Blog | Transformative Learning Hub on Climate Change | November 25, 2020

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In the November 2020 gathering of the Transformative Learning Hub, we focused on Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) and Climate Change. Two Hub members, Robin van der Sluijs and Dave Pendle, kindly volunteered to lead this session and share their knowledge, experience and practice. Together we explored different ways of engaging with climate change and sustainability in our teaching and research.

In the 1st part of the meeting, Robin van der Sluijs (MSc student in Environmental Sciences and Education and Research coordinator for the WUR Green Office) shared the results of her master’s thesis research on Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) at WUR. In the 2nd part, Dave Pendle  (founder of the leadership development startup Generative You) guided us through a process to explore our relationship to Climate Change through mindful and embodied practice.

Part 1: Education for Sustainable Development at WUR

Robin started the meeting by sharing the results from her MSc thesis project, in which she researched the possibilities of developing and implementing a sustainability competencies training program for teachers. As Robin explained:

“During my studies, I saw huge differences in the extent to which sustainability was integrated in my courses and other study programs. Since WUR is well-known for being a sustainable university, I felt the need to look into why sustainability is not integrated in all study programs and how this can be improved. Personally, I believe sustainability education can be so valuable to ourselves and the world around us, all students deserve to get introduced to it. This brought me to the topic of my thesis, which combines looking at policies for sustainability education, and the professional development opportunities for teachers to integrate sustainability in their education”. 

She explained that Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) is more than teaching about sustainability. It’s about sustainable learning, which implies a change in the traditional educational paradigm, entailing a shift from teacher- and content-centered education to learner- and competence-centered education. ESD is aimed at developing an interrelated set of competencies, which are a combination of knowledge, skills and attitudes that enable sustainable problem-solving.

Robin found in her research that many WUR teachers agreed with the importance of education for sustainability and felt that (to some extent) they are already integrating it. The main reasons holding them back from further implementing ESD are lack of knowledge and lack of time. Most resistance was felt towards the intrapersonal dimension and the action competence as these topics are not a part of traditional scientific education. 

Robin noted afterwards:

“During the session, very interesting thoughts and ideas emerged: from teachers explaining how they have integrated sustainability in their courses already, to ideas about how to increase awareness about the importance of the topic and to engage more people at the university. I felt grateful to be able to share my research with people who are inspired and motivated to try out different ways of educating. Sharing my research created the opportunity for others to learn from what I learned, and it might have inspired and encouraged the TL Hub to keep working on sustainability in education”. 

Resources

Part 2: Practicing a Mindful and Embodied relationship to climate change 

In the 2nd part of the November Transformative Learning Hub gathering, Dave guided us through a mindful and embodied practice to explore our personal relationship to climate change. As Dave wrote:

 Amongst the many climate related emergencies, the COVID19 pandemic has, like never before, highlighted our societies’ and nations’ endemic, social, emotional and cultural dissociation from climate change. I also hear regularly from colleagues that educators and university staff are struggling to process their personal climate related distress, as well as that of their students, whose well-being may be suffering as a result of climate change apprehension. Partly as a result of the Vertical Literacy project we carried out at WUR last spring, I explored how, through mindfully paying attention to the wisdom of the body, we might be able to develop a more grounded and ultimately saner relationship to this great challenge of our age. In the Transformative Learning Hub session, I offered a taster of what might be possible to develop in educational settings to offset the myriad challenges posed by climate change, thereby enabling educators, staff and students to engage in their respective fields with renewed energy clarity and purpose.

To explore this, Dave invited us to use techniques like Mindfulness, Journalling, Social Presencing Theater, Collective Witnessing and Generative Dialogue.  

Dave reflected aferwards:

I felt it was useful that the session dovetailed into current sustainability education research, being carried out in WUR and elsewhere by Robin van der Sluijs. This provided some rich context and a background and platform, from which to carry out an experiential session.

This was a brave willing group who were adventurous enough to dive in, to experiment, take a pause and feel fully their climate related distress. The feedback that I remember was that participants resonated deeply with the mindfulness practices and their deepening of an experiential connection to the nested wholeness of the system. Plus they expressed a desire to connect and situate their work more consciously within this aspect of the living systems. Others expressed joy, healing and wonder, fully connecting to their body in contrast to academic life which is primarily situated in the head“.

Resources

The Transformative Learning Hub session ended with some journaling on how participants wished to integrate ESD into their own teaching. Some key insights we harvested as a group include:

  • The significance of incorporating the body in our teaching, how to incorporate the ‘inner’ dimension of sustainability education, and what this means for our definition of ‘science’
  • The value of organising inter- and transdisciplinary learning and action learning
  • The value of taking students out of the classroom and into the world
  • The need to foster greater opportunities for interpersonal and experiential learning that develops empathy between people and between people and non-human entities
  • The potential for bringing all our great existing initiatives together to develop a(n) (inner-)sustainability, action and empowerment learning trajectory for students to take as part of their study programs

The WUR Transformative Learning  (TL) Hub is a learning community that meets monthly to explore and experience transformative learning in teaching, research and collaboration.

  • The next TL Hub meeting is scheduled for December 16, 2020 form 9.30 -12.30 and will be hosted by Lucie Sovova and Daniela Chavarria from Otherwise. The theme is ‘Dealing with Remoteness in Research and Teaching’  

 If you are interested in being part of the Transformative Learning Hub or receiving more information, please contact meghann.ormond@wur.nl and anke.devrieze@wur.nl.