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Why It Matters to Educators

Schooling for sustainability is "the most powerful way of teaching" she's ever experienced, says one veteran of 30 years of elementary school teaching.

"It's about making the world a better place. It's about children having a voice. It's a movement to teach young people how to grow up to be responsible, respectful citizens. . . . By example and by teaching and learning you teach children essentially that the world is theirs, not only can they change it, but they must."

Schooling for sustainability can mean many different things, of course. Probably no two schools or educators go about it exactly the same way. But many report similar experiences:

  • They feel that their teaching matters. They're making a contribution to addressing some of the most critical questions of our time.
  • They're responding to students' concerns. Teachers are cautioned about discouraging young students by talking about environmental problems, but many students are acutely aware of news about climate change or disappearing species. They want to know how they can become part of the solution.
  • Students are engaged when they're doing hands-on, real work—tending a garden, restoring a habitat, or improving the quality of life in their community. They're inspired to learn when the knowledge is essential to accomplishing something they care about.
  • The kinds of projects that characterize schooling for sustainability can create opportunities for success for students with a wide range of learning styles.
  • A growing body of research supports a correlation between practices such as experiential or place-based learning and academic achievement, higher test scores, improved behavior, problem solving, and higher-order thinking skills.
  • Teachers are justifiably wary about piling more responsibilities onto overfull teaching loads. In fact, many find that tying subjects together through overarching ecological principles or essential "big ideas" is an antidote to fragmentation of subject matter, makes sense to students, and helps teaching.
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