There are many indications that teachers are seeing the need to engage in school with sustainability and climate change. And by sustainability I mean environmental, social and economic. Recent examples of this can be found in the Pearson School Report for 2023 – worth a read. The sustainability strand at the 13th Festival of Education at Wellington College was sponsored this year by Cambridge University Press and Assessment – a very mainstream organisation. Then, we at SEEd, have had the overwhelming response to our Young Changemaker programme which seems to have hit a nerve with teachers when we talk about agency, resilience and hope. We don’t really need to convince people.

So, what I am really pleased about is the shift from ‘quick fixes’, short projects, ‘easy wins’ to acknowledging the need for a deeper, more engaging approach to Learning for Sustainability. This has always been SEEd’s focus.

When we talk about action learning (based on Kolb’s Action Learning Cycle), we mean not just taking action, participating or experiential learning – all of which mean different things to different people. We mean working through an action learning cycle and, in particular continually reinforcing the need for reflection using many tools. It is fundamentally about learning to learn.

When we talk about systems thinking – we mean a deep exploration of all the components of a system, as well as the people, organisations, history, culture, power, decision making, levers and changes over time. This requires diving deep in and asking ourselves many questions such as “Has it always been like this?”, “Is it different elsewhere?”, “Who decides?” and “Who does this affect or benefit?” This is ‘soft’ system work and helps build the interconnections of much of how we live and work and a great opportunity for students to weave together and construct their own understanding of how the world works.

We also encourage exploring different ways of thinking about futures – not just a linear progression from today to some future state but all the possible scenarios – what might bring them about and what might be the responses.

Asking all these questions is about critical thinking. It was a joy to meet a fellow IB Theory of Knowledge course teacher at the festival. Theory of Knowledge was one of the most transformative learning approaches I have ever used, and it is no wonder critical thinking is part of what is being called ‘transformative learning’.

Again, new words and sometimes meaning different things to different people – all the way up to the UN! But for us, here and now, we mean transformative learning that builds agency, resilience, hope and a sense of how we can work for a better future.

So, when you are exploring new projects/programmes to adopt or build, ask yourself the question – “What will this do for my students?” Will they just get information? Will they get busy? Or will they develop those deeper competencies and behaviours that will help them (and you) navigate the challenging times we are facing?

If you are interested in learning more about transformative pedagogies, do please join us on our Changemaker course for adults. Respondents continue to say how transformative it has been for them. Or join Our Shared World, as Transformative Learning will be a focus for the coalition where we learn and explore together to ensure we really are making the most difference that we can as educators.

Yours in Changing times!

Ann Finlayson
SEEd CEO and Learning for Sustainability Lead