Educators, The Real Influencers
Let’s start with a thought experiment. Reflect on your education: classes, degrees, symposiums, workshops, all of it! Now, name a curriculum that shaped you into who you are as a professional.
Too hard? Nothing come to mind? Well, let’s reframe the prompt.
Thinking about that same very personal educational journey, name an educator who impacted you.
We are sure that one name, one face, one individual immediately came to mind. Educators can be incredibly impactful individuals who inspire and challenge us to be our best selves.
Why Focus on Educators?
There’s no doubt that curriculum is important, but educators are the ones that bring it to life. Educators can adapt, pivot and customize the curriculum or program to meet the needs of individuals. In many ways, educators provide concierge service to open our minds as learners to what is possible. Undoubtedly, you remember an educator who not only challenged you and helped you see the potential in yourself. Educators are at the heart of education systems, and their passion and dedication are what make the difference between a good education and a truly transformative educational experience.
Educators are the real influencers because they have the power to shape the minds of the next generation. They play a critical role in providing learners with the knowledge and skills to become responsible citizens empowered to make informed decisions about their lives and the world around them. Educators are often the first authority figures that young learners encounter outside of their families, thus positioning them to have a significant impact on individual development.
Great educators know the community where they work, which is the location where they interact daily with learners and community members. Educators are familiar with community challenges as well as community assets. To advance progress on sustainability issues, collectively we need to harness the strategic positions of educators as community change makers and to invest in their professional development.
Education for Sustainable Development
To date, Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) has been seen as a way that educational systems can realign themselves to work toward sustainable development outcomes. To achieve ESD, educators must reorientate their teaching practice along educational principles such as:
- Holism — environmental, social and economic systems should be viewed as interconnected, taking into consideration time and space (Sinakou et al., 2019);
- Pluralism — instructional approaches should be open, encouraging critical thinking and dialog helping students form their own opinion (ibid);
- An action orientation — students should, with the help of the teacher, set realistic goals and measurable outcomes to influence change (ibid).
To be effective in reimagining the future, educators also must attend to the emotional aspect of learning and ignite a sense of wonder and possibility (Grund & Brock, 2020). Reorienting educational systems toward sustainable development will require thought and investment, and educators need to be included as active and effective partners in this process.
Not investing in educators when building an educational program is like constructing a building without reinforcing its foundation. The foundation of a building is crucial in providing stability, support, and durability to the structure above it. Without a strong foundation, the building may be vulnerable to collapse or significant damage, especially in times of stress or pressure.
There are many ways to invest in the human capacity of educators, and many organizations work on this goal. One example is through the five principles outlined by the World Bank in the Global Platform for Successful Teachers:
1) Make Teaching Attractive;
2) Improve Pre-Service Education;
3) Improve Selection, Allocation, Monitoring and Feedback;
4) Provide High-Quality Professional Development and School Leadership; and
5) Use Technology Wisely.
High-level actions, such as those outlined above, are vital to adequately valuing educators in educational systems across the world. But change must happen at all levels. What can you do, as you design educational interventions as part of your program? Here are three of our suggestions:
- Acknowledge that educators are more than just conveyors of information — they help students learn how to learn. Teaching is a profession, but educators seem to be rarely regarded as professionals. Often a project includes curriculum development, and the expectation is that someone will appear to effectively teach it. Educators are simply not cogs in a machine. The question is, does your educational program value educators as professionals?
- Include educators. Have you brought an educator to the decision-making table for their perspective? A startling number of educational programs and policies are designed without the inclusion of trained education professionals.
- Invest in the human capacity of educators. Educators should be engaged in dynamic professional development that exhibit the research-based characteristics of a strong content focus, active learning, collective participation, coherence, and sufficient duration. Does your educational program invest in educators?
Centering educators in your next educational program means acknowledging their role as professionals, including them in decision-making, investing in their professional development and valuing their human capacity. Ultimately, investing in educators is vital for inspiring and preparing the next generation to build a more sustainable future.
Educators are truly the “real” influencers of our society. If you are interested in joining a free community of educators from multiple contexts, disciplines and locations, who are interested in global food, fiber and natural resource issues, we invite you to join the Global Learning in Agriculture (GLAG) community: https://global-teach-ag-network.mn.co/.
Grund, J., & Brock, A. (2020). Education for sustainable development in Germany: Not just desired but also effective for transformative action. Sustainability, 12(7), 2838.
Sinakou, E., Boeve-de Pauw, J., & Van Petegem, P. (2019). Exploring the concept of sustainable development within education for sustainable development: implications for ESD research and practice. Environment, development and sustainability, 21(1), 1-10.