Confused. Passionate. Meh. Hopeless. Scared.
When I started thinking about incorporating climate change issues into my classroom, I worried about how to address the spectrum of feelings students have about climate change. I have students who are actively concerned while others seem to be unaware. This span of knowledge and concern leads to a wide range of emotions.
As a teacher, it is important to both create and hold space for students’ feelings about climate change. To create space in my classroom, I acknowledge my own feelings and keep my reactions neutral when students share their climate emotions. Students make comments like, “The Earth is going to end anyway” or “I’m anxious about my grandparents abandoning our family home because of increased flooding.” Creating space gives all students opportunities to share their feelings about climate change. I model how to validate those feelings without judgment using affirming statements like, “I hear you say…” or clarifying invitations like, “Tell me more about…”
Holding space means allowing the range of feelings to exist without needing to fix them or bringing everyone to one side. It also means providing short opportunities for students to share their feelings and reactions to climate-based stories as they happen. When wildfires, hurricanes, and floods pummeled our planet this year, I asked students how they felt about these extreme weather events. I’ve heard a variety of responses and encouraged all students to share a feeling or reaction, even if it is ambivalence or uncertainty.
Creating and holding space allows for students to notice, reflect, and respond to climate events in a classroom setting. It encourages students to listen to one another and acknowledge the spectrum of feelings without the need to convince, attack, or change. Rather than dismiss climate events as a supposed liberal agenda, students hear compassion and concern from their peers. Rather than being fraught with anxiety over looming catastrophe, students hear how classmates balance worry with action. Rather than being indifferent, students hear how others connect to climate change issues around them.
Creating and holding space for our students is a kind of social-emotional learning that naturally lends itself to a deepening awareness. These moments of short sharing provide a natural building block to teaching a climate-oriented lesson.
About the Author: Yen-Yen Chiu
Yen-Yen has been in public education since 2001, teaching multiple levels of English and math for middle school and high school in California and New Jersey. She has been credentialed in English, math, and introductory music. She has a doctorate in Educational Leadership. She loves creating interdisciplinary curricula with student choice and assessments that can highlight different learning styles and knowledge applications.