Updated: Oct 5, 2019
Creating positive change in the real world is often no easy task. To do so usually requires a structured, informed and hands-on approach to service learning, together with a large dose of commitment from everybody involved. Failure to effectively organize and facilitate service learning can result in poor outcomes for students and sometimes well-meaning actions on sustainability problems can even result in unintended community consequences.
"Taking action on sustainability requires building the knowledge, skills, values and attitudes necessary to create positive change. Empowerment brings students to the center of the learning experience by enabling them to cooperate and take ownership of their learning."
Many schools and education organizations offer service learning opportunities in their local communities or further afield, either led independently or via external providers. But when service learning is delivered in an adhoc fashion without careful preparation, structure or prolonged commitment, it is challenging to have a deep and lasting impact on either the students or the wider community.
Outdoortopia's Cycle of Sustainability Action
As a result, we have developed Outdoortopia's Cycle of Sustainability Action, which offers a simple framework for taking individual and collaborative action on sustainability designed to support the experiential learning process.
Essentially, there are three core components to taking action on sustainability problems as outlined below in Figure 1.
1. EMPOWER - Developing Knowledge, Skills, Values and Attitudes
Taking action on sustainability requires developing the knowledge, skills, values and attitudes necessary to create positive change. Empowerment brings students to the center of the learning experience by enabling them to cooperate and take ownership of their learning.
Building knowledge of the scientific concepts underpinning sustainability means understanding the complex interplay of processes and patterns that sustain life on our planet. However, true understanding comes from combining the scientific approach with emotions, values and humanity.
Students must learn to make connections between themselves, their communities, global society, and the non-living and living environment. Exploring sustainability in this holistic way and recognizing that we are part of a bigger system, develops thinking and action for sustainability.
Another key outcome of youth empowerment on sustainability is inspiring and encouraging learners to realize and identify their ability to make positive change both individually and collectively. Knowledge and understanding alone are unlikely to lead to change unless learners are motivated and feel empowered to take action.
2. ACTIVATE - Action Planning and Partnership Building
Planning and implementing action for sustainability can be on an individual or collaborative basis. As teachers and youth educators, it is important that we play our part in building a framework of learning opportunities for students to take action on sustainability both in their individual lives and in the wider community.
Learners must take responsibility of the planning and implementation process, and this requires commitment and leadership in order to bring together the partnerships and resources needed to take community action. Building healthy community partnerships is essential to this process, and by bringing relevant stakeholders together, it is more likely to provide a valuable and meaningful learning experience that successfully replicates the way the real world works.
The students require a detailed action plan with specific objectives designed to help take action on a sustainability priority, which they themselves have identified and care deeply about.
A useful way to do this is through a simple exercise called Community Mapping. This activity helps learners to build a picture of the most pressing sustainability problems facing a community, together with a detailed understanding of the available assets and resources they might be able to leverage to address them.
3. CHANGE - Implement, Evaluate and Reflect
Now put the action plan into practice and focus on implementing impactful change on a specific sustainability priority in the community.
After the students have delivered on the ground, it is time to evaluate the service learning experience and critically reflect on the learning process and outcomes.
Critical reflection offers valuable insights and lessons for learners and is an essential part of the service learning process. It also connects learners with their emotions, helping them to formulate their own values, assumptions and beliefs.
Ask students to consolidate what they have learned by asking a range of reflective questions, such as:
What went well?
What didn't go so well?
Did you meet your key objectives?
What would you do differently next time?
What did you learn about yourself?
What did you learn about the sustainability problem you were working on?
Repeat the learning cycle and carefully take community action using Outdoortopia's Cycle of Sustainability Action as an powerful framework for positive change!