A personal view of the world of ESD

If I was still a teacher I would be very confused by now. What is ESD, LfS, GC, GLP, GL, ESDGC, CCed, LINE, LOtC etc? And why do I need them?

Two issues have led me to this conclusion and an overwhelming empathy for teachers.

One is the current view of teaching as a ‘craft’, which you do by copying and repeating what you see and what is presented as ‘good practice’.

However, this is in conflict with the second. You know that each student presented to you is a unique and different learner and that the ‘tricks’ and models and new ‘how to’ programmes will only go some way to help all of your students.

So where do you go to find the help, systems and knowledge so you can build your own capacity and creativity to address all learners and all potential solutions?

I have written about this before and the answers can be found if you reconnect with the reasons why you teach and what you hope for for your students. But ‘preparing for a their future’ needs to be explored more specifically. It can sound a bit ‘motherhood and apple pie’ as they say in the US!

What we know is that the world is changing, and inventions or interventions that change society are coming at us faster and faster. Thinking about the internet, mobile phones and social media since the year 2000 will help you see this. So one thing we need to do is ensure our students understand how change is happening and its effects – even in recent history. But more than anything we need to help them build the competencies to be part of ‘change for good’ in their futures. This could involve building resilience, being critical thinkers but also being able to understand the human and environmental systems we are all part of. We may need to be creative and transform those systems or at least transform how we think about them. How we view fossil fuels is an example of this. And in order to think about transforming ourselves, or our world, we need to be able to think about different futures.

This is the aim of teaching then, and as a teacher you need to know the methods or pedagogies that will help you achieve these outcomes – ‘The Process’ – or Learning for Sustainability.

How do you take the National Curriculum and make it meet these other visions of what education can do for our young people? Well, it turns out that there are many, many people and organisations willing to show you how. The trouble is we live in a capitalist society where we need to brand everything and then show that it is the one thing that you need – I call this the ‘big Mac syndrome’ in education. These I would call ‘The Ways In’ – very accessible, fun, topical and helpful projects that promise to help you motivate your students or overcome the deficiencies they are currently facing – e.g. not being in nature, or not caring about poverty in the world, or not understanding diversity springs to mind.

And given that we know that most interventions in education will produce a positive outcome in terms of learning outcomes – that’s great. But then you find yourself running from one ‘project’ or programme to the next in a yearly cycle, and you have to ask yourself this question – ‘Is this meaningful and what competencies is it building with my students?’ This is a conversation I have had with many headteachers who are looking for a process/model/framework to guide them through selecting projects (with their acronyms!) and ensuring they can see the impact on their students.

But what if the ‘system’ does not value this deliberative and structured approach? What if it only recognises numbers and grades and not the ‘softer’ outcomes we want for our students e.g. resilience, emotional well being, ability to cope with change, being active citizens, being respectful of others and the world we need to live in? Then you need to change ‘The System’. This is where SEEd and others come in to help you with a system that will allow you to develop creative and inspiring teaching for all your students – in this case Education for Sustainable Development.

So you need to know why you are doing things in school and in the classroom (beyond those things mandated by government), you need to know how to engage in those teaching methods that will really help, and you need to engage with others to help you with ideas, training, resources and support.

This is a draft of how I see this system – as an ex-teacher and as the Executive Chair of an NGO trying to help. I hope you find this helpful. Let me know your thoughts as a teachers by email.

Ann Finlayson,

Executive Chair, SEEd