Transformation please

Education for sustainability works best when it is transformational. Why? Because sustainability implies long-term embedded changes in behaviour. The two cases I have recently presented show this very clearly.

Restaurant Moment, the sustainable restaurant in rural Denmark, can only work as an example for sustainability when all the staff buy into that vision completely, led by a convinced management.

DNS College can only produce teachers devoted to social justice and a sustainable lifestyle after extensive discussion and embedded new behaviours against a background of structures facilitating this ongoing questioning.

But what does transformational learning mean and how can it be achieved?

In developing a blended course for teachers of vocational students so that the teachers can promote a sustainable mindset in those who will go on to work in food preparation, accommodation services, cleaning and laundry, we will have to start with the personal.
Education and training is never neutral and so current curricula for these types of vocational courses include a range of assumptions that we could question, the major one being that a financial profit is the most important criterion for success (see How deep is your green).

These assumptions are very much value based. And values are not easily susceptible to change.
So Education for Sustainability should be good for transformative learning whose elements include according to Mezirow:

  • Individual experience
  • Critical reflection
  • Dialogue
  • Holistic
  • Awareness of context
  • Authentic practice

Individual experience: It will be important to find out what brought the individual teacher to the course and the key principles that guide their teaching.
Awareness of context: We will have to make sure that in the residential parts of the course we meet people in the local community that exemplify what is possible in the sustainable workplace.
Critical reflection: We should invite our participants to do a self-audit of their current curriculum and syllabus to identify the values it teaches and how sustainable these are.
We can recommend our participants to measure their environmental footprint so that they can get a feeling for what sustainability could feel like on them as an individual.
And then we should help our participants to draw a vision of thir future teaching and help them to plan how to get there, including how to overcome any likley objections from their students or institutions.

Critical reflection

In enabling and promoting critical reflection we are aiming for deep learning as against surface learning. In our blended course we will have to ensure that there is reflection over:

  • Content: what we perceieve, feel and how we act.
  • Process: how we perceieve
  • Premise: what we assume to be true and what we base our world knowledge on.

According to Mezirow, it is most productive to start with examining premises so questions about why we teach what we teach and examining the assumptions behind our curriculum would be good starting points.

Can online be transformative? (next blog post)


Mezirow, J & Taylor E: W: Transformative Learning in Practice: Insights from Community, Workplace and Higher Education 2009 Jossey Bass

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