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Reduce, reuse and recycle — perspectives from a Geography ITE cohort

I believe that sustainable education is integral to the learning of Geography as a subject and plays a significant part when learning to become a secondary Geography teacher (even through it shockingly doesn’t get a mention in the Key Stage Three Geography National Curriculum). Recently, reflecting with my students about the progress that they had made during their Initial Teacher Education (ITE) course, we realised how far they had come, including a greater understanding of issues around sustainability.

ITE is an opportunity to teach knowledge, values and skills; sustainability is an ideal subject for considering all of these aspects across numerous topic areas. Sustainability is not always taught as a discrete entity, but is interwoven within the subject content of the course, for example, a subject knowledge session on meteorology or coastal erosion/flooding might address issues around climate change; whereas a session on ‘values in Geography’ might explore issues including those of sustainability and the views of various stakeholders. These sessions raise issues and impart key knowledge, but in order to really impact upon young people in our secondary schools I believe that the process is a lot more complex. I consider that it is the responsibility of teachers to impact on the next generation to ensure the preservation and conservation of our planet. As a teacher educator I consider it is my duty to ensure that students are sustainability literate, so they can demonstrate sustainable practices and effect positive changes to the sustainability agendas in their placement schools, and further on into their teaching careers.

Within this blog post I intend to consider just one of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals — ‘Responsible Consumption and Production’ and explain how I attempted to change behaviours, both directly of my students and indirectly of pupils in school. I believe that it is important that small changes in prosocial behaviours have far reaching and widespread effects, particularly within an educational setting; in order to effect this I propose some simple steps outlined in the model below. These consist of knowledge acquisition and the importance of learners experiencing what this knowledge actually means, so that they can truly understand the impacts of that newly acquired knowledge. All learners, I believe should be encouraged to be critical, hence the role of evaluation, before then applying the new learning in a more considered way. As this new knowledge is embedded, perhaps more widely across a group of learners, or maybe explored in a deeper way, it may be that new assumptions can be made and fresh paradigms evolve. In time my hope is that this might lead to changes to organisations and their context and the way that they operate, hopefully using more sustainable approaches.

Figure 1 — A model of learning to ensure impact and influence

I will consider three examples briefly, based upon the concepts of reuse, reduce and recycle. In each, in line with the model above, knowledge was acquired, experienced, evaluated and applied. There were limited opportunities for stages five to seven, but my hope is that these will evolve as the students continue to develop as newly qualified teachers.

Firstly, reuse — a Christmas present idea. I gifted all my students a jam jar filled with chocolates at Christmas; their challenge was to create something that they could use as a resource in their Geography lessons. The three main criteria were to inspire their pupils in schools; to specifically relate to the Geography curriculum; and to ensure they had considered issues of sustainability. There were some fantastic ideas such as: a mini anemometer relating to meteorology and climate change; a terrarium considering micro ecosystems and their destruction; and a sediment store to illustrate different strata within a landscape and the impacts of quarrying. What was particularly exciting about this project was the students then began to set more innovative and creative homeworks for their pupils, promoting in particular sustainable use through reuse, and recycling of various products. What had previously been seen as waste products, was now seen to be of greater value.

Secondly, reduce — at the beginning of the course I set out a number of expectations including those in relation to sustainable practices (such as the use of Google Drive — although the carbon footprint of internet usage is a consideration), to maximise sharing and minimise paper use. I also shared my belief that we should all refrain from using single use plastics for drinking vessels. This idea, students took with them into schools and began to promote with their pupils. Later in the year, the move to online learning (as a result of Covid), was a catalyst for stopping paper use and promoting further digital means for teaching and learning. Realising how much paper was being saved has motivated the students to apply this practice, where possible, to their own pedagogies within the classroom.

Finally, recycle — within the PGDE group we have a WhatsApp group which has enabled the sharing of many great ideas, experiences and resources. Through this medium we have set up an informal book loaning/selling facility where students have reviewed what they have read and then shared this along with the resource. This has supported students’ intellectual and academic development and my hope is that we can share this more widely with our placement schools and partners in the future.

The students started their ITE course with varying levels of sustainability literacy, but through the sharing of ideas, my hope is that they will impact significantly on the cultures and practices within their NQT schools and beyond. I also expect to be able to embed some of these sustainable practices further within the Geography ITE course and further across the wider PGDE programme.

Alison Grasmeder

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Education Matters

Education Matters

Research at the School of Education, University of Sheffield. For more information about us, visit www.sheffield.ac.uk/education.