The Mighty Perspective Shift From “Power Over” to “Power With” at Forest School

by | Oct 6, 2021

“Power over is driven by fear. Daring and transformative leaders share power with, empower people to, and inspire people to develop power within.”- Dr. Brene Brown

As we all begin to find our places within our forest family here at Aishling Forest School, we find it most important to create our community manifesto (or set of publicly declared agreements) before our adventures dive deeper into tool work, games, riskier endeavors (such as higher tree climbing) and crafts. Our community manifesto helps all create a base layer of agreements that our entire forest family has agreed upon. This has been beneficial as an introductory grounding practice at the beginning of each season so that everyone’s needs are being clearly communicated and met from day one. If at any point someone feels like their needs are not being met, or that they are not being respected, the manifesto is there to reflect that and is an on-going work in progress that we come back to discuss and work on each week, making sure that each and everyone of our learners feels heard, valued and respected. 

The History + Many Benefits of a Cooperative Manifesto:

The notion of a community manifesto was introduced to the mentors of Aishling Forest School through the work of Teacher Tom. Tom “Teacher Tom” Hobson is an early childhood educator, international speaker, education consultant, teacher of teachers, parent educator, and author. He is best known, however, for his namesake blog Teacher Tom’s Blog, where he has posted daily for over a decade, chronicling the life and times of his little preschool in the rain-soaked Pacific Northwest corner of the USA. For nearly two decades, Teacher Tom was the sole employee of the Woodland Park Cooperative School, a parent-owned and operated school, knit together by Teacher Tom’s democratic, progressive play-based pedagogy.

At Aishling Forest School, each of our mentors completed a higher learning e-course led by Teacher Tom called “The Technology of Speaking to Children so They Can Think”. There is a wealth of knowledge available in the course (for educators and caregivers) and one of the episodes covers in depth the details of a community manifesto, “We are most prone to using the language of command when it comes to rules and rallying children for tidy up time: “No hitting!” “No taking things from people!” “Put that away!” “Stop playing!” Teacher Tom shares how to apply the technology of speaking with children to create an environment in which children are more likely to abide by the rules and participate in community activities of their own accord. And why this is always preferable to being compelled to do so by a bossy adult.” 

Numerous benefits of the community manifesto idea can also be found in Teacher Tom’s article, “A Cooperative Manifesto”:

  1. The cooperative model can in many cases be a far more efficient and effective means for satisfying “demand”.
  2. Traditional institutions are about people doing things to and for other people. Cooperative institutions are about people doing things with each other. This is a perspective shift from power “over” to power “with”.
  3. Our power lies in our use of informative statements, statements of fact that create a “space” in which young children can actually think and make decisions for themselves. One such example is, “You left your backpack” vs. “Please get your backpack” and then waiting for the learner to decide to go and grab his or her backpack. We can then sportscast, “I see Johnny getting his backpack”, as this creates a storyline that the learners are excited to be apart of. 

How We Create Our Manifesto

It’s fairly easy for our Aishling Families to create their at home manifesto if they please. Firstly, we have a specific time each class dedicated to working on our manifesto and you can do the same. Each day we welcome our learners into the forest by hosting our opening circle, also known as our community meeting. At our meeting we pay our respects and gratitude to the elements of nature, our ancestors, the indigenous tribes who have cared for the land that we stand on, and our Aishling forest school families and community that hold us all together. After which, we pass the talking stick around, allowing each learner an opportunity to share their name, their nature name, and if they have anything they’d like to share or add or edit to our manifesto.

As a group we vote, thumbs up, or thumbs down, on the proposed idea. Nothing is ever shut down entirely, if there is a thumbs down, or a disagreement, we begin to discuss and brainstorm as a community to find a resolution that makes the idea work for our whole entire community. Sometimes that involves rewording the statement or adjusting a bit and voting a second or third time until all agree or disagree or possibly decide to table this idea for now. Once the agreement is made, we write it on the board with our list of other agreements. We use three guidelines as the basis for the conversation: we speak about taking care of ourselves, taking care of others, and taking care of mother earth. Those work as a great prompts to discuss any issues that may have happened in a prior class, i.e.- someone might have had difficulty sharing, therefore a learner that was upset might request that “sharing” become an agreement under “taking care of each other”. 

If we all agree to it, we hold each other accountable. If a friend seems to have difficulty sharing, we gently remind them that it was an agreement that they made together with all their friends and mentors. Our learners seem much more cooperative in following the agreement once they realize that they have ownership in that decision making process that occurred, they do feel responsible for that agreement. 

Examples of Our Manifesto

Over the last week, we already have a few suggestions that were made by your littlers after an experience they had that they believed needed to be rectified via an agreement. If you choose to make your own at home, these might come in handy as inspiration!

  1. We share with our friends because sharing is caring
  2. We are kind to each other and don’t hit one another
  3. We pick up litter when we see it and don’t leave litter behind
  4. We don’t cut down trees
  5. Let an adult know if someone was hurt
  6. When we throw rocks or sticks, we make sure no animals or friends are close by
  7. We make sure both hands are free when climbing

How to Create a Cooperative Manifesto at Home 

  • Creating a manifesto at home can be a fun ongoing activity. Perhaps it’s something that you work on when you all gather together, whether it be breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Ideally, it’s a time when you are all seated and not rushed, openly discussing the day and your feelings.
  • It can be written on a piece of paper, on a computer and printed out or on a or chalkboard-whatever you have handy. It doesn’t have to be perfect and can be written, and rewritten, edited, erased, as feelings change through various experiences.
  • Sometimes it’s a project to work on both at the beginning of the day to remind our learners of what they have already agreed to before starting the day, but sometimes it’s a project to also be worked on in the evening to review what occurred during the day. Prompts such as, “what makes you feel loved and valued at home?” or “what makes you feel upset, sad or angry” can be helpful to get the agreement ideas flowing.
  • Remember, it’s an everflowing, ongoing, growing process. Ultimately, it should help to create a healthy basis for thriving in community, working together, and agreeing that if we want to be respected, then we mutually need to respect each other.
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