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?

Alycia Gawthorne, GetUp! organiser

The Fellowship has challenged the way I previously thought about campaigning and community organising, and made me rethink how I approach my work. It’s afforded me the space to take a step back and look at the entire movement. I feel like the skills I take away from the Fellowship will be invaluable, but far more important will be the deeper understanding I have about my role and how it fits within a larger movement.
2015-03-17T19:33:28+11:00
The Fellowship has challenged the way I previously thought about campaigning and community organising, and made me rethink how I approach my work. It’s afforded me the space to take a step back and look at the entire movement. I feel like the skills I take away from the Fellowship will be invaluable, but far more important will be the deeper understanding I have about my role and how it fits within a larger movement.

Simone van Hattem

The Community Organising Fellowship has given me effective organising skills and tools, and background information of the Australian environment and climate movements I need to develop strategy for campaigns, and provide training for other organisers and campaigners across Western Australia. The support I've been given through the ongoing mentorship and buddy program helps me stay connected with the wider movement, and stay on track to organise the people we need to defeat organised money. This program is a transformative experience, changing my work and the movement, and I'm so thankful to be part of it.
2015-03-17T21:04:17+11:00
The Community Organising Fellowship has given me effective organising skills and tools, and background information of the Australian environment and climate movements I need to develop strategy for campaigns, and provide training for other organisers and campaigners across Western Australia. The support I've been given through the ongoing mentorship and buddy program helps me stay connected with the wider movement, and stay on track to organise the people we need to defeat organised money. This program is a transformative experience, changing my work and the movement, and I'm so thankful to be part of it.

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+11:00
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.

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+11:00
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.
Stu Bowen

Stu Bowen, Environmental Manager (Australia & New Zealand) Patagonia International Inc.

James has helped me better appreciate my unique set of values and understand what inspires me to action, which is a great tool to recognise other stakeholder’s values and what motivates them to action. This growth allows me to communicate far more effectively with all my stakeholders, so we can all achieve greater positive environmental and social change.

 
2015-04-29T18:23:01+10:00
Stu Bowen
James has helped me better appreciate my unique set of values and understand what inspires me to action, which is a great tool to recognise other stakeholder’s values and what motivates them to action. This growth allows me to communicate far more effectively with all my stakeholders, so we can all achieve greater positive environmental and social change.  
Nick Aberle

Nick Aberle, Environment Victoria

Learning the theory and engaging with such practical implementation in such depth will definitely make me a more effective and successful campaigner and organiser. I’m looking forward to practicing my new skills in being more rigorous, thinking more strategically, and communicating more effectively. The strength of the bonds formed within the group has already strengthened the climate movement in Australia.
2014-05-10T21:42:00+10:00
Nick Aberle
Learning the theory and engaging with such practical implementation in such depth will definitely make me a more effective and successful campaigner and organiser. I’m looking forward to practicing my new skills in being more rigorous, thinking more strategically, and communicating more effectively. The strength of the bonds formed within the group has already strengthened the climate movement in Australia.

Kate Lardner, Doctors for the Environment Australia

During the Fellowship, I have embarked on an enormous learning curve that has resulted not only in exposure to concepts and skills, but knowledge of these things, through application of the teachings with leaders in their fields and the opportunity to be integrated into a real time campaign. I have been challenged creatively and analytically and been given the chance to create the openings and space to make my own opportunities arise.  
2015-03-17T20:53:26+11:00
During the Fellowship, I have embarked on an enormous learning curve that has resulted not only in exposure to concepts and skills, but knowledge of these things, through application of the teachings with leaders in their fields and the opportunity to be integrated into a real time campaign. I have been challenged creatively and analytically and been given the chance to create the openings and space to make my own opportunities arise.  

Harry Jennens, The Climate and Health Action Network

The Fellowship has increased both my skills in community organising and my confidence in sharing these skills with others.  The immersive workshop format has provided precious space for face-to-face learning, sharing ideas with facilitators and other delegates, and building strong relationships with current and future collaborators in the climate movement.  I am confident that our entire cohort will go on to empower others in our communities, and that we’ll continue to support each other in this work.  The Fellowship will be instrumental in helping us build a broad, diverse and powerful movement.
2015-03-17T19:36:21+11:00
The Fellowship has increased both my skills in community organising and my confidence in sharing these skills with others.  The immersive workshop format has provided precious space for face-to-face learning, sharing ideas with facilitators and other delegates, and building strong relationships with current and future collaborators in the climate movement.  I am confident that our entire cohort will go on to empower others in our communities, and that we’ll continue to support each other in this work.  The Fellowship will be instrumental in helping us build a broad, diverse and powerful movement.
Emilie Carey

Emilie Carey, Solar Citizens


I really admired your facilitation skills. I learnt lots watching you guide us through the evening. I'll definitely be using lessons from last night. You're a total pro and I'm really grateful you're generous enough to share your knowledge.

2016-03-25T10:35:26+11:00
Emilie Carey
I really admired your facilitation skills. I learnt lots watching you guide us through the evening. I'll definitely be using lessons from last night. You're a total pro and I'm really grateful you're generous enough to share your knowledge.

Hayley Troupe, 350.org organiser

The community organising fellowship has expanded my theoretical and practical knowledge of how and why to organise. Through the Fellowship I have so far gained new skills to lead strategic, collaborative and powerful university divestment campaigns. I have learnt so much from the well-structured workshops and the inspiring sharing of experiences. I look forward to sharing my experiences and learnings with others involved in the university divestment movement.
2015-03-17T19:29:30+11:00
The community organising fellowship has expanded my theoretical and practical knowledge of how and why to organise. Through the Fellowship I have so far gained new skills to lead strategic, collaborative and powerful university divestment campaigns. I have learnt so much from the well-structured workshops and the inspiring sharing of experiences. I look forward to sharing my experiences and learnings with others involved in the university divestment movement.