I am a teacher in a New Zealand school which encourages students to learn authentically through “passion projects”. Joining the international wave of students who go on climate strike each Friday is the kind of activity which would qualify as a school passion project, provided that it includes a lot of learning. I have been considering how to cater for students who make this choice, and my musings are in the process of becoming a series of blog posts. I wrote my first post with New Zealand teachers in mind, and links to the New Zealand curriculum. However, many of my readers are overseas, so I have taken a baby step towards catering for a wider audience by linking to some overseas curricula at the bottom of this post.
The girl in the picture looks pretty impressive, but I chose this image for more than that. The picture made me wonder, “What is she actually doing, and how is she doing it?” The artist has called the file superhero-girl-speed-runner, but to run like this, I think our superhero must also know something about flying. You may be able to spot some other skills or techniques she appears to be using.
Skills and techniques
As the originator of the #FridaysForFuture school climate strikes, Greta Thunberg is an obvious role model for students going on climate strike. However, when my students look at videos and articles showing Greta’s strikes, interviews and speeches, I don’t want them to simply say, “Isn’t she amazing!” I want them to ask themselves, “What is she actually doing, and how is she doing it?” If they decide, for example, that she is speaking convincingly, I want them to think about what other skills and techniques she may be drawing on, and how she has developed them. Then, of course, there is another step. I want them to think about whether they can develop and use any of these skills and techniques themselves, and if so, how.
Great Thunberg has now made international headlines, but I will be encouraging my students to look at how she got started. One of her earliest climate strike photographs shows her sitting on the cobblestones with her sign, wearing a yellow raincoat, and looking slightly bored. Here are some questions I might ask:
- What was Greta doing right, at this early point in her climate strike campaign?
- Can you think of anything she could have done differently at this time?
- Do you think Greta felt as though her climate strike was making a difference when the yellow raincoat photograph was taken?
- What may have helped Greta keep going before people took much notice of her?
- What skills, attitudes and supports will you draw on if your climate strike campaign has a quiet beginning?
A range of role models
There’s more than one way to be a climate activist, and different approaches will appeal to different students. It is important for some students to be able to identify with their role models, while others are motivated by people whose differences challenge their thinking. I also favour the idea of “near” and “far” role models. “Near” role models demonstrate skills and techniques which students can expect to master and use in the near future – they support the development of achievable short-term goals. “Far” role models show expertise in their field – they inspire goals which are aspirational, requiring far more learning to emulate.
A variety of role models is ideal, but too many could be unmanageable, especially for younger students. Consider whether your students would be best served by finding role models who:
- have genders, cultural backgrounds, and abilities or disabilities which are similar to or different from their own.
- are skilled in climate science.
- are skilled communicators.
- see the big picture of where climate action intersects with other issues, such as social justice.
- work alone, or in new or established groups.
- are good leaders, good followers, good team players, or self-sufficient.
- are part of students’ local communities, are readily communicated with online, or cannot be communicated with directly.
- demonstrate interesting ways of organising for activism.
New Zealand Curriculum Links
While many areas of the curriculum are relevant to climate activism, I believe the Key Competencies offer a particularly helpful lens through which students can think about what climate activists actually do and how they do it. Students can then decide which of these skills and techniques they wish to develop themselves, and how they can apply them to their own climate activism projects.
Some questions I might ask students based on each competency are listed below. Questions would be used selectively, and would also be simplified for younger students.
- How do your role models show their thinking about climate?
- How do your role models show their thinking about activism?
- Is there evidence of your role models following a “plan – do – review” process in their climate activism?
- What do your role models see as important questions about the climate and the way we manage it?
- How do your role models think critically and challenge assumptions?
- Is there evidence that your role models have changed their thinking over time?
Relating to others
- How do your role models relate to others in general? How do your role models relate to others for the purpose of activism? Is there a difference? Why or why not?
- How do your role models choose an audience and tailor their message to them?
- How do your role models show understanding of a range of perspectives about climate change and climate activism? What do they do when they encounter opposing viewpoints?
- What interpersonal roles do your role models demonstrate in their climate activism? For examples, see Figure 8.1. How is this effective for them?
Using language, symbols, and texts
- How do your role models use or create written, oral and visual language to inform, to persuade, and to form alliances with other climate activists?
- How do your role models use or create written, oral and visual language to learn more about climate change and activism?
- How do your role models use or create symbols? (Consider literacies from a range of disciplines.)
- How do your role models use or create other texts? (Consider a range of possible text media.)
This is the competency most closely aligned with executive function, and the executive function literature gives teachers lots of ideas about how to support students in getting complex tasks done.
- How do your role models decide what to do, and when and where to do it?
- What do their climate strikes and/or other climate activism look like? How are they organised?
- How do your role models manage emotions, such as climate grief?
- When have your role models needed to think flexibly, solve problems, or try new strategies?
Participating and contributing
This competency differs from “relating to others” by being more focussed on larger groups and communities.
- How do your role models contribute to our society’s discussion and understanding of climate change and climate action?
- How do your role models participate in the local, national or global climate activism community, and how do they enable others to participate alongside them?
- How do your role models help you to think about the relationship between activism and democracy?
As this is a long post already, I will simply provide links to ideas about competency-based learning in three overseas curricula. I see these as further useful lenses for looking for skills and techniques which may be used by climate activist role models. I may explore them in more detail in a later post.
Australia’s General Capabilities
Singapore’s 21st Century Competencies
British Columbia’s Core Competencies
Please link to further overseas curriculum resources which might help teachers to cater for young climate strikers in the comments. Many thanks!