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Dr. Mike Trevisan

Dean's Perspectives

Washington (and WSU) take lead in sustainability education

Dean A.G. RudStanding before other future high school teachers, a WSU education student sliced up an apple that represented our planet. She picked up one slice, a mere 1/16th of the apple, and peeled it — then compared that sliver of peel to all of our topsoil. With this small fraction of Earth, she explained,we need to grow food for more and more people.

The engaging lesson impressed Francene Watson, a WSU doctoral student, instructor and a veteran teacher. She recalled it when we were discussing a new Washington professional standard for teachers. Standard 5 includes a requirement teachers to demonstrate that they can prepare students “to be responsible citizens for an environmentally sustainable, globally interconnected, and diverse society.”

This aspect of Standard 5 puts Washington ahead of virtually every other state in the country in that it explicitly identifies education for environmental sustainability as a responsibility of new teachers, according to Dawn Shinew, chair of our Department of Teaching and Learning.

“The state’s emphasis on sustainability provides exciting opportunities to incorporate more place-based learning into our teacher preparation program, engage our pre-service teachers in more community-oriented projects, and develop their understanding of their responsibility to students beyond bringing them to grade level in reading and mathematics,” Dawn said.

WSU student teacher works with children at a Palouse Pollinators workshop
A Palouse Pollinators lesson

The College of Education has made great strides toward “greening” our curriculum. One sign of that is our Palouse Pollinators workshops. Created with a big push from Francene, the workshops involve our student teachers with local school children. (Did you catch the related video of Kathryn Baldwin’s science methods students?)  College-wide, faculty members are incorporating sustainability into their work. For example, Susan Finley at WSU Vancouver, known for her focus on education for the homeless,wrote an article titled “Ecoaesthetics: Green arts at the intersection of education and social transformation” for the journal Cultural Studies—Critical Methodologies.

At the Pullman campus, and thanks in large part to Dawn’s efforts, WSU launched the Palouse Project, an initiative that brings together faculty from various disciplines to raise interest in sustainability education. On all of our campuses, sustainability is a important component of science education initiatives, including the WSU STEM Education Partnership.

One reason that Francene was impressed with that “apple slice” lesson was its message that protection of the soil is everyone’s responsibility. In the same way, I believe that teaching sustainability is every educator’s obligation.