activist education

Activist education is conducted by and with activists, is openly interested in the processes of change-making, and utilises education methods that effect justice-oriented social change.

We use the expression ‘activist education’ to describe our work. This has implications not just for what we consider important for community organisers to learn, but how we believe adults learn most effectively. We’ve facilitated discussions and workshops with other social movement trainers and facilitators to explore just what might be involved in working as activist educators. The educational principles and practices (or pedagogy) that guide our work include:

  • experiential and empowered learning
  • listening and reflection
  • mentorship
  • questioning, not telling
  • exercises linked to real and contemporary change work
  • building a ‘container’ or learning environment characterised
  • by trust, openness, honesty, self-critique, mutual respect and support.

We avoid the ‘talking head’ approach to adult education, the facilitator as expert; and treating participants as empty vessels. Our pedagogy is influenced by the Rant Collective who describe their approach as “empowered learning”. Like us, the Rant Collective, draw inspiration from Paulo Freire’s popular education work in Brazil. Empowered learning involves respecting participants, reflecting on and sharing life experience, and developing tools, skills and confidence. Their workshops, like ours, are active (not lectured) and involve exercises, role plays and discussion.

We are guided by the ‘spiral model’ of learning that was developed and practiced by the Doris Marshal Institute in Toronto. The spiral model emphasises reflecting on experience and incorporating new information in action.

The popular education spiral model

The popular education spiral model

We’ve also been influenced by Training for Change. Based in Philadelphia, Training for Change is one of the United States’ best-known activist education and training organisation. They refer to their approach as direct education, a pedagogy based on:

  • actions that directly confront and challenge the current system of injustice;
  • education that directly confronts and challenges the current system of injustice (including how people are taught)
  • respecting the expertise of the people themselves, rather than looking for expertise in textbooks and teachers and
  • the influence of experiential and popular education.

some of our favourite activist education resources

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Effective Action for Social Change | The campaign to save the Franklin River (Part 1)

Claire Runciman, Harry Barber, Linda Parlane, John Stone, and Gill Shaw, 1986

“Too often activists only develop critiques of campaigns which fail. This implies that successful campaigns use the best of all possible strategies and tactics, and that the reasons for success are clear to all onlookers. Even a quick look at the Franklin Campaign shows that it could have been better. A glance at the civil disobedience ‘blockades’ at Roxby Downs, Daintree and Errinundra, that followed in a spate after the Franklin, shows that few participants in those actions understood the model provided by the Franklin Blockade or by the campaign of which the blockade was part. Few people realise that inherent in a protest like the Franklin are long lead-times, and endless tasks, dilemmas, stress, and conflict. We hope this bok will dispel some of the myths about the Franklin, and that it will assist organisers in other social change campaigns.”

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Effective Action for Social Change | The campaign to save the Franklin River (Part 3)

Claire Runciman, Harry Barber, Linda Parlane, John Stone, and Gill Shaw, 1986

“Too often activists only develop critiques of campaigns which fail. This implies that successful campaigns use the best of all possible strategies and tactics, and that the reasons for success are clear to all onlookers. Even a quick look at the Franklin Campaign shows that it could have been better. A glance at the civil disobedience ‘blockades’ at Roxby Downs, Daintree and Errinundra, that followed in a spate after the Franklin, shows that few participants in those actions understood the model provided by the Franklin Blockade or by the campaign of which the blockade was part. Few people realise that inherent in a protest like the Franklin are long lead-times, and endless tasks, dilemmas, stress, and conflict. We hope this bok will dispel some of the myths about the Franklin, and that it will assist organisers in other social change campaigns.”

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Review Tools

Tools and games to assist participants’ learning through recall, ensure core proficiencies have been covered, and review major lessons and insights.

great activist education tools and thoughts from TfC

models of education

We have collected some popular educators thoughts and insights into models of activist education.

a supportive and respectful community of practice

During the 2006 Nonviolence Trainers gathering, several Australian activist educators developed a set of principles for how we hope to work together. We resolved that activist educators in a supportive and respectful community of practice would:

activist educators’ skillshare

In June 2007 we convened an Activist Educators’ skillshare to strengthen our community of practice. The 17 participants work with a range of social movements in Australia and Aotearoa (New Zealand) as educators, facilitators and trainers. If you are an activist educator and would like to be part of the group’s ongoing dialogue and sharing, let us know.

environmental advocacy course

Between 2003 and 2006, James convened the Environmental Advocacy Elective at Griffith University, Brisbane.

What are people saying about us?

cherry

Cherry Muddle, Australian Marine Conservation Society

The Community Organising Fellowship has rooted in me a deeper sense of belonging to an intentional, international movement to create the positive changes we wish to see in society, environment, culture and climate. The program delivery is varied, fluid and always interesting. The strengths and highlights for me include learning through shared experience and critical analysis. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed forging strong connections and bonds between fellow organisers, facilitators and guest speakers.
2015-03-17T21:02:16+00:00
cherry
The Community Organising Fellowship has rooted in me a deeper sense of belonging to an intentional, international movement to create the positive changes we wish to see in society, environment, culture and climate. The program delivery is varied, fluid and always interesting. The strengths and highlights for me include learning through shared experience and critical...
dave & gemma

Dave Muhly, Sierra Club

What began at Pittwater as a collection of skilled campaigners became a cadre of skilled organizers by the final day at Baden Powell. On Sunday evening as we gathered, I overheard one participant chatting with another at a picnic table and heard, "challenge, choice, outcome" as part of her conversation. Another commented at the final circle at how what had seemed like such a large group at Pittwater now seemed like a much smaller group, reflective of how closely this group had bonded as a team despite their vast differences in geography or organizational size or style, but based on a common goal and identity. Concepts like "building teams" and "building relationships" were part of the normal parlance and just a cursory review of the evaluations to date show an increased appreciation for and attention to leadership development and strategic planning. A number of participants reminded me of my off-the-cuff set of definitions about the differences between mobilizing, campaigning and community organising (focusing on local power), and one told me she has it on the wall of her office to inspire her every day. This has been the successful launch of an ambitious and visionary program. Many thanks to James and Kate for their vision, wisdom, and care in developing and nurturing the curriculum and the cohort. Kudos!

2014-09-15T10:27:41+00:00
dave & gemma
What began at Pittwater as a collection of skilled campaigners became a cadre of skilled organizers by the final day at Baden Powell. On Sunday evening as we gathered, I overheard one participant chatting with another at a picnic table and heard, “challenge, choice, outcome” as part of her conversation. Another commented at the final...
jono

Jono La Nauze, FoE Melbourne

Totally awesome working with you guys. Thanks for your patience, commitment, considered and constructive guidance and generously giving so much time and effort. Thank you also for having faith in the process. Working with tCA was easy and a pleasure.
2014-03-30T08:23:37+00:00
jono
Totally awesome working with you guys. Thanks for your patience, commitment, considered and constructive guidance and generously giving so much time and effort. Thank you also for having faith in the process. Working with tCA was easy and a pleasure.
josh

Josh Creaser, Frontline Projects Coordinator, 350.org

Most campaigners would probably shudder at the thought of spending ten whole days away from the frantic world of actions and meetings, to invest time in their own reflection and learning. The Community Organising Fellowship forces you to do just that – and what a gift and opportunity that time becomes.

 The Fellowship is a unique combination of ingredients. Time for pause and reflection. Discussion with leading thinkers. Connections to a wide array of campaigns. Guidance from experienced and caring facilitators. Bonds formed with 25 inspiring campaigners from across the country.

 These ingredients are brought together with carefully crafted methods. Thought-provoking stories. Challenging questions. Developing crucial skills. Applying new methods and tools. Preparing new plans for real world projects. 

 The result? Ten days that couldn’t have been better spent for someone that is looking to challenge their assumptions, deepen their understanding of why we organise in communities and feel ready to go forward with greater focus and vigour in their work.
2015-03-17T20:56:37+00:00
josh
Most campaigners would probably shudder at the thought of spending ten whole days away from the frantic world of actions and meetings, to invest time in their own reflection and learning. The Community Organising Fellowship forces you to do just that – and what a gift and opportunity that time becomes.  The Fellowship is a...
Alana

Alana West, Quit Coal organiser

The fellowship has equipped me with a deeper understanding of what community organising is, and how it can best be applied. Through my learnings I have been challenged to move from tactics-based campaigning to more strategic, long-term campaigning. I understand better where my campaign and my community fit into the incredible tapestry that is the environment and climate movement in Australia.
2015-03-17T21:00:54+00:00
Alana
The fellowship has equipped me with a deeper understanding of what community organising is, and how it can best be applied. Through my learnings I have been challenged to move from tactics-based campaigning to more strategic, long-term campaigning. I understand better where my campaign and my community fit into the incredible tapestry that is the...
Claire O'Rourke

Claire O’Rourke, National Director, Solar Citizens

The fellowship has helped me further develop the skills and strategic thinking necessary to ensure that we deliver sound policy by working in partnership with our supporters and volunteers in communities across Australia.

Organising helps to build relationships and skills both within and between communities and the fellowship follows the same approach. The fellowship is essential for organisations that are working to build power within communities or considering making the leap into this work. 
2015-03-17T21:03:10+00:00
Claire O'Rourke
The fellowship has helped me further develop the skills and strategic thinking necessary to ensure that we deliver sound policy by working in partnership with our supporters and volunteers in communities across Australia. Organising helps to build relationships and skills both within and between communities and the fellowship follows the same approach. The fellowship is...
ben_fb

Ben Margetts, Australian Youth Climate Coalition 2007

I wanted to express how grateful I was for the experience to work with Sam and James. It was very special for me to interact with a part of social movements that I feel a lot of affinity with. I also think tCA shows a great example of 'best practice' in regard to organisational interactions. We at the AYCC have benefited immensely from working with you not just in your capacity as trainers, and the learning that was facilitated, but also with tCA as an organisation.
2014-03-30T07:33:22+00:00
ben_fb
I wanted to express how grateful I was for the experience to work with Sam and James. It was very special for me to interact with a part of social movements that I feel a lot of affinity with. I also think tCA shows a great example of ‘best practice’ in regard to organisational interactions....
Meghan and Lilly

Meghan Halverson, Queensland Koala Crusaders

I am so very grateful for the Change Agency’s perspective in helping to coordinate and inspire our group.  The weekend at Wild Mountains to begin to create the foundation of our national koala alliance will certainly be a highlight of 2014. The combination of your amazing resources and the collaborative facilitation helped to provide a cohesive, motivating structure for the path forward and a fresh new approach.
2014-05-06T00:41:31+00:00
Meghan and Lilly
I am so very grateful for the Change Agency’s perspective in helping to coordinate and inspire our group.  The weekend at Wild Mountains to begin to create the foundation of our national koala alliance will certainly be a highlight of 2014. The combination of your amazing resources and the collaborative facilitation helped to provide a...
nka

Josey Sharrad, International Fund for Animal Welfare

The Change Agency facilitated our two day intensive strategy workshop to bring together animal welfare and rescue groups from across Australia to set up a National Koala Alliance. James and Taya's facilitation of the workshop was absolutely brilliant and everyone came away with renewed enthusiasm and determination. James' extensive campaigning experience and strategic thinking provided invaluable guidance to this newly- formed alliance and we will continue to tap into his wealth of strategic advice as we go forward to protect koalas. Thank you!

2014-08-18T14:37:24+00:00
nka
The Change Agency facilitated our two day intensive strategy workshop to bring together animal welfare and rescue groups from across Australia to set up a National Koala Alliance. James and Taya’s facilitation of the workshop was absolutely brilliant and everyone came away with renewed enthusiasm and determination. James’ extensive campaigning experience and strategic thinking provided invaluable...
chrishenderson

Chris Henderson, Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom

I want to seriously thank you for the huge contribution I believe you're contributing to the peace/activist community, not only in Brisbane but also nationally and undoubtedly beyond. Profound. For starters, the resources on your website, they are so good and I'll continue to use them with our WILPF branch, and to spread info about them more widely. For WILPF Qld, the MAP workshop and resources have seriously contributed to the transformation of our branch, helping to focus and get into action in relation to the nuclear cycle, in conjunction with many other organisations that have joined the Qld Nuclear Free Alliance. And maybe will have effect way beyond that.
2014-03-30T07:44:52+00:00
chrishenderson
I want to seriously thank you for the huge contribution I believe you’re contributing to the peace/activist community, not only in Brisbane but also nationally and undoubtedly beyond. Profound. For starters, the resources on your website, they are so good and I’ll continue to use them with our WILPF branch, and to spread info about...