Like Earth, we all have a limited energy supply

25th March 2016 at 00:00

We all have limited energy. What with getting out of bed before the sun rises and making sure there’s enough coffee to get our engine started, it’s hard to worry about the global energy issues.

We are encouraged to teach for an uncertain future but, for many of us, the more pressing future uncertainty is whether we will get to the end of the year in one piece.

This is a fundamentally important point: for sustainability education to work, it also has to be personally sustainable.

Here’s a common picture: one person in the school is the designated “greenie”, whom we both rely on and secretly resent.

They are the ones who have to do Eco-Schools, who are in charge of the garden, who must single-handedly shift school culture towards “learning for sustainability” – they are most likely drowning under their responsibilities.

And yet they are the ones who are always outdoors, away in the woods (and sometimes with the fairies), who come back with smiling and dirty, red-faced pupils. Why do they get to have all the fun?

Good learning about sustainability can take place anywhere. Sometimes the classroom is best, sometimes it is the local woods, sometimes the city centre.

Outdoor learning and learning for sustainability aren’t so much topics as approaches that can be used to deliver whatever areas you are confident in, whether that be maths, literacy, Gaelic or something else entirely.

I was speaking to a teacher recently who was running a classic Second World War project, but with a twist. The children had planted a victory garden, and then invited older members from their community to come and share a meal of their produce. Second World War? Tick. Outdoor learning? Tick. Healthy eating? Tick. A simple, rich project that met a range of priorities without a huge extra expenditure of energy – now that’s what I call sustainable.

Demystifying and sustaining learning for sustainability is about starting from where you are – you are already doing it.

Find an area you are already working on and expand it. You don’t need to know endless facts about climate change, global justice or which tree is which (get your class to find out).

Support each other, work together. Find ways of showing that, alongside having loads of fun, those smiling, dirty red-faced pupils have been engaged, learned more, and made better connections than they would have indoors – good solid evidence will help you to turn people’s heads.

Teaching, learning and playing outdoors is good for us. Coming back in from a windy session outside, with a healthy glow, we can feel proud of our work.

Perhaps of equal importance: we have topped up our own energy tanks – maybe we will make it to the end of the year, after all.

Dr Sam Harrison runs the Shieling Project in the Highlands. Its third Professional Recognition Programme in Learning for Sustainability starts in May bit.ly/ShielingSchools

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