities. For me, one of these was applying for funding to attend the Permaculture Educators Course. I'd completely forgotten about it when I received an email in March to say I'd got the funding. I was very excited: it was a great opportunity to develop my skills as a permaculture practitioner. 

Once I had settled down from the excitement, I started to panic. The gremlins were here! Some of these gremlins have been with me since school. I was anxious about stepping out of my comfort zone and leaving behind what was familiar to me but... I wanted to experience what was on the other side of this fear. So I began to ignore the voices in my head. Every day I did something towards my trip to Denmark, always imagining myself doing the things I was afraid of. It began to get easier. I booked my flight and made a list of things I needed. 

With the support of my husband Iain and his understanding of my fears, I was ready to step off the edge and journey into the unknown.

For me the PEC was more than a course about how to teach holistically, it was a discovery of where I've been, who am I and what comes next. It was also a good exercise in helping me deal with my severe anxiety.

I hoped that by using the 5 ways to wellbeing I could make the most of this experience and put some of my gremlins to rest. 

1 . Connect: "Connect with the people around you... Think of these as the cornerstones of your life and invest time in developing them." 

I feel this is quite appropriate within Permaculture and... for me it was especially relevant to the PEC. I found bonds that were like family and created friendships that now reach all corners of the earth. The internal community within the group was paralleled with the intentional community of Friland. I took valuable lessons away with me on what's important in building community. This was helpful as a facilitator to the North Devon Permaculture Network which I initiated as one of my diploma projects. There is now a Facebook group dedicated to PEC 2015, (Permaculture Educators 2015). We can now stay connected, building and maintaining the new relationships made. 

2 . Be Active: "Go for a walk or run. Step outside. Cycle. Play a game. Garden. Dance....." 

Games, activities and being outside were an important part of how we learned and had down time. From a limbo dancing to a morning walk on the beach, the course was filled with opportunities to be active and spend some time with nature. On the final night, we were celebrating our achievements not only on the course but of the work we are all doing to spread Permaculture around the world. 

As children we learn to use play as a way of communicating and developing who we become in later life. As adults play is just as important. It helps us to relax, learn and connect with others as well as reconnect to the child within ourselves. 

3. Take Notice: ".....Remark on the unusual..... savour the moment....reflecting on your experiences will help you appreciate what matters to you." 

Friland was indeed an unusual place. The community was filled with 'artists', people who had used their creativity to construct their own homes. Some had used Christopher Alexander's pattern language for the basis of their designs. 

I was amazed at how completely 'free' it felt to see people being able to express themselves in the architecture of their homes. I enjoyed every moment walking round Friland, from gates made with bikes, to houses built inside a green house. 

My walks in the mornings and evenings with 'my house mate', Norah, gave the opportunity to take in the surroundings of where we were staying. We were lucky enough to be able to view Friland from afar. We saw it in its glory at sunrise and sunset and one on special occasion we shared seeing a deer together. I did indeed take notice.
A gate made from a bicycle. "Remark on the unusual"
4. Keep Learning: "Try something new. Rediscover an old interest. Sign up for that course...... learning new things will make you more confident........." 

The diversity of cultures of the participants added an edge to my experience. Learning how to facilitate with someone, regardless of the language they spoke, wasn't a barrier. From learning the Theory of Learning to sharing different teaching styles and techniques, the course showed us how to use Permaculture to deliver an holistic approach to teaching. Cat and Andy, (whom I've collectively now named Candy), facilitated a structured, yet fun, creative approach to their delivery. From planning a course to untangling human knots, we were guided each session towards becoming Permaculture Educators. 

A couple of phrases stuck out for me during the course:
"If a student participates from the beginning then they will participate all the way through," 


"Just do it!" 

I knew I wanted this course to mean something so I reminded myself of the former whenever I felt a little 'shy'. I wanted to 'learn' as much as I possibly could, not only about being a Permaculture teacher but about myself. I did indeed rediscover that I was more than capable of being a teacher, it being something I have wanted to do since my children were small. I found my confidence again. Both phrases are not only good for the course but great mantras for getting you through life and towards your goals. 

5. Give: "Do something nice for a friend, or a stranger. Thank someone. Smile. Volunteer your time......" 

A morning on the beach
A great ending to my time in Denmark and the PEC was the opportunity to share my knowledge with Danish people outside of the course. Emilia, a course participant, shared her couchsurfing hosts with Flo and myself. Before the course we had decided to extend our stay in Denmark to experience the culture of Aarhus. 

The hosts were keen to have us share our Permaculture knowledge with them. So in exchange for their songs and accommodation, (and as if by commission), we not only gave them some garden design advice and Permaculture resource information but we showed them our PEC presentations. They seemed to absorb our skills and knowledge with glee. Our time with them ended with an exchange of gratitude and seeds. 

For me there were many aspects of learning during my time in Denmark. I learned that by truly facing my fears I can overcome them and discover what I'm capable of. I learned to trust Flo and Emilia with their nomadic travelling experience; thanks guys for guiding me through Aarhus. 

I learned that we CAN change our life story any time. Our negative experiences don't have to hold us prisoner. Most of all I've learned that I can be the best Permaculture teacher I want to be. 

Being a member of the Permaculture Association gave me the opportunity to attend this course. I'm sure at some stage, I would have found the answers to my questions, but I'm glad that it was through the PEC 2015 that I received them. My advice to anyone who wants to have the same opportunity is.... "just do it!", join the Permaculture Association


  1. well done Wenderlynn <3 :D x

  2. Thank you Alan. I did wonder if I should have been more detailed about the course. I felt that what we were there for was about teaching holistically. So...I wanted to reflect on the holistic experience I had, which the course indirectly has given me. Each thing I wrote about was how I was 'being shaped' as a Permaculture Educator. I think it's important to take a deeper look at ourselves before we can go off and 'teach' our knowledge to others.