Inspiring teachers to drive environmental action

Issue: Volume 100, Number 11

Posted: 2 September 2021
Reference #: 1HAPJ5

A five-day environmental education programme gives teachers the knowledge, contacts and inspiration to lead kaitiakitanga in their schools and kura.  

Delegates on the BLAKE Inspire for Teachers programme explore Tāwharanui Regional Park, north of Auckland.

Delegates on the BLAKE Inspire for Teachers programme explore Tāwharanui Regional Park, north of Auckland.

As a science graduate, Laura Hillier has long been passionate about kaitiakitanga – guardianship and protection. And after five days on the BLAKE Inspire for Teachers programme, she had the tools to empower her students and colleagues to become equally skilled advocates for environmental protection.

“To describe a course as ‘life-changing’ may seem over the top but it really isn’t in this case. To have a week-long course with 30 other like-minded people at various stages of their careers, ready to take action, is very inspiring,” says Laura. 

“It’s not about one teacher or even their class or their school, it’s about being equipped to start a movement that can touch hundreds of people, about inspiring children to want to make a change and how to do that. It’s what I want to do.”

Named for Sir Peter Blake

Kaurilands School teacher Laura Hillier.

Kaurilands School teacher Laura Hillier.

Laura was one of 30 teachers from around New Zealand on the most recent BLAKE leadership development programme held in Auckland. 

Courses are run by BLAKE, named for the late environmentalist and celebrated yachtsman Sir Peter Blake. Participants team up with world-leading scientists and environmental leaders to learn about climate change, freshwater quality, biodiversity and ocean health – they then take those ideas back to their classrooms.

It’s an action-packed five days: Laura’s cohort spent a day at Tāwharanui Regional Park exploring an ecology trail with ’Bugman’ Ruud Kleinpaaste, as well as the marine reserve; and toured a brewery with B-corp certification, which meets the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance. They also learned about Mātauranga Māori and Maramataka/Māori lunar calendar and met with local scientists to hear about climate change from a New Zealand perspective and how to empower tamariki to make positive change. 

They also learned how to survey plants and animals living on the shoreline and toured multi-national conglomerate Fujifilm’s head office to learn about the company’s sustainability goals. 

Networking opportunities

The networking opportunities of the programme were invaluable, says Laura. 

“There were representatives from so many places – the Ministry for the Environment, Auckland Council, NIWA, the University of Auckland, the University of Otago, the ‘Bugman’ – and they all encouraged us to stay in touch so we can keep upskilling. 

“We also learnt about funding opportunities we could draw upon. We were able to make connections in a way that ordinarily is not possible because of time constraints.”

The peer learning and support is proving to be a goldmine for Laura and other participants. 

“We learned a lot from each other. One teacher was from a school in the Kaipara close to a Fonterra plant and hearing how that school is applying their kaitiaki to their environment was very interesting, it made me feel quite hopeful. 

“Watching the news about climate change and pollution can leave you feeling like it’s all bad news, but the BLAKE programme drives home the message to start where you can with what you have. I left ready to become the older version of Greta Thunberg.”

Students can explore native bush within school grounds.

Students can explore native bush within school grounds.

Environmental learning 

Laura teaches Year 6 at Kaurilands School, an 800-student primary school in West Auckland. Nestled in native bush at the foot of the Waitakere Ranges, the school lends itself naturally to environmental learning. 

Tamariki play and learn in the bush and the creek, and the school office is well-equipped with spare clothes for muddy explorers. Students are involved in the school’s waste minimisation efforts and have opportunities to grow and cook food through its
‘Dig In’ programme.

“Kaitiakitanga is one of the school’s core values, it trips off the tongues of even our youngest children,” says Laura. 

“But I don’t think you need to be in a school like Kaurilands to inspire environmental guardianship. One teacher [from the BLAKE course] got back to her school to find that neighbouring trees had been cut down. While that was hugely disappointing, she used it as a learning opportunity for her class to find out why the trees were not protected.”

Letter writing passion

Laura’s own class are fervent letter writers. 

“The consumer angle is an extremely powerful teaching tool. Children are so excited to write letters, even the ones who don’t usually like to write, the moment it’s something they’re passionate about like palm oil and animal welfare. Some of them find it hard to stop writing.”

Since the July course, Laura has connected with EcoMatters Environmental Trust to create a stream-testing kit for students and has started drafting plans to plant a Māori medicinal garden as part of a school-wide rongoā Māori project. As part of the school’s science management unit, she is well-placed to share conservation and sustainability lessons throughout the year levels.

Laura has also started collaborating with another course participant who teaches at neighbouring Oratia School and hopes to develop lessons that can be shared more widely via the West Auckland kāhui ako, Kōtuitui.

“I’m in touch with many of the other teachers from the course and we are sharing our projects. It’s just like anthropologist Margaret Mead said: ‘Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has’.” 

Teacher Laura Hillier often uses the school’s bush setting for teaching.

Teacher Laura Hillier often uses the school’s bush setting for teaching. 

The BLAKE Inspire for Teachers leadership development programme in Auckland is fully funded by the Ministry of Education. 
Applications are invited from teachers keen for deeper understanding of environmental issues. 
Delegates engage in experiential learning at locations ranging from large businesses to island sanctuaries and marine reserves to discover practical ways to lead kaitiakitanga in their schools. 

Applications for next year’s courses will open in April 2022. For more information, go to blakenz.org(external link) 

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero, reporter@edgazette.govt.nz

Posted: 11:24 AM, 2 September 2021

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