Sitting around the fire at a recent Forest School conference a fascinating discussion developed about the nature of the pedagogy we employ. My friend Annie, of Get Out More, remembered a conversation she and I had had a few years ago.
We had been discussing the amount of knowledge that we feel we should have in order to help someone else learn. She had said to me that she had noticed something that had helped her, the realisation that you only need to be one step ahead of where the learners are. We laughed when she recalled that my answer had been “One step! As much as that?”
As I reflect on this conversation later I realise that there is a deeper truth in this idea, held in the approach to learning employed in Forest School. If we look at the word ‘pedagogy’ it’s roots hold the secret of the skill we that we try and master, the “science and art of teaching”. In Ancient Greek and Roman culture the pedagogue was the adult, often a trusted slave, whose role it was to walk with the child in the street, carrying their bags and modelling how to behave in a range of situations. He or she was not the teacher who directed the acquisition of subject knowledge. The pedagogue was literally the person who walked alongside the child to the place where they learned. Maybe one step ahead, if as much as that.
My husband and our long legged dog love to go striding out across the moors near our home. Both covering ground at great speed and exhilarating in the wild weather. I go with them sometimes but it requires careful negotiation. I have a tendency to get distracted; an abandoned egg shell from a moorland nest, a wildflower blooming in the moss, concentric circles of vivid lichens. Then, when I look up they are gone. Little specks away up the hill, (always uphill) and I have to really motivate myself to catch up. I arrive, out of breath as they wait patiently, ready to move on again.
When we try and keep pace with each other, it is much easier to get into the flow of walking. I have to walk a little faster and push myself. He has to pause and take notice of little things. The dog runs in circles around us both. But we are walking together, maybe one of us is one step ahead, if as much as that
This is the ideal that I try and strive for in my own practise and in the sharing of my knowledge. I try to walk alongside the children. Delighting in the observations they choose to share with me, encouraging them to push themselves a little. Rather than rushing ahead, leaving them to struggle on their own, expecting them to keep up.
The more I think about this the more I appreciate the woods as a place of playful learning. Where we can create the time and space so children and adults can learn alongside each other. That learning and developing ideas with people does not mean that we are making it up as we go along, that we are lazy or unprepared but rather we use our skills and expertise to stay with the learners. Maybe one step ahead. If as much as that.