There is no issue more important to us than the climate emergency. Ceri Jones’ opening plenary session at the IH ELT Conference in Barcelona on 8th February was highly informative on the subject from a linguistic and educational perspective and also tremendously inspiring. If you arrived feeling despairing about the situation, there was plenty of hope to be had and numerous reminders of actions that we can easily take as teachers. We are far from being powerless.
Ceri highlighted for us how English itself is reflecting the centrality of this issue in public discourse. All of the top ten words competing for the Oxford Dictionary Word of the Year in 2019 were related to the environment, number one being “the climate emergency.” She drew attention to various recent declarations, the most relevant to ELT being Daniel Barber’s which was made at the InnovateELT Conference in May 2019. Ceri’s key message was that ongoing action is essential and that an approach which is non-judgmental of the efforts of others is most effective. This is very much the ethos of the ELT Footprint online community of which Ceri is a founding member. (https://www.facebook.com/groups/eltfootprint/)
As ELT professionals, we all form part of numerous networks through our students, our colleagues and their families and friends. In fact, we are more able to act positively for change than we might at first think. Ceri referenced the work of the Australian academic Will Grant who has identified four levels at which we can take action: 1) the individual, 2) family and friends, 3) in our workplaces and local community and 4) the national level of voting, protest and lobbying for policy change. It was really constructive to hear that where we can be most effective is by focusing on levels 2 and 3, but especially on level 3 (our professional sphere of influence), and that the conversations we have at these levels will create the greatest ripple effects. I’m sure that as we were listening, many of us in the audience were contemplating a few first steps we could immediately take in our local contexts. The ripples were already on their way.
The ELT Footprint FB group is an ideal place to visit for support, encouragement and resources. Here’s the mission statement: “This group offers a space for people from all walks of the ELT world to share initiatives and projects, ask for support, celebrate victories and contribute ideas about how to reduce our climate/carbon/plastic footprints across the ELT profession”. If you aren’t a member yet, do join, you’ll be made very welcome. You’ll get immediate access to an enormous collection of teaching resources and can ask any question you like of a friendly and non-critical, volunteer-led community of teachers.
Ceri also updated us about the development of the concept of ecoliteracy and steps being taken in other educational contexts like Italy and Australia to embed this in the school curriculum. She also noted actions which ELT publishers and assessment bodies are taking, for example, the inclusion of environmental awareness in the Social Responsibility section of the Cambridge Life Competencies Framework and in the recent OUP position paper on Global Skills. There is further information on these points available in the FB group. It felt encouraging to hear that the actions we take create hope and we don’t need to be Greta to do something. Acting on a small, local scale counts too.
At the follow-up workshop later in the day, Teaching with hope, Ceri shared some examples of materials available on the website along with specific principles we can apply when teaching classes on environmental issues.
The importance of teaching with hope (whatever the issue) is that the approach is:
Other principles for dealing with environmental issues include:
- focusing on real people
- telling a story
- taking a fresh perspective
- showing solutions
- stressing positive impacts
- connecting with the local and personal
- being creative and interactive
The truth is that it isn’t hard to find what we need to embed environmental action into our lesson and course planning and into the daily operations of our centres. Whatever our role in the ELT profession, we can all find a place in this community. We’ll also find much to feel hopeful about. For that, and for all their work going on in the ELT Footprint hub, I feel very grateful.
Charlotte is a teacher and trainer based in Valencia, Spain. She attends and presents at ELT conferences and is an ESOL examiner for Trinity College London. In her free time, she teaches English via Skype to female members of the judiciary in Afghanistan with the US-based NGO, Alliance for International Women’s Rights.