SSN’s Evolving Understandings of Education for Sustainability

Almost two years into the journey of the Sustainable Schools Network, it is a pleasure to share some musings about Education for Sustainability (EfS).  Since the idea for the Sustainable Schools Network arrived, we can tell you there have been moments of pure joy when conversations between team members, teachers and community members have evolved and flourished as we inquire into alternative futures.  This dialogue has brought so much joy, a sense of purpose and a deep connection to community (both social and natural).  Reciprocal conversations, where the charge is synergetic has simultaneously been playful and deepened our understanding and commitment for working collaboratively.

Defining EfS is challenging and is useful only as far as we capture a reflection of a particular time and space.  Yet, if we grip hold of that definition well into the future, we place boundaries that are likely to restrict the infinite possibilities of a reflexive universe and consciousness.  Requests to define EfS limit the evolution of our understanding and stiffen being open to learning.  It is an uncomfortable and unnatural feeling to define and confine something that is living and evolving.  Instead of defining EfS, we will continue to reflect and dialogue here in this space as we believe this is the more joyful work to be done!

Capturing the Moment: Current Understandings of EfS

The SSN philosophy on EfS is to engage in an ongoing reciprocal dialogue that explores playful possibilities in our collective educational spaces.  As much as this is an inward and at times personal journey for us all, it is very much about creating a shared path and a shared vision that engages curiosity, critical thinking and creative expression.  Although we started this organisation with a focus on Sustainability, the more we lived the experience of sustainability, the more we realised Sustainability is about learning.

Learning happens everywhere: in schools (of course); at home; at work; when we speak with family and friends; when we engage with social media; and when we read.  However, learning is not an end point: it is a process of becoming rather than just coming to know (Sammel, 2020).  If we are to reimagine this process, we need to understand that we are always actively engaging in learning, as education at its core, should not be a passive process.  Therefore, Education and Sustainability need to reflect the active process of evolving into becoming citizens who understand that we are all inherently intertwined with nature, and the natural processes of becoming that all life on this planet shares. 

This is an invitation for you to join us on this journey…

Below we share some words that are important to the SSN, along with some questions we continue to ask ourselves and that guide our work.  It is our belief that continuing to question will keep us future-focused and open to possibilities.  You are invited to participate. 

To share in this evolution, we invite you to notice how you feel when you read the words and/or questions. Perhaps you have some musings to share with others in response to this invitation? Perhaps you can engage in personal learning as you notice your thoughts?  We offer this invitation, as the most common question that the SSN is asked is, “how do I get started on this journey?” Our answer usually leads to conversations around asking questions, engaging in dialogue, understanding the issues and how they have evolved, and writing your vision and narrative.

By joining us in exploring our collective narratives, sooner rather than later you will notice you are part of a growing community living a journey of educating for sustainability.  We can’t wait for you to join us in this evolving, serious play!

Before we start this wonderful journey together, it might be good to explore what Education for Sustainability might mean to you.

Dr Ali Sammel invites you to consider the following:

  • Seeing education for sustainability as an intersection between education, ecological sustainability and the promotion of alternative futures, where the sum is more than its parts
  • Having strong faith in humanity and the power of education but realising that education-as-usual is not an option anymore
  • Understanding that the accelerated pace of climate change and ecological destabilization necessitates proactive forms of engagement with socio-ecological change
  • Seizing opportunities within these uncertain times to facilitate collective dialogues to chart alternative, ecologically sustainable futures
  • Combining our voices in diverse contexts so we might be able to support, embrace, share and expand our emergent understandings of what an ecologically sustainable future might look like.
  • Asking if part of education for sustainability about un-learning? Is it about challenging our existing beliefs and ideas about what it means to be ethically responsible while increasing our individual and collective openness to change?
  • Coming together to fully grasp notions of the possibilities for ourselves as educators and our roles in generating social change

Our goal at SSN is to work collaboratively to create spaces for learning and change, where we will boldly explore these and other assumptions about what EfS might mean for each of us.  So please share your story with us on our forum [link here].  There are many other ways to get involved in the SSN.  For example, you can share your ideas on our social pages, or send us your questions via email (we may even include some of them in our SSN Journal).  We are always looking for more volunteers and will welcome your engagement with our journey reimagining Education for Sustainability.

Katie Norman
Chief Steward