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Big Questions For Climate Educators

Bethia: This month Planet and People have entered the world of school! We have our first opportunity to adapt our Planet Action Kit materials for use in the classroom. It’s really exciting to see our content reach a wider audience and be used to support the amazing job that our educators do to raise planet protectors.

We have been thinking about some of the challenges teachers face in delivering climate content in the classroom. As a teacher myself I know that these conversations with students can be some of the most inspiring and hopeful sessions, but also some of the most challenging and overwhelming. I also want to acknowledge that not all educators are in schools - the home learning community faces these challenges too. Sometimes these conversations are even harder when it’s your own children you are talking to. Here are some of the issues that we know teachers are experiencing:

“It’s really hard to manage the emotional responses that some children experience when we talk about mass extinction, natural disasters or other really difficult realities.”

Absolutely - climate anxiety is a growing mental health concern and it is hitting younger generations the hardest. We must be emotionally intelligent about teaching and discussing these issues with young hearts and minds. Fear, anxiety, confusion and anger are common responses and as the ‘adult’ in the room, it is our responsibility to support, respond to and guide young people as they learn and grow in their understanding about the issues we are facing.

Some tips to help you:

  • Use your network and other’s experiences. History departments or PHSE departments deal with really difficult material in their classrooms. They’ve thought about how to teach tough stuff and they might be able to share some experiences or ideas about how to manage emotions when studying upsetting topics.

  • Give students warning. Let them know that you are going to talk about things that they might find upsetting. Make sure they are prepared and avoid dropping shocking facts or images unannounced on them. Be age appropriate too - we give a huge amount of thought into how and when we teach sex and relationships because we know that there is a time and a place for certain information. We absolutely need to do the same when it comes to hard facts about the environment.

  • Check in with them. As the teacher, you will know them - who are the more sensitive or empathetic students - the ones you need to find in the playground later and check in with. Be available and tell them explicitly that you are there if they need you.

  • Powerlessness is often a major reason for young peoples’ emotional response - they can’t vote, they aren’t involved in many of the decisions that are determining their daily lives. Give them ways to act. Give them ideas for things they can do to take the energy of their emotions and put it into something tangible and measurable.

  • Stay positive. There are loads of hope stories and reasons to be positive. Leave your students with the good news stories.

“I don’t have the answers. They look to me as the teacher because that’s what I am - ‘the one with the answers’. I feel as confused as they are. I don’t know how to manage the uncertainty of environmental issues.”

This is a hard one because students do look to their key adults for reassurance, knowledge and ‘the answers’ and there just aren’t clear cut answers at the moment.

Some thoughts to help you:

  • Think about changing the layout of the room for these lessons. Take yourself out of the front-of-the-classroom position and sit in a circle, on their level as part of their group. Plan and design the lesson to be more of an exploration all together rather than you delivering information to them.

  • Be honest with them - tell them this is a global problem and it needs everyone to play their part. Everyone is needed - for their ideas, for their energy, for their commitment! It’s an issue for governments and big business but also right down to playground level (plastic packaging etc.) There is no us-and-them, it’s all together now.

“I feel frustrated that climate issues aren’t given enough time and attention in schools. Assemblies on recycling are great but we’ve gone beyond that. We can’t just park it in a section of the curriculum and call it ‘done’ when we’ve taught the lesson.”

This one is very close to my heart as a Geography teacher because climate change comes under my ‘job to teach’ - and then it’s done? I don’t think so. It’s a really tough one - there are only so many hours in a day, weeks in a term and there isn’t a teacher, head teacher or TA on this planet who has ‘spare time to fit more in’! How do you fit more into the already jam-packed world of school!?

Some things to consider:

  • Making sure there is someone assigned to driving this agenda forward is key - maybe a climate governor or a climate coordinator on staff. Someone who can give their attention to keeping these issues in our minds and bringing the whole system together so that change is happening from the kitchen across to the head teachers office, via the playground, via the planning meetings and the transport to school. A cohesive approach is likely to be more productive.

  • Look for wider ways to get messages out - display boards, after school clubs, activity week, school trips, bringing speakers in etc.

  • Get in touch with us - we want to support you in ANY way we can to achieve our aim “to equip the next generation with the tools and skills they need to be resilient in a future affected by the climate crisis”.

At the end of the day though, when you’re catching your breath from another action packed day in the life of a school, KNOW that what you are doing is meaningful, essential and part of a bigger picture - we must raise a generation who are cleverer, better and lighter living than we are now. And YOU have done your bit!

FOR PLANET AND PEOPLE is a regular blog conversation by ‘Planet & People’ to reflect our values and behaviours and encourage open conversation on topical eco-issues.

We are the creators of 'Planet Action Kit', inspiring kids to LOVE the Earth. PAK is an educational resource and subscription activity box providing personalised learning resources engaging budding planet-friendly kids. The activities focus on the four main themes: Learn, Observe, inVolve and Enjoy and are centred around matters of environment and sustainability. We run Planet Action Workshops at our eco-base in Devon where we develop the next generation of planet protectors using adapted materials from our Planet Action Kit.

Find out more on our Website, Facebook group, and Instagram Feed.

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