Sustainability: ASU Teachers’ Sustainability Academy

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Arizona State University has established a professional development program for teachers across the nation to help them teach sustainability to their students. The Walton National Sustainability Teachers’ Academy will hold workshops this summer for 13 two-person teams of teachers, with participants coached and mentored by experts from ASU. Dr. Erin Redman, program manager for the academy, will tell us more.

TED SIMONS: ASU's Walton National Sustainability Teachers Academy will hold workshops this summer for teams of educators to learn how to teach sustainability. Participants will be coached and mentored by experts from ASU. Here with more is Erin Redman, the academy's program manager. Welcome to "Arizona Horizon."

ERIN REDMAN: Thanks for having me, Ted.

TED SIMONS: National sustainability teachers academy, what exactly is that?

ERIN REDMAN: What we're doing is providing professional development for K-12 teachers so they can come to ASU and learn from sustainability scientists and develop sustainability projects and bring that back to their schools and classrooms and create a culture of sustainability in their field and their school and their district.

TED SIMONS: What does a culture of sustainability mean?

ERIN REDMAN: So we want to not only increase sustainability, literacy and knowledge about sustainability, but we want people to behave sustainability in terms of sustainability. So people are using reusable water bottles or composting. And they are thinking about it as a decision-making process instead of being a subject in biology it's a theme that runs throughout all of their courses and all of their disciplines and is part of their school operations, as well.

TED SIMONS: And again, you're looking for professional development for teachers. And the goal is to teach, what, better sustainability? Just sustainability? How much do teachers already do this?

ERIN REDMAN: Well, teachers don't do it a great deal because it hasn't been very well connected to the standards and it's a new topic. I think there's still misconception about sustainability being a natural science deal. We're trying to connect to it art and history teachers so it's seen assholelistic approach connected to the society and the environment.

TED SIMONS: Secondary level, high school, Junior high, elementary school?

ERIN REDMAN: Our very first teachers academy will be middle school teachers.

TED SIMONS: Why did they go first?

ERIN REDMAN: We chose middle school teachers because the fields and disciplines are more connected to each other. We want science teachers to work with English teachers, we thought middle school was better than high school where they are more isolated. Then because we're focusing on action and behavior change, middle school students have more autonomy to behave sustainably in their person lives.

TED SIMONS: Solutions based curriculum: What does that mean?

ERIN REDMAN: Instead of focusing on the sad, tragic polar bears dying, we're providing an opportunity for students to be change agents, and empowering them to be part of the solution through small everyday actions, through sustainability connected to their neighborhoods and community, through participating in a community garden or teaching their parents and their sisters and brothers how to recycle. So seeing themselves as solutions.

TED SIMONS: So when you say that the emphasis is on urban systems, that's what we're talking about here, real life, correct?

ERIN REDMAN: Yes. The main focus is sustainability around us. Instead of viewing sustainability as a walk in the woods, we're viewing sustainability as something they can connect to by going to their supermarket.

TED SIMONS: Indeed. With all this in mind, the teachers are showing up here to learn how to educate kids and stuff. What do they need to learn, the teachers themselves? These are folks who are educated, trained to teach X. Do they need to now learn how to teach Y or is it just X with a flair?

ERIN REDMAN: They need to be brought into an environment that supports them with these projects. We're bringing in teams of teachers. That's not very common for them to get time to get together in the school to plan a team-based project. Each teacher comes with somebody else that also works in their school and they will work together to cocreate projects. That allows for that interdisciplinary approach that isn't very common.

TED SIMONS: Who's doing the coaching and mentoring? Who are exactly are we talking about here?

ERIN REDMAN: We have a number of sustainability scientists that are going to be working with us. One of the sustainability scientists is Monica Elser, she does outreach for the global sustainability. I have my Ph.D. in sustainability and focused my research on sustainability education. I'll do a lot of the curriculum, activity and facilitation. Then we brought in K-12 teachers with experience in doing the sustainability projects. Our project coordinator has been a high school science teacher for 10 years.

TED SIMONS: Oh, interesting. The goal once again is to foster change agents. Define, please.

ERIN REDMAN: Oh, wow, okay. Change agents are people that are leading the way towards sustainability. So this means that they are trying to be role models and making a point of it. Taking something very simple like using a reusable water bottle, they are bringing it every day and making a point of saying look at my reuseable water bottle. Let's talk about the great Pacific garbage patch. What can we do? Here's my reusable water bottle. They are making a point to lead the way to sustainability solutions.

TED SIMONS: We do a lot of things with regard to sustainability on the show. I also ask to define sustainability. Sometimes I think it's still a little bit amorphous. It's hard to grab on to. We have a Ph.D. here, we can't get any higher educationally storms academia on this. You tell me, what is sustainability? And how have you seen it -- have you seen it change over the years, the concept?

ERIN REDMAN: Yeah, I think sustainability has changed from being environmental sustainability and then sustainable development, to being a more holistic view. For me, I view it as a framework for decision making. It's how we do research, how we participate with the community. And by that I mean it's inclusive, it's participatory, involves stakeholders at every level. We think about it in terms of purchasing. How can can we think about going to the grocery store and making a sustainable decision? So it's no longer about can we get out in the woods and identify that bird. It's about how can I take sustainability and embrace it through my job, through my consumer decisions and through my household practices.

TED SIMONS: Are those messages you think getting through to the masses as it were? Obviously in academia and for those who really care, it's a very important topic. You've got to get it out there among everyone else. How that is working?

ERIN REDMAN: The Walton National Sustainability Teachers Academy solutions initiative is focused on taking what researchers have done and what scientists have worked on and bringing it to the public, whether it's through international programs or the solutions festival or the teachers academy. We also have a museums program. What we're trying to do is bridge academia with sort of the real world. There's a huge gap there. Often researchers think, I'll just disseminate what I'm doing through a peer-reviewed science journal article. That's not sufficient, the public doesn't read that, can't even access that. We need to to have endeavors that reach all stations of the population. That's what we're trying to do at Walton. We're a new initiative as part of the Global Institute of Sustainability and hopefully we have some success in bridging that gap.

TED SIMONS: I imagine bridges that gap would work really well once you get kids figuring out what exactly sustainability -- whatever path they want to take, this works that way because you're teaching teachers how to teach. They are great role models. They are well-positioned to lead the way and promote sustainability for future generations. At the end of the way teachers do shape the future through everything they do, through the way they behave, the way they teach. If we want sustainability to be the future then working with teachers is the perfect place.

Are the teachers already selected for this?

ERIN REDMAN: They are, they are selected for our first teachers academy in June and then our second one in July. But there are plenty of other opportunities for them to participate. We will have regional workshops throughout the year and three more workshops next summer. They can feel free for contact me or anybody on our engagement team if there's somebody out there interested in learning more.

TED SIMONS: Congratulations on this, good luck over the summer with the conference and the academy and the whole nine yards.

ERIN REDMAN: Thanks for having me, Ted.

Dr. Erin Redman:Walton National Sustainability Teachers' Academy Program Manager

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