How teacher collaboration can boost climate education

In this podcast coinciding with COP26, experts explain the importance of sharing best practice on climate change teaching
Cop26: How Teachers Can Share Best Practice On Climate Change Education & Sustainability

Today's young people are more engaged and passionate than ever about saving the environment. In March 2019, it was estimated that 1.6 million young people across 125 countries participated in climate protests, and a new global survey led by the University of Bath reveals that environmental fears are "profoundly affecting huge numbers of young people".

Many school students are currently avidly reading announcements from the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow. Whether it's from the news, social media or the latest David Attenborough documentary, young people are constantly being exposed to the impact of climate change. And, as the authors of the global survey suggest, it's vital that we counteract young people's anxieties and harness their enthusiasm by giving them information on how they can connect more strongly with nature, contribute to greener choices at an individual level and join forces with like-minded communities and groups.

Yet climate change and sustainability can be challenging subjects to bring into the classroom. For this latest podcast, Tes spoke with two environmental and sustainability education experts, who explained why collaboration and an outward-looking approach to teaching these subjects are key.

COP26: Teachers sharing best practice on climate change education

Pete Higgins, professor of outdoor, environmental and sustainability education at the University of Edinburgh, director of Learning for Sustainability Scotland, and director of the Global Environment and Society Academy, believes that unless educators frequently seek ways to work collaboratively and improve their practice, they're missing a trick.

"It is very easy to live within a bubble within one's world," says Higgins. "And to see it with its benefits and with its problems. And the moment you look up and you look out, you start to appreciate that there's a lot going on in other parts of the world, indeed, with regard to sustainability education, there are plenty of models around the world for things that work and that do things in a more engaging way."

One teacher who has seen this first-hand and who champions a collaborative and outward-looking approach to teaching about sustainability and climate change is Claire Mackay, an EAL (English as an additional lanague) teacher at St Patrick's Primary School, in Glasgow, and a leader of international learning for Glasgow City Council.

Her school is involved in an international school partnership with a school in Palestine as part of the Connecting Classrooms through Global Learning programme, funded by the British Council and UK aid, which Mackay says has been transformational.

"Our children interacting with the students in Palestine has given [climate education] a completely different dimension, and it makes it rich and meaningful to the children," says Mackay.

She says the enthusiasm of her pupils and their progress since starting the partnership has been a source of joy and has also made her job as a teacher easier: "We know, as educators, that if children are enjoying what they're doing, they're going to learn from it...and international education 100 per cent helps with that," Mackay explains.

Yet it's not just the students who have this new sense of vigour in their learning - Mackay says the training and international work she has been involved in has reinvigorated her practice, too.

"I think the best CPD is when you talk to other teachers. They know exactly what's going on, what pressures you're under and what does work and what doesn't work. And you can then take your ideas and change and adapt it to serve the little people that you have in front of you," she says.

"The courses that I've done with the British Council and Learning for Sustainability Scotland - which then I was able to get the GTC accreditation for - has really changed and impacted myself as a teacher, and how I go about planning and always thinking how can I make this something that's real and tangible, and it's not just a tick-box exercise." 

Higgins agrees and believes that it's vital for teachers to have enough space to continue to become inquisitive professionals and to keep learning themselves. 

"There are lots of online resources that people can follow now," Higgins says. "And we've had the benefit of working with the British Council in making sure that there is provision out there for teachers to get opportunities to develop their own thinking and to become more confident about dealing with sustainability.

"Teachers are aware of the stress that young people are under and so I think it's important that we help teachers to prepare for both the emotional and the intellectual challenges." 

You can listen to the full conversation below, or through your podcast platform of choice via the following links: AppleSpotifyAmazon and Google Podcasts.


To mark the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow, the British Council is inviting schools around the world to take part in The Climate Connection through a programme of climate change learning activities. There are lots of ways schools can get involved, with online live events and training, classroom resources, working with international partner schools and more.