Climate Change Education: Ask an Expert

When tackling global issues like climate change, it takes a diverse network.

Networks allow educators and professionals to connect to a wide range of people across ethnic, language, and socio-economic divides to produce community-based solutions to complex issues. They connect local experts, parents, professionals, and community members to help further learning in and out of the classroom. Educators are able to provide deeper learning and mastery of subjects while also showing students how their education connects to the world.

When Climate Generation created and launched the Teach Climate Network Hub, we found ourselves asking three key questions: what is the purpose of the Teach Climate Network, who are the experts in this work, and how do we connect educators across the nation to tackle climate change?

We explored these questions together in our inaugural Ask An Expert guest series.

Teach Climate Network educators created community interviews for organizations and people who work and live at the intersections of climate science, climate justice, and climate change education. Grounded in the best practices of climate change education from our 2020 Stay-In-stitute, guest experts discussed personal experiences in climate change education and communication, shared cross-cultural experiences, and connected to green career pathways.

Nisogaabo Ikwe, (Melonee Montano)
Climate Change Education Principle: Science and Other Ways of Knowing

An enrolled member of the Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Chippewa (Ojibwe) and the Traditional Ecological Knowledge Outreach Specialist in the Climate Change Program for GLIFWC, shared that in her culture the word “expert” doesn’t exist. Melonee likes to use the word knowledge holder instead.

“My path started when I was young by growing up on my reservation, brought up participating in ceremonies, and having many connections and relationships with other knowledge holders, especially elders. Also through spending a great deal of time with elders and recording the knowledge and stories they were wanting to share. Spending time and maintaining relationships with them is something that I’ll always continue to do. I feel these relationships and knowledge shared are the foundation for my own knowledge I carry.

Eventually I pursued a combined degree in Health Care, Environmental Studies, and Native American Studies. Throughout that time, I also spent several years working for my Tribe both in the Health and Environmental Field.

The ones that helped me get to where I am today are the manidoog (spirits), family, elders, spiritual leaders, friends, professors.

Becoming an expert or knowledge holder in your community requires connection to community, receiving and sharing stories, and intergenerational relationships.

Climate Generation believes the connection between climate change and storytelling is vital to achieving both climate and social justice. Understanding and connecting people from all backgrounds and how they are personally impacted by climate and social injustice is key to engaging the entire community, and stories can evoke powerful emotions and initiate personal action.

Sarah Peters, co-director of Northern Lights.mn
Climate Change Education Principle: Personal Connection and Storytelling

“I am an arts lover / believer in the arts, and this is informed by witnessing that everyone has some kind of art form that moves them. Drawing, music, dance, photography, video, singing, poetry/spoken word, rap. When we expand our understanding of what art is, then plays on the football field that require careful foot work can be a form of movement art…

When we apply this expansive lens to the arts in schools, AND when we invite in the incredible talent of teaching artists in all of these genres, that is when we can achieve equity — when every kid sees themself (or can find themself) in the art they get to take part in.”

Natalie Stapert, curriculum specialist with Lowell School
Climate Change Education Principle: Personal Connection and Storytelling

Many leaders in the climate community are women and people of color who express their concern for climate change through storytelling, art, and music.  By studying climate stories, you provide all your students with diverse representations of what strength and leadership look like. …it’s not enough just to feature diversity in your curriculum.  It is crucial to actually honor the diverse voices of the students in your classroom as they engage around the issue of climate.  Ask yourself if you are building strong and equitable relationships with all of your students, or whether some students are left out or left behind…  “

Storytelling has the power to share ideas and emotions across generations and cultures. Stories connect the head to heart and can be utilized to engage students and allow them to share their own experiences. We encourage educators to use stories in their classrooms to center their teaching in what students already know about the world.

National and local events over the past year have once again thrust racism and social injustice to the forefront of climate justice work. Without tackling social inequalities and white supremacy, we cannot hope to ensure climate justice for all. We need to continue to engage with and learn from  Black, Idigenous, and Communities of Color and other underrepresented communities to understand how to  reduce the impacts of climate change on all people’s health and livelihoods.

Jose Avillar
Climate Change Education Principle: Dismantling Systemic Racism and Injustice

Jose is a lead organizer for Unidos MN.

“We cannot move forward on any climate action agenda without ensuring all in our community are accounted for. This means undocumented communities, youth, BIPOC communities, LGBT + folks, and other frontline communities that have too often been left out from this work. We must constantly ask ourselves who would have access to these energy efficiency programs? Who is impacted by this? Who benefits from green jobs, who is missing?” 

“We cannot dive into what is white privilege, what’s white supremacy, capitalism, without diving into people’s stories and giving them the time and space to reflect and resettle with their journey, assumptions, and the moments in which they have felt powerless. This opens up a space for people to be authentic and dive deeper in meaningful conversations.” 

A world cloud depicting the key characteristics of experts as defined by our featured guests.

In climate change education and beyond, an expert isn’t necessarily someone who is at the pinnacle of their professional career, nor are they the oldest person in the room.

An expert is a person who is devoted to learning and working with their community to gain and share knowledge and take action for something they believe in and care about. The knowledge we learned from our partners is invaluable for our development as climate change educators. Adjusting our concept of who are experts, and where they are, is vital to achieving climate and social justice.

Two youth climate action experts who inspire us, share their suggestions for tackling climate change in the classroom. .

Eleanor Dolan
Climate Change Education Principle: Supporting Youth Leaders

Eleanor is a queer disabled youth organizer focusing on change making in their community with YEA! Campaigns.

Talk about it! We all know what’s happening in the world and just acknowledging it is important. Also, relating the lessons back to real world issues helps students stay engaged in class and in their communities.”

Sophia Curran
Climate Change Education Principle: Supporting Youth Leaders

Sophia is a junior at St. Louis Park High School and activist with Youth Environmental Activist (YEA!).

Climate change affects every aspect of our lives, so it can relate to all subjects, not just science!”

We encourage you to take a look at your network with new eyes and to consider inviting folks that might not have fit your definition of expert in the past.

For more information on any of our experts and to read the full interviews jump into the Teach Climate Network Hub. Sign up for the Network to get your unique username and password and start exploring!

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