An Inside Look: Stay-In-stitute for Climate Change Education

We faced a new challenge this summer: COVID-19 made it clear that we could not create the same in-person experiences for our national network of educators that we usually do.

Instead of cancelling our work, we decided to partner with The Wild Center’s Youth Climate Program and NOAA’s Climate Office to build something new and exciting! We created a virtual 3-day conference called the Stay-In-stitute for Climate Change Education. Educators from across the country, along with Canada and Costa Rica, joined together to create a community and gain the confidence, tools, and resources to teach climate change in all subject areas.

We asked formal and non-formal educators to bring their whole selves to the Stay-In-stitute, and they showed up fully — as cohort leaders, presenters, collaborators, thought leaders, and learners. More than 300 people joined our community this summer, and we are looking forward to engaging with these new leaders and the powerful work they will do in their communities!

Climate Change Education: A Whole-Systems Approach

This year, we focused on leading with dismantling social injustice and racism, uplifting the work of People of Color and pioneering new ways of teaching and learning virtually. Kelisa Wing, an anti-racist educator, author, and activist, led us with her keynote address. We acknowledged the concurrent epidemics we are living and working through right now, dug into our emotions, and set the intention of becoming the pilot lights for our students and communities to reimagine our education system.

Good climate change education requires a holistic approach—one that integrates science and traditional ways of knowing, brings the persistent inequities experienced by socially and racially marginalized communities to the fore, defends the needs of youth and frontline communities, and doesn’t rely on fear, but rather focuses on solutions.

Concept maps created by attendees demonstrating their knowledge and connections of climate change and education.

Climate change education is about challenging the status quo and empowering students to question the world and their actions.

Why are emissions increasing and contributing to a warming climate? What are the systems that were created that give power to some and oppress others? What is my role? Good climate change education asks us to imagine the future we want to live in, and leads us outside and into our communities to take action towards equitable solutions now.

Inside the Institute: Learning Tracks

We created a dynamic schedule that provided educators time to learn, time to connect, and time to reflect. Educators learned about climate change impacts, solutions, and effective communication strategies during scientist and communicator Katharine Hayhoe’s keynote address. They connected to their peers, cohort leaders, and presenters during the small group discussions, and they reflected about their practice and future implementation of these new concepts.

One thing about going virtual is that bringing anyone, anywhere is easy. With this in mind, we outlined the key themes we knew were important in climate change education and designed sessions around them.

We invited climate change education professionals, youth climate activists, climate scientists, and individuals working at the intersection of racism and climate change to present. 47 speakers across 67 sessions presented within five thematic strands: Science and Other Ways of Knowing, Personal Connection and Storytelling, Breaking Down Structural Racism and Inequities, Scientific and Social Solutions, and Supporting Youth Leaders.

We also provided an outdoor field experience to get people off their screens and into their communities! Educators were asked to observe and collect data on how their communities respond to climate change. They used a digital mapping tool from ArcGIS to collect geographic points and photos of their communities that spanned the entire country. Many reported that they looked at their community with new eyes and are excited to use this tool with their students!

Overall, educators were pleased with the opportunities for small group discussions woven in throughout the Stay-In-stitute, and many described the Institute as “intimate.” Educators felt like they had time to connect with climate change education leaders, and that they gained mentors during the Stay-In-stitute. The majority of educators left the experience feeling energized for the new school year and inspired by their new connections to other climate change educators.

Bridging the Gap Between Global and Local

This year, we wanted to bridge the divide between global and local to address the need to solve climate change by supporting local education and action. We invited 17 climate change education leaders to support regional groups of educators participating in the Stay-In-stitute. These leaders were K-12 teachers, non-formal educators, and education administrators.

The cohorts and their leaders met before and throughout the Stay-In-stitute to network, share climate change education tips and tricks, and to develop their work plan for the upcoming school year. Cohort leaders participated in a leadership roundtable, where they shared stories about their local projects, developed ideas for future partnerships, and created a community of climate change education leaders that will support one another in the future.

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