Is this Education for Sustainability?

Is this Education for Sustainability? - Jaimie P. Cloud

The questions I ask faculty and administrators to consider when I am invited to a school to audit their sustainability education program are:

  1. Have you chosen a set of Education for Sustainability (EfS) benchmarks for the faculty to design, teach and assess with?  
  2. Do you document and map the curriculum?  If so, is it a living document that is continually improved and innovated over time?
  3. Does the faculty use the benchmarks to assess for evidence of EfS? 
  4. Do they explicitly communicate quality EfS performance criteria to their students?
  5. Do you have student work as evidence of the enduring understandings, knowledge, skills and attitudes of EfS?

If the answer is “no” to all the above, then my next question is,

6. Is there a shared understanding within the school community of what Education for Sustainability is?

If the answer is “no”, then my next question is,

7. What can I see?  Where can I look for evidence of EfS in the Curriculum?  I learned a long time ago that even if the answers to all my questions are “no”, it doesn’t mean people are not educating for sustainability.  It simply means we have to ask the next question, which is “how can we know?”

The way The Lovett School in Atlanta Georgia addressed my last question was to provide me with an extensive list of Stage 3 (UbD) curricular activities that the K-12 faculty was asked to prepare so that I could help them determine to what extent they were, indeed, educating for sustainability. 

I read through the list with great interest, honored that they took the time to carefully describe what they have been doing.  I didn’t actually consider using any of it in my audit because anecdotal information is not evidence I can assess.  However, after some conversations back and forth with the leadership team, we agreed that it would be valuable to all of us if I were to annotate the descriptions I was given to let the faculty and administration know how we can know if they are educating for sustainability at Lovett. 

Ordinarily I would have recommended that we use the Cloud Institute’s EfS Standards and Enduring Understandings as benchmarks against which I could annotate their descriptions, but I am working with the Journal of Sustainability Education to build consensus among EfS thought leaders and scholars on Sustainability Education Benchmarks which will be published this summer, and we all agreed that Lovett should wait for the new Benchmarks—since our work will be influenced by them going forward.  So, I decided to use my experience and my knowledge of EfS to inform my annotations.  I do this kind of work with faculty all the time in conversations during our coaching sessions.  The work of “sustainablizing” the curriculum is difficult to describe if you are not the one experiencing it—maybe even if you are.  I do hope that by capturing this work in writing, that I can increase understanding and shed some light on what it means to educate for a sustainable future, and how that is similar to, and different from, other types of education.  Some themes you will see over and over again:

  1. Document document document.  That way we can know what to keep, what to change, what to stop doing and what to start doing.  If you design, document and map in a robust mapping software, we can do all the analytics we want to do with the push of a button.
  2. If you use UbD/Backwards Design to document and map the curriculum, Stages I and II  (Outcomes and Assessments/Performance Criteria) will be clearly articulated so when we look at Stage III (lessons/descriptions of lessons) we can look for congruence between the 3 stages.  “If you don't know where you're going, any road will get you there.”
  3. Collecting, sorting and calibrating student work as evidence of EfS is essential if we want to get this right.
  4. A shared understanding of what EfS is, will send a consistent and reinforcing message to students, and will have synergistic results over time.  It is critical to differentiate between educating about sustainability, educating about un-sustainability and educating for sustainability. 

Click Here to read excerpts from The Lovett School descriptions with my annotations.