Last year my older brother said to me that he was feeling weighed down with a sense of doom about the future of the world. He felt that there was so much that needed to be done to rescue our planet, and was fearful that it’s already to late. Of my three siblings I sometimes think that it’s my older brother that I have the most in common with, but I don’t share his pessimism for the world. As educators, I think we’re in a unique position to foster change in young people so that the future is a brighter place.
If you’re looking for some ideas to include environmental awareness and sustainability in your classroom (and it is included in the curriculum across several key learning areas), here are four of my favourites.
Focus in on young leaders
As a teacher, you already know that modelling is a valuable strategy in education. We model the behaviours we want to see in our students – sometimes we also model the behaviours we don’t want to see in our students (you don’t have to explain, we’ve all been there). Introducing students to young environmental leaders is a great opportunity for modelling and inspiration.
Two Aussie young leaders are:
- Angelina Aurora who invented a biodegradable plastic from prawn shells
- Macinley Butson who invented a sticker which indicates if water has had enough exposure to UV rays to kill harmful pathogens, thus making it safe to drink
Youth-run environmental groups include:
- The Australian Youth Climate Coalition
Highlight Good News Stories
The environmental challenges facing the world are serious and, at times, scary. It’s easy to focus on the negatives because there are so many, and they’re right there in our faces. But there are also stories of progress, innovation, and success. Stories that can inspire our students to create their own successes.
Examples of good news stories include:
- Liter (sic) of Light – Liter of Light install plastic bottle solar lights into homes without electricity or windows. They work across the world in poor and developing countries
- Upparel – An Australian company which started as a subscription sock company, and has evolved to upcycle and recycle textiles, creating a circular fashion model.
- Cooling white paint – A super white paint that, under tests, reflects 95.5% of light that reaches the surface, and has the potential to reduce the heat islands created by dense areas of buildings, like cities.
Be Solution Seekers
I’m a big believer that if we all make small changes, we can make big differences. It’s easy to focus on the bad things that are happening, the challenges we are all facing. It’s much harder to come up with possible, actionable solutions. But by only focussing on the problems, we risk creating an atmosphere of ‘learned helplessness’, and of course as educators this is the opposite of our goal.
- When exploring the causes and impacts of climate change, go further and look at solutions that can be taken at a grassroots level
- Have students create SMART goals, not just ideas or wish lists. This encourages students to focus on problems and solutions that they can realistically implement, and can see the fruits of their labour.
- A note of caution: We are all running our own race and families have different capacities to make changes – be it because of time, or income, or accessibility, or knowledge. Be wary of blanket ideas where everyone will buy only organic food, or everyone will have ‘nude food’. Above all, don’t create a situation where a student who has no control over the contents of their lunch box is shamed by their classmates.
Be Open About Your Journey
Despite what some people would have you think, as educators we know that education is as much about relationships as it is about content. We spend time building relationships with our students because we know how valuable they are (and because kids are awesome). You can leverage this relationship to encourage awareness in your students.
- Discuss both your successes and your failures – not every change you make is going to work for you or your family, and it’s good to be open about this with your students.
- Be intentional with what you show students – flash that awesome keep-cup around, be excited about your yummy nude-food lunch
- Go easy on yourself – some days all we have in us is to grab a large take-away coffee and a prewrapped sanga from the supermarket and that’s OK. You’re a human being. If your students notice and bring it up, be honest –
they’re killing youyou’re not feeling it right now.
Sustainability and environmental awareness is a cross-generational challenge and something that’s come in education for decades. I hope these suggestions help you when you’re tackling it with your students.