‘Having a go’ – a teaching and learning technique for SSA?

I recently attended a Waste Watch conference and was inspired by Mary Clear, one of the founders of Incredible Edible Todmorden.

Inspired because she decided she was not going to behave as a ‘victim of polar ice cap melting’ and just get on and do something. I was also inspired that they have so effectively combined social justice issues in Todmorden with attempting to live sustainably.

They have combined guerrilla gardening (vegetables and fruit trees) with the more well off contributing whatever needs money so that the less well off can benefit from free food anywhere on the streets of Todmorden. What is the core principle they live by? Kindness – not carbon footprinting or sustainable development (but it is all those things anyway). Their second principle is ‘having a go’, and if it fails, learn from it and move on. Many of the project leaders are not experts and are learning alongside the townsfolk as they develop gardens, build raised beds and learn bee keeping.

I have long felt that this approach is so empowering and if we are to develop a sustainable development curriculum for sustainable schools this approach should be at the heart of it. But more than that is the actual examples of how you encourage thinking and practice that tries to combine living within environmental limits with social justice issues, rather than treat them separately. Yes the curriculum has to have good scientific information in it, and a clear understanding of social justice issues both at home and in developing countries, but how do we develop the thinking that helps young people work through these problems and develop new solutions?

Well we need to help teachers reconnect with teaching and learning techniques that enable critical thinking, engender competencies to ‘have a go’, enable joined-up systems thinking, and help young people deal with uncertainty and crisis. It doesn’t mean telling them they must switch off lights, be worried about climate change, recycle and not buy designer clothes made cheaply in sweat-shops in India. Instead it means exploring these issues, viewing them from all sides, exploring different values sets and creating the space for students to develop their own thinking. That’s the true meaning of ‘education for sustainability’. And even if as a teacher you didn’t ‘study’ sustainability you can do this teaching, especially when you know there is so much material out there already that you can use.

The second part that is also essential – sustainability is not written down in textbooks as a set of complete answers, So we need teaching practices that allow students to explore and learn from taking action themselves – or action learning.

The key here is not the action – but the reflection on the learning, again a key task that teachers know how to do.

So I am delighted to be part of the Sustainable Schools Alliance as it allows us at SEEd to also explore, support and share new learning about teaching and learning for sustainability. If you would like to be part of developing this shared story about effective teaching and learning for sustainability linked to sustainable schools please contact me on ann.finalyson@se-ed.org.uk. After all the chances of Sustainable Development being a core subject in the revised National Curriculum must be zero – but we have every chance of supporting teachers to use it for better learning outcomes, as well as preparing our students more for the uncertainties they are likely to face. So like Mary – lets not be victims of cuts, government changes, recession – instead lets work together for all of us. I look forward to watching the many acts of kindness blossom and flourish under the Alliance.