An association with no name

July 9, 2012

…felt good to be out of the rain… ( you may have to be quite old to get that!)

Bit of a mid evening reflection/rant from me… but it’s less contentious than it would have been last night when I was all ready to give a Rioja fuelled video performance… which actually could have been more effective.

So I went, I stayed and it was brilliant. So many committed, inspirational and passionate people at the launch of Forest School Thing… I want to say what it was, but what’s in a name? and while the voting was going on I pondered this a lot… and when I left it still didn’t have a name, and I came home and thought …actually a name is important in someways to the name holder. For instance I love my own name and I think I would have been a very different person had I been a hand me down a name first girl in a long line of Roberts: Roberta :) no offence to Roberta’s out there, but I am not one. But would my journey have been so very different.

Elveston was a great venue to support years of a growing , developing but sometimes disparate movement of Forest School people with the launch of a single cohesive body of governance. That in itself is aspirational and worthy and long overdue. And many people came. Many people didn’t come, because of other commitments or because they didn’t know.. they weren’t in the chain of communication. Many people came and had been part of the consultation, some people came cos they knew about it but hadn’t been consulted on the new organisation, its name, it articles, its intentions or aspirations. Essentially it was a chaotic way to start a new legal entity. So what’s new there then.. Many organisations and associations start this way.. that’s what an association is: a loose collection of people. That’s how the BMA started, even though now, it is the most respected and academic and rigorous of organisations. It has transcended the word and meaning of “Association” because it became the only body supporting and managing the medical profession.

So before the brilliant workshops that were shared, and the wonderful song closing from Chris Holland, and the appointment of a worthy and hard working collection of volunteer executive peeps, and the wonderful networking and meeting of friends came the very slow wrangling over the name… The two options as a result of consultation, which may or may not have reached everyone with an interest, were “Forest School Association” and “The Association of Forest School Professionals” and the vote on the day was too close to call…there were a high number of abstentions, and rightly so… because many people had concerns..

When one has trained, learned, delivered, and aspired and worked towards being a true professional, why would you want to be part of a body that called itself a professional organisation when the only requirement was to turn up and fork out an attendance and annual membership fee. Or why would you want to associate yourself with an organisation that’s acronym is FSA… and it’s banking associations. There was a lot of discussion about the democratic process of choosing a name, who should choose it, whether the presented group had a mandate to choose it. All very worthy arguments… but let’s listen to ourselves and take a stock of where we are. There was a very long and definitive history of forest school at the start of proceedings and lots of inspirational people mentioned and applauded on our journey to date (no mention of Ernest Westlake, bless his soul, but there we are..we don’t always know the same history) and rightly so. There was discussion about the various existing bodies that have supported, championed, managed forest school thus far in all our countries that border the Atlantic and the North Sea…. all with varying degrees of success at cohesiveness. In some ways it was bizarre, because I felt I was at an IOL event…not a forest school event at all. Not that I have a problem with that particular as IOL has been very supportive of forest school with it’s Forest School SIG… but there are many people delivering forest school programmes that are not part of IOL and for some of the leading of the event I wondered at the true understanding of the pedagogy of forest school and its longevity of holistic experiential learning.. I felt I was suddenly called to a very gungho adrenalin rush short outdoor activity with people who assumed we were all part of the IOL accreditation process, which many of us aren’t because… well because for many reasons…..and that made me take stock of the kind of organisation I was looking to be part of….

And then we pretty much blocked voted our executive in. Well done you all for putting yourselves forwards to lead this organisation forward, credit to you all for you commitment, drive and inspiration, from all you various backgrounds.. busy times ahead, and you have a great deal of grass roots support. But many of the grass roots support was not present because there is currently no cohesive body to manage, govern communicate with us all.. There is no central point and this move towards this is so very welcomed and so much needed. And after your appointments, the wonderful resonant, meaningful and grounding statement from our first patron Tim Gill. Thank you to him for his reminder about who we are and what we do…he didn’t need to be here to imagine the bogging down of articles of association, names, officers… it’s what happens when you go corporate!

So where is this rant leading….

I’m asking myself.! I lost something yesterday… and it took a couple of nights thinking beneath the bed sheets to wonder what it was… and today, through a child in a forest school session, I realised. It was about aspiration…Everything we do as FS bods is about aspiration.. our language is aspirational, our desires for our forest school participants is aspirational, we work to give them the confidence to have aspirations and to believe in those aspirations and to live them… We were not aspirational this weekend….If we were we would not be wrangling over words like association or the inclusion or otherwise of the word professional.. We should be aspiring to be an Institute… a professional body with a wealth of experience and academia.. OK so one becomes an Institute on request of the Secretary of State. an institute is more than a loose association of like minded people.. it has a purpose, it has academic rigour, it has quality assurance over training and delivery, it is inclusive in its nature but exclusive in its membership categories according to experience, training and qualification. It can set standards of qualification, and it can regulate qualification providers. It enriches the lives of all its various members. I am reminded of my own journey at the beginnings of an Association. The association of facilities managers, which was so very similar in its very loose start as this weekend… but, hell. It only took about 5 years before it became an Institute, with very rigorous structures, great networking, massive quality control and a very very respected organisation, to the point that within 8 years if you didn’t have a BIFM qualification, then you would be hard pressed to get a job in the profession.. and is the force to be recognised with for building and property management in this country and further afield. But it has always been on the inclusive side so not matter what level of interest, qualification, experience you have you could be a part, according to your level of membership: and payment and recognition are also differentiated between Fellow and affiliate but everyone who cares about it should be able to join appropriately and I believe it should be the same with us. Each according to their need, each according to their contribution.

So for us as a new unnamed organisation… can we get over the name.. we ARE just an association of Forest School peeps at the moment, a loose association of people working in the same field, willing to cough up some cash at the outset to move it on its first steps. It has to start somewhere, and why not start here, bad name or not, on its aspirational journey to ensure that we as practitioners, trainers, deliverers, interested parties and ultimately children, young people, adults and families, communities and countries… indeed our planet, as Louise Ambrose put it derive the benefit of what it is we do…

Interestingly I voted for AFSP on Saturday.. I’m more inclined now to say FSA.. .and bankers be damned.. We need a name so we can get started and move towards our aspirations…that’s just the way it happens to be…I can always move to propose a new name at the AGM ! I’m liking Forest School Institute… or Institute of Forest Schools… Oh Lordy, I just introduced choice..

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