Administrator: How many teachers does it take to change a light bulb?
Teachers: (horrified) CHANGE?!
It is a known trope in the world of education that many teachers resist change. So how is it possible to convince your colleagues to incorporate climate change into their curriculum when it is not mandated in the state standards?
What I have found works best is to speak from the heart, make it local, and listen with empathy.
When I was in the classroom I found that “I’m really worried about climate change” was a great way to open a conversation about climate. Talking about feelings and speaking from the heart immediately brought down my colleague’s defenses and opened up a more honest conversation. Other great sentence starters include “My partner and I were talking about climate change…” and “One of my students mentioned climate change yesterday…” Speaking from the heart matters. Being honest matters. Being real matters.
Making climate change local can impact a teacher’s perspective. As a soccer coach in Connecticut, days of extreme heat and humidity led us to alter our plans for practice after school. At times, I was worried about the safety of my players. Shorter practice sessions and more frequent water breaks were necessary to keep my players cool. Speaking about whatever impacts you and your school the most can have a tremendous impact on your colleagues. The impacts of climate change that affect you the most may include sea level rise, poor air quality, or simply the extreme heat in the classroom that makes it difficult for teaching and learning.
As teachers, we know that being a good listener is important. When talking about climate change, challenge yourself to listen for more than 50% of the conversation. Or—even better—challenge yourself to listen for more than 60% or 70% of the conversation. Everybody has something to say about climate change. Some teachers may be skeptical of the science or simply be ignorant of the causes, impacts, and solutions to climate change. It is important never to assume that any teacher—even science teachers—has knowledge of climate change. Listen to your colleagues with empathy and compassion. Perhaps they will reveal something about themselves that you didn’t know.
Having climate conversations with colleagues is a big deal. It takes courage. Whenever you have a climate conversation with somebody at school—whether it works or not—know that you are making a difference.