Promoting Sustainability as a Teacher

richardjamesrogers.com is the official blog of Richard James Rogers: high school Science teacher and the award-winning author of The Quick Guide to Classroom Management: 45 Secrets That All High School Teachers Need to Know. This blog post is illustrated by Pop Sutthiya Lertyongphati.

Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) is defined by UNESCO as a pathway that allows “every human being to acquire the knowledge, skills, attitudes and values necessary to shape a sustainable future.” It’s importance has been officially recognised by the Council of the European Union, who state that “ESD is essential for the achievement of a sustainable society and is therefore desirable at all levels of formal education and training, as well as in non-formal and informal learning.” Today, I’ve invited Kat Sarmiento (content writer at Katreena’s Content Studio) to share her tips on how to teach children and young people about the importance of sustainable development.

If there are things all schools worldwide need to include in their curriculum as soon as possible, it would be sustainability. While ideas regarding the preservation of nature are touched upon in several science subjects, they fall short in hammering down the importance of sustainability in children.

Climate change threatens all of humanity, but it’s the children who will bear the brunt of it. When the current generation of adults and leaders passes, it’s the children today who will need to face potentially the worst of times. While we can still achieve a lot in terms of reversing the effects of climate change or slowing it down, it’s essential for the next generation to know how to build a sustainable future and why they must do it.

Sustainability might not be officially taught in all schools in the world today, but teachers can still promote it in a lot of ways. If you’re a teacher passionate about sustainability and want to go the extra mile to share your knowledge with your students and inspire them to fight for a healthier planet, we’ve got some pointers for you. But first, let’s define sustainability.

What is sustainability?

According to the University of Alberta’s Sustainability Council, sustainability is “the process of living within the limits of available physical, natural and social resources in ways that allow the living systems in which humans are embedded to thrive in perpetuity. This definition explains that sustainability doesn’t just deal with natural resources, but also social and economic resources, as those are also vital for the survival of future generations. Expanding on this definition, we can categorize sustainability in three ways: Environmental, Economic, and Social. Environmental sustainability is achieved when humanity consumes natural resources at a rate where they can naturally replenish. Economic sustainability is achieved when people are able to remain independent and have access to resources: financial or others. Lastly, social sustainability is achieved when people can attain all universal human rights and basic necessities.

Make your lessons eco-friendly

Teaching children sustainability means little to nothing if you don’t practice it in the classroom. Among the best ways to promote anything is leading by example. Ultimately, sustainability is spending your resources wisely, and you can show this by ensuring you don’t waste resources in your lessons. You can use recycled or eco-friendly materials in creating your teaching props, and if you can’t avoid using plastics, you can demonstrate the importance of recycling by reusing them in the next classes.

Don’t overwhelm your students

Discussing current and future environmental crises can be too much for your students to handle. They are young, and while you want them to learn young, the immensity of the problems humanity faces and the difficulty of solving them can be overwhelming. When students are feeling overloaded with negative emotions such as dread, they may disengage from the discussion, impeding learning.

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The key is not to focus on the problems alone. Make sure to discuss environmental success stories from time to time, to show that people are working hard to solve the problem and they are succeeding. You may discuss environmental policies, movements, campaigns, and other projects worldwide that have seen success. These stories will show students that our efforts do matter and theirs will, too. It will inspire students and give them the hope and enthusiasm necessary to face the seemingly overwhelming problems we face.

Tackle quality of life issues

Part of discussing sustainability is the idea that people need to consume less and live simpler lives, making students feel like their lifestyle is being threatened. If educators take an unyielding, self-righteous approach, the students will feel even more threatened and can end up abandoning learning about sustainability entirely. The technique is to engage the students by discussing their definition of happiness and quality of life, and whether their lifestyle correlates with overconsumption. You can discuss studies that show how the pursuit of material things doesn’t exactly correlate with happiness and satisfaction, providing a good starting point for discussing alternative lifestyles.

Discuss the Precautionary Principle

One of the most important principles discussed to understand in learning about sustainability or environmental science is the precautionary principle. The principle states that if an action risks causing harm to the public or the environment, and there is no scientific consensus that it is indeed harmful, the burden of proof that it is not harmful falls on those taking the action. Tackling or debating the principle serves as a good starting point in discussing how people can make decisions when faced with uncertainty. In addition, it’s also an opportunity to discuss policies regarding resource use and the balance between potential environmental harm and economic or political benefit. 

Let the students analyze

Most of the time, students are only given the results of analyses instead of dealing with empirical data themselves. Students will not always be equipped with the knowledge and skills to understand empirical data, but if they are, they should be given the opportunity to do so. Being able to get a closer look at the data themselves, students are bound to learn more. The experience they will get from analyzing data will also allow them to scrutinize environmental issues with more insight.

The road to net-zero emissions is a long and strenuous journey. It will require the efforts of the entire world, the current generation, and the next. Sustainability as a topic of discussion is becoming prevalent in the education system and while it’s not globally standardized, there’s nothing stopping educators from teaching it to students. There are plenty of tricks teachers can use in promoting sustainability in their schools, but the ones above should give you a good start.

Kat Sarmiento

Kat is a Molecular Biology Scientist turned Growth Marketing Scientist. During her free time, she loves to write articles that will bring delight, empower women, and spark the business mind. She loves to bake but, unfortunately, baking doesn’t love her back! She has many things in her arsenal and writing is one of her passion projects.

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Author:

High School Science and Mathematics Teacher, Author and Blogger. Graduated from Bangor University with a BSc (Hons) degree in Molecular Biology and a PGCE in Secondary Science Education. Richard also holds the coveted Certificate in Mathematics from the Open University (UK).

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