foster engagement

‘Power With’

A Rebel Gardener’s classroom is a collaborative space where unique individuals work together and share energy and wisdom to create a healthier community. This is not traditional schooling (‘Power Over’), where a teacher enters with knowledge to pass from the top down to the students. Instead, we all learn by developing knowledge from the bottom up, through teaching each other skills and applying them to accomplish a specific goal.

Here are a few characteristics of a ‘Power With’ environment:

  • Desks, tables, and people arranged in circles so everyone is an equal participants
  • Specific roles and responsibilities for all participants that are connected to specific goals
  • Work is accomplished in small diverse groups
  • Flexible agendas
  • Opportunities for discussion and debate
  • Transparent reflection and accountability systems
Plans, Roles, and Responsibilities
Every lesson in a project needs a plan (an agenda), shared publicly with the group. In a perfect world, the plan would always be collaboratively created, but this requires time that might not be available. It is always possible (and encouraged) to change the plan based on group consensus.
To begin to think about your plan, you first need a goal for the lesson, and then work backwards to breakdown what needs to happen to accomplish this goal. Through this process, specific activities are identified for the students to implement together. These become the roles and responsibilities for each individual in the group.
We all want to work on something bigger than ourselves. As part of the agenda, run through all the roles/responsibilities of each group member and discuss how they fit together. Everyone should know what everyone else is doing. This provides structure to the daily activities and increases the efficiency of collaboration.
At the beginning of the lesson, always share the plan with all participants. Go over it until everyone is clear on the tasks that need to be accomplished, and understands her/his role in the project.
Most plans include the following features:
  • Relationship Building
  • Expectations and Accountability
  • Goal Setting
  • Role Explanation
  • Task Completion
  • Sharing Accomplishments
  • Pro and Grows
High-Touch, Real-World Projects

Projects address real-world problems. This heightens the relevance and immediacy of the work. We also integrate multiple styles of learning and different modes of technology into each project, immersing the group in a novel learning experience.

Designing these environments requires inquiry, creativity, and partnerships. By asking questions we learn about the context of the problem, by thinking outside of the box we can experiment without fear, and through partnerships we can leverage our resources most effectively to maximize our impact.

If we’re in an after-school cooking club and want to make a salad with Italian dressing, we don’t buy it in a bottle. The processing is where the learning happens. We research the origins of the recipe, and the ingredients we can grow ourselves we do, and the rest we supplement through donations or dollars. We grind our own spices and test ratios oil to acid, until arriving upon the best recipe we can create. This entire process is documented, so we can share our learning with the community.


Through systems of positive behavior incentives and opportunities to reflect all individuals in the group are held accountable. This happens by building in space for peer sharing- where we either provide an update on progress or demonstrate a newly learned skill. A good way to get someone to learn something is by having them teach it to someone else (with some time to prepare). Talking within the group is easy and especially important when folks are engaged in many different roles. It’s also vital to provide the space for broader communication- through video, writing, blogging, etc.

Peer accountability through reflection and non-violent communication encourages healthy group dynamics and leads to greater collaboration and overall impact. This is formalized in a process called Pros and Grows, whereby at the beginning of each lesson each participant in the group (young and old alike) are assigned a partner, who they are responsible for observing throughout the activity. At the end of the lesson, everyone joins together to briefly share their pro (something they did well that helped the group) and grow (something they can improve on that will benefit the group) for their partner- with each focusing on better group problem solving and goal accomplishment.

Here’s a simple checklist to use to make sure each session will be a success:

Does the goal of this lesson clearly contribute to the overall success of the project?

Does the lesson plan break down the steps necessary to accomplish the goal?

Is there a time at the beginning of the lesson for relationships to be formed and solidified, and for the plan to be shared through a ‘power with’ approach?

Do all participants have clear roles and responsibilities?

Are the responsibilities for each role engaging, challenging, and clearly explained?

Do participants know where they can go for support if needed?