A teacher climate course success story
Prior to designing and launching our online teacher climate course; Teaching Climate Change Essentials, we did a lot of research and planning. An analysis of the research identified that teachers wanted to teach about climate change, but didn’t in the face of the following barriers:
Climate change is a polarized topic.
Despite the scientific data, climate change has become a controversial subject. Teaching is hard enough without a focus on what is potentially a divisive issue. As a result, teachers are reluctant to introduce topics related to climate change to their existing curriculum. They fear it could trigger pushback from parents, other teachers, education leadership or even board members. To overcome these challenges, teachers need support and to be equipped with ‘how-to’ strategies to help them battle misinformation and navigate polarized points of view.
A lack of preparation in the fundamentals of climate science.
A large percentage of teachers do not feel confident about teaching climate change due to a lack of knowledge of the fundamentals of climate science. Educators don’t typically learn about climate change in their undergraduate teacher education programs. And many graduate science programs don’t focus on the topic either. That means teachers are reliant on state standards, textbooks, teaching and learning materials and resources, and professional development opportunities to learn how to teach climate change. These resources all vary greatly with regard to how well they address climate change, and many don’t include it at all. To feel confident about introducing lessons and activities focused on climate change into their curriculum and classrooms, teachers first need to feel confident of their own climate literacy.
The potential psychological impact of teaching about climate change.
Teachers are aware of the potential negative psychological impact of teaching about climate change. They know that by teaching about climate change they could exacerbate the eco-anxiety already felt by many of their students or trigger feelings of hopelessness or anger among others.
Teaching about the climate crisis in a way that will support a shift in students’ mindsets, from the doom and gloom of the climate crisis, to a hopeful outlook oriented around potential solutions and action, is important. To facilitate this, teachers need a grounding in climate literacy. They need to have in their teaching toolkit, examples of climate solutions to draw upon and teach about. Teacher professional learning that includes a focus on climate solutions can give teachers the skills they need to teach about climate change in ways that make students feel empowered to take control of their lives and future and not anxious.
With the challenges identified, we set about purposefully designing a professional learning teacher climate course to overcome these barriers. We knew we need to design a course that would give teachers:
- Strategies for teaching a polarized topic and navigating the politics of climate change conversations.
- A grounding in the fundamentals of climate science to build a foundation in climate literacy, along with a wealth of related resources.
- Opportunities to explore climate change solutions to empower students and address eco-anxiety.
Our goal was to design a teacher climate course that would equip teachers with the knowledge, skills, and resources to confidently teach about climate change and be able to inspire and engage their students around individual, local, national, and global climate action.
We started by developing a comprehensive, well-organized syllabus that builds climate literacy. The syllabus addresses the polarized nature of the topic. It explores the fundamentals of climate science, and existing climate change solutions. The syllabus then goes deeper into the inequity of the impact of climate and climate justice. Topics and learning are scaffolded. And, teachers are offered choices of modalities of content–articles, videos, podcasts–to meet learner’s differentiated needs and keep them engaged. Throughout the course, we share vetted resources to serve as just-in-time classroom materials that teachers can use directly with their students.
Finally, following best practices in adult online learning, in addition to the online self-study modules, we included facilitated forums. These provide for peer to peer interactions, and teacher to instructor collaboration. And, synchronous webinars to provide for small group discussions with subject experts.
So, how did we do? How are teachers responding to this teacher climate course?
After each course, we ask course participants for feedback. Below you can read a selection of testimonials from teachers that indicate the course is successfully achieving our goal.
Teachers gain the confidence to teach about climate change despite the politics
“First, I must say how much I LOVED the course and how much I needed it. It has empowered me in many ways and made me feel less like avoiding the subject with my students (as it’s so highly politicized). THANK YOU!!! “
“Before taking the course, I knew what climate change was and knew some of the political implications surrounding climate change. With that being said, there was no way I felt comfortable teaching my students about climate change.”
“This course exposed us to many different perspectives on climate change impacts (disease, food availability, etc) and to the systemic reasons for varying public opinion/action.”
Teachers learn the fundamentals of climate science and feel more confident about teaching climate change
“It went in depth into climate change information and it prepared me to teach my students more than the basics.”
“I liked the order the course was in. It started with the science of climate change and led into how to share and teach our students.”
“Climate Change Essentials provided me with the valuable resources to be a better teacher of climate change.”
Teachers grasp the importance of focusing on climate solutions
Teachers acquire a deeper understanding of the effects of climate change
“I think the course presented new information really well. I thought I knew a fair amount about teaching climate change, but this course really opened my eyes to the wide variety of effects of climate change that I did not know about.”
“I can see that I was really just skimming the surface of climate change issues with my students but now I feel like I can go deeper into the effects.”