Monday 17 February 2020

Making the right choice the only choice: teaching climate change to middle schoolers.

This blog is about climate change, about aligning our values with our practice, and about student well-being and voice.  Allison's blog is a challenge to us as adults, parents, educators, whole schools and as a district.  She is challenging us to: 1. listen to our students; 2. give them a voice; 3. align our practices and values; 4. do our part.  Thank you Allison.

Teaching climate change is hard . . . and complicated. Although most adults can look back and relate to the high school experience, relatively few of us can relate to growing up during a time of climate change and environmental distress.  The science behind climate change is simple.  However, altering our behaviour to match our understanding is difficult, especially when the right choice isn’t the easy choice. Climate change has been embedded into the curricula of many courses; if your students haven’t yet learned about climate change, they will. This topic is sticky, and practices carried out in our schools (and community) don’t always align with our teachings.  Schools need to be places where the environmentally responsible choice is the only choice.  
When teaching about climate change I take time to ask the students how they are feeling.  Common emotions include helplessness, anxiety and frustration; understandable given the gravity of our collective situation.  These emotions often stem from the incongruency between what we teach in the classroom and what we practice at the school.  Students also report feeling helpless if their parents react with apathy or are unwilling to change unsustainable practices.    

For example, when students learn that eating meat-free helps mitigate climate change, it is unfortunate that vegetarian meals aren’t status quo in school cafeterias.  When students learn that composting prevents the release of methane (and reduces waste), it is upsetting when this option doesn’t exist in a school (or at home).  If we truly care about our children, we’d exemplify practices that ensure they have a future to be successful in.  When we shape the culture of our school, do we value and model environmentally responsible behaviour? Are we providing the infrastructure at our schools that empowers children to care for their environment?


One teacher humbly champions the environmental initiatives at our school.  Bonnie Hatch is a Home Economics and English teacher at Skaha Lake Middle school.  She lives by her values and authentically demonstrates environmental responsibility in all aspects of her work and daily life.  School wide initiatives that Bonnie runs include: 

  • School compost program (SLMS diverts 1000 lbs of food waste from the landfill each year) 
  • Ethical and sustainable fundraisers (Students raise money through local apple sales (in paper bags) and a used clothing drive)  
  • Marker recycling program  
  • School garden
  • Re-usable dishes for school events 
  • Sourcing local and organic produce donations for Home Ec. classes and the SLMS Breakfast Club 
  • Upcycling textile projects

… Did I mention Bonnie drives an electric car?

At SLMS we are working hard to bring about positive change and build on the foundation Bonnie has established.  It’s our shared responsibility to transition schools into the progressive places they ought to be.  Places where the right choice is the only choice.

Blog by Allison Dietrich, Skaha Lake Middle School

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