One of the many things COVID-19 has brought into focus is the classroom – the confined indoor space in which the majority of K–12 learning happens. Faced with the risk of spreading germs in indoor locations, many Canadian educators moved learning outside into schoolyards and local community spaces. In my view, these are steps in the right direction – but not only, or even primarily, because of viral spread. Rather, literally getting outside classroom walls and metaphorically getting outside the entrenched ways in which we tend to think about teaching and learning can offer learners important skills, knowledge, and dispositions.
Learners in Canada today are living the legacy of Western, industrial views of schooling, curriculum design, and humankind’s relationship with nature (Judson, 2010, 2017).
Overwhelmingly, schooling separates learners from the local natural and cultural contexts in which they are situated and divides a richly interconnected living world into disciplinary containers. “Real learning” happens inside, at desks or tables, not in local parks, communities, or schoolyards. Schooling also marginalizes imagination in the learning process. Outcomes or objectives drive curricular decisions rather than the emotional or imaginative significance of topics.
There is no better time than now – amidst the turmoil this pandemic has already caused – to take a critical look at education in Canada, how it may be missing the mark, and what can be improved. In this article I describe two changes that could better equip learners to face the uncertain years ahead: widespread cultivation of imagination and learning outdoors.
A world of complex issues and problems requires a population that has a richly developed ability to envision the possible, the not-yet. It is this imagination that is needed to navigate an unpredictable, wild, “white water world” that is “broadly connected, rapidly changing, and radically contingent” (Pendleton-Jullian & Brown, 2018, p. 7). Pendleton-Jullian and Brown’s (2018) work on the pragmatic imagination challenges misconceptions that imagination is somehow antithetical to real academic learning or reasoning. They show the myriad ways in which imagination contributes to a range of cognitive processes, including perception and reasoning. They insist that the muscle of imagination is the force behind vital processes of speculation, experimentation, and free play that humans must employ when facing wildly complex and interrelated wicked problems.
In addition to needing imagination to deal with the complex world of today, it is imagination-focused pedagogy – teaching that brings into focus the emotional and imaginative core of all topics – that is most aligned with the emotional nature of human beings. We are, as psychologist David Kresh suggests, perfinkers. We perceive and feel and think at the same time. We perfink. And yet, far too often, students don’t feel much of anything about the topics they are learning about. Many educators think of the imagination as something that comes into play when foundational learning has already taken place; it is a kind of frill or supplement that may be valuable and enjoyable, but is not crucial to learning itself. While objectives are undoubtedly important for teaching, when they drive curricular decisions, teaching misses the emotional core of all learning (Egan, 1997).
At the same time, there are calls worldwide to improve schools so that students graduate with strong creative thinking skills. Education is needed, therefore, that feeds this emotional core. Imaginative Education is such a pedagogy that can fill that gap between valuing the imagination on one hand and cultivating it routinely in schooling on the other. It uses practical tools – cognitive tools – to shape lessons into engaging stories and cultivates imagination in the process. If imagination is understood to be the fertile soil out of which all learning, creativity, and innovation grow (Judson, 2021), then schooling should embrace the tools to cultivate it in all contexts and for learners of all ages.
In this Imaginative Education classroom, students are learning about the wonderful world of punctuation. Lisa is a comma, Hendrich, a period, and Paola, a semicolon. Each student has their own super power: Lisa the comma grants breaths and brings things together in a series; Hendrich the period has the power to end ideas, thoughts, and actions; one of Paola the semicolon’s mighty strengths is to connect full ideas. Their teacher is evoking the ingenuity of seemingly insignificant punctuation marks – those tidy little packages of meaning that help convey body language that we physically experience in face-to-face interactions but that is lost in written communication. Yesterday the students played with facial expressions and bodily gestures that may be conveyed with an “!” They giggled when they thought how a “;” can replace a wink (e.g. I got a new car; it is a midnight blue Maserati.) Tomorrow students are exploring the most unusual punctuation marks – have you heard of the interrobang?! – and the stories of those who invented them.
Human beings continually engage with the world in ways that evoke their emotions and imaginations. For example, words cause images to arise in our minds. We universally enjoy stories of all kinds. We identify patterns in the world around us. We enjoy jokes and humour. Extremes of experience and limits of reality – the stuff in the Guinness Book of World Records – intrigue us. We notice and often idolize people, ideas, or institutions. We collect things and obsess over hobbies. Mysteries entice us and we can experience awe in the face of unanswered questions or strange events. Our emotional and imaginative lives manifest themselves in many varied ways. These different forms of engagement are not insignificant; they are ways of thinking that help human beings learn.
In Imaginative Education, a theory and pedagogy developed by Dr. Kieran Egan, these acts of imagination are “cognitive tools.” They are emotional ways or strategies through which human beings make meaning in the world and, when used to shape lessons, can engage and grow imagination (Egan, 1997, 2005). Imaginative Education offers all educators a glimpse into the imaginative and emotional lives of their students and, importantly, describes sets of tools students are using to make emotional sense of the world that any teacher can use to shape curriculum. So rather than being objectives-driven, Imaginative Education is imagination-driven. Because cognitive tools are used to shape curricular decisions (Egan, 1997, 2005) teaching aligns with the emotional core of human beings.
In an Imaginative Education classroom, educators are storytellers. This does not mean they constantly create or integrate fictional stories in their teaching, but, rather, that they use cognitive tools such as revealing the heroic qualities of a topic, evoking powerful images, noticing the unique or novel, and engaging the body, to shape topics in ways that reveal their emotional importance. (See Learn More for resources.)
Focusing on imagination as we teach all curriculum topics is one way we can improve education in Canada post-pandemic. The next step? Literally stepping outside classroom walls.
Research shows that meaningful experiences in nature as children can impact the development of a conservation ethic (e.g. deBrito et al., 2017; Selby, 2017). Emotional connection can move us to action. Unfortunately, many students don’t have an emotional connection to the local natural and cultural contexts. My research has shown an alarming level of emotional disaffection among students. Students may know more about global warming but do not feel connected to any Place; they are not moved to live harmoniously with the natural world. Many students lack a sense of ecological understanding – knowledge of humankind’s interconnection in a living world and an affective relationship with nature that inspires changed action that is required in a world facing massive ecological crises (Judson 2010, 2015, 2018).
Understanding the natural world as a powerful teacher is uncommon in a Western view of schooling. Indeed, Place-based learning is a rich, but small, part of a Western educational tradition that has largely separated human beings and learning from nature. In contrast, the connection of learning with Place forms the heart of Indigenous ways of knowing and being. One of the devastating effects of colonization in Canada has been the virtual dismissal of Indigenous knowledges. Our education system can be improved if we learn from and with Indigenous peoples in Canada about a world view that acknowledges the inseparability of people and Place. I am dedicated to this work.
Unfortunately, not all outdoor learning experiences are created equal. Practices that neglect emotional and imaginative engagement in the learning process do little to cultivate the heart of a conservation ethic (Judson, 2010, 2015). Reconnecting with nature for its intrinsic value – re/membering (with) nature as an extension of our own selves – is a central goal of a cross-curricular approach to learning called Imaginative Ecological Education (IEE).
Imaginative Ecological Education (IEE) aims to nurture students’ personal relationships with the natural and cultural contexts in which they live through frequent engagement of the body, emotion, and imagination in learning. By designing pedagogy around the distinctive features of students’ imaginative lives – applying the cognitive tools of Imaginative Education discussed earlier in outdoor learning – IEE more routinely engages the body, emotion, and imagination where students live and learn. Because IEE is a cross-curricular approach to teaching suitable for students in elementary through secondary school in urban, sub-urban, or rural contexts, IEE makes it possible for the development of ecological understanding to take place alongside the fulfillment of curricular requirements.
The Walking Curriculum (Judson, 2018) is an accessible and highly practical set of activities educators can use to move learning outside with inquiry and imagination. Based on principles of IEE, the 60 easy-to-use walking-focused activities in the Walking Curriculum are designed to engage students’ emotions and imaginations with their local natural and cultural communities, to broaden their awareness of the particularities of Place, and to evoke their sense of wonder in learning. In the Walking Curriculum, a walking theme is paired with a cognitive tool to develop understanding and engage imagination. The resource is designed for teachers who don’t necessarily consider themselves “outdoor educators” – as a result, it has been of wide interest and is being widely implemented (Judson, 2021).
While I acknowledge that a radical revisioning of schooling and broad social changes will be required to learn to live within the Earth’s carrying capacities (Blenkinsop & Fettes, 2021), moving learning outside is one step in the right direction.
So, what do I recommend for changing the 130-year legacy that lives in schools today? Literally, we can change the story one step at a time. One tool at a time. We can cultivate learners’ imaginations through teaching as storytelling. We can shape learning opportunities for students of all ages in ways that move them outdoors, into communities and that employ tools that engage their emotions and imaginations in engaging with the natural world. When imagination and outdoor learning become core principles of education in Canada, we will be better equipped to navigate a “white water world” and may begin to form relationships with nature that can support a different ecological future.
First published in Education Canada, September 2022
Learn more about:
• Imaginative Education, the Walking Curriculum, Imaginative Ecological Education, and how to use cognitive tools on the imagineED website: www.educationthatinspires.ca/imaginative-education
• The Walking Curriculum: www.edcan.ca/articles/a-walking-curriculum
Blenkinsop, S. & Fettes, M. (2021). Living within the earth’s carrying capacity: Towards an education for eco-social-cultural change. Report for the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. www.circesfu.ca/practice/ecological-place-based-education/educating-for-living-within-the-earths-carrying-capacity
de Brito Miranda, A.C., Jófili, Z., & dos Anjos Carneiro-Leão, A.M., (2017). Ecological literacy: Preparing children for the twenty-first century. Early Child Development and Care, 187(2), 192–205.
Egan, K. (1997). The educated mind: How cognitive tools shape our understanding University of Chicago Press.
Egan, K. (2005). An imaginative approach to teaching. Jossey-Bass.
Judson, G. (2010). A New approach to ecological education: Engaging students’ imaginations in their world. Peter Lang.
Judson, G. (2015). Engaging imagination in ecological education: Practical strategies for teaching. UBC Press.
Judson, G. (2017). Re-imagining relevance in education. In J. Cummings & M. Blatherwick (Eds.) Creative dimensions of teaching and learning in the 21st century (pp. 47–58). Sense Publishers.
Judson, G. (2018). A walking curriculum: Evoking wonder and developing sense of place (K-12). Kindle Direct Publishing.
Judson, G. (2021). Cultivating leadership imagination with cognitive tools: An imagination focused approach to leadership education. Journal of Research on Leadership Education. doi.org/10.1177/19427751211022028
Judson, G. (2021, June 21). Working with Place: Recommendations for developing imaginative ecological teaching practices. Green Teacher Magazine, 128. https://greenteacher.com/working-with-place/
Pendleton-Jullian, A. & Brown, J. S. (2018). Pragmatic imagination: A new terrain. CreateSpace.
Selby, D. (2017). Education for sustainable development, nature, and vernacular learning. CEPS Journal, 7(1), 9–27.
In recent years, because of globalization, the world has become increasingly small and interdependent. No longer confined by place of birth or residence, citizens have a collective responsibility to participate in a globalized society.
In 2015, the UN General Assembly recognized this responsibility by adopting the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The resolution includes 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that seek to promote far-reaching social, health, environmental, and political change.
At the same time, several Canadian ministries of education have stressed the importance of integrating the UN SDGs and contemporary world issues into the curriculum as part of a field of study known as global citizenship education (GCE). As a discipline, GCE aims to provide students with the knowledge, skills, and values to address critical global challenges. These include the alarming spread of misinformation, a global health crisis, climate change, and a growing threat to the liberal international order. While some provinces have incorporated GCE into their curricula, most do not offer it as a stand-alone course.
More Canadian ministries of education should adopt a required half-year course at the secondary level on responsible global citizenship. They should seek to equip students with critical thinking skills, including media and information literacy (the ability to find and evaluate information), health literacy (the ability to make informed health decisions), ecological literacy (the ability to identify and take action on environmental issues), and democratic literacy (the ability to understand and participate in civic affairs). Various stakeholders have a vested interest, including school administrators, teachers, curriculum writers, policymakers, scholars, and professors.
The conceptual framework below (Figure 1) ties responsible global citizenship to critical thinking through four literacies:
As the framework reflects, critical thinking is a necessary skill to achieve responsible global citizenship. The UNESCO International Bureau of Education (IBE) (2013) defines critical thinking as a “process that involves asking appropriate questions, gathering and creatively sorting through relevant information, relating new information to existing knowledge, re-examining beliefs and assumptions, reasoning logically, and drawing reliable and trustworthy conclusions” (p. 15). Critical thinking skills help global citizens make responsible choices when consuming information about the media, health, environment, and democracy. These skills are necessary to evaluate the abundance of information (and misinformation) in the digital age. They also play a central role in making evidence-based health decisions, provide a foundation for exploring today’s complex and interdependent ecosystem, and encourage the kind of civic engagement and participation needed to preserve a functioning democracy.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic, Canadians have spent more time on the internet and their smartphones. A recent survey found that 98 percent of Canadians aged 15 to 24 years old use the internet (Statistics Canada, 2021). The survey also noted that 71 percent also check their smartphone, at a minimum, every half hour (Statistics Canada, 2021).
While Canadian youth have unprecedented access to knowledge and information, they are at the same time exposed to more misinformation and disinformation than at any other time in history. This makes it even more critical that students receive media and information literacy training at an early age.
Several organizations, including UNESCO, have taken notice. A decade after publishing the first edition of its media and information literacy curriculum, UNESCO (2021) released Think Critically, Click Wisely: Media and information literate citizens. The more-than-400-page document provides a curriculum and competency framework, along with modules divided into separate units. It also includes useful pedagogical approaches and strategies for teachers.
Meanwhile, in Canada, other organizations (e.g. the Association for Media Literacy, the Canadian Association of Media Education Organizations, and MediaSmarts) have promoted media and information literacy instruction. And for more than three decades, Canadian provinces and territories have incorporated such content into their curriculum. However, as the only Western nation without a federal department of education, Canada has a media and information literacy curriculum that varies by province and territory.
This moment requires increased focus and attention to help Canadian students learn how to think critically when evaluating the media and its information sources and distinguishing between fact and fiction while using information tools. As such, ministries of education should consider adding the following topics in the proposed media and information literacy unit:
The COVID-19 pandemic is shining a light on the importance of health literacy. The Public Health Agency of Canada defines it as the “ability to access, understand, evaluate and communicate information as a way to promote, maintain and improve health in a variety of settings across the life-course” (Rootman & Gordon-El-Bihbety, 2008, p. 11). This form of literacy requires both knowledge and competence in health-related disciplines.
It should come as no surprise that Canadians lacking health literacy skills are less likely to retrieve reliable information or make informed choices. In fact, limited health literacy (or health illiteracy) can directly impact whether individuals comply with data-driven public health guidance. What’s more, the rapid dissemination of COVID-19 misinformation has placed them at an even greater health risk.
At an organizational level, public health agencies have struggled to manage the current “infodemic” (Public Health Agency of Canada, 2021). In a Public Policy Forum report, University of Toronto professors Eric Merkley and Peter Loewen (2021) provide five recommendations, including to:
Additionally, medical professionals should provide up-to-date, credible information to large audiences through a strong social media presence.
At the school and board level, teachers and administrators should promote more health literacy instruction. While the concept of health-promoting schools dates back nearly three decades, there is an even greater imperative for students today. In fact, the World Health Organization and UNESCO (2021) recently proposed a whole-school approach to encourage student health and well-being, ranging from school policies and resources to a greater focus on community partnerships and a positive social-emotional environment.
Adopting these standards will help to facilitate cooperation among ministries of education, schools, and civil society organizations. Accordingly, a health literacy unit should include:
Being a responsible global citizen also requires ecological literacy – defined as “a way of thinking about the world in terms of its interdependent natural and human systems, including a consideration of the consequences of human actions and interactions within the natural context” (Manitoba Education and Training, 2017, p. 15). On top of the combined infodemic-pandemic, an ecological crisis continues to deteriorate. Earlier this year, the federal government released a 768-page document (Health of Canadians in a Changing Climate: Advancing our knowledge for action) that examines the serious threat climate change poses to Canadians’ health (Berry & Schnitter, 2022). The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) (2021) report, in particular, details the negative impact of greenhouse gas emissions, which is causing increasing temperatures and frequent natural disasters. Additionally, more than half of the world’s key biodiversity areas remain unprotected while pollution levels keep rising (UN, 2021).
A recent poll conducted by Ipsos (2021), in collaboration with the Canadian Youth Alliance for Climate Action (CYACA), examined the views of young Canadians 18 to 29 years old on climate change. The study found that Canadian youth consider climate change to be a top-five issue of concern after housing, COVID-19, health care, and unemployment. Upon reviewing each province’s secondary school science curriculum, sustainability researchers Seth Wynes and Kimberly Nicholas (2019) conclude that there is insufficient focus on scientific consensus, impacts, or solutions to climate change. Government leaders may be more likely to fulfill their climate action promises if Canada does more to develop responsible environmental citizens through climate change education.
Ecological literacy, however, is not limited to climate change education and will require students to acquire skills and competencies in other areas. In addition to climate change, this unit should include:
The COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on the Canadian way of life has contributed to the discontent many feel. According to a Pew Research Center survey, while only 29 percent of Canadians at the beginning of the pandemic believed the country was more divided than before the outbreak, 61 percent held that view by the following year (Wike & Fetterolf, 2021).
Pandemic fatigue, however, should not serve as an excuse for undermining democratic institutions and norms. Indeed, in the latest edition of The Economist Intelligence Unit’s (2022) Democracy Index (global democracy rankings), Canada dropped seven spots (5th to 12th place). The report highlights a troubling trend – one in which Canadian citizens express an increasing level of support for non-democratic ideas and values.
Civically literate citizens are more likely to understand the inner workings of the democracy and participate through voting, peaceful assembly, or other forms of engagement (The Samara Centre for Democracy, 2019). The Samara Centre for Democracy (2019) report explains that civic literacy can be developed during the Canadian citizenship process, at home, in schools, and outside the classroom. Schools are a particularly important forum through which Canadian youth can learn about civic participation and engagement.
In a civics unit, students should have the opportunity to hear diverse perspectives, make informed opinions, and actively participate in the community. Democratic literacy content should include a discussion on:
As teachers prepare students for a post-pandemic world, a one-size-fits-all approach cannot address the needs of every student. Yet, there should be a common framework.
The responsible global citizenship framework can serve to guide ministries of education seeking to implement practical and relevant GCE-related courses and content. To develop responsible global citizens and critical thinkers requires the advancement of media and information, health, ecological, and democratic literacies. These four literacies are critical for Canada’s future success and relevance in a global society.
First published in Education Canada, September 2022
Berry, P., & Schnitter, R. (Eds.). (2022). Health of Canadians in a changing climate: Advancing our knowledge for action. Health Canada. https://changingclimate.ca/site/assets/uploads/sites/5/2022/02/CCHA-REPORT-EN.pdf
The Economist Intelligence Unit. (2022). Democracy index 2021: The China challenge. www.eiu.com/n/campaigns/democracy-index-2021
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. (2021). Climate change 2021: The physical science basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the sixth assessment report of the intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Cambridge University. www.ipcc.ch/report/ar6/wg1/
Ipsos. (2021). Young Canadians’ attitudes on climate change. www.ipsos.com/sites/default/files/ct/news/documents/2021-10/CYACA%20Report%2020211004_0.pdf
Manitoba Education and Training. (2017). Grade 12 Global Issues: Citizenship and Sustainability.
Public Health Agency of Canada. (2021). A vision to transform Canada’s public health system. Government of Canada. www.canada.ca/content/dam/phac-aspc/documents/corporate/publications/chief-public-health-officer-reports-state-public-health-canada/state-public-health-canada-2021/cpho-report-eng.pdf
Rootman, I., & Gordon-El-Bihbety, D. (2008). A vision for a health literate Canada: Report of the expert panel on health literacy. Canadian Public Health Association. https://swselfmanagement.ca/uploads/ResourceDocuments/CPHA%20(2008)%20A%20Vision%20for%20a%20Health%20Literate%20Canada.pdf
The Samara Centre for Democracy. (2019). Investing in Canadians’ civic literacy: An answer to fake news and disinformation. www.samaracanada.com/docs/default-source/reports/investing-in-canadians-civic-literacy-by-the-samara-centre-for-democracy.pdf?sfvrsn=66f2072f_4
Statistics Canada. (2021). Canadian Internet use survey, 2020. www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/en/daily-quotidien/210622/dq210622b-eng.pdf?st=O5mYsIgz
United Nations. (2021). The sustainable development goals report 2021. https://unstats.un.org/sdgs/report/2021/The-Sustainable-Development-Goals-Report-2021.pdf
UNESCO. (2021). Think critically, click wisely: Media and information literate citizens. https://unesdoc.unesco.org/ark:/48223/pf0000377068
UNESCO-IBE. (2013). IBE glossary of curriculum terminology. www.ibe.unesco.org/fileadmin/user_upload/Publications/IBE_GlossaryCurriculumTerminology2013_eng.pdf
Wike, R., & Fetterolf, J. (2021). Global public opinion in an era of democratic anxiety. Pew Research Center. www.pewresearch.org/global/2021/12/07/global-public-opinion-in-an-era-of-democratic-anxiety
World Health Organization & UNESCO. (2021). Making every school a health-promoting school: Implementation guidance. https://unesdoc.unesco.org/ark:/48223/pf0000377941
Wynes, S., & Nicholas, K. A. (2019). Climate science curricula in Canadian secondary schools focus on human warming, not scientific consensus, impacts or solutions. PLoS ONE, 14(7), e0218305. doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0218305
Consider your own personal journey in the world of education. When you began your story, were there any classes that covered how to grapple with teaching and leading during a global pandemic? Did your coursework provide opportunities to learn how to educate students during a worldwide crisis? Did any of your mentor teachers give you a heads-up about how to completely transform your life from in-person instruction to teaching completely online in just a few days?
The truth of the matter is, educators have been grappling with an ever-present demand to be flexible, to think on our feet, and to pivot at a moment’s notice. We are accustomed to feelings of uncertainty while simultaneously putting on a brave face as we continue to show up day in and day out. Long before the COVID-19 pandemic, teachers were tasked with supporting students in the midst of the most seemingly insurmountable obstacles. And, long before the COVID-19 pandemic, there was an educator burnout pandemic.
We know that stress and burnout are not new phenomena to educators, but unfortunately they’re getting worse. According to research, teachers are dealing with increasing demands, lack of resources, and limited autonomy. And their leaders are grappling with burnout, too.
Principals struggle with increased workload, the pressures of 24/7 online access, and the growing diversity of student and staff needs. When teacher burnout increases, teaching quality decreases, which results in less effective classroom management and reduced student engagement. When teacher stress increases, it contributes to student stress, which has been linked to learning and mental health problems.
I’ve recognized this issue as an educator for Baltimore City Public Schools, but before becoming a teacher, as a student in crisis, I learned the importance of supporting mental health and well-being. In both high school and college, I suffered from crippling depression, anxiety, and panic attacks. I represented the one in four Americans who has grappled with a mental illness and the one in ten college students who have contemplated suicide. My teachers were my emotional first responders who noticed the subtle changes in my behaviour, encouraged me to seek treatment and get help, and supported me with life-saving accommodations and differentiation. They are the reason I am alive and writing this today. They were my inspiration to become a teacher myself.
It was as a teacher that I realized the complete lack of preparedness and ongoing support for the emotional demands of the profession – and specifically, for working with children who have experienced trauma or are experiencing ongoing trauma first-hand.
Because of the lack of resources and support around self-care and mental health in the workplace for adult staff, I left the classroom after nearly a decade to start an organization aiming to revolutionize workplace well-being, called Happy Teacher Revolution. (See Happy Teacher Revolution.) I am by no means an expert about how to perfectly master the elusive work-life balance, as I am learning right alongside you as we embark on the next school year together, but I want you to know that this is an opportunity for us to collectively make change by prioritizing our own well-being as a best practice for those we serve. Below you will find my top eight strategies for revolutionizing your own wellness this school year. I hope you take the time to try out one of the action steps I’ve suggested – or create your own and share it with us!
The first step in prioritizing your well-being this school year is to know that just reading this, and making the intention to fill your cup first instead of pouring from an empty vessel, is an action that you have already taken. So, go YOU! This act of personal development is radical and disruptive in a good way because it is the means to your own professional sustainability. Some ways you might choose you this year are by setting boundaries, saying “no” or “I’ll think about it” instead of an automatic “yes,” or creating more opportunities to spend time enjoying the things you love.
This strategy comes from fellow Baltimore City Public School educator and advocate for teacher well-being LaQuisha Hall. Identify toxic forces that need to be “muted” in your life. Know that these influences may be rearing their ugly heads after you initiate boundaries like I’ve suggested above… but know that the people who will be pushing back on your boundaries are probably the same people who took advantage of your lack of boundaries to begin with.
This strategy is one that applies to all of us: whether you are an aspiring educator, a brand-new educator, or you’ve been in the game for decades. Fascinatingly, it doesn’t matter if you’re older versus younger, or if you have a chronic condition or disease, feeling that you have a sense of purpose in life may help you live longer, according to research published in Psychological Science (2014), a journal of the Association for Psychology Science. Research shows that having a purpose in life is a best practice no matter one’s age, and a powerful strategy we could model to our students.
One of our Revolutionary educators in Alabama, Benita Moyers, suggests creating a self-care action plan. Just as you create intentional plans for your students, consider what it could look like to implement a time every week to pour into your own cup, so that you can continue supporting your students and the community of individuals surrounding you. Carve out a time in your schedule to spend time on YOU. Actually put it into your calendar so that it will happen. Put in a reminder. Even if it feels indulgent to spend time on yourself, recognize that self-care isn’t selfish; self-care is professional development.
This inspired practice comes from one of our very first Happy Teacher Revolution pilot sites and trauma-informed schools in Nashville. To pre-forgive is to acknowledge that you will probably make mistakes and to be prepared to forgive yourself when things don’t go absolutely perfectly. This strategy is the opportunity to be gentle with yourself, just as you would be gentle with any friend or student who could benefit from a nurturing/encouraging sentiment rather than an accusatory one. Acknowledge that the pandemic of COVID-19 was something we could have never expected or “practised” for. Offer yourself pre-forgiveness and self-compassion around the immense amount of change that upended our lives over the last few years. Give yourself the space to grieve the losses, the changes, the ways that our lives will forever be different. Acknowledge that you will continue to make mistakes as you set one foot in front of the other. Pre-forgiveness is knowing that the road may still be bumpy in life post-COVID, and recognizing that the healing process is never linear.
An accommodation that teachers often make for their students is to provide them with opportunities to take frequent breaks. This applies to us, too. Take time to disconnect and detach with love. Unplug from technology and the demand to be “available” all of the time. Put up an auto-response that you are currently unavailable. Go outside in nature. Move your body and take a moment to let your mind rest and digest the stimulation of the day. Disconnect for a time so that you can better connect with those you serve once you are back “on the grid.”
One of the most powerful practices in our Happy Teacher Revolution meetings has been to offer personal, positive affirmations. Some sentence starters include: “I’m proud of myself for,” “I forgive myself for,’’ “I recognize the courage it took for me to,” and “I’m grateful for.” Write these affirmations down. Say them out loud. Text one to a well-being accountability partner and invite them to share their own. We also utilize opportunities to prioritize autonomy in Happy Teacher Revolution meetings by using the sentence frame, “I choose.” Some choices include: “I choose what to let go of,” “I choose to prioritize the relationships that matter,” and “No matter how the school year started, I choose to finish well.”
Self-care is an incredibly individualized industry, but we are collectively craving a reduced sense of isolation and an increased sense of community. Now, more than ever, it is of utmost importance to check in with one another. The mental-health crises I experienced personally as a student were intercepted by my heroes, my teachers, because of the relationships they fostered in and out of their classroom community. The mental-health crisis is only getting worse, and we are posited with the unique chance to prioritize workplace well-being as a best-practice approach, not only professionally with each other, with our students, and with our stakeholders… but also personally with ourselves.
To find out more how to foster community care alongside personal care, check out the exciting new collaboration with Happy Teacher Revolution and the EdCan Network at: www.edcan.ca/HTR
Illustration: Adobe Stock
First published in Education Canada, September 2021
Happy Teacher Revolution is an international movement on a mission to organize and conduct well-being support communities for education professionals in order to help increase their happiness, retention, and professional sustainability. To learn more visit www.HappyTeacherRevolution.com
Association for Psychological Science. (2014, May 12). Having a sense of purpose may add years to your life. ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/05/140512124308.htm
Published by the EdCan Network in partnership with
On a global scale, we’re faced with complex societal and environmental challenges such as climate change, poverty, inequality and environmental degradation that we must address in order to achieve a more sustainable future for all. The United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) lay out 17 action areas aimed at sustaining life (both human and non-human), ending poverty, and achieving social justice. These are the building blocks of global well-being.
For educators, the SDGs have enormous educational importance and potential. They offer cross-curricular relevancy and invaluable learning opportunities for students to discover their crucial role in solving local, regional, and global problems, starting in their own community. Simultaneously, education ministries, school districts and school communities will discover that engaging with the SDGs can support students in the important goal of acquiring the six pan-Canadian Global Competencies identified by the Council of Ministers of Education, Canada (CMEC), to equip them to thrive in and shape their world.
In this issue, we explore how educators can engage students to become active global citizens and authentically address global issues in empowering and hopeful ways.
Cover photo: courtesy MCIC
Whew. We made it through the winter. For many of you it has been, professionally and/or personally, the hardest winter ever. But with vaccination underway and warm weather ahead, we think we see light at the end of the COVID-19 tunnel.
After a year that forced educators to teach, or lead, reactively in response to a mountain of new challenges, we thought it might be a welcome change to look forward to a more aspirational approach to teaching and learning. Yes, there are ongoing and critical COVID issues. But we can also start thinking about how to re-engage students, build school community and make education the best training ground possible for our future leaders and citizens.
Taking on the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), whether as a school or as a class, is an exciting way to address all three of these goals. I like to think of this issue as a seed catalogue. The catalogue arrives when it’s still too cold to plant, but it conjures up big dreams for gardening season. We hope this issue will sow lots of ideas, and also lead you to the resources to develop them into a real plan. How great would it be to cover the curriculum in a way that engages students in real-world problems, encourages them to claim a stake in making the world a better place, and develops essential competencies in the process?
The authors in this issue are in the vanguard of integrating the SDGs into Canadian schooling, and part of an international network of educators who are helping to achieve these ambitious Agenda 2030 goals while providing their students with a positive, empowering opportunity to learn about and take action on global issues that are also urgent problems here at home, such as clean drinking water for Indigenous communities, homelessness, climate change, food insecurity, and racial inequities. See how other schools have taken on one or more of the goals in our article on UNESCO Schools, from our partners at CCUNESCO (p. 11). Or dive right into the features to learn about what the UN SDGs are, why they present such a great opportunity for educators, and how to integrate the SDGs into your classroom and school.
I hope this issue inspires educators, schools, and school boards to start planning how they might get involved in this world-changing initiative – and sow the seeds for a sustainable future.
Photo: courtesy MCIC
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Anxiety about the environment, a sense of helplessness, pessimism about the future, individualism – the world is going through a dark time and many people are concerned about the morale of young people and their ability to exercise active citizenship. However, Oxfam-Québec meets thousands of young people every year who are exercising their citizenship in the fields of climate, economics and gender justice, with both hope and ingenuity.
For over 45 years, our organization has been active in schools to encourage youth civic engagement so we can build a fair, sustainable world. We believe that young people wield citizen power and that it is crucial to treat them as what they are – agents of change – and in light of what they do – take unified action to fight inequalities.
When describing Oxfam-Québec’s current educational activities, we talk about global citizenship education, an educational approach that helps young people grow into responsible, united citizens of the world. The goal of this educational continuum is to inform youth, mobilize them, encourage them to influence the halls of power, and promote their activities. Young people join this movement by attending in-class workshops; taking part in the World Walk, which for many is their first experience of collective action; working on long-term projects like fundraising for sustainable development projects; or by engaging in calls for action as part of mobilization campaigns.
All of these activities correspond to specific elements in the Quebec Education Program (QEP), in terms of its mission, broad areas of learning, skills to be developed, and progression of learning. Oxfam is even cited as a cultural reference in the school curriculum, under the theme of wealth disparity in the Contemporary World course offered in Grade 11. All of our resources clearly identify the corresponding QEP elements. Many teachers, as well as non-teaching staff like spiritual leaders and community programmers, use these resources in class or as part of extracurricular activities. Given their demanding mandates and busy schedules, school staff members appreciate the support of our team, which offers learning activities to meet their needs. To use these resources, one can find all the information needed on the Oxfam-Québec site, under the heading Ressources pour les milieux scolaires (School resources, in French only).
The educational activities we offer are both transformative and empowering. In particular, they enable girls and minority youth to have a voice and be heard in their fight against injustice. We can build a fair world without poverty if young people mobilize to exercise their global citizenship, solve problems, and work with their peers around the globe.
In accordance with UNESCO guidelines, the Oxfam confederation believes that the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) set by the United Nations must be the priorities driving global citizenship education. In the following paragraphs, we present groups of educational activities tailored for four SDGs. These activities have been adapted to remain accessible during the pandemic, using online communication tools and interactive digital resources.
SDG 5, Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls, is the heart of our work: it is impossible to build a just world if half of humanity cannot flourish and have their rights respected.
For example, the campaign Les tâches ménagères et le travail de soin. Ça compte! (Make Care Count) teaches young people about the unequal division of care work between the sexes, notably through a policy paper entitled Time to Care. A free workshop, Libres de choisir (Free to Choose), teaches high school students about sexual rights – which are a human right – and encourages them to consider the social and cultural context when reflecting on the impact of failing to respect these rights. The workshop’s title, referencing the question of freedom of choice, is significant: when it comes to choice, the inequalities faced by teenage girls around the world have major consequences on their lives. In Quebec as well, young people must make choices about their sexual rights. After taking this workshop, young people are invited to support a project in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Healthy Mothers, Healthy children, which aims to improve the health of women, teens, and children. In the case of older youth ages 18 to 30, the project C’est pour elles aussi (It’s her right, too) can help develop their abilities to mobilize friends and family and disseminate positive messages using coordinated actions, digital action plans, and meetings with elected officials.
“My participation in the Oxfam-Québec project ‘C’est pour elles aussi’ (It’s her right, too) helped me understand that my voice is valid and that I have the right to be heard. Social networks are powerful allies for raising people’s awareness and advancing the debate. […] The team introduced me to theoretical concepts related to cyber activism and gave me the courage I needed to use my voice! I was even empowered to develop my own platform of inspiring resources on Instagram (@lesensduchaos) to counter the psychological stress caused by the lockdown.”
– Laurence C. Germain, participant in the Oxfam-Québec “C’est pour elles aussi” project
SDG 13, Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts, plays a key role in Oxfam’s educational outreach efforts. This issue is intertwined with all global issues of inequality: historic, socioeconomic, and gender inequalities.
The campaign devoted to this topic is called Climat de justice (Climate justice). Like the content in the free workshop offered to young people ages 12 to 30, the campaign highlights the injustices associated with the climate crisis, and the outsized impact this crisis is having on the people who produce the fewest carbon emissions. Since indignation can be a powerful driving force, the young people involved can then participate in the 50th World Walk for Climate Justice. The World Walk is the culmination of a year of action. To highlight these efforts, the Oxfam-Québec team has asked the young people preparing for the walk to meet several challenges, from filming a video to speaking to the media. At the beginning of the school year, young people can also organize a symbolic, united action in their respective schools called Stand Up for the Planet to tell decision-makers they are committed to climate justice.
“To everyone who says that we can’t accomplish anything, look at us – 6,000 young people marching for the world! I am really proud to see this! It is our place, meaning that, regardless of our age, gender, colour, or religion, we have the right to use our voice.”
– Estelle Lafrance, age 17, member of the Oxfam-Québec Youth Seat, participant and spokesperson for the World Walk
Of course, SDG 1, End poverty in all its forms everywhere, underpins all the others. It is important to talk to young people about the economy and deconstruct dogmas that hinder a real understanding of possible solutions so everyone can live with dignity on this planet.
Along these lines, there is a free workshop for young people on the new economic model created by Oxfam. L’économie du beigne (Doughnut Economics) rejects the obsession with infinite growth at all cost and proposes instead that the economy target the well-being of humanity by respecting a series of social indicators without overshooting any planetary boundaries. This new model has already been adopted by many cities around the world, including Brussels, Amsterdam, and Nanaimo in Canada. This workshop is part of the campaign Taxing wealth: Flattening inequalities. Young people are invited to sign the petition addressed to the Canadian government asking it to rebuild an economy that is capable of tackling inequalities. In anticipation of the upcoming municipal elections, young people could ask candidates if they are interested in applying the doughnut economics model to their city. A wonderful way to learn about politics!
Doughnut economics also refers to SDG 8: Promote inclusive and sustainable economic growth, employment and decent work for all.
An innovative Oxfam-Québec project started some 15 years ago introducing young people to the values of innovation, creativity, and sustainability advocated by the Council of Ministers of Education, Canada (CMEC): Magasin du Monde (World Shop). This initiative has students create social economy businesses to promote fair trade. Participants create a shop, sit on a board of directors, and share the tasks involved: market research, inventory management and sales, activities to educate the school community, and internal and external communications. The shops do not sell ordinary products, as everything is certified fair trade and a percentage of the profits are used to support a sustainable development project. In some cases, the entire local community participates in the project, which becomes an engine of development. This happens, for example, when local farmers’ markets and tourism agencies help to promote these extraordinary shops.
“The work we accomplished on the committee for a sustainable City of Mont-Saint-Hilaire has increased my desire to have an impact on the world in which I live. It is proof that when you work at it, anything is possible!”
– Émile Chapdelaine, founding member of the World Shop at École Ozias-Leduc, member of the Oxfam-Québec Youth Observatory, and a member of the committee that helped get Mont-Saint-Hilaire recognized as a Fair Trade Town.
Research on and assessments of student participation in these so-called “civic engagement” activities reveal many benefits for the young people themselves. Those interviewed report improved self-esteem and a greater sense of responsibility. In addition, they exhibit an increase in positive social attitudes and a decrease in risky behaviours. This is mainly due to a greater sense of belonging to their school and improved academic results.
An external impact assessment carried out last year (Sogémap) confirmed the positive effect of youth civic engagement. According to this document, Oxfam-Québec’s global citizenship education programming enables young people to develop an awareness of global issues, an open, engaged mind and an increased ability to defend arguments. Not surprisingly, young people who take part in these activities maintain their civic engagement when they become adults.
In light of the above, it is easy to understand why encouraging young people to exercise their citizenship is crucial to supporting democracy and achieving the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. Back in 2017, the United Nations Population Fund noted that meeting the SDGs relies on bold measures to ensure that 60 million girls around the globe can live a life of dignity. In this pandemic period, young people, like the rest of the world, are experiencing unprecedented crises that directly threaten their present and future lives. By working with schools, Oxfam-Québec hopes to provide them with concrete measures for overcoming this challenge and support their efforts to create a more sustainable, inclusive society.
This article is translated from the original French. Some resources are also available in English; check the websites.
Resources for SDG 5:
Resources for SDG 13:
Resources for SDG 1:
Resources for SDG 8:
Photos : La Boîte 7
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Caron, C. (2018). La citoyenneté des adolescents du 21e siècle dans une perspective de justice sociale : pourquoi et comment ? www.erudit.org/fr/revues/lsp/2018-n80-lsp03532/1044109ar/
Gingras, M.-P., Phillipe, F.L., Poulin, F., Robitaille, J (2018). Étude sur les obstacles à la mise en place d’activités d’engagement civique en milieu scolaire au Québec. Canadian Journal of Education, 41(3), 661-687. https://journals.sfu.ca/cje/index.php/cje-rce/article/view/3177
Philippe, F. (2019). Projet de recherche Réussir : 15 constats révélateurs sur l’impact des activités d’engagement civique chez les jeunes de niveau secondaire au Québec. www.elaborer.org/pdf/R3.pdf
United Nations Population Fund. (2017). Worlds apart: Reproductive health and rights in an age of inequality. www.unfpa.org/swop-2017
Seventeen Sustainable Development Goals – also known as the SDGs or the Global Goals – came into effect on January 1, 2016, following a historic United Nations Summit in September 2015. 193 governments from around the world agreed to implement the SDGs within their own countries in order to achieve what has become known as the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. To meet these new SDGs, countries are to mobilize efforts to end all forms of poverty, fight inequalities, and tackle climate change, all while ensuring that no one is left behind. To achieve this global challenge, everyone must take action both here and around the world. We know that these goals highlight issues that affect our students and communities as well as the broader world, and offer powerful points of connection to engage students on global issues in the classroom.
Global citizenship, the idea that the actions we take here can affect lives all over the world, is a compelling lesson for the classroom. Engaging students on global issues, and especially taking action locally, can spark exciting projects and build global awareness in students. Students who understand these local-global connections are building their understanding of issues facing the world today, developing compassion for the world around them, and discovering the power of taking action.
The Manitoba Council for International Cooperation (MCIC) has a long history of engaging students in classroom workshops and student conferences that are focused on educating students about global issues and empowering them to take action. If you need ideas on how to bring the SDGs into your classroom, we’ve developed Sustainable Foundations: A guide for teaching the Sustainable Development Goals, a new bilingual resource for educators that includes multiple lesson plan ideas and action steps for each SDG. The guide includes lesson plans for Grades 2–12, but largely focuses on Grade 5+, where the content around global issues is more relevant to the curriculum.
Taking an inquiry approach, each chapter in the guide offers an overview of a specific goal, including learning objectives, a summary of important international targets, and the ways to tell if we are on track to reach the goals. Each chapter offers inquiry-style questions that connect back to the curriculum, exploring some key questions, such as: Where did this goal begin? Why does this issue matter? Who and what are affected? and What is being done?
The guide explores the interconnected nature of the goals, taking care to highlight, for example, how we can’t reach Goal 1: Zero Poverty, without also reducing inequalities (Goal 10), ensuring decent work and economic growth (Goal 8), protecting life on land (Goal 15), and many others. There are many connections between each goal, and students can quickly begin to see how the success of one goal is tied to another.
Each chapter also highlights the consequences of inaction, sharing what might happen if we do nothing to reach the goal, and offers further reflection questions, inspiring quotes, and more. Of special importance to educators are the sections with resources, including ideas for taking action, lesson plans, activities, and video educational resources for use in the classroom.
For example, how can you teach your students about Goal 1: Zero Poverty? For students in Grades 5–8, consider the lesson “The World is Not Equal. Is that fair?” from the World’s Largest Lesson website and featured in the guide. This lesson highlights different types of inequality and helps students explore the impact inequality has on the wider society and economy. The lesson starts with students receiving an unequal amount of something (candy, stickers, etc.) and moves from fairness to a discussion on equality.
MCIC has also created lessons you can use in your classroom, now available directly on our website at mcic.ca. First, for students in Grade 5+, considering using the “Building Blocks for a Good Life” lesson, where students order a list of items from most important to least important for a good life. This lesson opens a discussion about poverty and what it means to have a good quality of life. Students will explore poverty as a “lack of opportunities” rather than a “lack of basic needs.” Framing poverty this way allows students to appreciate the complexity of the issue and promotes empathy in lieu of judgment.
Students work in groups to decide which items (a range including access to food, a television, cell phones, shelter, toys, health care and more) are most important and which are least important to a good life. Labels are provided that can be placed on blocks so students can build structures, or you can print a list of the items and cut them into individual squares so students can order them individually on their desks or at home.
This lesson has also been successfully used with high-school students, and we recommend leaving more time for older students to discuss differences of opinion and the debrief questions. Many great discussions can arise with all ages, based on student perspectives of the items on the list. There are several discussion questions and prompts included in the lesson, such as asking students if everyone needs the same things for a good life, a prompt that can be used to expand the conversation and include global perspectives. Do we need the same things as other countries? Use student answers to these prompts and differences in their prioritized lists to spark conversations about basic needs and lack of opportunities in the world.
Another MCIC activity with more global perspectives is “Breaking the Cycle,” for students in Grades 5–8. In this activity, students learn that poverty is not a result of individual choices alone; it is affected by societal systems. Students travel in groups through four different stations, making decisions about health and the environment inside scenarios from around the world, choosing how to spend their resources to survive. Focused on the themes of poverty and the poverty cycle, barriers associated with poverty, and a lack of access to health care and education, this activity brings home the real-world challenges people can face and opens a conversation about inequality around the world.
Learning about global issues is a great start, but true impact and passion can be inspired by taking action on the issues. Students who take action in their communities to effect change become engaged global citizens, learning powerful lessons about how their actions can change the world.
To encourage your students to take action, consider the ideas in the “How to Take Action” section included for each chapter of the guide, or the general tips on taking action in the introduction. For example, students could be encouraged to support a local organization through creating a fundraiser, or writing to their local government representative about the issues. Explore dosomething.org to find an issue your students care about and to find ways to take action on the issues. You can also see examples of how other students have taken action on the MCIC Take Action Blog, or consider connecting with an international cooperation organization working around the world. You can find examples of these organizations and their work through the case studies in each chapter of the guide or by contacting MCIC or another Council for International Cooperation in your area.
At our Generating Momentum for Our World student conferences, and as we share classroom resources, we encourage educators to let us know how their students take action on global issues. Following a student conference in rural Manitoba where students learned about the SDGs and how to take action on the issues, we heard about an exciting project one school had undertaken in their community.
With the support of their teachers, middle-years students created an “SDG Week” where they connected with their peers on a different goal each day. For example, when they talked about Goal 2: Zero Hunger, students baked and offered everyone in school a muffin. They hosted assemblies, shared information, invited MCIC to lead workshops, and created posters to share. One day they planted fruit trees on the school property, as a way to help reach several goals (no hunger, climate change, life on land, and more). With a new project each day, it was a great way to share what they learned with their fellow students and take action on the SDGs.
It was exciting to see how students took the knowledge gained about the SDGs and turned it into action, while sharing with their schoolmates.
AS EDUCATORS, you know that you hold the power to transform your students’ understanding of the world. As you teach them the universality of the SDGs and the issues facing the world today, we encourage you to also teach your students to be good global citizens who take actions that change the world for the better. Students who understand that they have the power to help reduce inequalities around the world and create a more sustainable future for all, are students who will take knowledge and turn it into action, making a more just world for everyone.
MCIC offers many free classroom resources at mcic.ca:
See also the World’s Largest Lesson website, with lesson plans and other classroom resources searchable by type of resource, age group, and duration:
Photos: courtesy MCIC
When I think about the necessary steps to meet the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030, Indigenous rights and justice come to mind immediately. To me, it is clear that there can be no sustainable world without creating the conditions that allow Indigenous people to thrive.
Many of the objectives of the SDGs (such as a sustainable world for future generations to inherit, responsible practices of consumption, strong partnerships, etc.) already align with the values and practices of most Indigenous nations, which, according to a 2018 United Nations report, make up only five percent of the global population, but protect more than 80 percent of the world’s biodiversity (Raygorodetsky, 2018). Not only this, but the emphasis that the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development puts on reducing inequalities “is of particular relevance to Indigenous peoples, who are almost universally in situations of disadvantage vis-à-vis other segments of the population” (United Nations, 2018). In Canada, Indigenous people are grossly overrepresented in every area of inequity.
Despite these clear points of connection, I think for some people, and certainly for many environmentalists, policy-makers, and educators I have known, emphasizing Indigenous people’s role in the SDGs is approached as an afterthought rather than as a necessity. This line of thinking and inaction is something we must change, especially in Canada, as progress on the SDGs lags – incredibly so when it comes to the state of Indigenous communities.
This is not to say that there has been a complete failure in the conversation about Indigenous people and the SDGs. Indeed, in Canada’s 2018 Voluntary National Review of Implementation, Indigenous people were mentioned under the progress reports for almost every one of the SDGs to date (Global Affairs Canada, 2018). However, I have long maintained that the degree to which Indigenous people are centred in conversations about the SDGs is insufficient. Moreover, I believe the approaches Canada and Canadians have taken to collaborate with Indigenous people thus far, are the wrong ones.
As of 2019, the primary approach Canada had taken to addressing Indigenous concerns regarding the SDGs was to “invest in existing Indigenous-focused programming relevant to each SDG and aim for greater consultation and collaboration with Indigenous people in every sector” (Yesno, 2019). None of these approaches are transformational. Consultation and increased dollars are not enough to bring about the changes Indigenous communities deserve or the impact the 2030 Agenda seeks to achieve; these types of changes necessitate a restructuring of power and jurisdiction; a provision of tools and capacity so Indigenous people can chart their own paths to self-determination.
Why self-determination? Because Indigenous people cannot protect the land if it is always under threat of seizure. They cannot pursue sustainable development practices if threats of mining, damming, pipelines, and other forms of extraction loom without consent. Indigenous people already have the knowledge to uphold sustainable relationships between ourselves and the natural world; we had been in harmonious relationships with the environment for a millennia before colonization. It is hard to pursue those ways of living though, ones which would benefit all people living in Canada, when we have to fight for basic rights at the same time. This is where education plays a critical role. As current and future generations navigate sustainability crises into 2030 and beyond, it is important they, too, see Indigenous rights as central to a sustainable world.
One of young people’s greatest strengths, I believe, is their ability to seek and embrace radical change – a skill that can be increasingly challenging for people as they age. Transforming Canada’s relationship with Indigenous people in the ways I have described above is a truly radical and momentous change. It will take an entire coming generation fighting for, and believing in, this change in order for it to be realized. It is up to current generations of educators, parents, thought-leaders, and policy-makers to help them understand this, emphasize the importance of building strong relationships with Indigenous people, and ultimately, guide them in this fight.
The SDGs offer a great entry point for discussions about the specific ways Indigenous people are left behind in this country, and how that might be able to change. Discussing SDG 5: Gender Equality? Highlight Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG). There is a whole list of action items necessary to address this inequality. Tackling SDG 6: Clean Water and Sanitation? Identify the dozens of Indigenous communities who lack reliable, clean water and the many Indigenous voices finding ways to overcome this challenge. Let young people know that Indigenous people all around them are fighting for their future as well as our own.
I should note that there are individuals all over the country, including educators, who are leading by example and already sharing this information in and out of the classroom. I know this because I have been lucky enough to be taught and mentored by such people. For those who have the essential job of educating and shaping young people, and want to do more to bring Indigenous justice to their work, the resources are already there – they are just waiting for you to embrace them. (See OISE, 2001; Gamblin, 2019; Yellowhead Institute, 2019, for starters.)
Overall, Indigenous rights and justice, especially the right to self-determination, needs to be a major priority as we collectively tackle the SDGs and address what feels like an increasingly precarious world; not only because it’s the moral thing to do, but because it is a critical part of the path forward. It is long time we realize that, ultimately, there is no sustainable future without Indigenous rights, and that we all have a role to play in ensuring that these rights are realized.
The United Nations (2015) said it well when they stated: “The future of humanity and of our planet lies in our hands. It lies also in the hands of today’s younger generation who will pass the torch to future generations. The road to sustainable development is already mapped; it will be for all of us to ensure that the journey is successful and its gains irreversible.”
Indigenous people have long been ready to embark on that journey; it is my hope that we can work together so the next generations will be ready too.
Photo: Adobe Stock
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Gamblin, R. (2019, November 4). LAND BACK! What do we mean? 4 Rs Youth Movement.
Global Affairs Canada. (2018). Canada’s implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (pp. 1–148). Government of Canada.
Deepening Knowledge Project.(2001). Best practices for teaching Aboriginal students. Ontario Institute for Studies in Education.
Raygorodetsky, G. (2018, November 19). Can indigenous land stewardship protect biodiversity? National Geographic.
United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs. (2015). Transforming our world: The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. United Nations.
United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs. (2018). Indigenous Peoples and the 2030 Agenda. United Nations.
Yellowhead Institute. (2019, October 29). Land Back: A Yellowhead Institute Red Paper
Yesno, R. (2019, June 11). UNDRIP and the SDGs: There’s no sustainable future without Indigenous rights. Alliance2030.
Canada is internationally known as a bilingual country. Twelve years ago, when I moved here from Brazil to complete my graduate studies, I thought that most Canadians would speak both English and French, but I quickly realized that that was not the case. I lived in Toronto, Ont., and when I met people who had grown up there, they mainly considered themselves Anglophones, even if they spoke some French. Others who had immigrated to Canada were plurilingual: they spoke two, three, or four languages at different levels of proficiency. Despite having Portuguese, Spanish, English, and Italian in my repertoire, I have never been considered bilingual in Canada because I do not speak French perfectly yet. The popular discourse of being bilingual here places value on the two official languages only, and even if you speak both languages, you need to sound like a native speaker or you will have your bilingual identity stripped away from you. This issue causes language insecurity and anxiety and demotivates people to learn languages. It is time to rethink what bilingualism means, recognize that Canada is a multilingual country, and focus on innovating language education.
Canada is no longer a bilingual country. It is multilingual. In fact, it has been multilingual since pre-colonial times. In addition to the two official languages, 60 Indigenous languages and more than 140 immigrant languages are woven into the Canadian landscape. Recently, in a span of only five years, Canada witnessed a 13.3 percent increase in the number of people speaking an immigrant language, and nearly 20 percent of Canadian residents speak more than one language at home (Statistics Canada, 2016). With recent announcements that the federal government plans to welcome more than 1.2 million immigrants by the end of 2023, this multilingual reality will continue to grow (Harris, 2020). In fact, multilingualism is a global phenomenon and is now in the spotlight because of recent trends in mobility, travel, internationalization of education, language revitalization efforts (UNESCO, 2019), and online work demands during the COVID-19 pandemic. All of these factors contribute to people using different languages at home, online, and in their various communities.
The youth in Canada are accustomed to linguistic and cultural diversity, at least outside of the classroom: they can read a book in English, listen to K-pop, mix languages while interacting with others in online role-playing games, and listen to their grandparents speak in their heritage languages. They may not have high proficiency levels in these languages, but they are certainly exposed to them. Multilingualism is on the rise, in Canada and elsewhere, and so we must innovate how we teach languages and how teachers view their students. Indeed, preparing the youth to learn only the two official languages of Canada is not enough. Canada needs to go beyond English/French bilingualism and move toward equipping youth to have plurilingual and pluricultural competence; to encourage students not only to be tolerant of linguistic and cultural diversity, but to be active agents of social change, learn new languages, and be advocates for a world that is more linguistically and culturally inclusive. One of the United Nations’ sustainable development goals for a better future is to provide inclusive, equitable, and quality education for all and in language education, one way to accomplish this is to implement a plurilingual approach in the classroom.
First, what is the difference between multilingualism and plurilingualism? A useful distinction is offered in a 2020 publication by the Council of Europe, which states that multilingualism is the coexistence of different languages in a society, while plurilingualism is the dynamic development of an individual’s linguistic repertoire. In Canada, we have more than 200 languages in our society (multilingualism), while individuals may have several languages in their repertoire (plurilingualism). For example, one person may speak English fluently, understand different Englishes (e.g. from Newfoundland and South Africa), speak some Cree and a little bit of Spanish, and may be currently developing basic French and its different varieties (e.g. French from France, Quebec, and Haiti). In education, a plurilingual approach will encourage the development of this repertoire along with the cultures related to these languages; languages and cultures have long been suggested to be inseparable (Galante, 2020), that is, when learning a language, we also learn about related cultures, traditions, behaviours, beliefs, and how language is used across cultures and contexts.
This approach may sound complicated, but it is not. In fact, some educators may already teach, at least implicitly, through a plurilingual approach, but they may not be exploring its maximum potential. They may still view their students as simply language learners (e.g. English language learner), or bilinguals, but not as plurilingual and pluricultural citizens. So, what can educators do to start? Here are three initial ideas:
Figure 1. Linguistic Portrait, taken from Galante, 2019
These three examples may already look familiar among some teachers, but others may find them radical. But why should teachers even attempt to use a plurilingual approach? In the first part of this article, I provided a rationale based on the increase of multilingualism in Canada and in the world. Below, I will provide some arguments based on recent research.
Many studies conducted in different language classrooms (ESL, FSL, immersion, bilingual programs, etc.) and countries suggest several benefits of a plurilingual education, including language development, empathy, self-esteem, cognition, and motivation, among other factors. In my own research (2020), I have investigated teachers’ perceptions of a plurilingual approach in the English-language classroom compared to a monolingual approach (English-only). Seven teachers participated in the study and they taught two classes using two different approaches: plurilingual with one class and English-only with another class, for a period of four months. The content was similar but the approach was different, and the teachers did not have to change their entire curriculum to apply a plurilingual approach. In fact, they introduced one plurilingual task per week, for about 30–40 minutes in one class, while the other class had similar content but used one English-only task per week. After I interviewed the teachers at the end of the program, they unanimously reported preference for a plurilingual approach compared to English-only. For these teachers, a plurilingual approach:
The teachers also highlighted that they did not have to speak several languages themselves to use a plurilingual approach, and that even teachers who think of themselves as monolinguals (speaking one language only) can and should try to implement it in the classroom.
Given the current multilingual trends in Canada and recent calls for the provision of inclusive education to all students, innovative pedagogical approaches that prepare them to communicate across languages, cultures, and contexts are now needed. People will continue to communicate face-to-face and online, and being able to use their repertoire to understand how language use and culture may vary across contexts, be open to more language and cultural learning, and advocate for linguistic and cultural inclusiveness in schools and other spaces is paramount for an inclusive society. If we want to better prepare our students for current and future Canadian realities of multilingualism, change needs to happen soon. Canada has a unique opportunity to remain a leader in language education, but it needs to go beyond bilingualism and encourage Canadians to become plurilingual speakers. Supporting plurilingualism will not take away from the languages already existent in Canada; it will add openness to the English/French bilingual dichotomy and the popular discourse that the country is bilingual. Canada is much more than that.
For more research and resources, visit McGill University’s Plurilingual Lab.
Banner Photo : Adobe Stock
Read other articles from this issue
Council of Europe. (2020). Common European Framework of References for languages: Learning, teaching, Assessment. Companion Volume. Council of Europe Publishing.
Galante, A. (2020). Plurilingual and pluricultural competence (PPC) scale: The inseparability of language and culture. International Journal of Multilingualism.
Galante, A. (2019). “The moment I realized I am plurilingual”: Plurilingual tasks for creative representations in EAP at a Canadian university. Applied Linguistics Review, 11(4), 551–580.
Galante, A., Okubo, K., Cole, C., Abd Elkader, N., Wilkinson, C., Carozza, N., Wotton, C., & Vasic, J. (2020). “English-only is not the way to go:” Teachers’ perceptions of plurilingual instruction in an English program at a Canadian university. TESOL Quarterly Journal.
Harris, K. (2020, October 30). Federal government plans to bring in more than 1.2M immigrants in next 3 years. CBC News.
Statistics Canada. (2016). Linguistic diversity and multilingualism in Canadian homes.
UNESCO. (2019). International literacy day 2019: Revisiting literacy and multilingualism, background paper.
United World Schools. (n.d.). UN sustainable development goals: Our role.
Global climate change and biodiversity loss are major contemporary challenges. To address these challenges, in 2015 the United Nations set 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), with a timeline to achieve them by the year 2030. Goal 15 reads as follows:
“Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss.”
The UN’s 2020 report on these goals (page 55) notes that, “The world is falling short on 2020 targets to halt biodiversity loss, despite some progress.”
To familiarize students with the important issues facing humanity, school curricula generally present these subjects at the elementary and high-school levels. From a young age, students are introduced to major global problems like pollution, deforestation and extinction, as well as their impact on the planet’s inhabitants. However, perhaps schools should start by helping young people discover the organisms that inhabit the ecosystems around them.
The outdoor spaces surrounding schools are rich learning environments, as both urban and rural areas are always full of life. Every environment is inhabited by a variety of arthropods, plants, birds, and small mammals.
These environments can help children develop scientific skills like curiosity, observation and experimentation from a very young age (Ayotte-Beaudet, 2020a). For example, to teach students about plants often described as weeds, ask them to draw a chalk circle around any plants pushing through a concrete sidewalk near school. Then have them write in the plant’s name to inform passersby (www.sciencesdehors.com).
Nearby areas off school property can also be used to learn about natural phenomena in situ (Ayotte-Beaudet, 2020b). Students can adopt a tree to make systematic observations about it throughout the school year. This will enable them to determine the adaptation and survival mechanisms used by the tree while also discovering the variety of living organisms that interact with it (e.g., lichen and birds). This type of monitoring helps children develop a shared sense of ownership in the tree under study.
Outdoors, students can also carry out field activities just like scientists do. Citizen science projects give schools a well-defined observation framework to follow and provide knowledge about certain local species (Secours et al., 2020). Some examples of citizen science projects are eBird for birding and NatureWatch for environmental monitoring programs.
The findings of a recent research project suggest that we should reflect on how schools teach biodiversity. The goal of the study in question was to better understand the impact on students of contextualized teaching and learning in a nearby ecosystem (Ayotte-Beaudet et al., in press). The participants, elementary-school students (ages 10-12), took part in a citizen science project designed to help them better understand the effects of global change on urban ecosystems (www.chenilles-espionnes.com). For the instructional phase, the researchers had decided to talk about nature in positive terms only, without ever mentioning environmental problems. During interviews conducted at the end of the project, many of the young people expressed the desire to protect living organisms, even though conservation was never explicitly mentioned. In other words, discovering nature in situ and hearing only positive things about it were enough to heighten young people’s awareness of the life around them.
If you are unaccustomed to holding outdoor classes on biodiversity, the first thing you should probably do is think about your motivation and set a clear learning objective for the first outing. This will help you plan the teaching and learning activities and persuade parents and administration to agree to your approach.
The first few times, it is better to go outside for short periods so you and your students can get used to this new learning environment (www.sciencesdehors.com). Research has also shown that it is important to properly prepare students for these outings, get them engaged in activities, and give them an opportunity to make choices (Ayotte-Beaudet & Potvin, 2020; Ayotte-Beaudet et al., 2019). Most importantly, stimulate the children’s curiosity and trust them. Furthermore, if you are a school principal, trust your teaching staff and give them a chance to experiment!
Elementary school curricula often focus on the gravity of environmental issues, but everyone involved in education should reflect on the best ways of making children aware of biodiversity. At what age can we, in good conscience, burden younger generations with the weight of the problems they will inherit? Before asking them to protect and restore terrestrial ecosystems, I believe we have a duty to teach them how to appreciate the diversity of life in the ecosystems around them.
Photos: Courtesy of Jean-Philipe Ayotte-Beaudet
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Ayotte-Beaudet, J.-P. (2020a). Éveiller aux sciences de la nature à ciel ouvert. Revue préscolaire, 58(4), 36-38. http://aepqkiosk.milibris.com/reader/9d1311ef-ccbb-4df1-af16-ebc7f44582ae?origin=%2Frevue-prescolaire%2Frevue-prescolaire%2Fn584-2020
Ayotte-Beaudet, J.-P. (2020b). Regarder dehors pour apprendre et enseigner les sciences. Vivre le primaire, 33(3), 38-40. https://aqep.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/09/D-Regarder-dehors-pour-apprendre.pdf?fbclid=IwAR248QqdERwurwv755FVeGYMItC61bYxQ9GOjs4hbwxSiUN_-fT45NxlV8k
Ayotte-Beaudet, J.-P., Chastenay, P., Beaudry, M.-C., L’Heureux, K., Giamellaro, M., Smith, J., Desjarlais, E., & Paquette, A. (2021, in press). Exploring the impacts of contextualised outdoor science education on learning: The case of primary school students learning about ecosystem relationships. Journal of Biological Education.
Ayotte-Beaudet, J.-P., & Potvin, P. (2020). Factors related to students’ perception of learning during outdoor science lessons in schools’ immediate surroundings. International Journal of Environmental and Science Education, 16(2), 1-13. https://doi.org/10.29333/ijese/7815
Ayotte-Beaudet, J.-P., Potvin, P. and Riopel, M. (2019). Factors related to middle-school students’ situational interest in science in outdoor lessons in their schools’ immediate surroundings. International Journal of Environmental & Science Education, 14(1), 13-32. http://www.ijese.net/makale/2100.html
Chenilles-espionnes (https://www.chenilles-espionnes.com) is a Website dedicated to a citizen science project developed by a partnership involving Les Clubs 4-H du Québec, Université du Québec à Montréal and Université de Sherbrooke.
Des sciences dehors (https://www.sciencesdehors.com) is a Quebec-based knowledge-sharing website developed by and for people interested in and passionate about teaching and learning science.
United Nations. (2020). The sustainable development goals report 2020. UN. https://unstats.un.org/sdgs/report/2020/The-Sustainable-Development-Goals-Report-2020.pdf
Secours, É., Paquette, A., Ayotte-Beaudet, J.-P., Gignac, A., & Castagneyrol, B. (2020). Chenilles-espionnes, un projet de sciences citoyennes pour sensibiliser les jeunes à la biodiversité. Spectre, 50(1), 27-31. https://fr.calameo.com/aestq/read/00518148392339471f721
COVID-19 has put students in a unique situation when it comes to reflecting on our planet’s future. Difficult as it is, the pandemic has been instructive. It shows how we are interdependent, sustained by nature, and that our actions matter. This experience provides a timely opportunity for students and educators to focus on sustainability action, using the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
The UN’s goals, agreed on by Canada and nearly all other countries, are far-reaching and important. They target 17 areas directed toward sustaining life on Earth – human and all other forms – as well as ending poverty and inequity, achieving social justice, and combating climate change.
As sustainability becomes ever more important, strategies are emerging to help schools and educators inspire students to understand that their learning and community action contribute to progress on the Global Goals. These approaches make the goals both real and achievable, as youth begin to see new ideas and progress scale up across nations and regions of the world.
Using strategies to integrate the SDGs within a whole-school approach is a key focus for Learning for a Sustainable Future (LSF). LSF is a Canadian charity whose mission is to promote, through education, the knowledge, skills, values, perspectives, and practices essential to a sustainable future. Working with schools, school policies, and curricula is a core part of LSF’s activities, explains the organization’s President and Chief Executive Officer Pamela Schwartzberg.
LSF began its whole-school approach with support for Belfountain Public School in Ontario in 2005 and continued with the first Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) Lighthouse School project at Stouffville District Secondary School in 2006. In 2007, in partnership with the UNESCO Chair in Reorienting Education for Sustainable Development, York University’s Schulich School of Business, and its Faculty of Education, LSF began Sustainability and Education Academy (SEdA) seminars to engage senior education officials from school boards across Canada in:
The whole-school approach is designed to help students, teachers, principals, staff, parents, and community members integrate the SDGs into school culture, teaching and learning, facilities and operations, and community partnerships. “We get farther, faster if we work as a whole school,” says Pamela Gibson, LSF consultant. A whole-school approach helps reinforce engaging teaching methods and moves schools toward practising sustainability. It optimizes learning in synergistic ways and models 21st century skills – collaboration, innovation, and action.
In 2016, the Council of Ministers of Education, Canada (CMEC) articulated six broad Pan Canadian Global Competencies to: “provide learners with the abilities to meet the shifting and ongoing demands of life, work, and learning; to be active and responsive in their communities; to understand diverse perspectives; and to act on issues of global significance.” With some variation across the provinces and territories, the attitudes, skills, and knowledge needed for 21st century citizens include:
These Global Competencies support SDG 4.7 (Global Citizenship and Sustainable Development) as well as the education component of all of the other 16 SDGs.
By the same token, applying an SDG lens to course content and class work gives students the opportunity to practise all six competencies relevant to school success and their future roles. Any local or school issue embraced by students needs to be supported by specific instruction and guided practice of oral, written, and digital communication skills in order to gain support, design innovations, and find partners for collaboration. Students need to learn methods of collecting, organizing, and critically reflecting on data and research to determine best options for action. Educators have both the curriculum and the instructional strategies to build these competencies and help students practise them on a project that, whatever its size or scope, can contribute to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.
Greening a school playground with support from a local plant nursery and hardware store? Think about Goal 15: Life on Land; Goal 13: Protect the Planet and Goal 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities. Taking action involves many stages and steps requiring organization, planning, and self-regulation skills when plans don’t go as expected or take more time. The competencies build core functional skills, a big-picture perspective, strong learning skills, and resources for well-being. The SDGs give practice a purpose.
Introduce students to environmental, social, and economic issues. These will vary based on the community, and might include, for example, dealing with single-use plastics, exploring green jobs, understanding food insecurity, etc. Finding community partners is a great first step to making issues relevant and including practical experiences.
Provide context and purpose. Learning is more powerful when it’s applied. For example, data management comes to life when you step outside the classroom and learn to measure and graph the amount of food waste your classmates diverted from landfill and the compost that resulted. Relating this work to specific SDGs (See Goal 12 and Goal 15, for example) helps make abstract ideas real.
Transform teaching strategies and thinking tools. Using inquiry, systems thinking, and other tools for student engagement can link curriculum and local issues, leading to action projects that relate to SDGs. This extends learning, develops hands-on skills, provides valuable life/work experiences, and more. For example, researching and planting native plants can be linked to Goal 13 (Climate Action) and Goal 11 (Sustainable Cities and Communities).
Use SDGs to guide curriculum and practices. Educators can tap into nearby nature and the surrounding built, natural, or cultural community to see how their learning can be used to improve or support innovation right where they live. They can embed this process in curriculum learning – for example, integrating environment-based budgeting into math or working on advocacy skills in writing. This place-based approach to learning is applicable to all grade levels.
Adopt inclusive models of planning and decision-making that consider the SDGs. Students, teachers, parents, and community members are valued voices in making decisions and problem solving. They can strengthen relationships by consulting each other, through interviews, questionnaires, or small focus groups. Other models include a Council of All Beings, where participants take on roles of different stakeholders in a decision including the people, plants, and animals. Important to include are Indigenous community partners or Elders as well as local experts. The SDGs gives discussions a wider context that can help build consensus.
LSF is now piloting a Sustainable Future Schools program (see Figure 1) promoting a whole-school approach using the SDGs and the global competencies as a foundation.
“The program will be a resource for schools to design their own path for advancing the SDGs. It is not set out as a prescribed journey, but rather as a map and set of planning tools using the SDGs as a lens,” Schwartzberg says.
It provides tools and strategies to monitor and evaluate progress, crucial for support from the board and parents.
The circular structure of the program framework allows schools and classrooms to start anywhere. The “Sustainable Self” is every individual child in our care at school, putting the student’s growth and well-being at the centre of the learning community. Students build awareness, caring relationships with others and with nature, learn new skills and knowledge – all in support of taking action to better their lives and communities.
The ten pedagogical elements are cited by research and practice as transformative tools for change. Educators’ depth of understanding and implementation for each practice may vary. Resources and professional learning on each are available and accessible. Teachers can learn independently, or with a teaching colleague, course, local partner, or faculty as a professional learning community.
LSF launched the Sustainable Future Schools pilot program in 2020, with support from 3M Canada, at Belfountain Public School. In early 2020, all classes at Belfountain learned about the Sustainable Development Goals. Using reflection time over the year, teachers asked students how their course content, information, or projects could be linked to one of the 17 goals. Noting these connections on a learning wall and in class discussions helped teach the SDG framework. It also provided evidence that students were understanding the goals over time. The connections showed the students the relevance of what they were learning at school. Students could link their own assignment goals to a website about an SDG initiative, showing how their work aligns with positive action taking place around the world.
For the 2020–2021 school year, the Sustainable Development Goals have become more integrated in classes throughout the school. The program began with a virtual school assembly in October, with a call to action on food waste and SDG 2: End hunger and achieve food security. In November each class shared their learnings and actions on the SDGs through videos, songs, and writings.
Starting from a shared understanding of a school’s culture and its unique sense of place ensures that success is not wholly dependent on one principal, teacher, or club for leadership and energy! The next step is to link the local action to one or more of the Sustainable Development Goals. Framing school learning to the wider world of the SDGs in school priorities is critical to the success of a whole-school approach. When the school is connected to local partners and tuned into real-life concerns, students, staff, and parents can work together on actions rooted in what matters to them, making acting on learning motivating and sustained over time.
Belfountain Principal Lynn Bristoll says, “When I was new, I sent out a short questionnaire to parents to find out their priorities and concerns and what they loved about the school. Overwhelmingly important for them was the environment and getting students outside.” For many years, Belfountain staff, students, and parents have connected to nature and the community.
“This is a core value of the school and a foundation to its culture. Students apply their lessons to making a difference, globally and locally,” says Bristoll. “For example, they participate in an annual Garlic Mustard Festival – a program that engages the public to identify and remove invasive garlic mustard from local green spaces. That underscores the importance of integrating the Sustainable Development Goals into our thinking and action.” (See Belfountain Grade 4 Water Inquiry for a class example).
The Sustainable Development Goals also help build awareness and understanding for other important social issues that are school priorities, such as the Black Lives Matter movement and Indigenous knowledge. Bristoll explains, “The goal is that students will leave the school knowing they can act on what they have learned.”
Grade 4 students wanted to learn and do something about water. They live in homes with well water, so potable water is important for them. They are concerned about a possible new development in the area and what might happen. SDG 6 is about Clean Water and Sanitation and SDG 14 is about Life below Water, so making the local relate to the global need was a clear imperative.
“Take them to the river,” LSF consultant Pamela Gibson advised the teacher. “I told her that the students are like investigative journalists, finding out what’s important for them and their community. That way they are attached to what they are learning, dialed in.”
The students observed and collected data on the river near the school. They had many questions from this initial visit. What will happen to the water table? Where is the water coming from and where is it going? Is it clean water? Their questions directed their lessons and research back at school. They learned about artesian wells, surface water, and underground rivers. The students could proceed in many directions with many projects, simply through collecting information and using their learning. The teacher could find many curriculum links through this process across several subject areas. Key to this was the outdoor experience.
It is important that teachers view the process through their curriculum. There were links to Science, Social Studies, Math and Language right from the start. Teachers can see what is possible and can guide learners to the curriculum concepts and the big ideas. Through the river and water experience, the teacher saw how her curriculum, the SDGs, and the integration of new pedagogies could all be linked.
Gibson says, “The idea is to reflect on learning experiences through the SDGs. Ask questions: How does this relate to our own future? To our local community? To global challenges?“
Belfountain kindergarten teacher and LSF Consultant Janice Haines has been part of the sustainability culture of the school for many years. “To make the goals understood you have to make them real for children. Big ideas need to be connected to their day-to-day experiences,” Haines explains. “For example, children can grasp a science idea like adaptation when they see the animals outside managing to survive in winter. They really get it.” Finding community partners is especially helpful. “A parent got us working on squirrel conservation a few years ago and we continued with it for five years,” she says.
It’s important to offer context and reassurance to students that what they are doing makes a difference. “We don’t stress them with catastrophes, but instead relate it to what is happening in their school playground,” Haines says. “My ultimate vision is of happy kids who are eager to learn and do more in their community. They know they have a voice.”
World’s Largest Lesson
Posters and Lesson Plans https://worldslargestlesson.globalgoals.org/resource/introducing-explorers-for-the-global-goals/
Intro to Goals video: Sustainable Development Goals: Improve life all around the globe
Resources from Learning For a Sustainable Future (http://lsf-lst.ca)
These webinars introduce teachers to the SDGs and provide opportunities to share ideas and resources for integrating key SDGs into lesson plans and action projects.
Resources for Rethinking: www.R4R.ca
A free online database where educators and the general public can search, by the SDGs, for the highest quality, peer-reviewed, curriculum-matched teaching resources, children’s literature, videos, outdoor activities, and apps/games.
Our Canada Project: www.ourcanadaproject.ca
Allows schools to share their sustainability action projects with others to inspire youth agency, access resources, and apply for funding. More than 850 projects are currently posted and searchable by SDG.
Youth Leadership Forums: www.Bit.ly/LSF-Forums-2021
These forums engage students in local sustainability issues, equip them with the knowledge and skills needed to make a change, and empower them to take action.
Banner Photo: Adobe Stock
Images courtesy of Learning for Sustainable Futures
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Council of Ministers of Education, Canada. (2016). Pan-global competencies.
The Global Goals. (2015). The Global Goals for Sustainable Development.
Kozak, S., & Elliott, S. (2014). Connecting the Dots: Key strategies that transform learning for environmental education, citizenship and sustainability. Learning for a Sustainable Future.
United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs. The 17 Goals. United Nations.
UNESCO International Bureau of Education. (2020). Canada establishes a Pan Canadian Global Competencies Framework for Education. UNESCO.
Let me introduce the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), also referred to as Global Goals. We have 17 goals with one global aim: to make this world a better and peaceful place. We have to achieve these goals by the year 2030, also known as Vision 2030. We need to act right NOW. If we don’t waste food, water, and electricity that will help save the Earth. If people are treated fairly and respect each other, these small efforts will make a big difference too.
As a student activist and a community worker, human rights and the empowerment of the girl child are the areas closest to my heart. The first time I became aware of the UN SDGs was in 2016, when I was 13 years old and studying in Grade 9. I participated in an exhibition by my school, Ahlcon International in India, which was solely based on the SDGs.
Inspired by the exhibition’s message to spread the word about SDGs, I created short YouTube videos on each of the 17 goals for sustainable development that addressed various social issues like girl child education, bullying, and climate change. I also hosted various talk shows, ran campaigns, hosted Skype sessions with students in different countries and motivated them to take action at local and global levels.
I founded a Twitter community – @SDGsForChildren – in 2016 to provide a unique platform for children across the globe to connect, create, and collaborate for a better and sustainable world. Since then, the community has not only impacted millions of children and youth, but also inspired many educators to initiate their journey of SDGs in their classrooms. SDGs For Children is now incorporated under the Canada Not-For-Profit Corporation Act to support Agenda 2030 globally (www.sdgsforchildren.org). Many schools and children around the world are now part of this community and collaborating wholeheartedly in spreading awareness about basic human rights and global goals.
My experiences organizing the collaborations, both in India and here in Canada, have been life-changing. However, I am not special. There are hundreds of youth-led organizations that are working for climate change. The people leading such initiatives are all incredible teenage activists. Zero Hour, Sunrise Movement, Fridays for Future, School Strikes for Climate are just a few of many organizations that take our concerns to leaders worldwide. We young world-changers are noisy and can change the conversation. We are sharing our emotional sides when we are writing essays or doing rallies, interviews or strikes, or even speaking or writing on platforms like this. It’s next to impossible to ignore our noisy voices. Social media has given us exposure to what is happening around the world. I have learned so much on these digital platforms. Instagram may be a tool to share selfies or food for many adults, and a lot of people say Facebook is a parents’ app, but many of the youth of my age have a different experience on Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook. There are thousands of accounts spreading awareness and knowledge about the Global Goals. And, as youth activism becomes more popular, sharing information gets easier and is ever increasing.
Serving the community has really developed my sensitivity to the requirements of others and has transformed me completely. I believe that success isn’t in only winning alone, but taking people along and winning together. The Sustainable Development agenda is not about my issue or your issue. These are global issues and we need every one of the 17 SDGs to be achieved.
The 2030 Plan for Sustainable Development offers a historic chance for Canada and the world to positively shape how tomorrow’s economies can evolve and thrive sustainably and inclusively for the mutual good of all. It is a chance to make a more resilient society by leaving no one behind.
In Canada, a number of schools are taking a leadership role in supporting sustainable development across the country. Some of the academic institutions undertake activities and studies that enable students to make informed decisions in favour of sustainable development. But this is not enough. There are many more schools that still do not understand the importance of the SDGs or are still exploring various options to apply them and integrate them into their daily curriculum.
There is an opportunity to continue building awareness, partnerships, and collaborations with other global educational networks and to learn from their best practices and success stories of working on the Global Goals. This is what SDG 17, “Partnership for the Goals,” is all about. In the official words, “Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development.” We need to create a specific and trained task force of educators, students, and parents to work toward incorporating SDGs not only in policy and governance documents across all educational institutions in Canada, but also in supporting their implementation at the grassroots level. The work needs to be measured by defined key performance indicators (KPIs) for this project.
The COVID-19 pandemic has changed our lives forever. We take stock of what is necessary when we experience a loss. We appreciate the things that maybe we took for granted. We revisit our values and our relationships, and we think about how we might honour them if we had another chance.
COVID-19 is not only a health crisis or an economic crisis, it is an education crisis as well. As per UNESCO, “290 million students are out of school due to COVID-19.” It’s time we take stock of what’s important. We must review what is good in our education system and what we must leave behind now.
This is a time when a lot of standardized curriculum and tests are going to be set aside. All the schedules have been turned upside down. Let’s change this uncertainty in school systems into an opportunity. This is a chance not only to reform education but also to bring reform through education.
SDGs are not just 17 goals with 169 targets. When these goals are brought into classrooms, they become the launchpad or the framework for collaboration in problem solving. Entire communities of students and teachers then become part of the solution by adding their action plans to make a difference in the world. SDGs have the power to integrate academics with activism. They are the tools for students to recognize they have a seat at the table and that their voice matters. SDGs let students explore what they are curious about, and they can pursue that curiosity with the help of their educators.
Let’s bring reforms in our education system and let’s address these basic questions through our curriculum:
The SDGs should become the language of any conversation within the class. Let’s design an open-ended, self-directed, inspiring research-based curriculum that allows our students to attempt the impossible. There are two possibilities when we take this approach:
Remember, everyone wins when we include failure, resilience, determination, persistence, and reflection as our learning outcomes.
I am happy that children are now mobilizing globally to own up to their responsibility and inspire adults to protect their future. Social distancing may have caused us to stay physically apart from each other, but the spirit of humanity cannot be restrained. We must prepare students as global citizens who are inclusive, informed, and engaged globally. We need to knock down walls so that students can learn to go beyond “me,” “my place,” and “my time,” and use the world as the biggest context for daily learning.
Photo : Adobe Stock
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The 17 Sustainable Development Goals – also known as the SDGs or the Global Goals – offer a blueprint for a more just and sustainable future for all. As many as 193 governments from around the world adopted these goals in 2015 and agreed to implement them in their own countries in order to achieve the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Over the coming decade, these countries will continue to mobilize efforts to end poverty, fight inequalities and tackle climate change. These new, interconnected goals build on the earlier Millennium Development Goals while encompassing new priority areas, such as climate change, economic inequality, innovation, sustainable consumption, peace and justice, and others.
SDGs have a huge part to play in today’s classrooms. As a road map for making the world a better place, these goals can support student engagement and can also inform and influence lesson plans. The Canadian Commission for UNESCO (CCUNESCO) has been supporting students and educators in bringing these global goals to the classroom through the UNESCO Schools Network, a global network of schools contributing to the achievement of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Here are a few examples of how members of this network are taking action on the SDGs in their schools across Canada.
At Elm Creek School, a K–12 community school in Elm Creek, Manitoba, their UNESCO team of students and lead teachers launched a school-wide project to bring more awareness to, and take action on, the SDGs. The World’s Largest Lesson, launched in 2015 to bring these global goals to children everywhere, was shared with all students in a special school assembly. At this assembly, students were placed into various multi-graded groups. The school’s UNESCO committee collected various print and electronic resources, and then assigned each of these groups one or two of the goals to research. This research process led to planning that supported the ultimate goal of the entire school working together to implement action projects that could address the SDGs. Action projects that continue to be implemented and sustained include:
In 2020, the CCUNESCO and the Global Centre for Pluralism launched online teacher training on “Talking About Racism in the Classroom” in response to racial injustice in Canada and in our schools. More than 1,000 teachers responded and more than 500 participated in online training as it was clear that teachers and school administrators urgently wished to be equipped and supported to have these conversations and to explore systemic racism within their school systems.
In order to continue this important conversation with students, CCUNESCO partnered with TakingItGlobal and the Centre for Global Education to organize an online live video conference for schools across the country titled “#BlackLivesMatter in Canadian Schools.” The two keynote speakers for this video conference were two students from the David Suzuki Secondary School from Brampton, Ontario. As members of the United Souls, a Black student leadership group that shares a common ideal of upholding Black excellence, they were able to share their personal experiences of racism and how we can address systemic racism within our school systems.
To promote health and well-being in their community, some of the students at F.H. Collins Secondary School in Whitehorse, Yukon, organized care packages for people in need this winter. Students purchased arm socks and mitts along with personal-care products and some chocolate to be distributed locally. The students enjoyed working together to spread some holiday cheer and work toward SDG #3: Good Health and Well-Being.
Climate action is essential for sustainable development, which, at heart, is a way for people to benefit from natural resources without using them all up and depriving future generations. For example, reducing carbon emissions is key to living within environmental limits. So is being responsible about excess packaging, waste disposal, and how we treat the world’s oceans. It is increasingly urgent to preserve the world’s ecosystems and natural and cultural heritage, and to protect the Earth from the most devastating effects of weather extremes, such as wildfires, floods, severe storms, and more.
At Bruce Peninsula District School in rural Ontario, teachers, students, and staff have implemented a comprehensive program driving climate action in every classroom, with monthly challenges and tips. As part of this approach, the entire K–12 school completed ten monthly challenges focused on climate action during the school year. The projects supported what students were learning in class and involved parents and community members. To ensure everyone stayed on track, the school kept tally sheets of climate actions and had one student elected by each class to make sure climate actions were being taken.
At École secondaire Cavelier-De LaSalle in Quebec, reducing waste is serious business. After installing an industrial composter, the school redirected 176 kg of waste as compost in 2017, and 200 kg of waste in 2018. The school also reduced plastic waste by selling reusable water bottles in the 2017–2018 school year, which are fillable at the school’s bottle fountains.
In order to ensure peace, justice and strong institutions in Canada, Indigenous peoples’ rights must be respected. According to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) is the framework for reconciliation at all levels and across all sectors of Canadian society. The UNESCO Schools Network supports initiatives that promote reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples in Canada within UNESCO’s program areas. To facilitate the conversation around reconciliation within the classroom, CCUNESCO partnered with Wapikoni, an organization that works with Indigenous youth through cinema and music to develop their artistic, technical, social, and professional skills, and broadcasts their films to increase public awareness of issues facing Indigenous communities. The result was a teaching guide intended to encourage high-school teachers to engage students in discussions about current issues and to introduce them to the diversity of Indigenous cultures in Canada.
At Allison Bernard Memorial High School, located in Eskasoni First Nation in Nova Scotia, the school uses music and technology to help students engage with, share, and celebrate their cultural identity. For example, high-school students put Rita Joe’s famous poem, I Lost My Talk, to music. “It’s all about reconciliation through art – that was the overriding idea with this whole project,” says Eskasoni teacher Carter Chiasson. They are also in the process of developing a language app to revive Mi’kmaq.
Imagine more than 11,500 schools in 182 countries connecting and learning from one other, where students reflect on global challenges such as peace, climate action, human rights, cultural diversity, and sustainable development, while taking action to contribute to positive changes in their own communities. This is what the UNESCO Schools Network is all about. Created in 1953, it connects schools across the world to promote quality education for all in the pursuit of peace and development. There are more than 100 UNESCO schools across Canada.
There is a particularly important role for UNESCO schools in Canada to take action on SDGs. A Teacher’s Toolkit was recently created to support all educators and students who are interested in implementing UNESCO values at their schools. While all schools can access UNESCO and CCUNESCO educational resources and publications, those that are part of the network also get to learn from one another with other schools that are committed to tackling local and global issues related to the SDGs, thereby contributing to a better and more sustainable future for all. Learn more about the SDGs, connect with others across Canada and the world, and join the movement!
Read other articles from this issue
Canadian Commission for UNESCO.
Canadian Commission for UNESCO. (March 2020). Teachers toolkit: UNESCO Schools Network in Canada. UNESCO.
Rita Joe Song Project. Gentle warrior. National Arts Centre.
Global Centre for Pluralism. (2020). Talking about racism in the classroom: Webinar and resources for educators on anti-Black racism.
UNESCO Schools Network.
Wapikoni. (n.d.) Wapikoni teaching guide: An introduction to the diversity of Indigenous cultures in Canada.
World’s Largest Lessons.
For years, I thought I was checking all the “global education” boxes. Committed to diversity, building global competencies, and supporting my students to seek out different perspectives and viewpoints, I was set on making sure my young students were preparing for a world that would require them to work and live as global citizens. We placed emphasis on reading about cultures different from our own. We learned about holidays and customs of people in distant lands. Daily language practice included English, Spanish, and Mandarin Chinese. As early adopters with technology, we aimed to make connections to global issues and current events around such topics as the environment and human rights.
Then, around 2010, I realized that though I had been checking boxes, my instructional to-do list as a global educator needed to move students beyond simply learning about the people and issues of our world to a new level of action.
The Four Domains of Global Competence offered by the Asia Society (2005) (See Figure 1) showed me that globally competent students need the knowledge and skills to:
Figure 1 : Four Domains of Global Competence
The first three domains – that was where I was existing. Take action – that was where we needed to go.
Looking back, I would say that was the first defining moment that changed my course as a global educator. The next was in 2015, when I met the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
“The Sustainable Development Goals are humanity’s to-do list for a sustainable planet, a roadmap for a better future.” – United Nations Office at Geneva
The 17 Global Goals that our world together agreed to reach by 2030 cover critical topics such as life on land, climate action, gender equality, clean water, and food security. We in education even have our very own Global Goal in SDG 4: Quality Education. As I explored the SDGs, I started to see how we as educators can fit into this global conversation and universal call to end poverty, protect the planet, and improve the lives of all people.
Over the years, I have gathered with like-minded educators from all over the world who are also committed to bringing the SDGs to our classrooms and schools. Mobilized as a professional learning network and coming together in collaborative spaces such as Twitter and with projects such as the Goals Project (www.goalsproject.org), we see education as one of the greatest paths to achieving the SDGs, with teachers and students working together in solidarity and with purpose.
The start of TeachSDGs, now a community of more than 50,000 international educators taking action for the Global Goals, really came from the idea that the goals could be the roadmap for teachers seeking new ways of teaching and learning.
I remember sitting with my global education friends Alice McKim of New Brunswick, and Amy Rosenstein of New York and thinking together that the goals were what we had been searching for – the bridge to connect the work happening in classrooms out to the world and to industry. For us, the goals became the entry point into how we as teachers, along with our students, could join the conversation and have a “seat at the table” – be it in New York City at the UN headquarters or at the level of local policy or projects. The Global Goals, in our minds, laid out the plan and also the pathways into the work.
After being tasked by the UN to organize as a Global Goals Task Force, we knew we needed to move beyond being a handful of North American educators. We set out to invite in our global colleagues, many of whom we had never met and only knew from social media. We did what we knew best – we created a hashtag (#TeachSDGs) and a simple website (TeachSDGs.org), and we got to work. Soon after, we went from being a few educators to 17 to now tens of thousands, all working for this shared purpose – to support and empower students and teachers to take action for people and the planet through the work of the SDGs. And now that we have entered this Decade of Action, with less than ten years left until 2030, we are all operating with urgency and a clear vision of what we can do to help.
So why the Global Goals? Why now? We seem to be at a pivotal moment in education. We are seeing students rise up as activists to inspire and create needed change based on their viewpoints and the needs of our world; we as citizens of planet Earth are tackling climate change and combating human rights violations and global pandemics; we are seeing new technologies change the way we live and work at just the time when we are also prioritizing the human part of living and working, with emphasis on social-emotional learning, well-being, empathy, and design thinking. We as educators have been on the front lines of the change – seeing the shift as it occurs and pivoting and advancing right along with it.
The Sustainable Development Goals bring opportunity. They bring hope and a guide to get us there. Within classrooms, I see how the goals allow for collaboration and interdisciplinary work. Just as the goals are for everyone, everywhere, they also see no boundaries within curricula, allowing us to cross content areas and work as teams toward a common purpose. The Global Goals are the sciences and the arts; they are language and humanities. They are our history and our future, and for us as teachers, they can be the “today” of our teachings.
After several years of our work in building awareness of the goals, we started to hear teachers saying, “Now we see the ‘why,’ but what about the ‘how’?” In 2019, I was inspired by one of my former university students, who shared with me a project she did with teachers around the ABCs. If a project around 26 letters of the alphabet could work, I thought, why not build one around the 17 SDGs? I decided to see if teachers from the TeachSDGs community might be interested in joining me for a short project on the goals.
Once again, I created a name (Goals Project), a hashtag (#GoalsProject), and a free website (www.goalsproject.org), and started to share it on Twitter. My original stretch goal was finding 16 other classes. Within weeks, more than 350 people had asked to join, and in that first year of our Goals Project we had nearly 2,000 classrooms participate. The 2021 Goals Project kicked off on January 25, welcoming in nearly 3,000 classrooms from more than 120 countries. Students aged three–20 are joining in to take on the SDGs in a six-week project of solutions. For us, it is a space for exploring of ideas and building hope for a better planet as stewards for the environment and for the goodwill of people.
For educators ready to dive into the Global Goals today, here are five tips and then a listing of top resources designed to help K–12 educators take action on the SDGs in classrooms.
Print out and post the SDG Poster or the individual Global Goals: http://bit.ly/SDGposter
The Lazy Person’s Guide to Saving the World (UN, 2019) suggests SDG actions you and your students can take from your couch, your home, your community, and your work/school: http://bit.ly/LazyPersonsGuideSDGs
Download and share infographics, GIFs, and translations for inspiring action in your school and community: http://bit.ly/SDGinfographics
Create your deck of action cards with the 170 Daily Actions to Transform our World resource from the UN Office at Geneva: http://bit.ly/170actioncards
Download the annual World’s Largest Lesson and access videos, printables, and other resources from http://bit.ly/worldslargestlessonSDGs
Do you work with students ages 4–8? The Explorers for the Global Goals lessons are a great place for you to start. Learn more at: http://bit.ly/SDGexplorers
Gamify learning with the Go Goals! SDG Board Game for Children offered in 21 languages. https://go-goals.org
Help end hunger by playing the Freerice online learning game by the World Food Program. For every correct answer, five grains of rice will be donated to people in need of food. http://bit.ly/playfreerice
Connect with thousands of educators from around the world who teach the Global Goals in their classrooms. Visit www.teachsdgs.org and follow the #TeachSDGs conversation on social media.
Join the annual Goals Project to be a part of a six-week online experience to learn about the goals and collaborate with classrooms from more than 120 countries. Visit www.goalsproject.org and follow #GoalsProject on social media.
Check out all the events and international days on the SDGs Planning Calendar: http://bit.ly/SDGcalendar
Banner Photo: Adobe Stock
In the little village of Bades near the Moroccan Mediterranean coast, Fatima knows that plastic washed up on the beach sometimes ends up in the stomachs of the chickens she prepares for her family. The teacher running the “Ressacs sans plastiques” project (Rahmani et al., submitted) also told her that many marine animals get sick from eating plastic. Fatima, a member of a local crafts cooperative, spent a lot of time looking for solutions to this problem. It was very challenging because her cooperative had decided to reuse plastic waste to make marketable products. Fatima thought of stuffing toys with bits of plastic. She posted a photo of her first bird toy prototype on the “Ressacs” project Facebook group page for a quick product assessment. Fatima’s prototype was inspired by the fabric jewelry stuffed with plastic bags one of her friends made.
Other women made reusable bags to package the cooperative’s products. Plastic plates covered with fabric and embroidery were also proposed as possible solutions. Finally, the cooperative made multiple trips to the beach to remove plastic waste coming from the village, the river, and ocean currents. Efforts to resolve the plastic problem, which are ongoing in Bades, will end when the prototypes for replacing and reusing plastic have been evaluated and refined to meet the challenge raised by the women of Bades: How can we reduce the amount of plastic on our beach and at the same time develop new marketable products?
The problem-solving approach used by the young artisans in the “Ressacs sans plastiques” project is called design thinking. This term, popularized by California design and innovation firm IDEO in 2006, describes a creative, collaborative work process that generates multiple solutions, rapidly prototypes and tests, and focuses on users’ needs. Initially employed to create commercial products, design thinking is now used by organizations (e.g. IDEO.org and d.school, in the United States) and schools (Design for Change, in India) to develop solutions for improving quality of life and the environment. Whether applied in the sciences, humanities or environmental education, design thinking offers the opportunity to analyze local problems and find solutions that foster sustainable development goals (UNESCO, 1995): creating sustainable communities (Goal 11), fighting climate change (Goal 13), and protecting land-based ecosystems (Goal 15). Moreover, since the design thinking process is both relevant and meaningful, it supports the acquisition of numerous core competencies: critical thinking, problem solving, innovation, creativity, etc.
For example, young students working with the Design for Change organization built remote-control planes out of recyclable materials to carry and disperse seeds for revegetating land adjacent to their school. Other students, also inspired by Design for Change, installed a special ramp so students with disabilities could board the school bus instead of relying on adapted transportation, enabling these children to take part in class field trips and enjoy opportunities to socialize on the bus. The Design for Change philosophy is based on the premise, “I can!”
Design thinking is a non-linear, iterative process involving defined stages that can be carried out sequentially, simultaneously, out of order or even repeated. The ultimate goal is to bring about transformative change. The steps presented below (see Figure 1) were inspired primarily by Brown (2009) and Scheer, Noweski and Meinel (2012).
Figure 1: Steps of Design Thinking
Inspired by Brown (2009) and Scheer, Noweski and Meinel (2012)
An iterative approach focused on the needs of users, design thinking is also practical and flexible when it comes to experimentation. Both divergent and convergent, the process values empathy and optimism. Design thinking is non-linear because as problem solvers gain empathy for the needs of users and work on refining the best solution, their attention constantly shifts between the problem space and the solution space. Unlike a traditional scientific investigative approach, design thinking focuses on both the problem and its solutions. In the problem space, a lot of attention is paid to defining the problem in terms of the user experience and position. The team of problem solvers spends a lot of time observing the problem situation and user behaviours in situ. The effectiveness of the process relies on participants amassing and deepening their knowledge about the problem. In the solution space, problem solvers investigate multiple possibilities by developing plans and building prototypes. These prototypes, created quickly, without trying to achieve perfection, serve as “playgrounds” for discussing and exploring various solutions. In this fashion, the problem and its solutions co-evolve, constantly interacting.
Design thinking has recently been presented as an effective, motivating tool for teaching elementary and high-school students how to solve local problems. To address local ecological issues, students could use this approach to create or organize:
By using design thinking, teachers and their students can help achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SGDs) defined by the United Nations in 2015. The 17 goals in question focus on areas for action that promote, for example, sustaining life (both human and nonhuman), ending poverty, and achieving social justice. In the case of the aforementioned “Ressacs sans plastiques” project, the artisans’ work focused primarily on goal 14: Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas, and marine resources. The examples suggested above for elementary and high-school students would include the following SGDs: 3 (health), 6 (water quality), 11 (resilient, healthy cities), 12 (environmentally responsible behaviour), 13 (climate change), and 15 (land-based ecosystems).
The meaning and nature of sustainable development and the actions required to achieve it are starting to become known. Emerging sustainability initiatives include the slow food movement (Petrini, 2006), conservation design (Arendt, 2010), smart growth (Duany et al., 2010), eco-cities (Register, 2016), and biodiversity restoration (El Jai & Pruneau, 2015). Slow food aficionados take the time to share locally grown “clean” food with people in their community. In conservation design, urban planners developing new neighbourhoods begin by identifying sites of natural and cultural interest, then concentrate the built environment outside the areas where these treasures are found. Proponents of smart growth and eco-cities use a variety of techniques to reuse rainwater, calm traffic, increase the density of residential areas, and promote universal access to parks. Finally, efforts to restore biodiversity include measures such as wildlife crossings, living plant walls, green roofs, hedgerows for biodiversity, and hotels for insects, amphibians and small mammals. Over time, these sustainability initiatives modify existing systems, structures and practices, with the ultimate goal of regenerating natural systems that support human life and that of other living beings.
With design thinking, students can work with their classmates to contribute their own ideas to the sustainability movement. This investigative approach is well suited for the complex nature of environmental problems. Design thinking fosters more appropriate solutions because it invites students to define complex problems from different perspectives (social, scientific and environmental), which enables them to expand the problem space before looking for solutions. According to our field tests, design thinking can encourage students to work collaboratively, pique their interest in the problem under study, and strengthen their high-level skills like creativity, empathy, critical thinking and problem solving (Pruneau et al., 2019). The iterative design thinking process encourages learners to ask questions, look for information, collaborate with their peers and the community, propose concrete ideas, and test and model solutions, all while focusing on the needs of users. Engaging in this dynamic process develops their sustainability skills.
When solutions generated by design thinking become realities, learners gain confidence in their capacity for action. Moreover, organizations that employ design thinking also mentioned other educational benefits, especially with regards to teamwork: richer discussions thanks to a diverse group of problem solvers, enhanced communications, a shared understanding of the vocabulary used, and greater cohesion (Pruneau et al., 2019).
Banner Photo: Adobe Stock
Photos provided by the authors
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Arendt, R. (2010). Envisioning better communities. Seeing more options, making wiser choices. Routledge.
Brown, T. (2009). Change by design: How design thinking transforms organizations and inspires innovation. Harper Collins.
Duany, A., Speck, J. & Lydon, M. (2010). The smart growth manual. McGraw-Hill.
El Jai, B. & Pruneau, D. (2015). Favoriser la restauration de la biodiversité en milieu urbain : les facteurs de réussite dans le cadre de quatre projets de restauration. VertigO, 15(3).
Petrini, C. (2006). Slow Food, manifeste pour le goût et la biodiversité. Yves Michel.
Pruneau, D. (ed.). (2019). Design thinking for sustainable development. Applied models for schools, universities and communities. Université de Moncton, Groupe Littoral et vie. Available free of charge online in French and English: https://competi.ca/ and https://lel.crires.ulaval.ca/categorie/guidesoutils-pedagogiques.
Rahmani, Z., Pruneau, D. & Khattabi, A. (submitted). La pensée design et Facebook comme outils pédagogiques pour accompagner des femmes dans la résolution d’un problème de pollution plastique au Maroc. VertigO.
Register, R. (2016). World rescue: An economics built on what we build. Ecocity Builders.
Scheer, A., Noweski, C. &Meinel, C. (2012). Transforming constructivist learning into action: Design thinking in education. Design and Technology Education: An International Journal, 17(3).
1 Abdellatif Khattabi, Zakia Rahmani, Michel Léger, Boutaina El Jai, Liliane Dionne, Vincent Richard, Viktor Freiman, Natacha Louis, Anne-Marie Laroche, and Maroua Mahjoub
Image: United Nations
Sustainability gives purpose to education.1
THE IDEA of education for sustainable development is not entirely new. My introduction to it began in 2008, with a simple request. A group of students required a staff advisor in order to participate in the Plan International Canada program, Spread the Net. Co-founded by Rick Mercer and Belinda Stronach, Spread the Net was a friendly national fundraising initiative among K–20 institutions to engage communities in international development actions. As a science teacher, it was not lost on me that malaria had been eradicated in Canada for more than 60 years (70+ years today), yet it remained a challenge for some nations globally. Moreover, due to changing global climate systems, there was the potential for Canada to face similar challenges with malaria in the future.
Months later, I learned that the Spread the Net initiative was rooted in one of the United Nations’ eight international development goals, known as the Millennial Development Goals (MDGs). Spread the Net was my introduction to the world of education for sustainable development (ESD) and the work of the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) for global education. Because of this experience, my philosophy for “why I teach” broadened in scope from subject-specific curriculum expectations to a more global perspective: How will students apply this information to address the complexities of today and of the future?
On September 15, 2015 at the UN General Assembly, global leaders unanimously adopted Transforming Our World: The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, a new set of progressive universal and transformative goals for global development. The new UN framework that superseded the MDGs was created so that nations could continue to reimagine and reshape the future, with one major difference – this framework had global significance and was positioned in a way that all nations could plan, act on, and measure their progress over a 15-year period. The resulting 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and 169 targets were developed with the input of people from all over the world to ensure they represented the needs of the global population. That is why the framework has come to be known in education circles as the Global Goals.
Building on the principle of “leaving no one behind,” the new Agenda emphasizes a holistic approach to achieving sustainable development for all. The 17 Global Goals for Sustainable Development are integrated and indivisible.
The 2030 Agenda is an ambitious plan in which education is mentioned 28 times across six goals (#1, #3, #5, #8, #12, and #13), in addition to Goal #4, which is dedicated solely to education. Education is positioned as both an enabler and a driver of capacity building toward achieving the SDGs.
But the SDGs also bring to education systems an exciting new model on which to scaffold teaching through the 17 cross-cutting themes that intersect all societies, all grade levels, and all disciplines. Using the 17 SDGs as lenses for teaching presents subject-matter content in a relevant context, helping students to apply what they are learning locally to global conditions and current events.
The appeal of the framework for me is the interconnected, interlinked nature of the goals. At first glance the SDG poster with the 17 tiles, vivid hues of primary colours, and skillfully arranged composite of squares to form a rectangle, looked simple. But it is not. No tile exists in isolation! Once I ventured behind each tile, exploring each indicator (measure of progress) and tangential connection, I realized that in its wholeness these 17 tiles represented life’s challenges and opportunities that could be investigated and discussed in varying magnitudes/scales, e.g. individual, community, region, country, continent, and the world. I had discovered concrete and flexible ways to actively engage learners in critical thinking and systems practice.
Consider the discipline of science, my playground. It is a powerful tool that learners can use to understand natural and social phenomena in their communities. These phenomena, usually distilled into discrete subject areas, are presented in the SDGs with all their beautiful real-world complexities and nuances. Learners are required to mobilize knowledges (from areas other than science) skills, and attitudes – including the pan-Canadian global competencies2 – to identify local problems and action solutions. Since the SDGs serve to spark the problem-finding, the solutions that arise can have global application.
The SDGs position the subject-specific knowledges in their true form: multifaceted, multilayered, and complex. When learners apply subject-specific knowledge in a context that is positioned in local realities, they are empowered to explore, analyze, and engage with their environment, both natural and human-made, and to strengthen skills (global competencies) that will enable them to tackle complex issues that are affecting their communities now and in future.
When I agreed to contribute to this publication, I knew that the narrative I would share could not be my story alone. This was an opportunity to serve as a knowledge broker for the SDGs. I decided to provide space for more voices to be heard and posted a call for contributors via a brief survey to the TeachSDGs Ambassador Slack platform. It did not take long for responses to come in – from Greece, Canada, Lebanon, Nigeria, the U.K., the U.S., United Arab Emirates, and France – a global community bound together by their belief in the power of education to transform the world. Formal and informal educators, former teachers, and an administrator responded to the call.
My first question centred on the benefits of membership in a global community of practitioners (Teacher SDGs Ambassadors). Here are just a few responses:
“Sharing of best practices with each other. Networking with like-minded people from across the world. Learning from a global community to help prepare students to think local and act global.” – Anita Singh, teacher at a Farm School, United Arab Emirates
“… collaborating with other educators on ideas to teach the SDGs.” – Doreen N. Myrie, teacher-educator, U.S.
“The main benefits are creating partnerships with each other to increase our implementation efficiency. These partnerships would be in different forms like sharing resources, expertise, affiliation, and all kinds of support.” – Jinan Karameh, school principal, Lebanon
“Access to a community of like-minded practitioners who share the same vision and ultimately the same goal. Sharing best practice. Kept informed with current initiatives and learning development opportunities.” – Tim Black, former teacher, France
Reading these comments, a proverb came to mind: “If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together.” Through the global collaboration and partnership enabled by the TeachSDGs Ambassador program, my voice, my work, and my contribution to education benefits many more individuals than I actually see, and every opportunity to collaborate serves to amplify the actions that support desirable practices in education.
In order to engage students, teachers must understand the purpose of learning – the collective why – for themselves and the students. Whether it be social studies, the arts, science, or math, teachers must consider:
The 17 Global Goals offer teachers myriad ways to educate students about global complexities through local contexts. Research on Education for Sustainable Development supports this approach for enhancing student self-esteem, character development, empathy, and empowerment. Framing the learning at the community level also provides students the chance to apply knowledge to authentic contexts. In addition, ESD pedagogies encourage teachers to consider more learner-centred approaches, enabling students to be self-governing in their learning. Schooling must now prioritize the development of competences for sustainability3 that support participatory action of students by identifying alignment between curricula and perspectives that the 17 Goals and 169 targets provide.
Since my induction into ESD, my role in education has shifted from classroom teacher to a curriculum developer working at the ministerial level. To demonstrate the potential for SDGs to positively impact education, I defer once again to the educators from the TeachSDGs community. I asked them to share their insights on how framing subjects through many perspectives of the UN SDGs empowers learners. Here are a few responses:
“When you bring the Global goals to a local level, and the students can make the connection with what you are learning and discussing in class and their life and lived experience, it is a powerful combination. If you can ignite a passion within a student to work to make a positive change in the world, what could be better?” – Mahfuza Rahman, teacher (Science) and technology coach, Canada
“Learners… realize the need for inclusive solutions (Leave No One Behind) and develop their critical thinking, innovation, and creativity trying to help the future of our planet.” – Stavroula Skiada, teacher (ICT), Greece
“Encourages broader thinking. Helps them [students] become global citizens and can inspire them [students] to take action as a global change-maker.” – Kirsten Thompson, former teacher, U.K.
“Learners are empowered to problem solve, to use their voice to teach others to make a change and a difference about issues that they care about. They are empowered to learn about cultures and see the value in learning about other cultures and the world.” – Lynn Thomas, teacher (English Literature), Canada
“Students see and experience the world as an interdependent ecosystem and acknowledge, create, and find their place in it.” – Julia Fliss, teacher (English Language Arts), U.S.
Kristen Thompson summed it up nicely when she reflected that framing subject matter through the many perspectives of the SDGs, “brings education to life for students by focusing on real-world issues.”
Currently, there are many challenges to embedding the Global Goals into our teaching practice – such as communication gaps within ministries and districts/school boards, competing interests and priorities within public education, and a lack of professional development opportunities for interested teachers on SDGs topics. But difficult is not impossible. An important driver for reorienting education is knowledge mobilization, sharing of resources, and professional learning support.
Since the inception of the Global Goals, a flood of resources have been created by ESD champions and developed by teachers to support related work on regional, national, and international levels. Schools that put the Global Goals at the centre of their approach to education are part of a greater whole. There are multiple on-ramps for individual teachers as well as school communities to get involved.
Wondering how you can start weaving the Global Goals into teaching and supporting a sustainability mindset for learning in school communities? Here are a few accessible suggestions:
My discovery of ESD and the 17 Global Goals has led me to bring a more holistic approach to my practice and served as a window to the world by opening my professional community to places and people in ways that I could have never imagined! Good news stories in the education sector (or at least the dissemination of them) are typically in short supply, and I hope that by sharing my story, readers will come to understand the many ways the Global Goals will provide learners – both teachers and students – with on-ramps to meaningful community-based learning that has global significance. Education in 2021 is glocal!
Information about the UN SDGs and their potential to positively impact teaching and learning is sorely required, especially now. September 2020 marked the five-year milestone of the 15-year action-oriented framework and launched the Decade of Action: a call to accelerate sustainable solutions to all the world’s biggest challenges by 2030. The clock is counting down. Let’s continue the good work of making the world a safe, just, and equitable place through education, for everyone.
Video: UNESCO: The Lab of Ideas, the Lab for Change!
Teach SDGs Manifesto: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1CUlNQpAd4YfwC8QjC1MK8qNQV3lUr67U/view
These are my go-to resources that I access regularly.
Banner Photo: Adobe Stock
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1 Source: G. Connelly, former Superintendent of Toronto Board of Education. Education for sustainable development is designed to raise students’ awareness of and encourage them to become actively engaged in working for a sustainable society.
2 Articulated by the Canadian Ministers of Education (CMEC) in 2016:
3 Competencies for sustainability include systems and future-oriented thinking, normative competency, strategic competency, critical thinking, collaboration, integrated problem-solving, and knowledge about planetary phenomena.
4 A curriculum audit involves surveying courses offered to identify which units/topics currently include sustainability topics and mapping them to the 17 Goals (and 169 targets).
When we were offered the opportunity to partner with the EdCan Network on this special issue dedicated to the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), we did not hesitate for a moment. When we look to translate our high ideals into concrete action, teachers are natural and key allies.
The Canadian Commission for UNESCO is the link between Canadians and the essential work of UNESCO – the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. Through our members, networks, and partners, many of whom are directly linked to the education community, we play an active role in promoting UNESCO’s values, priorities, and programs in Canada. We also help to ensure that the voice of civil society is heard internationally, so that our good ideas and practices also benefit the rest of the world.
While it is states like Canada that are ultimately responsible for implementing the United Nations’ ambitious Agenda 2030, all of us need to commit to sustainable development. Ensuring that our economy and our society develop in a more sustainable and equitable way, while respecting the environment and the limited capacities of our planet, requires thinking globally and acting locally. And this is the extraordinary strength of the networks gradually built up by UNESCO over the decades: they encourage innovation and new forms of intellectual and moral cooperation among peoples, including the advancement of quality education that leaves no one behind, as called for in SDG 4.
Mobilizing the education sector, especially teachers, is critical to advancing the entire set of SDGs. This sector has the unmatched potential to raise awareness and develop the critical thinking skills of young people in relation to the greatest challenges facing our humanity, including the climate crisis. Indeed, the world of education can serve as a powerful lever for changing behaviours and lifestyle habits. The strength of schools also lies in their capacity to act in a very holistic manner, and even extend their reach beyond staff and students.
It is our wish that this issue will inspire you to learn more about SDGs and how you can help our world achieve them. Present and future generations share an interest in – and the right to – successful implementation of the goals.
Thank you in advance for your commitment, and I hope you enjoy reading these pages.
Secretary-General, Canadian Commission for UNESCO
Photo: Adobe Stock
The Power of Us enters the pandemic publishing parade with a compelling message that is both challenging and hopeful. Change consultant and author David Price makes a strong case for unseating traditional hierarchical ways of organizing our businesses, schools, and community organizations. That’s the challenge. But the hope lies in Price’s illustrative efforts to show us where in the world it is already happening.
The result of nearly three years of deep inquiry, The Power of Us draws us into a story of mass ingenuity, or what he refers to as people-powered innovation. Much more than just the sharing of ideas or organizing ourselves into cooperative clusters, it is the innovation that happens when groundswells of public activity, including inspiring examples of youth activism, meet up with organizations that understand and acknowledge that the traditional divisions between producer and consumer, artist and audience are quickly melting away. It’s what happens when companies start to see their users as co-creators, when the health-care sector starts to value highly invested patients as highly invested innovators, when schools begin to see their educators, parents, and students as co-learners, imbued with a sense of agency to make a difference outside the walls of the schoolhouse.
Price examines many of the familiar themes of change literature – ethos, structure, mindset, and leadership – through the lens of people power, supported by some very robust and compelling case studies written from the author’s own commitment (pre-pandemic) to travelling the world to find the organizations, companies, and schools that were actually showing up to their work differently. The generous summary of key points and take-aways at the end of each section invites the reader to look at their own practice and their own organizations through the lens of people powered innovation.
The COVID-19 pandemic forced David Price into rewrite mode, not because he was wrong, but because his ideas were so very right. COVID-19 is cast here, not as part of the scenery but as a main character, allowing The Power of Us to make a strong contribution to our rethinking of how we want to be in a post-pandemic world.
Photo: Dave Donald
First published in Education Canada, January 2021
Thread, 2020. ISBN: 9781800191181
Want to take student learning outside the school walls? Focused walks can be used in any context to develop students’ Sense of Place and to enrich their understanding of curricular topics.
“Two Grade 4 students suddenly stop. Crouching down, unzipped coats hastily pushed behind them, they look closely at the base of a tree in the schoolyard. “Here,” one points eagerly. “This would be a great hiding place for an ant.”
“Yeah,” says the other, “but what about a mouse or a rat? That’s too small! There’s more hiding places over here – come on!” They both take off running. Mr. Reynold’s students have been told to find evidence of the great game of “hide and seek” going on all around them. The students learned that “hiders” may be prey and “seekers” predators. They look carefully, eyes opened to the largely invisible “game” that is played out everywhere in nature.
Yesterday, these same students paired up with their Kindergarten buddies to consider the life in the schoolyard. Wandering out in pairs, they searched for evidence of growth and, afterwards, shared the “breaking news” of what was “growing on.” (See “Two Sample Walks.”)
The Walking Curriculum1 is a teaching resource for K-12 educators who want to take student learning outside school walls. The 60 easy-to-use walk-focused activities are designed to engage students’ emotions and imaginations with their local natural and cultural communities, to broaden their awareness of the particular places where they go to school, and to evoke their sense of wonder in learning. Walking Curriculum activities can be used in any context to develop students’ sense of Place and to enrich their understanding of curricular topics.
The Walking Curriculum is designed for the educator who is passionate about supporting student learning and dedicated to growing in their practice, but who may not have considered moving outside the school walls to do so. All educators can afford their students the opportunity to connect with the wildness in the world – whether in urban, suburban, or rural settings.
Teachers often have few imagination-focused resources that can develop students’ sense of ecological understanding and at the same time can contribute to their understanding of the mandated curriculum. The Walking Curriculum resource is designed to fill that gap. The proposed walking activities address a wide variety of themes, perspectives, and motivations. For example, students may be asked to find different things (such as shapes, spaces or lines, evidence of growth or change, “the best” hiding places), to change perspectives (imagine being a beetle, a detective, or a visitor from outer space), to encounter the world differently (emphasizing one sense over another or moving through space differently), to seek evidence of human-nature relationships, to identify patterns, or to locate natural or human systems in action. In all cases, the activities are designed to connect Place-based learning activities with cross-curricular goals and to serve as examples to inspire other Place-inspired teaching ideas.
It’s an overcast day when Ms. Rai’s Grade 9 students move their Social Studie