Teaching a PDC – Initial Planning

After my own PDC I set out on a journey to hone my skills so that I would one day be able to teach a Permaculture Design Course of my own. I included this section to help capture some of the pieces that led up to the decision to schedule my first Permaculture Design Course in August of 2012.

The Beginning

I took my Permaculture Design Course when I was still only a few months into a new management position at Wheatsville Co-op. Although this was not my first management position it did come with a set of expectations and challenges that have helped me develop and grow as a person. I was fortunate to have the opportunity to take on this role as Wheatsville is an employer who invests a great deal into training their employees.

Just prior to taking my Permaculture Design Course I had been enrolled in a management training seminar, known as Rising Stars, that made a surprising impact on me and how I would later view teaching. The seminar itself was highly creative, interactive and engaging but it is the confidence and motivation that it inspired in me that had the lasting impact on my later pursuits.

Rising Stars provided the tools to develop into a confidante and compassionate leader and also taught me a surprising amount about dynamic facilitation. At this time in my life, I already knew that I wanted to teach and facilitate and, naturally, permaculture was at the top of my list for subjects I hoped to engage.

I bring this up because I feel it’s important to note that teaching a PDC was not something I just spontaneously stumbled into… Teaching the Permaculture Design Course was been a long and intentional journey.

The Journey Continues

After completing my own Permaculture Design Course my invigoration to teach this amazing design science only grew stronger. But before I could jump into facilitation I knew I had a lot of learning still yet to do. I focused in on cultivating my own personal leadership skills through my position at Wheatsville and the on going development of Community Cultivators. At the same time, I worked to hone my knowledge and skills at permaculture design and application.

Things were developing rapidly for me and all of a sudden, with one spontaneous click of a mouse, my focus took a major leap forward. In the summer of 2010, on somewhat of a whim, I decided to place a deposit on the Permaculture Research Institute of Australia’s 10 week internship program for the following year.

I had a little over a year to gear myself up, collect enough savings and plan my exit strategy. Little did I know, that was the year Community Cultivators would reach an incredible inflection point. Over the next several months, I found myself leading workshops,  conducting tours, facilitating community events & park cleanups, as well as taking on multiple public speaking engagements all while holding down a 50 hour work week and volunteering for the Wheatsville Board of Directors and the development of the Austin Cooperative Think Tank.

Here are some of the highlights from that year:

Sunflower Co-op 3 day Permablitz
Natural Building Fun
Cultivating the Park
The Amazing Progression of The Deadend Homestead
Backyard Food Security
The Fun Continues…
Get Your Project On!
A Day of Community

Whew… That’s a lot of activity in a year!

And then there’s all the articles from this Weblog dating back as far as February of 2011.

Next Steps

Needless to say, it was an event filled adventure even before my travel adventures had begun. Finally, in the fall of 2011, I set out on a trip that would circumnavigate the globe and land me at the completion of my first Permaculture Design Course nearly one year later.

Here are some of the highlights of that year:

What’s burning in East Texas
Spirit of community…
Island life…
Sting of the vana
The Growing Abundance of Moloka`i
Interning on Zaytuna Farm 
Imagine The Abundance – Urban Gardens
Out of the morning mist… (one of my favorites)
Thailand Permaculture Project

Finally came the sleepless night that was the impetus for this article and the first step in pinning down a course date.
Thailand and the big surprise – I’m coming home

This was the beginning of my goal setting, analysis and design stages. Following sections will detail how the process proceeded from here… but before we get to that, I want to rewind a moment and share some of my learning and growth experiences at the Permaculture Research Institute of Australia and how that contributed to this decision.

Teacher Training with Geoff Lawton

Prior to setting the intention of teaching a Permaculture Design Course in the fall of 2012, as detailed above, I had already set out on a long journey of personal growth and transformation. A significant part of this transformation came during week five of my ten week internship at the Permaculture Research Institute of Australia. Actually, in all truth, the whole ten weeks was transformative.

Week five is significant to this report because it is the week that our internship engaged in the Permaculture Design Course Teacher Training Course. Under the tutelage of Geoff Lawton, one of permaculture’s most revered teachers, my fellow students and I were put through a gauntlet of spontaneous presentation, practical teaching wisdoms and curriculum design.

Here is a great article by two wonderful classmates, Tamara Griffiths and Delvin Solkinson that details some of the experiences we shared.

The teacher training was hugely developmental for me on many levels and I was very excited to participate in this course for obvious reasons. The course was dynamic and kept us on our toes for the entirety. Geoff is a master at throwing curve balls and getting his students outside of their comfort zones to experience a new way of learning and teaching.

Nearly every day of the course we were surprised by a presentation. Sometimes we had to come up with our presentation “on the spot” and other times we were asked to pick a presentation from the designers manual. All of these presentations were recorded and we were instructed to review the tapes as a group in the evenings and share our feedback with each other. This was a profoundly humbling process!

One Minute Presentation – Get to the point!

Earthworks in 3 Minutes

Food Forest Guilds

Community Cultivation

Learning Journal Extracts

Below are some extracts from my learning journal during Geoff’s Permaculture Design Course Teachers Training:

  • Begin each course with a “housekeeping” section (where are the restrooms, etc..)
  • The best indicator of a teachers success is how active his/her students are in that subject
  • Permaculture is a very broad subject, nobody knows it all. Bill, as the person who’s been researching permaculture the longest claims to know the least.

“Permaculturalists are the new indigenous people.” – Geoff Lawton

“We’ve used technology to keep our selves soft.” – Geoff Lawton

  • Play the audience – Make statements that will insight questions that can lead you into the next subject
  • When the class gets tired (after lunches) it’s a good time to give workshops
  • It’s ok to teach out of the designers manual

“Know where your edge is, know where your job finishes!” — Geoff Lawton
“Be a really good generalist designer” — Geoff Lawton

  • Keep the “superheroes” calmed down
  • There are some “must hit” points within any course

“A lot of power comes out of timing… you might feel like you’re not saying as much but you’re really saying more because your words have more impact” — Geoff

  • A pause is powerful and can create emphasis
    • 8 seconds – people are wondering what happened
    • 11 seconds – people begin to “change the channel”
  • To register to be a PRI teacher you must have taught or taken part in teaching at least 2 PDC’s
  • If you don’t want your statement to be altered in translation speak in three word blocks.
  • When writing on the white board only face the board when you’re talking directly about what you are drawing/writing
    • Use BLOCK writing
    • Change colors often
  • Start lessons with inspiration
    • What are some of the amazing properties and amazing facts of the subject.
    • Hold students in that space.
    • Then remind them that they have a responsibility to that knowledge.
  • Always check in with students to observe if they understand
    • Ask questions just to see if info is understood
    • You can answer the questions yourself to save time but occasionally you want to pause and get them to answer

“wait until you see the light go on.” — Geoff

  • Find an ice breaker that doesn’t start with “Um… So…”
  • At the beginning of the course, if it seems like everybody is nervous. sit on the floor and share food with the group to make them feel more comfortable
  • Set the core of the subject by anchoring it with solid tones, repetition and stronger presence
  • “4th world” people are people in their own land who have been disempowered by their own people and imposing culture
  • Having westerners in an aid course helps both 3rd and 1st world peoples accept the information and build relationships as well anchors the realities of what each culture is doing and that in some cases the 3rd world is more learned than the first.
  • Cover global topics with an emphasis on local conditions
  • People who are doubters need evidence
    • Facts about soil erosion, etc…
    • Follow evidence with ethics

“All the thought processes have been taken away from farmers” — Geoff lawton

“We are the only elements that can save this world now.” –Geoff Lawton

  • Dress to the situation.
  • If you can write you can draw
    • letters of the alphabet are just symbols
  • Give people the power to correct you

The Principle of water:
“The longest path
Over the most distance
Traveling as slowly as possible
Over the most time
Rubbing up against as many things as possible
With the most possible friction
— Geoff Lawton

“Maps are one of our most powerful tools” — Geoff

  • Field trips can take up a lot of time in a course
  • Pull in youtube videos to illustrate points
    • Skype interviews work well to broaden student perspective
  • Modeling earthworks is very effective
  • Hands on can be offered in off hours
  • Surveying should be done hands on
  • Kinetically anchor information with activities
    • Draw a map of on the floor (simple or site specific)
    • Add zones
    • give each student an animal, veg, tree element
    • have them create it with clay
    • have them choose which zone on the map their element falls in and why.
  • Always keep a group exercise ready for when the group gets heavy

“A people without an agreed-upon common basis to their actions is neither a community nor a nation.” — Bill Mollison

“We’ve lost the link to the life in food.” — Geoff Lawton

  • Use the “principle summery” section at the end of each chapter in the Designers Manual for teaching and presentation
  • The better you get the more challengers you get
  • When you get through day four of the PDC  – Patterns – the PDC is over… you’ve taught the course, everything else is reconfirmation of the past four days.
    • The first four chapters of the manual are the most important to get right!
  • Day one schedule:
    • Housekeeping
    • Introductions
    • Evidence of Problems
    • Ethics
  • Day two schedule:
    • Concepts & Themes of Design
  • Day three schedule:
    • Methods of Design
  • Day four schedule:
    • Pattern Understanding
  • Every 90 Minute Session should contain:
    • 2 analogies
    • 2 Stories
    • 2 Laughs
    • 2 Cries
  • Beware not to cross the lines of other culture’s sensitivities
  • Differences between culture and religion:
    • Always respectfully ask question to insure you are staying within the boundaries of that culture and religion.
    • Culture is more important than religion.
  • You are not talking about a persons indigenous culture nor are you talking about your culture. You’re talking about a brand new design system for sustainable living.
  • Don’t come to the 4th world with your ego and resume. Come from a very humble place and show them before and after.
    • Start with creation story to illustrate the hugeness of the universe and the smallness of all of us.
  • Start to construct your own set of teacher notes for PDC
  • Profit – The problem is the solution – “everything is a positive resource; it is just up to us to work out how we may use it as such.”
  • Climate is difficult to sum up and make relevant to permaculture
  • Have a different student review the previous day’s lessons each morning.

“If you cannot identify your climate and landscape profile you have not basis to design from.” – Geoff Lawton

  • Look at course notes from resources and manual to develop your own set of course notes and curricula.
  • For permaculture intro course, teach from permaculture intro book.
    • 8 chapters – 4 per day
    • weekend courses
  • After teaching several intros people when begin to ask you to teach PDCs, after PDCs you can teach specialized courses.

At The End of The Day

After an intense week this was our just reward: (note the very auspicious date)

Permaculture Design Course Teacher Training Certificate


My path to teaching a Permaculture Design Course has been focused and intentional. When learning material with the intention in mind that you will one day turn around and become the teacher, you have the tendency to put a much greater level of focus on learning and retaining the material. According to the National Training Laboratories of Bethel, Maine, the best and most effective way to learn something is to teach it. I’ve found this to be a profoundly useful reality both in my own learning, and how I’ve learned to teach.

In the next section of this design project, I will share the observations and analysis that led me to finally decide it was time to schedule a Permaculture Design Course.


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