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Embedding environmental sustainability into teacher training

November 29, 2020

George Vallis

I was part of a group of trainee science teachers from the class of 2019/20 who began to grapple with how to further embed environmental sustainability into our lessons.   


We decided to use our pupil voice assignments (where teachers learn about the role played by pupil perspectives in shaping classroom and school activities) to explore this area more deeply by delving into climate change education literature. Their research resulted in the discovery of and a thought-provoking zoom call with members of Teach the Future (TtF).


TtF is an inspiring student-led campaign which emerged out of the UK School Strike for Climate movement and has three bold and urgent demands:


1) Curriculum reform to embed environmental sustainability throughout all stages of primary and secondary education, across all subjects. 


2) That initial teacher training providers empower new teachers to effectively engage young people about the climate and environmental crisis.


3) Schools embody decarbonisation efforts through their estates, procurement and other key policy areas.   


After listening to the perspectives of passionate, informed and action-focused members of TtF, we were primed to take this issue up with their tutors and to explore the different ways in which environmental sustainability could become a major theme in the PGCE course. 


These discussions have evolved into an exciting project to host a conference on this topic for science and maths teacher trainees in early 2021 (a pivotal year for climate action as the UK hosts the crucial UN climate talks in Glasgow). Members of TtF have also joined an inter-generational conference planning team and are helping to shape the conference program and teacher training activities throughout the PGCE year. 


Zoom screenshot of dream organising team, includes newly qualified teachers, university tutors on the PGCE and members of Teach the Future. This includes an impressive age range from 16 to 60. 


The conference - with a title of ‘Generation Readied by Environmental Education Now’ (GREEN) - aims to raise awareness among trainees about the climate and ecological emergencies, empower trainees with skills and ideas for engaging pupils on this topic, centre student perspectives and showcase inspiring schools that are reducing their carbon footprint and enhancing nature in their local contexts.      


At such a time of heightened pressure on educators in the context of COVID-19, it doesn’t feel appropriate to place additional demands on schools. But the unravelling climate crisis requires us to do exactly this.


While all efforts have rightly been focused on ‘flattening the curve’ of new COVID-19 cases, the curve representing greenhouse gas emissions continues to escalate - resulting in a summer of devastating climate impacts across the globe. 


Scientists are imploring political leaders to respond to the climate and ecological crises with the same level of urgency with which they’ve responded to the pandemic. Ensuring a green recovery has emerged as a leading strategy for both rebuilding the economy and tackling climate change through investing in renewable infrastructure, clean public transport and ecological restoration. 


COVID-19 has laid bare the faultlines in our society and demonstrated the intersections between health, environment, economy and geography. For example, research has demonstrated strong links between air pollution and increased risk of COVID-19 mortality.  


These intersections underscore the need for environmental sustainability to be weaved into all subject areas in schools, but also raises urgent questions like: what opportunities are there for teachers and students to work together to develop environmentally sustainable transport policies? 


The GREEN conference aims to wrestle with these questions and many others like it.


COVID-19 and the climate crisis mean that students currently making their way through the education system will emerge into a world that will look radically different from the time they began their learning journey in primary school. It is the responsibility of teachers to help young people make sense of these changes and to prepare them to be part of shaping this future.  


We will be releasing the details of keynote speakers, workshops and further details about GREEN over the upcoming weeks and months.