Friday Feature: Meet COP21 Education Ambassador Kristy Otte!

As our COP21 Window Into Paris program approaches, we will be featuring an educator in our delegation each week to share their thoughts on the program and how they plan to incorporate their experience at the UN climate change negotiations into their classrooms.

This week’s featured educator is Dr. Kristy Otte, an Instructional Peer Coach for Independent School District (ISD) 197 in West St. Paul, Minnesota.

Q: What do you teach, what grade level(s) do you work with, and how many students do you anticipate connecting with about COP21?

kristyotte1A: I’ve been teaching for 19 years and am starting my 15th in my current school district, ISD 197. I’m an instructional peer coach, so I work with K-12 educators at various schools in West St. Paul and Mendota Heights. This is a 3-year position, so next year I will be back teaching English as a Second Language (ESL) at Heritage E-STEM Middle School.

I’m excited about participating in Climate Generation’s COP21 Window into Paris program because I have the potential to reach a lot of students in multiple classrooms and buildings in my current role, including the Garlough Environmental School, Heritage middle school, and more. I also have a friend teaching abroad in Indonesia who wants me to connect with her classroom in the webcasts I’ll be doing from Paris.

Q: What sparked your initial interest in our Window into Paris program?

A: I have participated in Climate Generation’s Summer Institute three times, and after each experience I have made small personal changes in my own life, at home and how I talk about climate change with everyone around me. I’ve used Climate Generation’s curriculum in my classroom, and am also involved with the Minnesota Association of Environmental Educators, so am following the news around environmental education and climate change education. My interest in incorporating climate literacy into my classrooms has been building over the years, and so when I saw this posting on Facebook I decided to set aside some time to apply.

Q: When and why did you initially become interested in bringing climate change into your classroom?

kristyotte2A: I think that over the course of my career I’ve evolved into this. I have noticed how kids learn differently outdoors as opposed to indoors, and how kids are more engaged learners when they’re getting their hands dirty, getting hands-on experiences, doing tree inquiries, water samples, or things like that. I’ve seen much more powerful learning happening when environmental education methods are used. As far as climate literacy, I think that educating students about climate change and current climate-related happenings is a great place to start, because if we can teach kids how they can take care of the land around them and why it’s important, then they will grow up to be globally-minded citizens with strong environmental consciousness, and we have some hope for where our society can go. I think it’s important to make climate change an every day, embedded-in-curriculum kind of thing, because the choices that we make every day are impacting the environment. I also think it’s important for kids to be involved in what’s going on in their community, in their state, in the decisions that are being made at multiple levels about an issue that will define their future.

Q: Why are the upcoming COP21 climate change negotiations important to you and your students?

A: I think that everyone needs to hear about what’s going on at COP21. Even though it’s set up to be a political event, this need to address climate change is not a political one. We need to act in the best interests of everyone, so everyone should take part and understand what’s going on. I also think that we can’t teach about climate change in a way that is all fear-based and pessimistic; there needs to be hope too. Given the initial pledges and carbon-cutting actions promised by many countries already, I’m hoping to come away from COP21 feeling empowered, and then be able to transfer that empowerment to students in my school district and to my community.

Q: How will you prepare your students to engage with COP21, including use of Climate Generation’s Citizen Climate curriculum? How will you incorporate your Window Into Paris experience in your classroom during COP21 and upon your return?

kristyotte3A: At two of the schools I work with, environmental studies is an embedded piece of the school day, so I can pass along Climate Generation’s curriculum, co-teach with a teacher, and preview what I’m going to be doing at COP21 with the classrooms that I’ll be webcasting to. I also plan to find out what questions students have that I could ask while I’m there, and then do a de-briefing of what I learned, what new ideas came out, and how it could affect students after the conference. That’s the whole ambassador idea I think – I’m going to the Paris climate talks as an ambassador on behalf of my students.

Q: What are you most looking forward to with the Window into Paris program?

A: I think that there’s going to be really powerful dialogue between me and the other educators that are there, and also powerful dialogue happening across countries – what issues they face and what solutions they’ve encountered. I’m excited to witness that and then participate in meaningful discussion about the implications of the conversations and decisions being made.

Kristy’s school district, ISD 197, recently posted an article about her participation in our Window Into Paris program and the UN climate talks. Read more.

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