Teachers’ Perspectives on Environmental Education in Multicultural Contexts: Towards Culturally-Responsive Environmental Education

Nov. 01, 2013

Source: Teaching and Teacher Education, Volume 36 (November, 2013) p. 12-22.
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

This article explores teachers’ perspectives on enacting environmental education (EE) in a multicultural context.
The paper also argues that a fuller, more coherent incorporation of student diversity into EE would benefit student learning.

The participants were teachers from schools with significant linguistic and ethnic diversity in three elementary schools in a major city in Québec.
These teachers discussed their experiences incorporating environmental education into their multi-culturally diverse classrooms.
Data were collected through focus groups and interviews.

Discussion and recommendations

This study was based on the premise that adapting EE to multiculturally-diverse classrooms is beneficial to enhance student learning, and is a key competency to nurture in the current climate of globalization and environmental crisis.
In understanding teacher strategies in adapting EE to a multicultural context and teacher views on the obstacles encountered, the authors found that teacher strategies reflected aspects of progressive EE in extending beyond simple knowledge-awareness to emphasizing changes in behavior and nurturing of ownership.

The findings revealed that challenges included value clashes, a lack of common lived experiences, and reconciling contradictory educational perspectives and political policies, which often placed teachers in paradoxical positions.
Conflicts between teachers’ own values and the perceived values of their students, as well as a lack of common lived experiences, often resulted in judgmental comments by teachers.
Several teachers concentrated on the challenges of doing EE with immigrants given their family’s poor economic circumstances and their linguistic limitations.

Similarly, teachers’ repeated emphasis on the “lack of a common language” discounted students’ knowledge rooted in their mother tongue, and reflected a narrow understanding of a more culturally-responsive curriculum.
To enhance student multicultural environmental learning, teachers must transcend their own limiting and potentially biased beliefs and attitudes.

Another recommendation would be building teacher capacity to co-create curriculum to accomplish the inclusion of family and community in curriculum development.
With teachers encouraging children to share past and current lived experiences in class, children can actively become engaged in environment curriculum development that is meaningful to them.
Providing space for student-teacher negotiation in working through clashes between teacher and student environmental viewpoints promotes learning.

Implications regarding an integral aspect of teacher education and professional development would be encouraging self-reflection, and the formation of teacher critical consciousness.
This would help in addressing the hidden curriculum where conflicts between teachers and student values, often impede learning.

Finally, findings suggest moving toward practices of culturally-responsive environmental education (CrEE) that demand more than awareness but include interactive dialogue.
In cases where teachers have little linguistic and cultural diversity, as is currently the case for the majority of elementary teachers in Québec, partnerships with diverse cultural and linguistic organizations and ethnic communities support student-teacher environmental learning.

By facilitating authentic and meaningful exchanges between parents-communities environmental organizations-teachers-students in transformative ways that honor the differences of each other, teachers expand their own knowledge and capacities and can be more inclusive of their students’ cultural and environmental lived experiences and subjective knowledge.
The authors recommend that teachers need support from beyond the classroom and the capacity to develop curriculum facilitating the inclusion of students’ culture.

In conclusion, a coherent curriculum that enacts CrEE can enhance student learning and preparedness for the growing diversity in urban centers and the environmental crisis of the 21st century.
Teachers need to be better equipped to embrace ethnic and linguistic diversity and promote EE in their classrooms, which in this case involves avoiding politically-charged and ambiguous terminology.
Strengthening the connections between teachers, students, parents, and diverse actors in the community will ultimately help reduce the gap children feel between home and school culture.

Updated: Nov. 10, 2014