Continuing Professional Development in Sustainability Education for K-12 Teachers: Principles, Programme, Applications, Outlook
The next generation will be better prepared to cope with the daunting sustainability challenges if education for sustainable development is being taught and learned across educational sectors. K-12 school education will play a pivotal role in this process, most prominently, the teachers serving at these schools. While pre-service teachers’ education will contribute to this transition, success will depend on effective professional development in sustainability education to teachers currently in service. Arizona State University has pioneered the development and delivery of such a programme. We present the design principles, the programme, and insights from its initial applications that involved 246 K-12 in-service teachers from across the USA. The evaluation results indicate that due to participation in the programme, sustainability knowledge, perception of self-efficacy, inclusion of sustainability in the classroom, modelling of sustainable behaviours, and linking action to content all increased. We conclude with recommendations for the widespread adopting of the programme.
Transforming Sustainable Food and Waste Behaviors by Realigning Domains of Knowledge in Our Education System
Changing from current unsustainable production, consumption, and disposal patterns will clearly require technological, political and other structural changes, but also individual behavior change. Consumer demand and individuals’ purchasing power exerts pressure on many parts of the production system, including how crops are produced (i.e., organic), products are packaged and labeled (i.e., rBGH-free labels on milk), and even where products are distributed and how they are disposed of. Individual consumer behaviors have even led to political and structural changes overtime, such the consumer boycott of tuna which led to 1990 US legislation creating the "Dolphin Safe" tuna label.
One of the central ways to foster responsible citizenry and promote sustainable production is to harness the capacity of teachers and schools to create change. Educating for conscious consumerism is a critical part of creating changes in production, consumption and disposal systems, but our current education system and approaches often reinforce unsustainable practices that neglect subjective ways of knowing as well as action and change. Research and experience suggests that traditional, information intensive teaching about sustainability alone does not motivate the behavior change a transition to sustainability will require. Utilizing a previously developed framework that identifies four distinct types of knowledge—declarative, procedural, effectiveness and social—we hypothesize that procedural, effectiveness and social knowledge are important predictors of an individual’s participation in sustainable behaviors, while declarative (information) knowledge is not. While the knowledge domain framework has been theoretically detailed by other researchers (Kaiser & Fuhrer, 2003; Frisk & Larson, 2011) and qualitatively assessed through an intensive case study education program (Redman 2013), to date, this is the first quantitative assessment of the relationship between the four domains of knowledge and sustainability-related behaviors.
We tested our hypothesis through an extensive survey of 346 current and future K-12 teachers about sustainable food and waste knowledge and behaviors. The survey results supported our hypothesis that high levels of declarative knowledge alone did not predict increased participation in sustainable behaviors while procedural and social knowledge were statistically significant predictors of sustainable food behaviors and procedural, effectiveness, and social knowledge were all statistically significant predictors of sustainable waste behaviors. Through active incorporation of appropriate forms of procedural, effectiveness, and social knowledge into the K-12 classroom, educators can empower the next generation to make individual changes based on their vision of the future and insist on structural and institutional changes that are essential for a successful transition to sustainability.
Opportunities and Challenges for Integrating Sustainability Education into K-12 Schools: Case Study Phoenix, AZ
Teacher education for sustainability is a central part of integrating sustainability into classrooms and schools. However, educating for sustainability is not limited to increased content knowledge; rather it encompasses different forms of knowledge that embrace the normative, dynamic and action-oriented nature of sustainability. Curriculum for a summer sustainability program had previously been developed based on an interdisciplinary approach which incorporates research and practice from the fields of education pedagogy, sustainability and behavior change.
This article synthesizes the insights provided by K-12 teachers who participated in this program and another teacher who utilized the curriculum during a sustainability unit in her 8th form science class in Phoenix, AZ. Data was collected through surveys and interviews over the course of a year. The key findings indicate that one of the major barriers to moving away from traditional, didactic approaches to education is the importance placed on standardized tests. As long as external forces and incentive structures reinforce methods of lecture and assess, teachers will struggle transitioning to more experiential, real-world methods that enhance a multiplicity of knowledge. One important suggestion made by the teachers was for increased support by universities through pre-service and in-service programs focused on educating for sustainability.
Advancing Educational Pedagogy for Sustainability: Developing and Implementing Programs to Transform Behaviors
Achieving a sustainable future requires that individuals adopt sustainable behaviors, which are often learned and cemented at a young age. Yet, traditional education efforts have been inadequate in fostering transformative change, in part because many programs focus on fact-heavy, teacher-centered techniques while neglecting the practices that behavioral and sustainability scholars highlight as central to creating change.
To address this gap, the pre-sent research integrates three critical yet mostly disparate bodies of research— educational pedagogy, behavior change, and sustainability competencies. This interdisciplinary approach to education was implemented and evaluated with a small group of students during an intensive summer program and year-long case study. The curriculum focused on food and waste behaviors and utilized experiential, real-world, problem-based methods in order to increase competence in sustainability and promote pro-environmental actions. The impact of the program was assessed through surveys, interviews, videos, and participant observations.
The data showed that significant changes in knowledge and behaviors were achieved, while suggesting that social knowledge in terms of food is more resistant to change as compared to that of waste. Throughout the year, students maintained significant behavior changes in terms of their waste decisions; however, sustainable food behaviors were more resistant to long-term change due to the students’ social and cultural environment. This article will detail the education program and assessment techniques while highlighting each student’s unique characteristics, barriers to change, and motivations for action.
Achieving a sustainable future requires that individuals adopt different values, attitudes, habits, and behaviors, which are often learned and cemented at a young age. Unfortunately, current educational efforts are inadequate for achieving transformative action. Even programs whose primary goal is to promote responsible, pro-environmental behaviors have largely failed at creating change among students. The lack of efficacy in sustainability-related educational programs is at least partly due to faulty assumptions about knowledge automatically leading to action, and by extension, the information- intensive methods that focus largely on declarative knowledge regarding how environmental systems work. Meanwhile, social science literature clearly highlights the need to go beyond ecological and technical knowledge when educating for transformative action, since sustainable behaviors are motivated by much more than declarative information. In order to effectively educate for sustainability, alternative forms of knowledge (i.e., procedural, effectiveness, and social knowledge) are essential, as is the consideration of various barriers and motivators for action. The transition towards sustainability will require action and change that is guided by an understanding of the complexities that arise within an interconnected system, as well as the ability to collaborate with people from diverse backgrounds, while keeping an eye to the future. In formulating our approach to educating for sustainability, we incorporate perspectives from three somewhat disparate fields: (i) behavioral change research, (ii) sustainability scholarship, and (iii) educational pedagogy. While drawing upon diverse knowledge domains, our primary purpose is to integrate behavior change research and sustainability competencies in developing effective educational approaches for transformative actions.
Is Subjective Knowledge the Key to Fostering Sustainable Behavior? Mixed Evidence From an Education Intervention in Mexico. (Pre-Print)
Educational interventions are a promising way to shift individual behaviors towards Sustainability. Yet as this research confirms, the standard fare of education, declarative knowledge, does not work. This study statistically analyzes the impact of an intervention designed and implemented in Mexico using the Educating for Sustainability (EfS) framework which focuses on imparting procedural and subjective knowledge about waste through innovative pedagogy. Using data from three different rounds of surveys we were able to confirm:
1. The importance of subjective and procedural knowledge for Sustainable behavior in a new context.
2. The effectiveness of the EfS framework.
3. The importance of changing subjective knowledge for changing behavior.
Yet, while the impact was significant in the short term, one year later most if not all of those gains had evaporated. Interventions targeted at subjective knowledge will work, but more research is needed on how to make behavior change for durable sustainability.