Inspiration and insights from a Teacher Training Course

by Nenya Milne

The Permaculture Association bulletin advertising funded places at European training courses came just at the right time. I was feeling increasingly stuck for impetus to pursue the many permaculture projects I had ambitiously hatched in my head. I knew I needed to improve on my skills to engage with different audiences, and to gain confidence in the more democratic forms of education compared to the university framework I was used to. 
Nenya and family

Somehow I had never seriously considered a teachers’ training course – perhaps because the scale of investment, both in terms of time and money, was completely out my reach. 

Having already made plans to pack my two-year old off to granny’s for most of October, the opportunity to apply for funding for the October Permaculture Educators’ Course in Denmark was too good to miss. With only a few meaningful questions to answer, my application was soon on its way. Incredibly, I got the answer in just three days – and I was going to Friland!

I arrived in Denmark feeling slightly intimidated yet excited about the course, but both emotions soon gave way to an almost palpable sense of being just where I needed to be. I made friends with some of our group even before leaving Copenhagen on a 4 hour bus journey to Friland, which lies about an hour’s drive north-east of Aarhus. I met the rest during the charming candlelit dinner at our course venue – a spacious eco-building called The Raven (Ravnen). Our accommodation was partly in Friland’s equally amazing and varied family homes, made from wood, straw bale, or cob, and partly in the ‘normal’ Danish village of Feldballe across the road from Friland.

Friland is an unusual intentional community in that it was set up NOT to become a parallel alternative community, but to demonstrate that you could lead a green, low-impact life while staying fully integrated with the rest of society. Friland’s children attend the local school in Feldballe, and the preconditions for getting a plot to build your own house in Friland were not being in debt, and having your own (not necessarily land-based) business. There were also limits imposed on how much you could sell your house for, to deter anyone with the ambitions of a would-be developer, and attract people with a long-term commitment to the community. Many of the houses in Friland were still being built (and from what I heard the strain of self-build proved too much for a couple of families), and it was in no way a postcard picture of an ideal village – though it did not stop people from wanting to visit, get involved, or seek to replicate Friland’s experiences elsewhere. And for good reason, everything that succeeded had withstood the tests of both time and usefulness, and Friland is a well-functioning as well as a deeply inspirational place.

In addition to getting insider perspectives on Friland, staying in family homes meant that we got the chance of a decent rest during the night (unless paired up with a snoring roommate…), as well as a daily change of scene and some space of our own. I even had the benefit of a cat’s company which was wonderful for relaxation! We were also very well looked after at the course venue: we were spared cooking and other house work by our incredibly efficient hosts Jo and Lars and their kitchen helpers Nicolas and Alison, who also provided wholesome and delicious food and freshly baked bread, and yes, “Mmmm, garlic..!”

There was also time for fun and games, mushrooming in the local woods, gentle warm-ups to energise us in the mornings, and plenty of socialising in the evenings. All of this was important given how intensive the course proved to be, and it was amazing to see how it was carefully designed to enable maximum learning and retention of useful information – packed and interactive sessions alternated with time set aside for reflection and opportunities to practice teaching in a safe and supportive environment. 

We gained useful insights about how we learn (the process and the different learning styles), the importance of thorough preparation and timing, of a good learning environment, and of tailoring the methods and content to specific learning outcomes. We practised teaching in pairs and giving feedback to each other, while each of us received useful feedback from our tutors Andy Goldring and Cat Dolleris, as well as an insight about how to improve our body language and ‘presence’ from a fellow trainee Armand, a dance teacher with a keen interest in bodily awareness.

Although we all had different starting points in terms of confidence and experience in teaching permaculture, I can safely say that the course was useful to everyone, but especially the beginners, and it will continue to bear fruit for many years to come! For myself, things that seemed insurmountable before suddenly appeared doable and far less intimidating, and as the ten days of training progressed, I felt increasingly empowered – as well as grateful and incredibly moved by the emerging friendships, wisdom, and mutual support.

Our stay in Friland was not without incident: a couple of days before the course ended, one of the huge straw piles not far from the venue went up in flames. Speculation abounded as to whether the moisture that penetrated the bales had led to such high levels of microbial activity that the straw ignited in the generated heat (much like an overly hot compost pile), or whether our group or the bus tour of pensioners that happened to visit Friland on that day harboured an unconfessed pyromaniac… One thing was definite according to the firefighters: our quickly improvised bucket chain helped save the nearby building from catching fire as well.

Discussing the first micro-teach
while on a DIY tour of Friland (Photo by Cat Dolleris)
Now, almost 6 month later, I still feel a very strong sense of connection to all my course folk, and I am looking forward to meeting at least some of them at the September IPCUK in London. I also feel their support in all I am doing to put my newly honed skills into practice: since returning from Friland, I have enrolled in Diploma; ran my first Permaculture Introduction course, a homemade cosmetics course, and started shadowing an established teacher’s PDC; helped teach a permaculture practical on Edinburgh University’s 3rd year biology course; organised a collective design exercise for a local park; started a project to create a forest garden in the local school grounds and am now working on a Forest Gardening course to accompany the project in the autumn.

About the author:
Nenya Milne lives in Edinburgh with her husband Richard and their son Lawrence. She is a self-employed gardener and permaculture designer and teacher, enjoys botanising, gets ridiculously excited about plants (especially unusual edibles), and is working on involving her local community in the Inch into food-growing projects.