WALL: (noun) barrier, border, barricade, obstruction, divider, blockade, enclosure, impediment, restriction, confinement
We have a facebook group where people interested in discussing Education for Sustainability (EFS) can crowdsource answers to their big questions, share ideas and resources and support and inspire one another. (Please join us!)
I recently posted a question to the group which I believe to be at the core of EFS:
What are some walls created by an out-of-date educational system that we can bust through to make learning more authentic?
As a teacher at Green School, I found that our wall-less, bamboo classrooms were a metaphor for our pedagogy. I joined this unique community of learners in the jungle of Bali back when the school was three years old and finding its wings. Unlike any other school that I have been a part of (as a student or a teacher), we did not have to follow a set curriculum or map to any particular standards. Our mandate was that we put sustainability at the center of our teaching and learning while considering the stages of environmental readiness of each child. Our professional development unpacked various paradigms that we could and should create to make learning more authentic, connect students to the natural world, consider students to be solutionary members of our community, and to develop the skills they need to innovate and create positive change.
The ideas that my EFS facebook friends came up with reflect this spirit of transforming education by dismantling the arbitrary walls that have become the foundation of conventional education systems. The good news is, these trends are taking hold in classrooms all over the world. Here are some of the walls that we identified. Walls between:
Teachers and Learners: “Breaking through the wall of adult-adolescent relationships that in traditional schools have so many barriers due to an intense focus on content and test results.” – Glenn Chickering
Ability Levels: “Walls between ability levels: differentiated instruction towards a variety of learning styles and modalities. The inclusion of all students creates an authentic learning community and a richer learning/teaching environment for all, teachers included! There is more than one way to demonstrate knowledge.” – Kriss Rita
Learning Time vs. Other Time: “We’re never not learning. We need to stop training kids that there is a certain time when learning happens.” – Aaron Eden
Classroom and Community: “The biggest wall I see if a fear that the young people will actually engage and enjoy being part of a community. It is easy to say that the sub 18-year-old is not yet an adult, but seriously… If you care you should be able to be a constructive member of society. It is just too liable to result in ideas that shake the status quo.” – Noan Fesnoux
Mixed-age Learning: “Grouping kids by age is a wall. It’s so entrenched. Even “progressive” schools seem to do it.” – Erin Little
Indoor and Outdoor: “Actual walls. And placing learning inside buildings. Let’s take learning outdoors. Learning through travel and interaction with people and communities.” – Karla Delgado
Schedule and Subjects: Creating longer periods of focus and designing integrated units of study.
One of our Green School Alumni brought up a big wall that should be on all of our radar as educators:
“Specifically in High School and College environmental education, a wall is dread and misery… that is, learning about the enormity and complexity of issues and feeling a loss of individual and collective efficacy to shape change.” – Shanti Belaustegui Pockell
As educators for sustainability, particularly for older students, it is our responsibility to inspire and empower students to engage in their communities, working on real innovations and learning from people and with people who are actively finding solutions. We need to cultivate this efficacy that Shanti mentioned by helping to think critically, creatively and in systems and we need to teach skills of collaboration as well as hands-on skills that students can use to innovate.
Here is a framework that compares conventional education to our wall-less approach:
What are some other characteristics of wall-lessness that we have not mentioned here? What are some strategies you have found to implement the ideas in this framework? What are some of your favorite resources that support a wall-less teaching practice? Please share in the comment section below.
If this subject matter interests you, we have more resources to dig deeper. Go to Greenschool.teachable.com to get our free Educator Pack. Module 4: is all about wall-lessness. We also have a new cohort forming for our online course in Educating for Sustainability. Work with a group of Educators from around the world and two Green School mentors to ground your teaching practice in sustainability and creating a world that works for all.
If you can make it out to Bali, join one of our incredible Green Educator Courses at the Green School campus. This is a life-changing experience and inspirational professional development for anyone wishing to dig deep into EFS.
Don’t forget to connect to our facebook group and join our lively conversation.