7 ways teachers and schools can support student action on climate change

7 ways teachers and schools can support student action on climate change

Concerned about the health of our planet, but not sure what you can do about it? There is a way teachers, schools (and parents) can help the next generation to learn to live sustainably.

Monash’s Rachel Forgasz outlines a practical framework that can be used in classrooms and as the foundation of an all-of-school approach.

The world’s leading scientists have predicted a climate catastrophe in less than 12 years if immediate action isn’t taken to reduce global warming. The need for change is urgent, and can be overwhelming. According to economist Jeremy Rifkin, we need to change much more than our approach to energy consumption and the environment. The long term survival of our species requires a radical rethink of all of our social, political and economic systems, a total transformation of consciousness. And, he says, we have just one generation to do it. So how can teachers and schools help students to know where to start?

Humans are creatures of habit. This is why making change is often hard. The 7 ways in 7 days program is designed to break down the change process into bite-sized pieces. Make one kind of change each day of the week. Continue making that change on the same day every week. Over time, changes that felt impossible will become second nature until eventually, we find ourselves transformed.

The 7 ways in 7 days framework is designed to create communities of change in support of young people, their families, and our planet.

The long-term survival of our species depends on the current generation of kids to start thinking differently about our social, political and economic systems.

7 ways in 7 days program on climate change

Meat-free Monday: Redefine healthy eating

Why does it matter?

The combined impacts of industrialised agriculture create the same amount of greenhouse emissions as all the world’s cars, trucks and aeroplanes combined. Its relentless appropriation of wilderness areas makes it the chief contributor to mass extinctions, too. A sustainable food industry for people and planet hinges on reducing global meat consumption by at least 50% (and reductions of up to 90% in affluent Western countries like Australia).

What can you do?

Encourage students to go vegetarian for the day. If they are already vegetarian, invite them to cut out eggs and dairy. Teach dietary health through a climate justice lens. As a school, make Monday a meat-free canteen day. Invite parent contributions to a vegetarian school community cookbook. Start a kitchen garden program.

Want to know more?

Transport Tuesday: Reconsider the cost of convenience

Why does it matter?

For many of us, our daily decisions about transport are based on convenience – the fastest and easiest options. In deciding what is personally best for us in the short-term, we show little concern for the long-term impact of our choices. Transport Tuesday is an invitation to rethink what we mean by ‘convenience’. Convenient for whom? To what end? At what cost? What is the impact on our bodies, our psyches and our planet. And does that change how we answer ‘what is the most convenient option’?

What can you do?

Encourage students to come to school using more sustainable transportation. Develop students’ ethical understanding and empathy by exploring ‘the true cost’ of our other everyday choices. As a school, actively promote a weekly walk or ride campaign. Support a carpooling initiative for parents. Make budget decisions based on the ‘true cost of things’.

Want to know more?

Watch-it Wednesday: Get informed

Why does it matter?

The extent of our climate emergency has been kept from the public for decades through euphemisms, fake news and deliberate acts of deception from governments and corporations. Every Watch-it Wednesday is an opportunity to get more informed about climate and, just as importantly, to develop the critical literacy skills to be able to discern the truth.

What can you do?

As a class, choose a climate-related topic and watch (or read) something to get more informed. Along with climate science, there are historical, political, personal, economic, psychological and spiritual questions which are just as important – and fascinating – to explore. Set viewing tasks as homework to encourage families to learn more together. Investigate media representations of climate issues to develop students’ critical literacy and persuasive writing skills. As a school, host evening screenings for the community.

Want to know more?

Thanksgiving Thursday: Combat consumerism

Why does it matter?

Consumer capitalism drives us to feel that we never have enough and that we never are enough and that the only way to fill the void is with more and more stuff. By feeling and expressing gratitude, we fill up on satisfaction instead. When we receive the gratitude and appreciation of others, we get filled up too. Turns out we do have enough. We are enough. And no longer hungry for more. Dissociating kids’ sense of self and status from their ‘stuff’ is one of the most powerful ways to combat consumerism.

What can you do?

Create a thanksgiving ritual for students to share: what or who you are grateful for this week? If it’s a person, let them know. Have very young children give thanks for a favourite toy of the moment and then briefly swap toys to share the love with a friend. As a school, initiate collaborative art installations in public spaces to encourage community participation in weekly thanksgiving rituals.

Want to know more?

Feeling-it Friday: Connect

Why does it matter?

In most western cultures, we are taught to value reason over emotion, and to dismiss, judge and manage our feelings. But unacknowledged, our feelings are more likely managing us. They are the unconscious drivers of our thoughts, beliefs, behaviours and actions. Chief amongst them: fear. Fear turns our heads the other way, buries them in the sand, fills them with despair. Fear motivates self-concern and prevents us from feeling compassion or care about the impact of our choices on our fellow humans, other species and the planet itself.

What can you do?

Make your classroom a place where feelings matter. Use a guided meditation to support students to connect with their embodied emotions. Have them go outside and 'feel the earth'. Create a space for sharing feelings. Have very young children share a rose (something positive), a thorn (something painful) or a banana peel (something funny). As a school, consider creating spaces for the community to feel and express collective grief, fear, and anger about our dying world.

Want to know more?

Spread-the-word Saturday: Build community

Why does it matter?

By sustaining political pressure on governments, climate activism may well bring about major policy change on climate. But history teaches us that unless you shift people’s values, beliefs, and attitudes, nothing really changes at all. In this sense, sharing individual stories of personal change is a vital form of activism that everyone can take.

What can you do?

Empower students to see that they can inspire change in others simply by sharing their own enthusiasm. Get them to talk about it, blog about it, take a selfie, make a movie, post to socials, send a text. Use the example of youth climate activism to teach about civic responsibility and contemporary civil rights. As a school, create a 7 ways social media space where families and classes can share their stories. Join a community climate art project. Run a school-wide campaign to declare a climate emergency.

Want to know more?

Slow Sunday: Take your time

Why does it matter?

For many families, the multi-tasking, outcomes-focused rush of the day-to-day prevents deep connection. As a society, it also prevents us from noticing what is going on around us, let alone considering how to care or respond. Slowing down awakens awareness and supports learning through reflection.

What can you do?

Have students take some time each Sunday to slow down, reflect and plan. What have you learned? How are you feeling? What’s changing? What will you do in the week ahead? Have them record their reflections in a journal (eg, blog, photo-essay, video journal, etc). As a school, encourage families to reflect and plan together. Set less homework. Review the curriculum with a view to slowing down.

Want to know more?

More resources and a community forum are available at Climate7 website.