A Teacher’s Outlook on Educating for Sustainability

Our 4th grade teacher Carol Fontaine shares her insights on the bigger vision for our students.

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Dear Willow Community,

Our faculty has just completed its third day of professional development with Jaimie Cloud of The Cloud Institute for Sustainability Education. Our work was informative, challenging, and inspiring; we look forward to working with her throughout the year.

In answer to the question, “Why educate for sustainability?” Jaimie Cloud says, “We have to learn how to live well in our places without undermining their ability to sustain us over time. The foundations of our knowledge, skills, and habits of mind are cultivated in our schools.” Hope for our planet’s future depends on “an education that prepares people to be far-seeing enough, flexible enough, and wise enough to contribute to the regenerative capacity of the physical and social systems upon which they depend.” (Cloud) This is precisely the rethinking of education that David Orr calls for in his excellent book, Earth in Mind.

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Educating for sustainability requires the understanding that “knowledge carries with it the responsibility to see that it is used well in the world… We cannot say we know something until we understand the effects of this knowledge on real people and their communities.” (Orr, pg.13)

The Willow School is committed to addressing the need for this vital shift in education. So, where do we start? Stephen J. Gould, an esteemed American paleontologist, evolutionary biologist, and historian of science has written, “We cannot win this battle to save species and environments without forging an emotional bond between ourselves and nature as well – for we will not fight to save what we do not love.” The Willow School has been doing an excellent job of nurturing this capacity in its students since its founding. Currently, we have agreed, as a faculty, to undertake the work of intentionally aligning our school’s curricula to the standards of Education for Sustainability (EfS).

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Why? The behaviors and strategies driven by EfS are those that, once understood and internalized, will empower our children to become agents of change in the world. The goal is that our students will develop a mindset that believes a healthy and sustainable future is possible. They will realize that we are all in this together and act accordingly. They will recognize that healthy systems have limits and learn to tap the power of those limits. They will recognize the commons and understand that we all depend on them and are responsible for them. They will learn to reconcile individual rights with collective responsibility. They will value and appreciate diversity because diversity makes our lives possible.

They will learn to create change at the source not the symptom. They will think 1000 years when envisioning the future. They will read the feedback and evaluate the effects of our behavior on both natural and social systems. They will understand that solving the new problems we face begins with a change in thinking. They will understand that we are a part of nature and thereby must live by the natural laws. And finally, they will know they have to accept the fact that we are all responsible. (italics, Cloud)

We invite you to learn along with us and be our partners in this important pursuit. You may be interested in checking out the two sources that I referenced:

(1) Orr, David W. Earth in Mind: On Education, Environment, and the Human Prospect. Washington, DC: Island, 2004. Print. (2) cloudinstitute.org

Sincerely,

Carol Fontaine
4th grade teacher