Discussion Courses

Catamount Earth Institute is one of two-dozen “sister” earth institutes led by the Northwest Earth Institute (NWEI) of Portland Oregon.

Community discussion courses are Catamount’s primary program. They consist of 2-7 session, self-facilitated, small group 1 to 1 1/2 hour meetings, based on course book anthologies compiled by the NWEI. The courses are offered across the country and throughout Vermont and the Upper Valley in workplaces, faith communities, public libraries and other community sites. The community course topics are:

Choices for Sustainable Living (7 sessions)
Discovering a Sense of Place (7 sessions)
Reconnecting with Earth (7 sessions)
Healthy Children– Healthy Planet
(7 sessions-raising kids in today’s consumer culture)
A World of Health (6 sessions- connections between human and environmental health)
Menu for the Future: Sustainable Food Systems (6 sessions)
 Hungry for Change: Food, Ethics, and Sustainability (6 sessions)
 Powering a Brighter Future (2 sessions-energy)
Just Below the Surface  (1 session- our use of energy and the Gulf Oil spill)
Global Warming  (4 sessions)
Voluntary Simplicity (5 sessions)

There is also a Sustainable Systems at Work course for businesses and organizations to engage employees in the process of shifting their workplace toward a more sustainable operation and work culture.

Catamount Earth Institute can provide marketing materials, help organizing course groups, and a volunteer facilitator for the first session. The volunteer models facilitation so that course participants feel comfortable taking turns facilitating the other sessions. The courses are free; the course books are $25 (plus shipping). Books can be ordered at www.nwei.org.

How to Start a Course

1. Choose the course(s) you think your prospective group would like. Groups work best with 8-12 people.

2. Catamount (CEI) can provide you with fact sheets about the courses, calendar announcements, press releases, and fliers to help promote the course.

3. There are two tracks for starting a course:

a. Offer an Introductory Presentation

You build interest in participating in a course group and advertise a particular date, time, and place at which a CEI representative offers an introductory presentation. The representative will describe the course and explain how it works.  He or she will bring a set of course books. Everyone who wants to participate will purchase a course book  and choose the starting date, time, and site for their group’s gatherings.  If more than 14 people are interested, people can form a second course group.

b. Begin with the first discussion session

Many organizers are able to connect with potential participants and can distribute course books and collect course book payments. These groups may choose to skip an introductory presentation. They choose a first discussion session date, time, and site, and ask participants to read the first session materials before the first discussion session.

4. CEI may be able provide a volunteer to facilitate the first discussion session. This volunteer will be someone who has participated in another group and has had some facilitation training by a CEI staff or volunteer. If a volunteer is not available CEI can provide long distance coaching.

5.    Course groups meet for a 1 – 1 1/2 hour session (usually weekly).  The only cost to participants is the course book. The Vermont Department of Libraries has sets of 10-12 of some the course books available on loan.

Participants’ Roles

1. Participants should attempt to attend all or nearly all of the sessions.

2. Facilitation rotates among group members. The course book has clear facilitation guidelines and the CEI volunteer will serve to demonstrate the role of facilitator. People who aren’t comfortable serving as facilitator don’t have to serve in the role. Another rewarding opportunity for all course members is to provide an “opener” at the beginning of each gathering. Each session a different group member will share a short personal story related to the topic. This is an opportunity to be creative. People briefly share objects, do visualizations and other creative activities that relate to the topic.

At the end of the course

The NWEI appreciates having participants complete evaluation forms to help us continue to improve the course materials and process. There are forms in the discussion guides and on NWEI’s website. Many groups have an additional session, often with a potluck. It gives participants an opportunity to reflect on and celebrate their group’s experience and discuss follow-up options.