In Memory of Chris Seeley – EDUCATION FOR SUSTAINABILITY


6
Dec 2014

SEED/ICIS SEMINAR ON PAEDAGOGY AND EDUCATION FOR SUSTAINABILITY                                                                                              March 2012   

This seminar was created to address paedagogical issues in education for sustainability. It was part of a project developing the concept for a new Danish folk high school on sustainability. The project was a collaboration between Annelise Ryberg (Ducks in A Row) and Karen Blincoe (ICIS), supported by the VELUX Foundation.

PARTICIPANTS                                                                                                    James Aldridge (Creative Ecology)
Karen Blincoe (ICIS)                                                                                         Jeppe Læssøe (DPU)
Ditlev Nissen (LØS)
Julie Richardson (Schumacher College)
Mel Risebrow (Consultant/ex Schumacher)                                                      Annelise Ryberg (ICIS/Ducks in A Row)
Chris Seeley (Ashridge Business School)
Patricia Shaw (Schumacher College)

The text below is a summary of the participants’ presentations and discussions, based on recordings, recollections and interpretations of what was said, and unashamedly extracted and quoted.

SEMINAR OUTCOMES
The main topics discussed at the seminar were related to each of the presentations and included the sharing of thoughts, reflections and experiences on:
• Education for sustainability
• Content
• Teaching methods
• Teachers
• Place of learning
• Structure and form

ON EDUCATION FOR SUSTAINABILITY
There was a general discussion at the seminar on education for sustainability. The following encapsulates some of the reflections and thoughts.

Sustainable development is complex. It is essentially about life itself, being multi-facetted, multi-dimensional, multi-cultural, local and global. Personal and non-personal. Sustainability is democracy in its truest form. When discussing education for sustainability the above reflects the conundrum of teaching and learning in the context of sustainability, which include: complexity, multiple dimensions, the inner personal levels, the outer manifestations or transpositions of what is learnt, the person and the community, the local and the global, the inner and the outer and that it all is interconnected and interdependent. It’s the wholeness, the holism that must be in focus.

There was an ongoing reference to the social dimension, in the seminar, which is seen to underpin all education for sustainability; that the learning platform must meet the social needs of the participants. Unless there is some degree of personal transformation, personal engagement, personal integrity, personal taking responsibility for, personal stewardship there will be no change. Education for sustainability is as much about a change in the inner plane and on a personal level, as it is about a change at the external plane, the physical world. Education for sustainability focusses on rebuilding or re-orientating the person and on developing her/his skills and know-how to engage the community, the organisation, the network, the company, the family……

However, this personal aspect can only be developed well, if supported by community, by a strong framework, by knowing teachers who can/know how to and have the courage to facilitate and hold the space for this development to unfold. Unsustainable habits and unsustainable ways of living and working, are hard to change. Being in a network, in a community which supports positive change makes the transition easier. The framework for engaging in education for sustainability should therefore provide this support either in the form of the place or the teachers.

Education for sustainability is holistic. It includes the wholeness of life and living. It is a journey and as such more important than the destination (Dan Eldon, The Journey is the Destination). Where traditional education is wanting to offer solutions, efs (education for sustainability) must create the platform and the framework for students and teachers to find their own solutions, whatever form that may take. This is a creative challenge for the teachers and the students equally.

Education for sustainability is not about sitting on a chair listening to the lecturer/the expert in a lecture room or classroom. It is about participation, active problem-solving – with theory and practice joining hands. It is about using everywhere as the classroom, the outside, the fields, the communities, the towns. The work and the learning should be the same and be embedded in place. It is about creating the living classroom.

ON CONTENT
‘They do indeed need to gain substantial knowledge about ecological and other global sustainability challenges. However, they need to know more than that. They need to know the lived experience, the ‘withness’ knowing and ‘aboutness’ knowing. And ecosystemic health issues.”

There were no specific outline about content in terms of what topics should be taught, owing to the fact that all participants are familiar with sustainability topics from bottom up to top down issues. However, during the two days the following were touched upon:
1. The content should be embedded in practical application. Theory is fine. However, it is the practical application of this theory that really counts. It is the application of what is learned applied to real life issues that is important. Therefore it is essential to create a living classroom, where teaching and learning is finding an outlet through projects In collaboration with a variety of partners.
2. It was stressed that the curriculum should be multidisciplinary and multifaceted and the learning process participatory. Teach or let the students learn how to be fully human and help them find their particular role in life. Guide them in where they may want to go and support them in going there.
3. Teach the students action competence. Develop their ability to take part in democracy and in the democratic process. Let them practice problem-solving skills and let them practice in the living classroom.
4. Teach or show the students the ecological consequences, dynamics of change, what is going on, how society works, what is a good life, quality of life. How we change things. Teach them how to teach others. Teach them about the different ways of knowing, the hundred languages…..

The following inspired us all:
The Hundred Languages of Childhood
The child
is made of one hundred.
The child has
A hundred languages
A hundred hands
A hundred thoughts
A hundred ways of thinking
Of playing, of speaking.
A hundred always a hundred
Ways of listening of marveling of loving
A hundred joys
For singing and understanding
A hundred worlds
To discover
A hundred worlds
To invent
A hundred worlds
To dream
The child has
A hundred languages
(and a hundred hundred hundred more)
But they steal ninety-nine.
The school and the culture
Separate the head from the body.
They tell the child;
To think without hands
To do without head
To listen and not to speak
To understand without joy
To love and to marvel
Only at Easter and Christmas
They tell the child:
To discover the world already there
And of the hundred
They steal ninety-nine.
They tell the child:
That work and play
Reality and fantasy
Science and imagination
Sky and earth
Reason and dream
Are things
That do not belong together
And thus they tell the child
That the hundred is not there
The child says: NO WAY the hundred is there-
By Loris Malaguzzi, Founder of the Reggio Approach and the Reggio
Emilia Preschools.

ON TEACHING METHODS
‘The journey is more important than the destination’. ‘Denmark has a long tradition of participatory way of learning, stemming from the folk high schools’ way of teaching’. ‘

Deep listening, I speak, exercises, sharing, icebreakers, dancing, playing, dialogue in pairs, world, café, open space, brainstorming..’

‘The college and experience became more managed, it worked like clockwork for them to have an experience, instead of creating the experience together..’

A variety of teaching methods were referred to at the seminar, spanning the ashram model to contemporary university teaching methods. All of them have theory embedded in practical applications.The learning by doing context. Action research at an academic level.

Education for sustainability differs from traditional education in that the classroom is not fixed, the outcomes are not fixed, the processes are not fixed. There must be a fluidity of process and an allowance of emergence as the programmes unfold and the students develop their understanding. It was stressed that education for sustainability is about living the experiment. We should create a learning place for experiments without a fixed deadline or payback, continuing and staying with process of learning. A framework/plan/structure should exist within which flexibility for personal learning processes and learning experiences can occur, facilitated by teachers and lecturers.

To enable this way of teaching and learning a number of different methods and processes can be utilized. A main focus is placed on sharing, amongst the students and teachers as an ongoing element of the education. When working, living and learning together in a place, the sharing can happen when cleaning, cooking, gardening or at lunch or in the classes. Sharing is an essential element of the learning platform. It supports the students in their learning experiment and process and allows experiences and issues to be dealt with ongoingly.

Other tools and methods include learning in and through -
Open space
Rituals
French café
Fish Bowl
Quests
Visualisations
Meditation

The teaching can also include physical and fun activities i.e. dancing, yoga, qi gong, tai chi as well as social gatherings. For learning to happen at a deep level the building of trust in the group or place is necessary. A high degree of integrity and authenticity is necessary, especially for transformative processes to happen and occur. There is a consensus that education for sustainability is transformational.

As change can be difficult and some of the teaching and learning for sustainability can cause upset due to challenged worldviews, traditions, habits and other fixed ways of being, it was stressed at the seminar that the educational framework must be strong enough to hold the upset/grit and flexible enough to allow it. The teachers are therefore also facilitators of personal development processes and should be prepared for change both in the students as well as within themselves.

Most of us believe that it is this, the grit, the difficulties, the upsets, the uncomfortable issues that are necessary and that will occur naturally when the transformational aspects of education for sustainability gets embedded in the learning. Especially if the students come from very traditional backgrounds.

Beauty was mentioned. Bringing beauty to the classroom in whatever form that might take. That beauty is not connected with luxury in a negative sense, but connected with luxury and soulfulness in a positive sense.

ON TEACHERS
Some direct quotes from the seminar:
‘Basically, we (the teachers) are far more ignorant than we are clever’.

‘The world does not need more experts. We need the body of empowered and creative learners, which include all of us as well as those who can empower the learners’.

A sustainability teacher’s questions:
1. What is the minimum gesture needed from me to create and hold open a relevant learning space?
2. How do I expand the boundaries of what learners see as relevant in their work/lives?
3. How do I reunite the “life world” with the “system world”?
4. To what extent am I seduced my others’ learning at the expense of my own creativity?
5. How do I do this work well indoors, outdoors and in virtual learning spaces?

As education for sustainability is potentially transformational and there is an expectation that some, if not most of the students will experience challenging periods of time during their course, the calibre of teachers is very important. Not only do they have to have an extensive knowledge of sustainability issues, both theoretical as well as practical, they must also be able to facilitate learning with regard to the students’ personal development processes as well as holding the framework for group processes.

As education for sustainability should not be based on traditional classroom lecturing and passing on of theory, but is a living, learning, working process often in interaction with the place, local community or other collaborative partners, the teachers roles are extended to also facilitate the working/learning relationships that will occur. Some of these relationships may be planned and some may emerge out of the learning process.

It was also pointed out that a sustainability teacher/ facilitator often lives the work. That there is little difference between the way of work and the way of life. Teachers in the sustainability context are nearly always engaged in their ‘jobs’ both professionately and privately. Most of them believe very strongly in what they do, why they do it, and what they want to achieve or what they want their students to achieve.

It is a wholehearted job. It is holistic and in this way the teachers walk their talk. As with all exceptional and transformative learning, the teacher is key, as facilitator, guide, holder of the space, holder of the structure, the plan and the organizer of the programmes, and at the same time the teacher must also be the student, prepared to learn with the students.

In education for sustainability the students also become teachers, as it is the unfolding of the experiment that counts, the variety, the diversity of thought, application of theory in practical contexts, the transposition of what is taught in real terms, that counts, and as such will have as many expressions as there are students. We talked about the personal development processes many of the students go through. The teachers should therefore be familiar with these issues and topics like eco-psychology, eco-therapy and conflict resolution methods were mentioned as part of the education programmes.

It was suggested and seen important that the teachers themselves have external supervision on a personal level and/or have the space to discuss amongst themselves the arising issues and conflicts that may occur. (Perhaps we need to create an academy for teachers in sustainability? The demands and the knowhow on both a personal as well as on a professional level are very challenging.)

ON THE PLACE OF LEARNING
A place…to have my soul nurtured, become more human, more fully here, more fully incarnated. ‘New institutional structures for the soul’s development’. A variety of formats for SEED as a place were proposed in a short brainstorming session.

Suggestions included:
1. A place amongst people i.e. in a city or large town. A place for education about everything. It should become an integral part of our being. It could be called The academy about everything as sustainable development and the good life is about everything.
2. The grass-root academy for change agents and leaders in society. Having a place that is not accountable to a body. It could be a responsive experience and open a space for emergence.
3. A place for the soul. A renovated old building that is right where people live, where people go to and do all the things, we have been talking about.
4. It could be 21st century new type of folk high school. A place which could substitute the role that the church played in our communities in the past. Could have a spiritual dimension without being religious.
5. A-why would you not go there?-place
6. A place where people would want to be or visit from time to time, to reload, re-energize, re-ignite or just be.
7. A journey. Create journeys, slow journeys on limited budgets to visit places i.e. Schumacher College, but where the journey as a process is the learning.
8. One could set different parameters or limitations i.e. an ecological and resource budget or way of traveling. Create this experience, traveling and meeting other cultures which is so important. Work with the ‘slow travel agency’.

References from the seminar (books, websites, courses, presentations etc.) Examples referred to:
Schumacher Msc Holistic Science, Msc New Economics, Horticulture.
Website: www.schumachercollege.ac.uk
Ashridge website, ICIS website, James’s website, The Oberlin College, David Orr, Active Hope, Joanna Macy, Beowulf- Love and the Abyss
John Heron, The Eco-psychology of Child Development,
Anita Barrows, etc…..