Teachers can be powerful proponents for environmental education, but they need the support of their school and the wider community.
Teaching Environmental Education
Teachers can be powerful proponents for environmental education, but they need the support of their school and the wider community. Perth has over 600 schools, and with the right approach we can empower our teachers to support our students in leading environmental action.
Many teachers are keen to implement local environmental education. However, research indicates teachers report low confidence, an overcrowded curriculum, or do not have the necessary local connections as challenges. A 2015 study on professional learning for sustainability in Victoria found environmental education was most successful with teachers when relationships between schools, stakeholders, and community members fostered around local places¹.
Ideally, a contemporary environmental education program would provide teachers the networks and strategies to engage with local environmental action.
“If they use the wetland a lot, they think of it as theirs, and we encourage that…” Green and Somerville, 2015.
What if going outside the schoolground is too difficult? We need to support teachers to use existing teaching methods, supported with training and suitable tools to design authentic environmental actions inside the classroom.
Before we design these materials for teachers to utilise, we need to identify gaps in classroom resources that are specific to our local environment (in my case, the Perth Region). Again, this is to support the connection between knowledge and place, recognising that different places face specific challenges.
This is true even with broad, general themes. For example, another 2015 educational study² demonstrated that although climate change is generally considered one of the most significant issues facing humanity, causing tremendous angst for some students, many teachers are not confident enough to engage the topic in the classroom. Could this be a gap in the support offered to Perth teachers, or are other opportunities more apparent? We need to find out.
Sustainability is a theme that crosses subject areas in Australian schools. This should drive the school’s mandate to protect the environment and create a more ecologically sensitive community through informed action. A school with a strong ecological ethos can drive collective action by supporting young people’s agency and empowerment in contrast with the inertia of ‘environmental generational amnesia‘ – the acceptance of existing degradation as ‘normal’.
Integrating civic engagement with education can deliver life-long learning opportunities for the wider community. Previous research³ has suggested that environmental education delivered through schools can transfer this knowledge between generations and indirectly induce targeted behavioural changes and values – particularly when the schools leadership cohort are open and proactive in doing so.
Informed and engaged children can have a surprising influence in changing the collective behaviour of the wider community. But only if we continue supporting collaborative networks, deliver effective teacher professional learning programs, design teaching resources to address gaps, and have schools be open to these opportunities.
Jason Pitman is a Project Coordinator for Perth NRM’s Environment Program and has delivered environmental incursions with hundreds of students as part of his role. He was recently recognised with the Scott Print Environment and Sustainability Award at the Seven News Young Achiever Awards. Jason holds a BSc (Environmental Science and is currently completing his Grad. Dip. Secondary Education.
* Perth NRM is a member of the Sustainable Schools WA Alliance
¹ Green, M., & Somerville, M. (2015). Sustainability education: Researching practice in primary schools. Environmental Education Research, 21(6), 832-845.
² Vaille Dawson (2015) Western Australian High School Students’ Understandings about the Socioscientific Issue of Climate Change, International Journal of Science Education, 37:7, 1024-1043.
³ Damerell, P., Howe, C., & Milner-Gulland, E. J. (2013). Child-orientated environmental education influences adult knowledge and household behaviour. Environmental Research Letters, 8(1), 015016.
ACARA. (2019). Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Authority. Accessed June 12, 2019. http://www.australiancurriculum.edu.au/