The earth is changing. Every year, we set hundreds of meteorological records, and the following year, we break them. Our planet has some serious problems, and the weather takes it out on us. We need to treat our planet better. The problem is, not all of us know what exactly the problems are or how we can help.
Our schools should be places where young people can learn how to be part of the change, and it takes a dedicated staff of environmental educators to make that happen. The problem is many schools don’t have staff available that’s qualified.
What is an Environmental Educator?
In short, environmental educators show the people who teach about the environment how to do so successfully. They are educators who focus on providing other educators with an environmental education. So, let’s define environmental education.
Environmental education is a methodology that combines awareness with critical thinking to recognize environmental issues, devise solutions, and put those solutions into action. According to the EPA, there are five main components of environmental education.
- Awareness and Sensitivity – Understanding that the environment needs us to develop habits that protect it
- Knowledge and Understanding – Knowing what problems the environment faces and how to begin the problem solving process
- Attitudes – Being concerned about potential negative outcomes if we don’t protect it
- Skills – Knowing what needs to be done and how to do it
- Participation – Actively doing the things that are in our control to protect the environment
How Environmental Education Works
Studying nature is one thing, but learning to care about it and developing the skills to do something to protect it is another. What is the scope of environmental education? Let’s look at some ways environmental educators improve upon traditional lesson plans with their methods, and how environmental education can make schools better learning and teaching environments.
It Gets Students Out into the World
A key part of a proper environmental education involves getting the students out into nature, so they can see first hand the effects of our actions. It’s not meant to be a substitute for in-class learning but is a great way to supplement their lessons through experiential learning. Connecting kids to nature drives home the reasons it’s important to have a solid environmental education.
It doesn’t need to be a big excursion, either. Local parks are full of learning opportunities for students. There are plenty of native plants, animals, birds and insects that they can study. Getting out of the classroom also gives students a little more active time outdoors, which is a proven way to lower rates of adolescent obesity, attention deficit disorder and depression.
If you want to up the ante, reaching out to a local farm or garden center can up the ante for students by broadening students’ their knowledge beyond that of just the local scenery in nearby parks. Many places also have environmental education officers on site, meaning students get an expert teaching them all the ins and outs of what makes plants, animals and the planet healthy.
It Gives Students a Better Understanding of the Environment
If we want to make meaningful strides in protecting the environment, it’s important that we know a lot about what makes it tick. What’s good for it and what ails it. Environmental educators are well-versed in all things environment and have a much deeper knowledge of the topic than most other educators.
Not all schools have a qualified environmental science teacher for each grade. Bringing in an environmental educator to speak to the school further enhances environmental learning for students. These specialized educators can answer students’ questions and make learning about the environment a fun process.
It Gives Students a Chance to Use their Problem Solving Skills on Something they Care about
If you were to ask most people, they would probably say they care about the environment but don’t know what they can do to make an impact in improving its future. By teaching environmental science topics, like what the environment needs and what activities are detrimental to it, students can use their problem solving abilities to devise ways to benefit the environment in their own towns. They’ll get a big boost in self-esteem and build a sense of empathy for others too. Finding ways to do good for others does good for us in innumerable ways.
It Complements STEM Programs
Environmental educators practice many of the same principles and teaching methods utilized in STEM programs. Working with others to observe problems, devise solutions and take action form the backbone of both learning methods. STEM and environmental education programs not only improve academic achievement for students but they prepare them for the jobs of the future.
Many of the in-demand jobs in the twenty-first century require applicants to have the ability to observe situations, determine what needs to be done, and devise and implement solutions. Having interactions with STEM programs and environmental educators gives students a big leg up to fill the quality roles in these twenty-first century industries.
NTC Corporate’s workforce development education outreach programs enhance students’ STEM learning and encourage them to pursue STEM career opportunities in the future.
Benefits of Bringing Environmental Educators into the Classroom
Building a program to give students a solid environmental education supports a number of great reasons to bring in the professionals. Let’s take a look at some of them.
It Benefits Students
We’ve already covered some of the benefits students gain by working with an environmental educator, but we’ve just scratched the surface. In addition to providing them with the skills they’ll need to be successful adults, it also helps them develop the habits they need to protect and support the environment. The planet needs a community of caring adults who value the planet and have the environmental management skills to do the things that will keep it clean and beautiful for the next generation. Give them the confidence to make a difference, and they’ll derive a lifetime of benefits from it.
It Benefits the School
If the benefits to students weren’t impressive enough, you’ll be delighted to know that working with an environmental educator can benefit the school community too. By teaching conservation education and sustainability education in schools, kids can practice the things they’ve learned on a daily basis. This can save the school money on things like water, electricity and garbage service. When they see what kind of impact their actions can have on the environment, they are likely to use fewer resources. Students using less equals schools spending less.
It Benefits the Environment
The only way we’re going to ensure future generations are left with a hospitable planet is to teach them to care for it from a young age. Simple things like throwing their trash in the bin rather than out the window can make your community a much lovelier place to live. It can also keep your local water supply from becoming polluted, negatively impacting the plants, animals and people that rely upon it to survive. Empowering students to develop these habits early in their lives makes those habits stick for a lifetime.
NTC’s education outreach programs in energy and water conservation support long-term behavior change in students to develop these life-long habits.
The Role of Teachers in Environmental Education
Since students see them every school day of the year, teachers play an important role in environmental education. The more teachers know about the natural world and the way human interaction can alter it for the better or worse, the more valuable that role becomes. An educator interested in teaching more about the environment can get certified to become an environmental education specialist too.
Bring in the Experts
One of the best ways teachers can help improve their students’ environmental education is to bring certified environmental educators into the classroom, auditorium or any of the other examples of learning environments you can think of. Teachers don’t have to go it alone, either. There are lots of organizations and individuals who will happily sponsor educational outreach programs for local schools.
Certified environmental educators are in-demand at schools, nature centers and community centers across the country. By getting certified, teachers can bring the expertise of a certified environmental educator in their own school.
Enlist Help to Create a Sustainable Program
If you’re looking to create a program in your community or at your organization, it’s going to be helpful to enlist the help of people who do this stuff every day. You can do a lot of environmental education research yourself, but putting a plan together that keeps students engaged and gets them involved is another thing. What is an environmental education good for if students don’t put the principles into action?
NTC has been a trusted resource for connecting educational institutions with certified environmental educators for years. If you’d like to sponsor an education outreach program for a school in your area, let us know what you’re looking for, and we can get you set up with a program that helps you meet your goals.