Sustainable Communities Professional Development Institute Bay Area
November 2nd 2011
Over twenty educators from
across the Bay Area joined us on October 17th and 18th
for two jam-packed days of professional development. And boy did we cover
a lot of ground! There was discussion, lesson planning, team building,
idea sharing, art making, game playing, an expert panel, and even more.
Since World Savvy works with educators who teach at public and private, as well as underfunded and well-funded schools, each one brought their own unique perspective to the group. Having so many different people dedicated to sustainability in one room resulted in some valuable insights about the theme of Sustainable Communities and how it can be brought into the classroom to teach global competency.
Because every student comes from a different background and every classroom has its own dynamic, one of the issues that we returned to again and again was difference. These differences make it difficult to illustrate how something, like the importance of eating locally, relevant to students whose families regularly shop at Whole Foods and whose families rely on the affordable food factory farming provides at the same time. Thus, the curriculum must be interpreted and tailored to meet the needs of students who have different resources, background knowledge, needs, and life experiences. But, just as in any classroom, it’s hard to predict what will engage students most successfully with lesson plans that introduce new and complicated subjects. There were two strategies we identified that work towards resolving these divergences.
- Process Over Outcome
The end product of an action isn’t always what’s most important. Albeit it’s not the most traditional approaches to teaching, there are some cases in which emphasizing the process of a project over its outcome is more desirable. Everyone comes from somewhere different and works differently, so it is important to have a more open-ended expectation of how an activity can be completed.
On the second day of the Professional Development Institute teachers broke off into groups to come up with lesson plans that would facilitate projects that focus more on process than outcome so that students can find their own meaning in the issues. One of the groups developed a project that focused on answering the question “is charging $3.87 a fair price for a gallon of gasoline?” The class would begin by working together to define the meaning of “fair” and how it might shift between situations. Next, students would identify the different people that are impacted by the processing and consumption of fossil fuels and assume the position of one of the stakeholders, like a big oil company, to conduct further research about. How the research was presented could be left up to the student. Maybe it would be a mock trial, a news report, or a documentary film, as long as it allowed the student to convey their findings in a compelling way.
To make the most significant impact, sustainability should work within the space where environment, society, and economics intersect. Taking these different considerations into mind all at once requires interdisciplinary thinking. Interdisciplinarity also enlivens subject matter and makes interconnectedness more visible. It is for this reason that many World Savvy educators are striving to collaborate with other educators and professionals to fully illuminate how sustainability can, and should, function.
In some cases, this manifests as a joint project between teachers who teach different subjects at the same school. A Tennyson High School World History, Farming, and English teacher worked together during the institute to see how students could explore the question of “how what I need affects others” within each subject area. At other times, an interdisciplinary approach to studying Sustainable Communities could take the form of a fieldtrip with Media & Arts Senior Program Associate Katina Papson to a food cooporative, or having a representative from the Department of the Environment speak with a class about the future of green jobs.
Difference can be a negative and a positive force in the classroom. Looking at process over outcome and working across disciplines are just two ways to use diversity to accommodate students’ more effectively. What other ideas do you have for making diversity work to the best of an educator’s advantage?