Changing The Curriculum

Shifting the content and strategies of instruction is frequently vital to a shift to schooling for sustainability.

However, large-scale curricular change doesn’t happen overnight. It is an evolving process that usually requires the engagement of a significant portion of the faculty, professional development, and planning time.

An informal team of dedicated teachers and supportive administrators usually initiates this process. Parents often help spearhead this kind of initiative as well.  Taking curriculum change to a school-wide level then requires involving as many members of the faculty as possible.

Most people like to have a sense of direction when engaging in the change process. One effective way to begin developing a collective direction is for a small faculty team to start with the end in mind. To stimulate dialogue and gain input from other faculty members, they might articulate a few possible goals, as well as suggest an end product. 

For example, one goal might be "to nurture students who can think ecologically, understand the interconnectedness of human and natural systems, and have the will, ability, and courage to act." An end product might be a set of curriculum maps that integrate disciplines and identify concepts, skills, attitudes, and methods of assessment at each grade level.

Once the faculty has agreed on a manageable set of goals and end products, it can be motivating to bring in an inspirational speaker to increase the faculty’s knowledge and enthusiasm about schooling for sustainability.  Another motivating activity is showcasing what trailblazing teachers are doing with students (even one-time lessons or special events).  A third strategy is looking across all disciplines and grade levels and asking teachers to identify ways — no matter how small — that they are already addressing concepts, skills, and attitudes related to sustainability.

As with any change process, changing the curriculum requires time.  The faculty will usually need the  administration to support them by  acknowledging that improving the curriculum is a long-term process. They will also need dedicated time for planning together. Committing to a three-to-five-year timeline of transformation and allocating frequent blocks of time for planning and professional development will enable the faculty to take a thoughtful and collaborative approach rather than experience it as an unwelcome additional burden.

You don’t need to start from scratch. Experts and resources are available to help initiate development of a scope and sequence of activities across grade levels and disciplines. Faculty members will often welcome opportunities to increase their own understanding of sustainability before embarking on curriculum design. Participating in basic, hands-on learning experiences related to ecology and systems thinking will help teachers increase their confidence and competence. Conceptual frameworks, such as state or national academic standards or the Center for Ecoliteracy's Big Ideas: Linking Food, Culture, Health, and the Environment, can help teachers identify the key notions they want students to understand. 

Adoption of schooling for sustainability requires modifying not only the teaching content, but teaching strategies as well.  Part of professional development should include increasing teachers' competence with instructional strategies such as project-based learning and place-based learning.

Look for ways to engage the wider school community in the process of curriculum change. Parents and other community members can often play key roles in shifting the curriculum by providing behind-the-scenes support such as researching existing curricula, locating supplies and resources, securing funding, and assisting with the introduction of lessons that require additional adult supervision.

Lisa Bennett - Greening a K-12 Curriculum
Lisa Bennett

How one school instituted changes cutting across all disciplines and grades.

Pam Koch - Feeding Our Kids the Right Food...and Inspiring Them to Eat It
Pamela Koch

A Teachers College study sheds light on the importance of combining school meal change with classroom curriculum.

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