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Season 2, Episode 12:
Rewilding, Power Dynamics and Wild Pedagogy


Marina Robb

Hosted by: Marina Robb

In Episode 12, Marina talks about:

The importance of consent and power, and how so often we don’t realise how this operates in our lives. She also discusses some core ideas within the field of Rewilding Education and Wild pedagogy.

Topics include:

  • How power shows up in our relationships & schools
  • How consent and choice lead to agency and self-esteem
  • The Compass of Rewilding Education
  • The Touchstones of Wild Pedagogy

Music by Geoff Robb: www.geoffrobb.com 

Useful Information:

Wild Pedagogies: Six Initial Touchstones for Early Childhood Environmental Educators (B.Jickling; S Blenkinsop; M Morse; A. Jensen 2018) Australian Journal of Environmental Education, Vol 34 (2) 159-171, 2018.


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(transcribed by AI so there maybe some small errors!)

Thinking about knowledge and this idea that in a way we can become paralysed if we think we need to have enough knowledge to actually even act and I was thinking Well, again, it's like how we're taught about knowledge and I think we mistake information for knowledge.

Hello, and welcome to The Wild Minds Podcast for people interested in health, nature-based therapy and learning. We explore cutting edge approaches that help us improve our relationship with ourselves, others and the natural world. My name is Marina Rob. I'm an author, entrepreneur, Forest School outdoor learning and nature-based trainer and consultant, and pioneer in developing green programmes for the health service in the UK.

You're listening to Episode 12, rewilding power dynamics and wild pedagogy. I wanted to pick up on the importance of consent and power, and how so often we don't realise how this operates in our lives. I also discuss some core ideas within the field of rewilding education, and wild pedagogy. I hope you find it interesting.

Today, I want to give some gratitude to the time of year, which is about the harvest time of year. So, it's sort of August, September time, and it reminds me to gather and harvest from the last year. And to give some time to that. And I'm grateful to be harvesting a lot of moments that have provided time for reflection in that rest that I talked about back in the summer. And particularly today to think about this idea of power and energy and this time of year.

According to some older traditions, on this land and other lands around the world, you could say that the energy that has been out like the sun, that's high summer energy is beginning to turn inward. So as we go into the autumn and winter, it's more reflective. Some people associate that with, like masculine qualities of energy, and then feminine qualities of energy. So, I'm really grateful to have had some time to consider some of these things.

Today, I want to be thinking and talking about rewilding education, and this idea of wild pedagogy, at least touching in on these areas, and how some of those ideas might look in practice. But before that, I want to just talk to you all a little bit about ideas, about power and choice. So, I'm generally not so worried about how we define educational practice, whether we think about Forest School as a practice, per se, or outdoor learning, I think it all has value because you get to unpack it and think about it. But I'm really, really interested in what good practice generally is, and how we can learn from other ways of thinking and knowing.

And bring that into our everyday practice. Wherever we are, whatever job we do, because a lot of it's always going to come down to our relationship to ourselves and others, and the wide world, I think. So, I'm interested in good practice. And I'm interested this idea of how power plays out, and how choice plays out and how, and when we feel we have choice. And then like these ideas about power, over power that shared in a sense of power, and what all these things might mean and how they might link to wellbeing as well and our ability to function well in our lives and to make good decisions in our lives. So, this is a little follow on from my conversation with Max last week about rewilding education and I also really got stuck in a way of thinking about this idea of coercion?

Like, if it's true that we break a horse, you know, what is some of the elements that break a horse? Or are we breaking children into a particular way of thinking? And yes, we are no doubt. But that's part of culture, isn't it? That's part of what we do in a culture to live to live with each other is we kind of break each other into these ideas. But of course, some people have more breaking power than others. And yeah, this idea of what are those elements, and of course, when I think about coercion, a lot of the tools we have are around, you know, you punish people, or you shame people, or you'd make them scared into doing things. So that we learn that way. And that's kind of like a lot of the behavioural tools, isn't it, that we will punish you, and then you'll go right, I'm not going to do that again.

But I also thought, well, that's a bit one way of thinking too, because we also do things because we, we have a feeling of love and connection and wanting to have that connection. And I guess that's where that attachment theory comes in. And, and that's positive, we, we change our behaviour, because we love other people and situations, and we care and we understand that the world doesn't just revolve around us. And that actually, we need to figure things out together. So, I'm still on this inquiry around, why we behave the way we do, and who has the power and starting to look at how power operates in our lives and in our systems.

So, I had a call with some students this week, and we were talking about having the confidence to take our practice outdoors. And this idea that we just don't have enough knowledge to do it. And, as always, I'm never extreme in my thinking, of course, we need to learn and, and do training in order to think about how we work with others, particularly when we think about therapeutic practice and the importance of this idea of power and how we how just by our positional power, we can influence other people.

And, of course, a lot of us, including me like to be right, and that can really have a detrimental effect on others. So, thinking about knowledge, and this idea that in a way, we can become paralysed if we think we need to have enough knowledge to actually even act and I was thinking, it's like how we're taught about knowledge. And I think we mistake information for knowledge. And knowledge is something that's much more complex and rounded, and is linked to our feelings and our kind of sense of if something feels right, as well, it's not just about information.

So let me think about or share with you about this image, you know, you've got a teacher, for example, at the front of classroom, that that imparts knowledge and the children don't have that knowledge. So immediately, you've got this kind of dynamic, where it's set up that that you the teacher, the director, whoever have the knowledge and everybody else doesn't. And we have this dynamic where, where I know that I can feel like I don't have I don't know enough, I'm not good enough, I don't have enough to be showing up. And it makes me feel smaller than the person that's sitting at the front or standing up and taking this role.

And when you actually start to think about that, it's something we've learned and saying we're not used to sharing knowledge and sharing power and being a little bit more vulnerable in that way and not thinking that we always know so there's something that can really be a barrier, if we believe we should know, then we never step out. If we leave, we can gain all this information because that's what it is all of it looks like isn't it information, information, information, rather than a real sense of that ourselves in some ways, and this, I guess, brings together this link of these different aspects of ourselves and how we develop them or not. So out of that is this way of considering how we operate in our groups and how we leave time for the other to share their experience, their imagination, their ways of seeing things, or do we just focus on what we know and stay in away in a safe zone, because, you know, we're not used to this sharing that goes on.

And this links very much into education into lots of our practices, and also really had an also had an experience where, because a lot of my work is also funded, where we forget that, that when you're given funding, that, again, that sets up this dynamic where the person that gives you money or invest money, of course, has an agenda and has power. And sometimes we can unconsciously, kind of feel like, we can't set boundaries, because they've got power.

And if we set boundaries, they're going to remove the money, or you're going to lose your job if you say what you think you're gonna say. And, and, and I think this operates all the time in all our systems, and really, really worth thinking about. So, when we think about consent, and saying yes to something, we also have to have a sense of how power is operating in our lives.

And the difference between knowing something, you know, someone can say, oh, yeah, sure, you know, you can, you can say what you like, oh, yeah, please, please share what you think and that I really want to know what you think about this, while completely dismissing the reality, that they have a lot of this positional power, they have a lot of power, and you're not going to feel comfortable saying actually, you know, I totally disagree with what you're saying, you know, how can I, how can a child in a class, the way it's set up, even the way a room is set up, actually feel they have power.

So this lends itself into a lot of the work that we do outdoors and the setup of, you know, sitting in a circle, maybe sitting around a fire or sitting in a way that emit, you know, people talk about the great levelling, and, and it really works when we're not in a kind of one person in front of us, we're in their inner circle. And, and, of course, this, you know, just to feed some thoughts, again, is that this also really matters and is really important in our relationship to the natural world. And, of course, this idea that humans are supreme, you know, we're super clever.

We get to enact our power and our decisions as we as we wish, towards the natural world, and so on. So really, really important to really, really think about that, in my view. So, and here, I was saying that I was going to talk about rewilding ideas, and also a little bit about wild pedagogy. And, of course, these ideas for me sit within a pedagogy within a worldview that is different. And, and I'm not saying all this stuff, this is an exploration, this is all an exploration for me, and I really value other people's thoughts.

So do get in touch if you want to share your ideas or share resources that you think will help me and others expand our understanding of, of this area. But it does link to our relationship to the natural world, which is a fundamental piece of this podcast, and understanding this wilder, deeper sense of self that we have, and that isn't ours, you know, recurring thoughts that go on and on and on and on, that we don't over value this thinking part of ourselves. Yeah, it's amazing. You know, I'm using it now. But there's also these different aspects to who we are. And that's exciting. That gives me hope.

So, I said I'd talk about these two areas.

So I'm going to really refer to Max and others’ lovely diagram about a re wilding kind of compass, and I've put it on the show notes. So, you can have a little look. And just to think about, you know, what, what some of these elements of a rewilding education can be and I said, this is connected to Max and Dan's work and I'll send the link to their work on the show notes and some of the compass, a compass, the ways we orientate ourselves in this life and they've set up this compass and it has sort of four key areas around.

So how wild is this education? And again, we can start thinking about how deeply connected is it to the natural world how much do we I value these different aspects of the natural world. And it makes me think about this whole idea of the millions of languages of nature. You know, we're obsessed with the verbal languages, but there's millions of languages of nature, which I'll come back to in a minute. But you know, how wild is this education? How holistic is it? How alive? Is it? How? How are we linking into our facets, or human facets? And how does that connect to the facets and the abilities of all the other peoples around the world as well as all the other species that exist on this planet? Now, how free is this education? What a great question Is it? Is it self-directed, you know, self-directed links with choice. And this idea of choice again, being? It's not a mental idea, it's an embodied idea.

If someone tells me I can show up, and I can say what I think but do I do I feel it in my body, does it? Does it feel like I have that choice? So can I self-direct my thinking, and my learning? When are the opportunities to do that to self-direct, because we need that right? When we leave school. And if we want to have healthy mental health, and we want to have a life that makes sense to us, that has meaning we need to have this idea of self-direction. And again, how connected is this idea of freedom, this free to spontaneity is how connected and linked is that freedom with, with the container of the living world?

You know, we don't get to do what we want to do all the time? What's my impact? On the natural world? What's this reciprocity? Again, going backwards and forwards? For how grounded is this education that we're giving, you know, and grounded, not just energetically grounded? You know, we're, we're gonna feel so stressed. And now we need to be back grounded in our bodies. And there are lots of practices around that, that are really supported through our senses, and so on. But also how grounded how ethical is it? How boundaried is it? How socially just is it?

We can't, you know, how environmentally just is it? We can't go on operating as if we're not rooted in this natural living ecological centre system, because we are under like this other fourth compass direction and this model, which is about how consensual is it? You know? Is it linked to our own agency? You know, do we feel this idea of consent? Have we even thought about what is consent a whole other subject that I’m really interested in? And, you know, hope to be offering some in person workshops with some key people around that in next year?

Do we respect our boundaries? Do we know what's okay for us and not okay for us? What are other people's feelings? You know, do we come along and dominate? Do we find a way of listening and sharing this power? And is it just our consent that's needed? You know, human consent? What about the nonverbal? Children, people, the people that don't have a voice? They don't have a platform, which I have here? What are all those voices? How do we know if they're even consenting here?

And of course, we know that they're not we know that the systems are not yet creative enough to enable people to have their voice heard. So that's like some of these ideas of rewilding education, some of these thoughts. And then I was reading this journal that was given to me by Professor Jan White, who you're going to hear from next week. Really lovely, enriching, deeply thoughtful episode that's coming. In this Australian Journal of Environmental Education, these researchers have really thought about what wild pedagogy touchstones might be in this case for early educators. And they're part of this wild pedagogy project.

And they also have the six touchstones and I'm not going to go into all of them, because these episodes where I speak and are not supposed to go on and on and on and on. But some of them, I'll name them and I might just mention a few points with that. But basically, one of the six touchstones is about agency and the role of nature as a co teacher. Again, I absolutely understand through my practice that we have, it's not just about the human, it's not just about you, the participant or the teacher, or the child, or whoever it is, it's not just about that it's about also the natural world, or the living, both energetic, both physical experiences that happen and how that impacts us and the role that that plays in our psyche, in our, the way we feel in our behaviours, and all so on.

And there's this lovely little touch of a quote that I took from the paper, which was lovely, it was speaking from the voice of the Raven. And the Raven said, well see, you speak your way. They, meaning the different members of the natural world speak in different ways, like 1000s of different ways. Billions. And I love that I feel they're speaking in their own ways. And true, we hardly understand the language of the natural world. And we feel language is just the construct that we've created.

So I love this feeling and this sense that comes from listening to different languages. And of course, as a teacher and drawing on educational theory, you know, reminded me of Montessori is 100 languages of children, you know that there are languages that are spoken or not spoken, that that are multi-dimensional, as well from children. And, again, reminding you that there are 1000s and 1000s of languages in the natural world.

So yeah, that touchstone agency in the role of nature as a co teacher, and of course, it has impact for therapeutic practice. I know firsthand, direct experience over the many, many years that being in nature, obviously, consensually, being in nature, is an incredible space for profound healing insights, and learning. Another of the touchstone is this idea of wildness and changing and challenging the ideas of control.

Well, I've already really touched on that. And I guess I'm naming that, you know, wild pedagogy is saying that, we need to just check in with each other that we keep telling children and people and our loved ones, what to do often where to go, and even what to think because we there is an aspect of being human that needs to think that it knows I mean, some people talk about that being the ego part of ourselves, but we need to think that we know. But let's at least step back a little bit and recognise that we're not entirely in control here. We know that from a pandemic, we're not entirely in control.

And actually something on my fridge that I had that helped me was just to remind me, it said, Relax, you're not in control. And for me, that was very helpful during the pandemic, because there's a fear isn't there that when things aren't in control, that we are lost, we won't be looked after we are going to be out there surviving on our own. And again, that's, that's a narrative. And perhaps, and hopefully that isn't true. Hopefully, that isn't true.

I certainly know with a relationship to the natural world, and attachment to a place or places not just attachment to a caregiver, that this deep relationship actually brings a lot of comfort. When, of course, what does what does the natural world tell us all the time that things are continually in a state of flux, there's constant destruction, constant creation, constant generation regeneration, in a vibrant ecosystem, there's always a sense of the unknown, which sometimes lends itself to this whole spiritual dimension as well. But there's also a sense of knowing too and remember knowing isn't information.

Third, touchtone it links to complexity, the unknown spontaneity and I think this is links again to what we've already discussed around learning to deal with incomplete complexity, you know, not really understanding and knowing that it's okay for things are complex. Fourth touchstone is toward locating the wild. And I love that as well. This simplicity of and I know it will, we call it the green wall where when you don't have a connection with place in different ways that you walk past and all you see is green, you know, there's no kind of sense of familiar with what's around you. And, and that you say, look there and people go what you're talking about.

And actually, it's because you know, we will well, we're probably walking around really fast but also because we haven't stopped, we haven't slowed down, we haven't breathed, we haven't looked, we haven't noticed. And of course there's tonnes and tonnes and tonnes of fantastic exercises and activities, nature based activities for school activities, Earth walk based activities, forest bathing activities, to me, they're all part of the same sense of potential experiences and exercises that can be used across multiple industries for multiple reasons. But here we have this idea of locating the wild and understanding that that can be right here right now in an urban city, as well as in a wild place. Because there's more going on than what we can just touch and see.

Fifth time and practice well, again, I'm just going to name that we need space, we need time, and we need practice. And we need different practice and different habitual practices to really support ourselves and a change that will feel comfortable enough. And the sixth is cultural change. The sixth touchstone is cultural change, and it really implies and asks us to be a bit conscious politically, and to really also start questioning a very dominant colonising worldview.

And, and it's a huge subject and we will be bringing this in, in this podcast because how can we not when we're talking about wild minds, and we're going to be compassionate alongside how hard it is to have inherited so much have been taught from such an early age, to have power over and not power with, and to be acculturated to be cultured into a very specific set of worldviews and set of beliefs. And, you know, we've been given that and it's not just from our parents, it's from parents, parents, parents, parents, system, system, system systems, cultures, cultures, cultures, cultures, and I'm sure we all are able to learn and to change and to do it in a way that is compassion, compassionate, but move things. So, here's a look, I've gone and looked at how power moves I've looked at some areas of rewarding education and wild pedagogy. And, and I hope that that's been useful and take care, and I'll see you again, very soon look at the show notes and find out more and thank you for being part of this community.

Join me next week when you'll meet Professor Jan White, a leading thinker and writer on outdoor play. With over 30 year’s experience in education, and an award winning author. Among many other things, we'll be discussing the importance of childhood play, the idea of ecological identity, and what really matters to children and to early years development. 

Thank you for listening to this episode of The Wild minds podcast. If you enjoyed it and want to help support this podcast, please subscribe, share and leave a rating and review wherever you get your podcasts. Your review will help others find the show.

To stay updated with The Wild Minds Podcast and get all the behind-the-scenes content. You can visit the www.outdoorteacher.com or follow me on Facebook at theoutdoorteacherUK and LinkedIn, Marina Robb.

The music was written and performed by Geoff Robb. See you next week. Same time, same place