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The power of the individual: being a teacher

A reflection on the power you have to make a change, as an individual teacher.
© University of Reading

So how powerful are teachers as individuals? This question reflects a wider debate around climate change, and whether the actions of an individual can make a real difference or represent a pointless drop in the ocean. As an educator, you’ll want to have a clear vision for what you want to achieve, what is possible within your remit, and the demands you can make of leaders to help you to make a difference.

Task 1: Who influences you?

In Step 1.5 you considered the unique reason for joining the course and your own set of circumstances. You may find that reflecting on who influenced you to be interested in climate and sustainability gives you all the confirmation you need that an individual can make a powerful difference.

Let’s consider who inspires or influences you. A good way to do this is to start with a blank piece of paper or use this template, and note those you think of when you think of climate and sustainability.

Was this:

  • An individual opening your eyes to the natural world? (Well into his 8th decade of association with influential natural history programmes, Sir David Attenborough still provides inspiration to many.)
  • A teacher who ran an eco-club, bird watching club or simply shared their passion for the natural world with you when you were young?
  • A colleague in your school who is developing a series of outdoor learning activities?
  • A family member who took you for walks, to the beach, or loved camping.
  • A teacher in the school down the road using the theme of climate education as a context to develop their children’s data handling and communication skills?

All of these are examples of people with power to make changes themselves and influence those around them. What was it about them or what they did that made a difference? It may have been a combination of:

  • Knowledge and expertise
  • Leading by example
  • Passion and enthusiasm
  • Setting out small steps
  • Personal relationships and connections
  • Practical support (time, money, tools)
  • Relatable examples that would work in your own context.

Create a spider diagram showing your own network of influencers and how they affected you.

Chains of influence – an example

In one small primary school, using the outdoor environment began in the early years. Whilst the school science garden provided a wonderful space for outdoor exploration, it took time for its use to be embedded in day-to-day practice. The teacher and her teaching assistant worked hard to make sure children always had suitable clothing and the resources they needed to set up explorer back packs to use in following their own interests (bug hunting, pond dipping, generating outdoor art). Information went to parents before their children started school so they knew what to expect, governors were informed and children learnt how to manage risks.
Now, it’s spreading throughout the school. The teaching assistant has moved into an older year group and is supporting a new teacher to take steps outdoors with her class. Children throughout the school see the younger children happily engaged in the outdoor environment and want to get out there too. This brings its own challenges (children in the early years are set up for moving outdoors and getting messy, but it needed a re-think when older children arrived home covered in mud; the need for supervision means that lessons for older children need to be timetabled which can come into conflict with a free-flow approach for younger age groups). However, with the children on board, staff have to work together to overcome these obstacles and make their environment work for all.

Task 2:

Throughout this course, you’ve developed your vision for outdoor learning and its benefits in relation to climate and sustainability education and seen a range of examples to bring this approach to life. Reflecting on those that have influenced you should have given you confidence that you can have an impact. Now is a good time to return to the document and consider:

  • What is possible within my remit?
  • What support will I need from leaders to make this happen?

If you feel comfortable doing so, please share who influences you in the comments section below.

© University of Reading
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Teaching Climate and Sustainability in Primary Schools: An Outdoor Learning Approach

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