Outdoor learning for teacher educators

Metasaga at Badaguish

Outdoor learning for teacher educators was a Sharing Good Practice event organised by SNH and partners and took place on 23-24th June at Badaguish centre, near Aviemore, in the Cairngorms National Park . This metasaga was run as a taster workshop for staff involved in planning, policy and delivery of Initial Teacher Education (ITE). The group was sharing thoughts on research and policy in outdoor learning, within the context of sustainable development, Curriculum for Excellence, and the current review of ITE practice.

The workshop was led by Penny Martin (Environmental Education Consultant) and Alison Hammerton (National Parks Outdoor Learning Development Officer, LTS). We offered metasaga as another experience to add to the place based learning toolkit, the group having explored Outdoor Journeys the previous day . Previously, Penny and Alison had each experienced metasagas led by Kate Coutts and Lesley Wilson, and felt that this learning journey could also provide space for personal reflection and review of practice for those attending the event at Badaguish. It is a time of change and uncertainty in ITE, but also a time that is marks the revival of outdoor learning and the great opportunities this provides.

We explained to the group that this was just a whistle-stop taster, condensed into one and a half hours! We checked that the group was happy for their metasaga to be shared with others.

We started with a short powerpoint introduction, adapted from the metasaga Wikispaces resources, and shared red thread to reflect the ancient Celtic /Highland custom of placing a red thread in your coat for protection as you travel.

We went outside the log cabins to explore the forest surroundings. The wooden
lodges at Badaguish sit in a clearing withinTREES.jpg Scots pine plantation woodland. Cycle tracks and walking paths connect Badaguish with Loch Morlich, Rothiemurchus and Aviemore nearby and with many other tracks exploring the Cairngorms National Park.

Blindfold trail.

blindfold_trail.jpgWe started our journey as a group at the blindfold trail. This was a roped adventure walk leading through and around the trees, across ditches, through tunnels and up and down slopes. It is designed to offer physical and teamwork challenges to groups visiting Badaguish – as people follow the trail wearing blindfolds. We asked
what do you know about this course?
What don’t you know?
to encourage the group to interpret what they saw.

Themes and values of trust, teamwork, fears, barriers, boundaries (with links to the National Park) and connections were discussed.

We raised the questions:

Who/ what in your work and practice do you know you can trust?
Is there anything you distrust? Does your organisation offer sufficient support?
What barriers, real or perceived, are presented in your work – perhaps in relation to upcoming change?
How might these be overcome?
Are any boundaries in your work useful?
Are you someone who will push against the boundaries?

A little down the forest path we reached the next stop.

Pine woodland with a view to open valley
The Scots pine tree has a wide distribution worldwide, but our Caledonian pine forest has its own unique character, with few other conifers present, and in the special setting of a National Park. Young trees have similar shapes, but as the Scots pine tree matures, under pressure from the elements and browsed by animals, it takes on a variety of forms and shapes. Trees in the drier east of Scotland have thicker bark as an adaptation to fire; trees in the wetter west have more natural resins that help them resist fungal attack. The resin-rich stumps stay preserved in peat bogs for thousands of years. Hidden underground is the network of fungus mycorrhiza that help to sustain the pines with nutrients and water, while the trees share their sugars with the fungus, in a symbiotic relationship. Pine forests are mobile woodlands, as young trees can only grow in the open, not under the shade of others.

badagish_trees.jpgIn folklore and mythology, the evergreen pine is a symbol of longevity, and fertility. A persistent theme is the use of Scots pine as markers in the landscape. However, Scottish folklore surrounding the Scots pine seems to be fairly sparse as historically the tree has been used more on an industrial than domestic scale.

From this landscape comes the story of the Thieves Road which runs through Làirig an Laoigh and the Ryvoan Pass where MacGregor and his clan travelled, raiding cattle from Morayshire and driving them back to Badenoch and Strathspey.

Themes and values: uniqueness, longevity, resilience, adaptation, co-dependency, honesty, thieving, change

We asked:
how resilient are you in the face of change?
Can you develop mutually beneficial ways of working with colleagues, across different disciplines?
What aspects of practice would you like to borrow or ‘thieve’ from others?
What aspects of your own work would others be likely to want to borrow or ‘thieve?’

avie_02.jpgThe group then dispersed into small teams to explore and develop this metasaga. Some teams explored more aspects of the pine forest, and saw old granny pines, a fallen uprooted tree, new life, and the movement of the forest. The trees provided both competition (for light) and support (from external forces like wind).

What has caused instability in your organisation?
What opportunities does this upheaval open up? What can you nurture?
What might leave you vulnerable, what might you be open to?
Who are the elders? What is their purpose?

A small tiny rowan seedling was growing on the forest floor.c740_037270039_rowan_tree_with_berries(r+mb_id@576).jpg

How do I adapt to my own niche at work?

The Rowan also ties in with protection in folklore
"Rowan tree and red thread / make the witches tine (meaning 'to lose') their speed".

Another group explored the dynamic landscape in the open valley, a small glacial spoil heap, and the ancient processes that had led to this landform. Long ago a glacier slowed as it reached a wider space, and dropped this pile of debris.
‘What does our past give us in terms of baggage, entrenched positions?
Will we move more freely if we leave it behind?’

Midges had an impact on all of us! One team explored this further, and askedmidgeOne.jpg
Is there midgie behaviour in your organisation?
Are the solutions personal/ institutional?’

Remember to check Midge Forecast

1129936842_6a12cca01c.jpgExploring a stream running through the woodland, one team asked
’What is stagnant/ unchanging in life/ work?
How can we get it moving/ effect change?’

Some teams focussed on the human elements of the landscape. A red arrow on a tree prompted the questionfree_1632978.jpg
Why is the order to follow the direction of the arrow unclear?
Is it dangerous?

A line of pylons marching though a forest clearing made a team think ‘Do you give yourself space and time to reflect?’ and explore the light and spaces between the trees ‘Can you see the big picture?’

The sunlight slanting through the forest and the interplay of shadows and light prompted deep reflection.
‘How can collaboration and altering the levels of input different individuals or groups have to offer be promoted – to develop changing practice and enabling young citizens contribute to the process?’


Finally, a few quiet folk were lucky enough to see a fox on its journey through the forest.
How can we live/ dwell differently with other species and nature?

These were just a few of the themes and questions generated. They reflected the mood of the group at this time of uncertainty and change within their profession, but also offered some positive vision for the future and collaborative working.

This Metasaga clearly demonstrates how quickly people can pick up the concept of Metasaga then go away and create their own .