Empowering teachers through Environmental Education for Sustainability: Narratives of despair leading to 'tiny steps'

Year: 2019

Author: Moore, Deb, Almeida, Sylvia, Barnes, Melissa

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

This presentation outlines a recent study engaging with early career primary and early childhood teachers who self-identified through their university studies as ‘passionate’ about sustainability. As their past lecturers and now, as co-researchers, we had envisaged these committed pre-service teachers would metamorphose into equally passionate teachers who taught Environmental Education for Sustainability (EEfS) as a matter of course in their respective educational settings. However, we inadvertently discovered this was not the case. This discovery was made during an iterative series of six Community of Practice meetings over a period of nine months with the teachers, Sustainability community organisation representatives and the three researchers. Using a Research by Design methodology, and positioned within the theoretical work of Bourdieu and Foucault, we had initially imagined the teachers would be inspired by the Sustainability Organisation speakers, with strong support from the group, to create, set up and implement their own unique Environmental Education for Sustainability projects in their classrooms. Month after month we tried different approaches to prompt the teachers to try new ideas in their classrooms, including setting up a group blog to enable ongoing conversations; multiple speakers who spoke of innovative ways to trigger the ‘sustainability buzz’ at their school or centre; and, comprehensive templates to guide and track their progress along the way. Instead of projects, what emerged throughout the meetings were deeply personal and emotional narratives from the nine participating teachers. Each early career teacher spoke about their despair and increasing realisation that they felt incapable of pushing back against the dominant institutional priorities of literacy and numeracy; the harsh reality of the education system; and the culture of “this is the way things have always been done here”. In this presentation, we will provide a snapshot of the teachers’ narratives of despair as the basis of the analysis and findings for this study, including how each teacher attempted to cope with the sense of inertia they were experiencing. Following this, we will discuss some of the ‘tiny steps’ we collaboratively co-constructed with the Sustainability Organisations and the early career teachers at the end of the organic study, as possible ways to enable teachers to feel empowered to teach Environmental Education for Sustainability- inside, outside and sometimes hidden in plain sight within their classrooms.