The Best Classroom
The best classroom could be found sandwiched between four walls, with a teacher standing at the front, with rows of desks topped with the latest laptops.
The best classroom could also be found in the playground. At a kitchen table. In a car. And even in the forest.
That’s right, in the forest.
It is here, in the forest, where Jody Shulgan, Teacher. Mother. Partner and friend is the best teacher she could be. Emersed in outdoor education, amongst the grass, trees, mud, and beautiful sky.
A raw, honest discovery from when she was a child, that still resonates with Jody today. Allowing her to share crucial and solid advice with the readers of Get Up.
Read how her journey unfolds.
Who is Jody Shulgan?
A lifelong student to this wild ride of life. I think that pretty much sums it up.
Define Forest Bather.
Someone who consciously crossed into the membrane of a forest and enters its ecosystem with the intention of being there. In the forest, at that moment, and each moment as it comes.
What gives you purpose in life?
Ha ha. I like this one. Fun. Fun gives me purpose in life.
What did you want to be when you were 8 and what did you end up doing?
I so clearly remember the exact moment, when I was 8 years old. I received a message from within that I was to be a teacher. How did it happen? I was in the grass at my Grandparents. Barefoot. Playing with my cousin Pam, who had a smile so bright and who was slightly older than I. That day, we were playing a game called School. She was the teacher. I was the student. I don’t remember exactly what the lesson that day was in School. What I do remember was the joy I felt playing. The joy I felt with my bare feet in the grass. As the summer sun-kissed our cheeks and being in that moment with Pam. I felt as though time had paused. In that pause, I received the message. You are a teacher.
Today, at 45, I can say that I did receive that message, and have been and continue to be, a teacher, and ultimately a student. In the best classroom, I can create for my students. I say this because it is my belief that to be a teacher is to be a student to your students. To be learning, all of the time. To see, and accept, that there is a lesson in everything.
Can you share some of your journeys?
My heart lies in the research and pedagogy of Dr. Maria Montessori. I studied her work and graduated as a Montessori Directress in 2000. From there I immersed myself in the Montessori Community of downtown Toronto. In 2008 I co-founded a Montessori School on Toronto’s West Side.
In 2012 my time at the School came to a close and I moved my research and focus into Outdoor Education. Specifically how it is necessary for us as humans, to be, at one with our natural surroundings.
That research led me to Richard Louv’s research, as well as Jon Young’s teachings in Coyote’s Guide to Connecting With Nature. Following the flow, my focus shifted to the Japanese teachings and research of “shinrin-yoku”, which means forest-bathing.
It was there that I began to more deeply immerse myself in the energy of the forest. To feel where it was leading me. To me, that is the essence of forest bathing. Woven into the years, beginning in 2009, was a thread of learning, focused on relationship psychology, specifically familial relationships, in the context of feeling how the emotion feels, navigating that internal landscape, and how that map applies to one’s external reality.
Please share a meaningful lesson you have learned.
Historically: Live in life. A personal, lifetime awareness that I do my best to consciously practice.
Let’s talk about your two teens. What gets their engines running?
Cameron. 16. Do we do the halves at this age? If we do, he’s 16 and a half. Alice is 15.
Ha! I’m not sure their engines ever stop running. What’s feeling them these days are freedom and sovereignty. Having it. Pushing up against it. Fighting for it. Skateboarding. Painting. Expressing themselves. Being with their friends. Parties in parks. Thrift shopping. Ice cream. Bolognese. Music.
In a sentence, describe their relationship.
They are pals. They take care of each other, naturally. Sometimes to each of their own detriment. And, they’re learning, all about that, through it and experiencing it. They have fun, most of the time.
What do you think a friend is?
When I think of a friend, I immediately think about how a friend makes you feel. Someone that you can be in presence with and feel completely supported.
Let’s unpack your quote! What did you mean by: “Be You.”
I meant, see You. Look in the mirror and see what you see. Meaning, understand yourself, as best you can, and with that understanding, be YOU. To practice doing that, in all of life, through all of life. And keep practicing and accepting life as it comes, and yourself as you go.
Thank you, Jody, for inviting us into your world of education. Where you are true to yourself. Follow your instincts. Appreciate all that is around you, so that you can create the best classroom for your students.