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Environmental Education

Barriers 

While traditional environmental educators may have EE managed in informal teaching environments, regular classroom teachers have identified numerous barriers to integrating EE into their teaching practice, including:

 

 

If you have experienced these obstacles when trying to implement EE in your class, you are not alone. Luckily, through research, collaboration, and trial and error, many educators have identified strategies through which we can overcome these barriers, as well as best practices for EE. They have been compiled here!

Best Practices

Tips & Tricks for Aspiring Environmental Educators

 

  1. It all starts with you! 

    • A common barrier to integrating environmental education is the low self-efficacy of teachers - many educators simply do not believe they are able to effectively teach EE. It is for this reason that the number one tip recommended when trying to implement EE in the classroom is to believe in yourself! You can do it! Personally adopting a positive attitude and willingness to seek solutions to barriers is key to the successful integration of EE. Teachers must commit to EE and actively acknowledge and embrace the value of outdoor learning and EE. Motivation, dedication, a positive mindset, and grit, are all important precursors to the effective use of EE in your teaching practice. 

  2. Gather Support 

    • A second important tip when establishing EE practices is to gather support from your administration, parents, community, etc. You can do this by helping those outside of your classroom to recognize the many benefits of EE to both students and staff (see the Importance of EE page for help with this). Work with your administration and other staff members to develop school wide EE goals and values. Communicate and collaborate with other teachers to develop lessons, share resources, and overcome barriers. Send home letters to parents regarding EE in your classroom, and invite volunteers to assist during outdoor learning and field trips. Seek out mentors and community partners who can share knowledge, act as guest speakers, and help you to better integrate EE. 

  3. Overcome Risks 

    • When engaging in EE, outdoor activities and lessons are essential. That said, safety concerns while outdoors are a prominent obstacle for many educators. As such, there are many strategies to help mitigate these concerns. For starters, we need to consider what real risk looks like. As educators we should move from keeping children as safe as possible, to keeping children as safe as necessary. When learning in the environment, children begin to learn how to assess risk independently, which serves their personal development. Students need to be responsible for managing risks on their own (with the appropriate guidance and supervision) and therefore should be involved in the safety planning process. So, what does that safety planning process look like? Well, there are a number of excellent resources that include risk assessment checklists and tips. An example is Ophea’s Outdoor Education Toolkit. Educators should refer to these resources in order to be better prepared for risks prior to engaging in outdoor EE. This could include developing a outdoor education safety plan for your classroom of school. 

  4. Empower Your Students 

    • Environmental education is not just teaching your students about the environment, it is also providing your students with the tools and confidence to make and promote change. As such empowering your learners is a key part of EE. Firstly, to ensure pupils are comfortable with EE and getting all they can from lessons, address student preconceptions or fears of EE prior to lessons, make lessons and assessments authentic and relevant to real life, teach concepts and values - not just facts, create appropriately leveled, and differentiated challenges for students, and provide them with direct, first-hand experiences (including with specialized equipment, and time spent in the environment). Secondly, involve students in the planning process for the experience. Enable learners to have a active role in their learning experiences, allow them to make decisions, and provide them with opportunities to execute agency in their learning. This will increase student ownership and personal responsibility and leads to enduring learning and autonomy. Next, promote student activism in your classroom and nurture environmental citizenship. Help your students learn how to take action, cope with the reality of modern environmental issues, and act to generate change (through letter writing, awareness campaigns, and student-led community projects). 

  5. Make it Cross-Curricular

    • A huge barrier for many educators when integrating EE into their classroom, is how to do so while also providing a quality math and literacy program, and with standardized testing, this is a valid concern. As such, in order to successfully incorporate EE and outdoor lessons in your practice, educators must look at cross-curricular and interdisciplinary lesson planning. Curriculum subjects, while separated into individual documents, are not isolated entities, and have many overlapping themes. Science education in particular, including EE, lends itself well to other curriculum areas like math and language arts, and with a little creative thinking, many math and literacy lessons can take place outdoors. EE education should be an ongoing process that begins at the pre-school level and continues throughout all forms of education, both formal and informal. It should take an interdisciplinary approach, promoting a holistic and balanced perspective. For educators who need more guidance with the how-to of EE across the curriculum, there are many incredible resources available (as shown on my resources page!). Also check out the sample lesson plans and activities page.

  6. Community Connections

    • Environmental education is not exactly synonymous with Place-based and Community education, but you can bet they are closely related! As such, environmental educators should nurture environmental sensitivity, knowledge, problem-solving skills, and values as they relate to the learner’s own community. EE should help students to uncover the symptoms and causes of environmental problems while teaching the complexity of environmental issues by examining them from local, national, regional, and international perspectives. Students should receive insights into environmental conditions in their home, as well as in other geographical areas. Furthermore, environmental educators are encouraged to promote the value and necessity of cooperation at all levels of government and community in the prevention and solution of environmental problems. Finally, EE should move beyond the walls of the classroom so that students can engage in concrete action and have the opportunity to integrate knowledge, skill and attitudes with action in their community and local environment. For example, there is a need to better integrate real life science experiences into the curriculum, instead of teaching abstract and non-contextualized EE concepts that appear to be separated from the natural world. Students should be able to connect their education to their lives outside of school!

  7. Check Your Bias

    • When teaching, we tend to fall back on old reliables, the things that we know, the ways we were taught, but this can be dangerous in EE. As such, consider shifting how you view the environment, change your thinking to a mindset that examines the environment in its totality - natural and built, technological and social. Look for environmental histories and knowledge bases that you are excluding. Consider what types of EE you are engaging in: is it primarily based on Western ideologies and sciences, or do you also incorporate Traditional Ecological Knowledge and Indigenous perspectives? Are you teaching to colonization, or to decolonization? Do you favour capitalist perspectives or environmental pedagogies? Are you engaging in conservationism, or white saviorism? Reflecting on our own views and sources can play a big role in what knowledge is passed down to the next generation!

  8. Nurture Love for the Environment

    • An essential part of producing environmentally conscious adults is creating a love of nature during their childhood. As such, nurturing stewardship, a quality that comes from a deep attachment to the environment, requires a proactive approach on the part of educators. Promoting stewardship in students requires exposure to suitable experiences, lessons, and tools in outdoor environments, resulting in advanced knowledge, love, and respect for the natural systems that not only sustain us, but all life on our planet. The point? Take kids outside, introduce them to nature, and help their love to grow. Encourage positive talk, pro-environmental behaviours, outdoor recreation, and relationships with the land they live on. 

  9. Use What You Got! 

    • Common barriers to the integration of environmental education include the lack of EE resources, lack of access to outdoor educational opportunities, and lack of funding. To this, I say, worry less about what is missing and focus more on the resources you already have! Cultural tools that are available to you, including books, computers, games, etc. can be put to use. For example, it is a common practice for teachers to use picture books to introduce environmental concepts and to help students envision the natural world. Other educators recommend tapping into nature using technology combined with hands-on experiences. Take an inventory of what resources you have, and make them work for you.

References

Louv, R. (2008). Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder. Chapel Hill: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill.

Stevenson, K. T.m Carrier, S. J., & Peterson, M. N. (2014). Evaluating strategies for inclusion of environmental literacy in the elementary school classroom.

     Electronic Journal of Science Education, 18(8), 1-17. 

 

Wait, S. (2009, April 15-18). Outdoor learning for children aged 2-11: perceived barriers, potential solutions. International Outdoor Education Research

     Conference. Victoria: La Trobe University.

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