Nature connectedness in education: Green Impact project
SOS-UK offer a brilliant programme to support environmental and socially sustainable practice within organisations: Green Impact (GI). One such participating organisation is the University of Worcester, who have been running Green Impact since 2010.
GI projects are a wonderful way for students to co-develop and co-deliver sustainability projects using SOS-UK tools specifically tailored for different sectors, e.g., students’ unions, Health, Arts &Culture, Public Sector and Business. The cyclical process, typically running over 12 months, involves practical steps towards sustainability, enhancing sustainability knowledge and challenging unsustainable practices!
GI, a United Nations award-winning change and engagement programme, is thoroughly embedded at the University of Worcester (UW) since being launched here in 2011. It’s a standing agenda item on the Sustainability Strategy Group, and it supports the wider UW Sustainability Strategy 2020-2030, and there have been 149 team awards for over 2,300 positive sustainability actions and 63 projects, led by more than 300 people.
One of the UW GI projects this year has focused on nature connectedness in secondary educators. The MENE Nature Connectedness among Adults and Children in England report (2020) explores the relationships between nature contact, nature connectedness, wellbeing and pro-environmental behaviours (Natural England, 2020). It identifies a considerable drop off in nature connectedness as children reach secondary school level, as seen in Figure 2:
As well as recognising the benefits of increased nature connectedness to eudemonic well-being and pro-environmental behaviours, the report concludes that levels of nature connectedness among was “positively related to those of adults in their household” (Natural England, 2020, p18) and suggested that enabling nature connectedness will require changes in nature-based intervention design and delivery.
The Core Content Framework(DfE, 2019), the curriculum designed to support trainee teachers develop their behaviour management, pedagogy, curriculum, assessment and professional behaviours, makes no mention of nature education or engagement with nature, nor the Teacher Standards (DfE, 2011), the minimum standards set for teachers' practice and conduct. Despite this lack of strategy and guidance, many teachers do find ways to bring nature education into their classroom and also take their teaching outside.
Natural England (2016) launched their ‘Natural Connections’ education project (to pilot and evaluate new ways of providing local, independent support to schools and teachers to encourage demand for outdoor learning), in response to research that identified a lack of teacher confidence as a barrier to outside teaching and perhaps there is also a lack of confidence, experience and opportunity, in embedding nature in our secondary curriculum. Might our teachers even be in ‘nature deficit disorder’? The phrase, coined by Richard Louv (2005), is a way to talk about the growing distance between humans and our natural environment. It describes the consequences of spending less time outdoors and becoming disconnected from nature—including diminished use of the senses, attention difficulties, higher rates of obesity, and a host of other physical and emotional illnesses.
A GI project was devised to try and increase secondary trainee teachers' nature knowledge and confidence, as well as, potentially, building their nature connectedness through the publication and direct inbox connection to a weekly dose of nature. A ‘Wildlife on Wednesday’ post, with information spotlighting seasonal nature or nominated suggestions of animals and plant species, was circulated to over 160 trainee teachers and 20 UW Institute of Education staff. The weekly postings included a photo, video link, fun facts and information on distribution and natural history. The trainee teachers were invited to nominate species to spotlight and given the chance to write their own posts too, but the vast majority were created by our brilliant Green Impact Project Assistant (GIPA), Nimmy Matthews, an International Masters student who described the experience, at a UW Learning and Teaching conference, as ‘extraordinary’ in shaping her worldview and igniting a lifelong commitment to the environment:
"My journey with the GIPA team deepened my connection with nature and made me realize that it is collective and individual responsibility to protect our mother nature".
Nimmy has been awarded a GI Student Sustainability Award for her super work.
Trainees were invited to get out in nature and look for the weekly species themselves, to take photos of them and start nature conversations with their colleagues and pupils. In a survey at the end of the year, trainees identified these six species as the most memorable posts across the year:
· Wild Garlic
· Water vole
Participating trainee teachers shared that they
‘Loved the plant pictures, found it interesting and then spotted the in many places'
‘I remember sharing this information with my family’
‘It was an initial way to bond with my new school mentor’
The trainees reported enjoying the species photographs but reported that their favourite element of the e-mail was in learning something new about nature.
It is hoped that this GI project can continue, with the help and direction of another GIPA, to continue building nature connectedness in our next cohort of Secondary PGCE students.
DfE (2011)Teachers’ Standards: Guidance for school leaders, school staff and governing bodies. UK Government. Available at: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/1040274/Teachers__Standards_Dec_2021.pdf(Accessed: 18th August 2023)
DfE(2019) ITT Core Content Framework. UK Government. Available at: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/974307/ITT_core_content_framework_.pdf (Accessed: 18thAugust 2023)
Louv,R., 2005. Last Child in the woods: Saving our children from nature-deficit disorder. Viking.
Natural England (2020) Nature connectedness among adults and children in England(JP032). Natural England. Available at: https://publications.naturalengland.org.uk/publication/6005041314136064 (Accessed 18th August 2023)
Natural England (2016) Available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/englands-largest-outdoor-learning-project-reveals-children-more-motivated-to-learn-when-outside#:~:text=It%20was%20launched%20following%20evidence%20that%20the%20challenges%20to%20learning%20outside%20the%20classroom%20in%20the%20natural%20environment%20in%20schools%20were%20local%20and%20revolved%20around%20a%20lack%20of%20teacher%20confidence%20in%20teaching%20outside (Accessed: 18thAugust 2023)
Available at: https://greenimpact.nus.org.uk/ (Accessed: 6th August2023)
SOS-UK(2023) UNIVERSITY OF WORCESTER GREEN IMPACT 2022-23 PROGRAMME IMPACT REPORT Available at:https://www.worcester.ac.uk/documents/2022-23-Green-Impact-Report-University-of-Worcester.pdf (Accessed 18th August 2023)