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  • Published: 04 December 2023

Critical climate education is crucial for fast and just transformations

  • Hanne Svarstad   ORCID: 1 ,
  • Alfredo Jornet   ORCID: 2 ,
  • Glen P. Peters   ORCID: 3 ,
  • Tom G. Griffiths 1 &
  • Tor A. Benjaminsen 4  

Nature Climate Change volume  13 ,  pages 1274–1275 ( 2023 ) Cite this article

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If rapid and just transformations to low-carbon societies are to take place, citizens need to obtain the necessary knowledge and skills to critically examine and choose adequate climate policy options. An emphasis on critical climate education research and implementation is therefore required.

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critical thinking critical pedagogy and climate change education

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H.S. received funding from NORHED 2, Norad, 2021-2026, CENSU – Climate Change Energy Sustainability; A.J. received funding from Ramón y Cajal, project no. RYC2021-034096-I; G.P.P. received funding from the European Union’s HORIZON EUROPE Research and Innovation Programme under grant agreement no. 101056306 (IAM COMPACT); T.A.B. received funding from the NMBU Sustainability Arenas 2021–2024 (grant no. 1850092016AA).

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Development Studies, LUI-IST, Faculty of Education and International Studies, Oslo Metropolitan University (OsloMet), Oslo, Norway

Hanne Svarstad & Tom G. Griffiths

University of Girona, Girona, Spain

Alfredo Jornet

CICERO Center for International Climate Research, Oslo, Norway

Glen P. Peters

Department of International Environment and Development Studies, Faculty of Landscape and Society, Norwegian University of Life Sciences, Ås, Norway

Tor A. Benjaminsen

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Correspondence to Hanne Svarstad .

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Svarstad, H., Jornet, A., Peters, G.P. et al. Critical climate education is crucial for fast and just transformations. Nat. Clim. Chang. 13 , 1274–1275 (2023).

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critical thinking critical pedagogy and climate change education

Toolbox for Teaching Climate & Energy

Teachers across the country are preparing to teach the science and engineering called for in the new standards designed to address major world challenges and opportunities.  Students will face issues, such as generating sufficient clean energy, building climate resilience for businesses and communities, maintaining supplies of food and clean water, and solving the problems of global environmental change that confront society today and in their future. The amount of time teachers are spending on these issues are going up significantly.

Figure 1: Alliance for Climate Education Action Teams accomplish some incredible things: from kickstarting recycling at school, to solarizing homes, to organizing 200+ people climate summits. Credit: Alliance for Climate Education

Figure 1: Alliance for Climate Education leader working with a group of students....

NOAA and a community of educational and science partners have developed and organized supporting resources and programs for those who want to teach climate and energy science, backed by some of the nation's most experienced professional educators, scientists, and engineers. The Climate Action Learning Process (CALP, below) provides a path teachers can follow to educate students about climate and energy science, develop the skills to take action, and then reevaluate teaching methods. A supporting toolbox (right) organizes and highlights resources from numerous teaching professionals and science partners all working toward supporting climate and energy education.

These science-based, interdisciplinary models of education and public engagement support learners of all levels and foster climate and energy literacy and action. Armed with newfound knowledge and skills, students will be able to develop their own action plans - in their own communities or on a global scale.

Climate Action Learning Process

critical thinking critical pedagogy and climate change education

Highlighted resources from numerous educational and science partners and programs that support the Climate Action Competence Learning Process. The resources in the toolbox are not comprehensive and will grow as new aligned and effective resources are identified. New resources can be nominated by sending them to  [email protected] .

  • NGSS and CLEAN at a Glance for the Next Generation Science Standards tool - The interactive tables will NGSS Performance Expectations (PE) and Disciplinary Core Ideas (DCI) that address climate and energy topics. The tables include links to relevant CLEAN resources.
  • College, Career, and Civic Life (C3) Framework for Social Studies State Standards - The result of a three year state-led collaborative effort, the College, Career, and Civic Life (C3) Framework for Social Studies State Standards was developed to serve two audiences: for states to upgrade their state social studies standards and for practitioners — local school districts, schools, teachers and curriculum writers — to strengthen their social studies programs. Its objectives are to: a) enhance the rigor of the social studies disciplines; b) build critical thinking, problem solving, and participatory skills to become engaged citizens; and c) align academic programs to the Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts and Literacy in History/Social Studies.
  • Climate Literacy: The Essential Principles of Climate Science (2009) - A guide that provides a framework and essential principles for formal and informal education about climate change. It presents important information for individuals and communities to understand Earth's climate, impacts of climate change, and approaches for adapting and mitigating change. Principles in the guide can serve as discussion starters or launching points for scientific inquiry. The guide can also serve educators who teach climate science as part of their science curricula.
  • Energy Literacy: Essential Principles and Fundamental Concepts for Energy Education - An interdisciplinary approach to teaching and learning about energy. The framework identifies seven Essential Principles and a set of Fundamental Concepts to support each principle. The guide does not seek to identify all areas of energy understanding, but rather to focus on those that are essential for all citizens K-Gray. It presents energy concepts that, if understood and applied, will help individuals and communities make informed energy decisions.
  • Ocean Literacy Framework - Ocean Literacy means understanding the ocean’s influence on you and your influence on the ocean. There are 7 principles of Ocean Literacy — ideas scientists and educators agree everyone should understand about the ocean. Join the Network to build a more ocean literate society!
  • NAAEE Guidelines for Excellence: Best Practice in Environmental Education - The NAAEE National Project for Excellence in Environmental Education developed a series of guidelines that set the standards for high-quality environmental education. Each of these publications was developed by a diverse team of professionals, and each has gone through a substantive review by thousands of professionals prior to its publication. The Excellence in Environmental Education: Guidelines for Learning (K-12) and its companion piece, the Excellence in Environmental Education: Guidelines for Learning (K–12)—Executive Summary & Self Assessment Tool , were developed to support state and local environmental education efforts by setting expectations for performance and achievement in grades 4, 8, and 12.

(Critical Thinking for the subject matter, by pedagogy, with advances in science, and how society is successfully responding

  • Teacher-Friendly Guide to Climate Change - The Teacher-Friendly Guide™ to Climate Change is the newest addition to the Paleontological Research Institution’s Teacher-Friendly series. This book includes both the basics of climate change science and perspectives on teaching a subject that has become socially and politically polarized. The focus audience is high school Earth science and environmental science teachers, and it is written with an eye toward the kind of information and graphics that a secondary school teacher might need in the classroom. Print copies and a free PDF version are available here.
  • CLEAN Guidance in Teaching Climate and Energy - These pages designed to help educators understand and be equipped to teach the big ideas in climate and energy science.
  • NWF’s  Eco-Schools USA -  Eco-Schools combines the effective green management of K – 12th grade school grounds, facilities, and curriculum to empower today’s students for a sustainable tomorrow. It is part of Eco-Schools , the world’s largest environmental schools network in over 64 countries. In addition to the direct environmental benefits of lowering the school’s carbon footprint and saving energy and water costs, the program provides a proven framework for improving student skills in STEM, promoting youth leadership and community service, and exposing students to careers in sustainability. The program provides 12 intersecting pathways for comprehensive learning and student action, such as energy and climate change .
  • PBS Learning Media Forum on Digital Media for STEM Learning: Climate Education - This Forum on Digital Media explored how the stories and science behind these impacts are increasingly being integrated into classroom instruction and STEM education contexts, with a focus on digital media. Held at WGBH’s Brighton studio on Monday, November 9, 2015, this highly-interactive and fast-paced event examined emerging narratives in climate education, digital media tools and products that show unique potential for educational settings, and promising modes of engagement for students, teachers, and schools. All resources are available free to view in PBS Learning Media.

Advances in science

  • USGCRP National Climate Assessment (2018) - The National Climate Assessment (NCA) assesses the science of climate change and variability and its impacts across the United States, now and throughout this century. This assessment was written to help inform decision-makers, utility and natural resource managers, public health officials, emergency planners, and other stakeholders by providing a thorough examination of the effects of climate change on the United States. It was thoroughly reviewed by external experts and the general public, as well as the Federal Government (that is, the NCA4 Federal Steering Committee and several rounds of technical and policy review by the 13 federal agencies of the USGCRP). An expert external peer review of the whole report was performed by an ad hoc committee of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM).
  • USGCRP Climate Science Special Report (2017) - The Climate Science Special Report (CSSR) is designed to be an authoritative assessment of the science of climate change, with a focus on the United States, to serve as the foundation for efforts to assess climate-related risks and inform decision-making about responses. In accordance with this purpose, it does not include an assessment of literature on climate change mitigation, adaptation, economic valuation, or societal responses, nor does it include policy recommendations.
  • USGCRP Indicators - Indicators are observations or calculations that can be used to track conditions and trends. For example, businesses might look at the unemployment index as one of a number of indicators representing the condition of the economy. Similarly, indicators of climate change can communicate key aspects of the changing environment, point out vulnerabilities, and inform decisions about policy, planning, and resource management.
  • NOAA News & Features - A popular-style magazine for the science-interested public covering topics in climate science, adaptation, and mitigation.
  • NOAA Maps & Data - A gateway to reusable climate maps and datasets that document various climate conditions. The section aims to serve officials and professionals who need climate data to inform their decisions or compile a climate adaptation report.
  • NASA Global Climate Change: Vital Signs of the Planet - The mission of “Global Climate Change: Vital Signs of the Planet” is to provide the public with accurate and timely news and information about Earth’s changing climate, along with current data and visualizations, presented from the unique perspective of NASA, one of the world’s leading climate research agencies.

How society is successfully responding

  • U.S. Climate Resilience Toolkit - The U.S. Climate Resilience Toolkit is a website designed to help people find and use tools, information, and subject matter expertise to build climate resilience. The Toolkit offers information from all across the U.S. federal government in one easy-to-use location.
  • C40 - A network of the world’s megacities committed to addressing climate change. C40 supports cities to collaborate effectively, share knowledge and drive meaningful, measurable and sustainable action on climate change.
  • 100 Resilient Cities - Pioneered by the Rockefeller Foundation (100RC) is dedicated to helping cities around the world become more resilient to the physical, social and economic challenges that are a growing part of the 21st century.
  • Georgetown Climate Center - The nonpartisan Georgetown Climate Center seeks to advance effective climate and energy policies in the United States and serves as a resource to state and local communities that are working to cut carbon pollution and prepare for climate change.

Develop competence and mastery in teaching climate change

Climate Generation Professional Development - Climate Generation believes that educators are critical messengers of climate and that energy literacy and climate change education is part of the solution. Build your comfort, confidence, and competence to bring climate change into your educational setting with our virtual and in-person training opportunities!

Summer Institutes for Climate Change Education - At each Institute educators can expect to gain the tools and skills to bring climate change into your educational setting, whether it be a classroom, nature center, or museum.

AMS Education Professional Development - Enhance your knowledge of Earth system science and earn tuition-free graduate credit through AMS Education’s K-12 teacher professional development programs. Over 21,000 teachers have boosted their STEM expertise and impacted millions of students across the nation through these courses.

Project Atmosphere - Project ATMOSPHERE is the comprehensive teacher professional development program based on studies in the atmospheric sciences.

DataStreme Earth's Climate System - This STEM course undertakes a systematic study of climate, climate variability, and climate change. Participants will come to understand spatial variations in climate as it responds to mechanisms internal and external to the Earth system.

DataStreme Ocean - This STEM course explores the ocean in the Earth system. Participants study the flow of water and energy into and out of the ocean and the internal properties and dynamics of the ocean system. This includes interactions between the ocean and the hydrosphere, atmosphere, lithosphere, biosphere and society.

DataStreme Atmosphere - Designed to train teachers to promote the teaching of STEM concepts through weather, this course focuses on the atmospheric environment, its interaction with other components of the Earth system and the implications of those interactions on humankind.

Maury Project - The Maury Project is a comprehensive teacher professional development program based on studies of the physi­cal foundations of oceanography.

  • Do-It-Yourself Learning
  • Conferences
  • Web Seminars
  • Virtual Conferences
  • CLEAN Network Teleconferences
  • CLEAN Teacher Webinar Series
  • GLOBE Teacher Training Workshops
  • Protocol eTraining
  • Teaching Climate Professional Development - Teaching Climate offers learning activities and curriculum materials, multimedia resources, and professional development opportunities for formal and informal educators who want to incorporate climate science into their work.
  • The Book Club
  • Face-to-Face Workshops
  • Stewardship Community (apply here )

Work across disciplines or Design active linkages to create relevant interdisciplinary curriculum experiences (Develop Educator Teaching Plan)

Understanding Global Change and Understanding Science - The Understanding Global Change web resource in development from the UC Museum of Paleontology at UC Berkeley will provide science educators with a conceptual framework, systems models, lessons, and assessment tools to guide the design of interdisciplinary global change curricula. Understanding Science provides resources to support the exploration of the nature and process of science. and

World Climate: Climate Change Negotiations Game - The World Climate Simulation is a role playing exercise of the UN climate change negotiations for groups. It is unique in that it uses an interactive computer model to rapidly analyze the results of the mock-negotiations during the event. All the materials and tools for World Climate are available for free and many are available in multiple languages. We encourage you to organize a World Climate Simulation yourself.

  • Project Drawdown - The project is one of the most comprehensive plan ever proposed to reverse global warming. Their organization did not make or devise the plan—they found the plan because it already exists. They gathered a qualified and diverse group of researchers from around the world to identify, research, and model the 100 most substantive, existing solutions to address climate change. What was uncovered is a path forward that can roll back global warming within thirty years. It shows that humanity has the means at hand. Nothing new needs to be invented. The solutions are in place and in action. Their work is to accelerate the knowledge and growth of what is possible.

Connect to resources and professional networks to sustain professional growth and as a support network

Educational Resources

  • CLEAN Collection of Climate and Energy Science resources - The CLEAN collection, is an online database of 700 free, science and peer-reviewed, and ready-to-use educational resources for teaching middle, high school and undergraduate students about climate and energy.
  • Teaching Climate Using the National Climate Assessment - NOAA's features a page of information about teaching with the Third National Climate Assessment , including background on the report, learning pathways to help educators utilize key messages and data, region-by-region guides, and other supporting education and communication resources.
  • Climate Generation Climate Change and Energy Curricula - Climate Generation offers a suite of Grades 3-12 curriculum resources in the form of curriculum guides, as well as online modules that can be downloaded for free.
  • Alliance of Climate Education, Our Climate Our Future - Our Climate Our Future is an award-winning climate education resource for teachers and students featuring ACE’s signature mix of animation, video and interaction, including trivia questions, climate change lesson plans and more.

Climate Classroom Kids - For younger students climate change can seem complicated and scary. That’s why age appropriateness is a vitally important ingredient of climate change education. How do you answer the questions children will inevitably raise about climate change? And how do you examine the topic in a manner that doesn’t frighten or overwhelm them? The best strategy is to provide young children with brief, accurate information at a level you know they can understand and relate to—and in hopeful ways. Climate 101 provides answers to real kids questions. The cross-curricular lesson plans are designed for grades 3-5, with extensions for younger and older students. https://climateclassroomkids.or

Climate Classroom for Years of Living Dangerously - Climate Smart lessons plans and resources correspond to the science and issues presented in the award-winning documentary series and offer a unique and timely interdisciplinary teaching opportunity. Their education initiative provides engaging and relevant video assets as part of the curriculum. Educators and students meet scientists, acquire knowledge and STEM skills necessary to meet academic challenges and graduate climate literate.

An Inconvenient Sequel Education - Their goal is to help students develop system thinking skills by leveraging the diverse perspectives and fact-based evidence shared in the film. Resources include a series of foundational climate science and civics lessons, case studies and action projects planning guide.

  • EarthLabs - the EarthLabs project provides a national model for rigorous, engaging Earth and environmental lab science courses. These units illustrate a sequence for learning science concepts through data analysis activities, satellite imagery and computer visualizations, and hands-on experiments that illustrate processes of our Earth system.
  • WindWise Education - WindWise is broken into 5 main conceptual areas.   Each unit includes a variety of lesson plans, handouts, support and background materials.   While the lessons are not designed to be done in any particular order we do offer you some recommend pathways depending on your subject expertise and the time you want to spend teaching about wind energy.
  • Young Voices for the Planet film series - The mission of the Young Voices for the Planet film series is to to limit the magnitude of climate change and its impacts by empowering children and youth, through uplifting and inspiring success stories, to take an essential role in informing their communities — and society at large, challenging decision-makers, and catalyzing change.

Professional networks

  • CLEAN Network - The CLEAN Network is a professionally diverse community of over 630 members committed to improving climate and energy literacy locally, regionally, nationally, and globally, to enable responsible decisions and actions.
  • NOAA Planet Stewards Education Project - The NOAA Planet Stewards Education Project (PSEP) provides formal and informal educators working with elementary through college aged students the knowledge and resources to build scientifically-literate individuals and communities who are prepared to respond to environmental challenges monitored by NOAA. PSEP also supports educators in the development and implementation of projects involving hands-on activities that conserve, restore, and protect human communities and natural resources.
  • Climate Generation’s #TeachClimate Network - The #TeachClimate Network brings educators together monthly to discuss climate change fiction (cli-fi) books, challenges and successes of implementing climate change education, and current climate change news.
  • NWF EcoLeaders - The NWF Campus Ecology program has been working with colleges and universities for more than 25 years to protect wildlife and habitat through campus sustainability efforts. Recognizing that students are the catalysts for change, NWF Campus Ecology created NWF EcoLeaders - a leadership certification and career development program for college students and young professionals.
  • Greenforce® Initiative - The National Wildlife Federation and Jobs for the Future are partners in the Greenforce® Initiative, an effort to strengthen the capacity of community colleges to "green" the skills of our modern workforce.
  • NSTA Learning Center Forums - NSTA’s Learning Center allows educators to access excellent and engaging science content and pedagogical implications any time of the day or night – 24/7 – to fit their schedule.
  • NSTA Group E-mail Discussions - NSTA’s lists are group e-mail discussions that allow members to exchange information in a peer-to-peer forum.
  • NAAEE eePRO Climate Change Education Group - The NAAEE eePRO group discussion platform supports special interest groups and connecting people to discuss key issues related to all things environmental education (EE) including climate change education.
  • National Earth Science Teachers Association (NESTA) - NESTA facilitates and advances excellence in K-12 Earth and Space Science education, serving a diverse population of learners in formal and informal settings.
  • National Association of Geoscience Teachers - NAGT members are committed to teaching excellence and the preparation of productive, responsible citizens who understand the complexity and vulnerability of the planet that sustains all of us.
  • ACE Teacher Network - ACE’s Teacher Network is an active group of over 10,000 educators in all 50 states. As a member, you'll receive our monthly newsletter, Hot Planet, Cool Teachers, bringing you the latest in climate news, climate and energy lesson plans, teacher professional development and updates from ACE.
  • NCSEteach - NCSEteach is the National Center for Science Education’s first program developed just for educators. They recognize that teachers are at the forefront of science education. Without them we would have no doctors, no researchers, and no citizens with a love and devotion to the scientific enterprise. They also recognize that there can be numerous challenges to teaching evolution and climate change that teachers must navigate, from angry and confused students, teachers, and administrators to a lack of available professional development. Teachers have a hard job, and NCSE wants to help any way we can.
  • National Network for Ocean and Climate Change Interpretation (NNOCCI) - NNOCCI is a network of individuals and organizations in informal education, the social sciences, and climate sciences. We are currently working in 170 institutions in 38 states. We share a commitment to using evidenced-based communications methods and providing the social and emotional support needed to engage as climate communicators. By working together we develop the knowledge, techniques, community and confidence needed to empower our audiences. And by speaking about climate change consistently across the country we are changing public discourse to be positive, productive and solutions-focused.

Nurture action competence

  • Climate Generation Climate Convenings Toolkit - When it comes to implementing climate change solutions, local communities are powerfully positioned to create an undercurrent of momentum and ambitious pathways to change that our national and global leaders cannot easily ignore. Yet in many communities, there are significant gaps in climate literacy, political will, and awareness of tangible climate action opportunities. To bridge this gap, Climate Generation has developed a best practices guide that shares our model and method for hosting public convenings on climate change at the community level.
  • KidWind Challenge - While this is called a KidWind Challenge, they tend to think of it more like a celebration of wind power. The overall goal is to have fun building a device that converts moving wind into electricity. If along the way you learn some physics, engineering, environmental science and policy -- that is great!
  • ReCharge Labs - REcharge Labs generates resources for learners to creatively explore wind and solar power. We engage and inspire today’s K-12 students, educators, makers, and tinkerers to become the innovative renewable energy leaders of tomorrow by offering effective hands-on activities and kits, educator professional development, online engineering design challenges, and lessons.
  • Alliance of Climate Education (ACE) Action Fellowship - The North Carolina Action Fellowship teaches students the knowledge and skills to be confident climate leaders. Fellows are high school students or recent ACE graduates who meet in Raleigh weekly over the course of the school year. 40 high school students have graduated from the fellowship in NC over the past 3 years.

An Inconvenient Sequel Education - Our goal is to help students develop system thinking skills by leveraging the diverse perspectives and fact-based evidence shared in the film.

Enter the  School Climate Solutions Challenge  - We are asking teachers and students from grades 6 to 12 to plan and submit their best climate solution ideas for their school, after-school program, team or club. We are looking for innovative project ideas that will reduce carbon emissions and help your school and your community prepare for problems caused by climate change, interact with decision-makers, and take full advantage of the career opportunities the climate resilient future holds.

The Wild Center’s Youth Climate Summit model - Looking to host a summit of your own? No matter where you’re located in the world, the Wild Center’s Youth Climate Summit model is a replicable, scalable model that any organization can base their own summit off of. To get you started, they’ve compiled a helpful Youth Climate Summit toolkit and appendix for you to download and start planning your own climate summit.

Assess, Revise and Share Effective Practice 

Building the capacity of students and teachers have been shown to have the greatest cost-benefit value for adaptation to climate change (Lutz et al. 2014). But while education can be one of the most efficient mechanism for changing individuals and communities climate related actions and improving climate literacy, it is still emerging how to best deliver it (Mochizuki and Bryan 2015).

While many education programs around the world have done an excellent job building students’ knowledge around the causes of climate change, limited evidence exists that this knowledge is sufficient to change the actions responsible for climate change (Eilam and Trop 2012). Ironically, it is often the most educated that lead the most carbon intensive lifestyles, suggesting it is not more education that is needed, but different education. As this different and more effective educational practice is developed, educators and program developers can connect with others to share what works. The diverse professional networks above in step 5 are places where this new form of education is already being developed.  

Figure 3: At the Boston Museum of Science, members of the public discuss ways to reduce their vulnerability to climate hazards. This project is funded by NOAA Education and is the first of 8 planned forums. Credit: Eric Workman

Figure 3: ASU/MOS

Building Sustainable Communities

Communities are stepping up to address climate change impacts, serving as the primary incubators of social innovation and generating new strategies for sustainable living. Teachers can build knowledge of climate science and energy infrastructure, and encourage individuals to gain the skills, attitudes, and motivations they need to build sustainable communities. Tomorrow’s workforce must be able and willing to solve urgent challenges, such as climate change.

Building A Community Committed To Improving Climate And Energy Know-How

The CLEAN Network is a professionally diverse community of over 640 members committed to improving climate and energy literacy locally, regionally, nationally, and globally, to enable responsible decisions and actions. The two main methods of engagement in the CLEAN Network are a email list and participation in the weekly teleconference highlighting important programs and initiatives. Other activities of the CLEAN Network include providing feedback on relevant national-scale documents, engagement through professional meetings, and outreach through postings on the CLEAN Facebook page and informational webinars.  Join the CLEAN Network


The hope wheel: a model to enable hope-based pedagogy in climate change education.

\r\nWilliam Finnegan*

  • 1 Department of Education, University of Oxford, Oxford, United Kingdom
  • 2 Oxford Brookes Business School, Oxford Brookes University, Oxford, United Kingdom

In response to concerns about climate anxiety and distress, researchers and practitioners in both education and psychology have been investigating the importance of engaging climate hope in Climate Change Education (CCE). Synthesizing recent multidisciplinary research, alongside insights from the development of educational programs, this article proposes a new theoretical model for pedagogies of hope in CCE. The Hope Wheel presents three foundational elements: handrails for educators to hold on to while constructively engaging with climate change (honesty, awareness, spaceholding, action), guardrails for educators to be sensitive to when implementing the handrails (climate anxiety, mis-/disinformation, false hope), and lenses to encourage educators to explore connections between complex societal and planetary challenges (complexity, justice, perspectives, creativity, and empathy). This working model aims to support educators by distilling current learnings from the literature into a visual guide. It depicts essential elements to include, as well as avoid, in order to engage honest, hope-oriented CCE for transformative learning in the face of the climate crisis.

1 Introduction

Educators increasingly acknowledge the importance of engaging with climate change across a broad range of subject areas and its current relevance from both a pupil and planetary perspective ( Edge Research, 2022 ; Teach the Future, 2022 ). There are, however, a number of commonplace barriers, compounded by a lack of adequate resources, that problematize embedding climate education in classrooms, presenting considerable challenges for both teachers and learners alike to navigate ( Howard-Jones et al., 2021 ; Greer et al., 2023 ).

Both the scientific and emotional aspects of climate education need not only evidence-based approaches that are theory-informed, but also require readily navigable, digestible signposting for busy teachers with limited training and capacity. The literature points to overcrowded curricula, ideological considerations, and a lack of expertise and development opportunities that can result in limited confidence to take up the challenges involved in the complex, multidisciplinary nature of CCE efforts ( Rousell and Cutter-Mackenzie-Knowles, 2020 ).

In response to concerns about climate anxiety and distress, many researchers and practitioners in both education and psychology have increasingly acknowledged the need for hope-based approaches, the most prominent of which are those that headline constructive, active, critical and transformative ideas of hope-based learning ( Ojala, 2012 ; Kerret et al., 2016 ; Li and Monroe, 2019 ). Whilst the theoretical framework around the importance of hope in CCE gains traction, operationalizing these concepts can feel both daunting and abstract for educators faced with the practical realities of including climate education in everyday teaching and learning settings.

The evidence-based working model proposed in this Curriculum, Instruction, and Pedagogy (CIP) article aims to bridge the gap between research and practice around how to constructively cultivate hope in the face of the climate crisis with learners of all ages, as well as encourage educator confidence in starting explorative discussions without the expectation of discrete, concrete solutions. We aspire to simplicity and accessibility in the model, while recognizing the complexities and challenges of engaging with a concept like climate hope. The Hope Wheel aims to support the process of transformative learning for the social transformations needed that will necessarily involve moments of discomfort and challenge for both educators and learners ( Mezirow and Taylor, 2009 ).

In response to the complexity of these educational challenges, the Hope Wheel model offers a visual synthesis of foundational “handrails,” “guardrails,” and “lenses” for constructively engaging with climate change across a broad range of subjects and disciplines, thereby facilitating hope-oriented pedagogy for CCE.

2 Background

This article builds on a wide range of scholarship in environmental, sustainability and climate education, as well as relevant theory in environmental/educational psychology and transformative education.

2.1 Climate Change Education (CCE)

As anthropogenic climate change has been acknowledged as an existential threat to human and natural systems ( IPCC, 2023 ), education has been affirmed as a key vector for driving the behavior change necessary for the paradigm change and social transformation needed ( Otto et al., 2020 ; United Nations., 2021 ). Article 14 of the Paris Agreement of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change called for all parties to enhance CCE as a means of limiting global heating to 1.5 degrees Celsius ( United Nations, 2015a ). This is further bolstered by Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 4.7, which states that by 2030, governments must “ensure that all learners acquire the knowledge and skills needed to promote sustainable development” ( United Nations, 2015b ).

Climate Change Education has emerged from a wide range of established educational fields including environmental education (EE), Global Citizenship Education (GCE), Education for Sustainability (EfS) and Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) ( Bourn and Hatley, 2022 ), with a particular emphasis placed on engaging with and envisioning probable, possible and preferable futures ( Kagawa and Selby, 2010 ; Hicks, 2014 ). In a sweeping review of CCE, Reid (2019) documented key trajectories of CCE practice and research, across the cognitive, social-emotional and behavioral dimensions, highlighting the need to engage with “hard truths” of climate change, alongside enabling action to participate in mitigation and adaptation efforts. Reid articulates the challenge for CCE to move beyond climate science literacy to activating “response-ability” ( Sterling and Martin, 2019 ). This requires a “shift in our lifestyles and a transformation of the way we think and act. To achieve this change, we need new skills, values and attitudes that lead to more sustainable societies” ( Reid, 2019 ).

In a systematic review of research evaluating CCE practices, Monroe et al. (2019) identified several essential strategies in CCE, including engaging in deliberative discussions, interacting with scientists, addressing misconceptions, and implementing school or community projects. Headlining the need to address misconceptions is particularly important in countries where climate change is highly politicized and misinformation rampant ( Government Office for Science, 2023 ). Critical thinking skills, as described in the UNESCO (2017) sustainability competencies, are one means of addressing misinformation, as are developing digital, data and information literacies ( Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development [OECD], 2018 ).

Also integral to CCE is the relevance of emotions, as reflected in the “bicycle model” of CCE proposed by Cantell et al. (2019) which included an element related to hope and other emotions. The pivotal role of emotions and their impacts in the classroom was further explored by Verlie (2019) , who shifted the role of CCE from “preventing or fixing” to “learning to live” with climate change, a process of acknowledging affects such as loss, anger and grief. This “bearing worlds” is presented as a requirement of climate adaptation, moving CCE toward fostering the knowledge, skills and capacities to navigate change and uncertainty and, importantly, foster empathy for the self and others within this difficult landscape. Here hard truths and hope are explicitly linked to change:

Learning to live-with climate change is therefore a process of bearing worlds, as we simultaneously become more attuned to our enmeshment with the more-than-human, mourn those relationships as they are ruptured, act-with them to cultivate the most promising futures possible, and are ourselves changed throughout the process (2019, 752).

2.2 Climate hope

The concept of hope has a rich, contested and complex history in philosophy, theology and psychology, with Webb (2013) distinguishing five modes of hoping in his review of pedagogies of hope: patient hope, critical hope, sound hope, resolute hope and transformative hope. Pedagogies of hope have also been developed by critical educational theorists such as Freire (2004) and hooks (2003) , who connect hope with individual transformation: “To successfully do the work of unlearning domination, a democratic educator has to cultivate a spirit of hopefulness about the capacity of individuals to change” ( hooks, 2003 , 73).

The field of positive psychology has contributed further understanding through Snyder’s hope theory, which identifies the core hope drivers as goal identification, pathways thinking (waypower), and agency thinking (willpower) (2002).

As a cognitive process connected to both emotional states and behavior, hope is particularly relevant to how educators engage with climate change. Ojala’s exploration of climate and hope, including the factors “trust in self” and “trust in others,” concluded that “constructive hope” is central to environmental engagement in young people ( Ojala, 2012 , 635). This echoes the writings of Macy and Johnstone (2022) on Active Hope, in which they provide a relevant and accessible definition:

Active Hope is a practice. Like tai chi or gardening, it is something we do rather than have. It is a process we can apply to any situation, and it involves three key steps. First, we start from where we are by taking a clear view of reality, acknowledging what we see and how we feel. Second, we identify what we hope for in terms of the direction we’d like things to move in or the values we’d like to see expressed. And third, we take steps to move ourselves or our situation in that direction (2022, 4–5).

Research has applied constructive hope to secondary school climate education, including work confirming the relationship between hope and action competence ( Ojala, 2015 ; Li and Monroe, 2018 ; Finnegan, 2022 ). Finnegan (2023) also explored creative pedagogies–digital storytelling about climate futures–as a means of encouraging hope through positive reappraisal, a cognitive process to support coping and adaptation in which something perceived as negative is re-evaluated and personally meaningful positive steps are identified.

There is also growing interest among researchers in the broad range of emotional responses to climate change and the corresponding interrelationships between wellbeing, learning and action. This includes the importance of acknowledging the impacts of climate anxiety and distress ( Clayton, 2020 ; Hickman et al., 2021 ), as well as recognizing the broad range of climate emotions ( Pihkala, 2022 ). Ojala (2021) connects these broader affective elements to the concepts of pedagogies of discomfort ( Boler and Zembylas, 2002 ) and critical emotional awareness ( Ojala, 2023 ), noting their importance in designing and delivering effective CCE. At the same time, both the intensity of emotional responses to climate change and the very real psychological impacts of traumatic climate change experiences can give educators pause ( Clayton et al., 2023 ).

The critique of false hope has been made by Bendell (2023) and others in the deep adaptation movement. In these circles, those that self-identify as “doomsters” dismiss political and technological climate solutions as “hopium” ( Doig, 2023 ). Instead, they believe that the collapse of civilization is inevitable, with responses ranging from apocalypse prepping to permaculture ( Bromwich, 2020 ). In many ways, the critique of false hope is more related to patient hope ( Webb, 2013 ), hope based in denial ( Ojala, 2012 ), and the misrepresentation of hope as optimism, which educational philosopher Dewey (2008) rejected as encouraging: “a fatalistic contentment with things as they are” (2008, 294). Further distinguishing between hope and optimism, Orr (2007) commented:

Optimism is the recognition that the odds are in your favor; hope is the faith that things will work out whatever the odds. Hope is a verb with its sleeves rolled up. Hopeful people are actively engaged in defying or changing the odds. Optimism leans back, puts its feet up, and wears a confident look knowing that the deck is stacked (2007, 1392).

2.3 Transformative learning

Many of the aforementioned tenets of hope-based learning are supported by the literature on Transformative Learning (TL) theory ( Mezirow, 2000 ; Taylor and Cranton, 2012 ), which underpins the learner-centered, action-oriented, relational approaches to CCE offered by EfS and ESD. These pedagogies champion a holistic and transformational education which “addresses learning content and outcomes, pedagogy and the learning environment… and achieves its purpose by transforming society” ( QAA and Advance HE, 2021 ). The TL process necessarily begins with self-awareness, facilitating change “from the inside out” ( d’Abreu and Cripps, 2023 ) and centers on developing socially and environmentally critical thinking that challenges unsustainable normative behaviors and importantly, “empowers learners to take informed decisions and responsible actions for environmental integrity, economic viability and a just society” ( UNESCO, 2017 ).

Mezirow’s definition of TL highlights this agentive purpose as being both an individual and collective endeavor describing it as:

The process by which we transform our taken-for-granted frames of reference (meaning perspectives, habits of minds, mind sets) to make them more inclusive, discriminating, open, emotionally capable of change, and reflective so that they may generate beliefs and opinions that will prove more true or justified to guide action. Transformative Learning involves participation in constructive discourse to use the experience of others to assess reasons justifying these assumptions, and making an action decision based on the resulting insight ( Mezirow, 2000 : 8).

Mezirow highlights that TL is triggered by “disorienting dilemmas,” highly pertinent in the CE context. A liminality state characterizes transformation from the safety of “established frames of reference” to new experiences or understandings that often involve loss, uncertainty and discomfort ( Taylor and Cranton, 2012 ), mirroring calls to acknowledge and engage with the affective elements of CCE outlined above. Core to TL is engaging with this discomfort, sitting with uncertainty and creating action pathways by consciously “moving from safe to brave spaces” ( Winks, 2018 ). Also critical is the development from individual to collective engagement, multiple perspective taking and relational learning with others and other discipline areas. Drawing on a range of current, relevant multidisciplinary sources that intersect with TL pedagogy, the Hope Wheel aims to enable TL in the CCE context that responds to the complexity and challenges educators and learners face.

3 Pedagogies of hope

The Hope Wheel was designed to bridge the gaps between theory in educational psychology research and classroom practice by translating key elements supporting a climate hope approach into guidelines. The model includes core climate hope concepts organized into the following digestible categories: handrails, guardrails and lenses to guide educator engagement with the challenge and complexity of CCE.

3.1 Methodology

The Hope Wheel is the result of the authors review of the literature, as captured in the Background section above, and their experiences in designing and delivering CCE, which are explored in the Discussion section that follows. As a Curriculum, Instruction and Pedagogy (CIP) article, this model does not represent a systematic review, nor is it the result of longitudinal or experimental studies. Rather, the Hope Wheel reflects a timely synthesis of theory, empirical studies and experience into what the authors intend to be a practical tool for both educators and researchers.

3.2 Handrails

The first handrail highlights the crucial importance of Honesty and telling “hard truths” about climate situations, (contrasting with the mis-/disinformation and false hope guardrails later explored). It signposts that transformative CCE is not just about delivering, deciphering or digesting accurate scientific facts, but needs to be coupled with a solutions-orientated approach to enable hope-based solutions.

The Awareness handrail highlights that self-reflection is core to the transformative learning process and is initiated by developing critical awareness of the nested interconnections linking the self, others and the more-than-human world. Here identifying the relational, situated realities of climate leaning and embedded emotions are important, as is the ability to question normative narratives that present biased, inaccurate or exclusive understandings of climate change dilemmas ( Wals, 2007 ).

The Spaceholding handrail acknowledges that enabling both safe and brave spaces is crucial to protect leaners and the emotional engagement CCE involves, while also empowering their potential agency. Here again, we engage with an important tension–holding a space for emotional reflection and transformation, while deflecting denial, disengagement or disempowerment by creating “safe-enough” spaces for constructive hope in CCE to flourish ( Weintrobe, 2021 ; Hamilton, 2022 ; Singer-Brodowski et al., 2022 ).

Both awareness and spaceholding can support emotional engagement with climate change, critical to empowering hope-based, transformative, action-oriented learning opportunities.

Lastly, the Action handrail headlines moving from merely problematizing issues to creating purposeful pathways through motivating both individual and collective action. Important here is the recognition that individual actions, though essential, need to be scaled up and supported through collective efforts, both to avoid imposing unreasonable burden on learners and to enable both “willpower” and “waypower” ( Snyder, 2002 ). Reflection on individual action and agency must be coupled with recognition that transformative change is a collective endeavor, a lifelong learning process in which we need to collaborate with others for success.

In the Hope Wheel, the handrails are represented as spokes of the wheel, illustrating the integrated nature of the elements in terms of the structural integrity of the wheel. In addition, each spoke highlights two aspects of the handrail which can be understood as in productive tension, which is further explored in Table 1 .

Table 1. Hope Wheel spokes/handrails and educator practices (from-to).

3.3 Guardrails

The guardrails of this model provide the outlines or rim to the Hope Wheel. They aim to guide engagement with the scientific and emotional dimensions of climate education by raising awareness of both what to acknowledge and what to avoid in the classroom.

The Climate anxiety guardrail acknowledges the need for educators to support learner wellbeing and avoid harm while exploring complexity, uncertainty and challenge in CCE issues and the range of emotions this encompasses. To avoid the triggers of climate distress and denial the Hope Wheel draws on trauma-informed practices to safeguard learner wellbeing. Educational psychology establishes the need to create ground rules such as being sensitive to learner lived experiences, giving clear trigger warnings, wellbeing breaks, time out and to make post-session one-to-one support available to learners ( Singer-Brodowski et al., 2022 ). Also critical is to acknowledge and validate the broad range of climate emotions that may surface in a supportive, sensitive and non-judgmental fashion. Enabling and validating emotional engagement is critical to support learning of undoubtedly challenging themes.

The False hope guardrail warns against simplifying or sugarcoating issues in hope-based pedagogy. This supports the honesty handrail by ensuring that solutions and responses are not overly optimistic, simplified or unrealistic and that the distinctions between optimism and hope are examined critically. This guardrail also invites critique of doomist and techno-fix narratives that present disempowering or disingenuous conceptualizations of hope. Also germane to this guardrail is avoiding the pitfall of outsourcing hope by laying the burden of responsibility on individual learners (see more in the Discussion).

The Mis-/Disinformation guardrail highlights the necessity of developing digital, data and research literacy skills to ensure learners can identify false/misleading information, critically evaluate underlying biases and identify robust, reliable and trustworthy sources. This involves actively addressing misconceptions to prevent the spread of misinformation and build critical thinking capacity. This guardrail is related to the honesty handrail, as Frumkin (2022) noted, “Telling the truth means recognizing, naming – and countering the uncomfortable reality of deliberate disinformation promoted by vested interests” (2022, 4). It is also supported by the perspectives lens below that headlines the need for multidisciplinary approaches and acknowledging multiple worldviews.

Additional to the core handrail and guardrail elements are the lenses to enable a holistic, equitable and inclusive understanding of CCE issues. Through these lenses, important cross-cutting themes related to all components of the Hope Wheel are made visible, ensuring a holistic range of critical viewpoints.

The Complexity lens acknowledges the absence of simple, linear, discreet solutions to climate change and notes the need for educators to lean into uncertainty, ambiguity and inherent contradictions. Highlighting that there are no “silver bullet” answers, either scientifically or emotionally, is challenging but essential if we are to respond honestly and authentically to students concerns and needs. Enabling a holistic, systems-thinking perspective ( UNESCO, 2017 ) that explores the interconnected, interdependent tensions in CCE is therefore essential. This encourages a “birds eye view” of issues that considers the relational, contextualized and nested nature of global challenges.

The Justice lens ensures a historical perspective is included, inviting the question: How did we get here? It recognizes the impacts of colonialism and unequal global power structures and the extractivism they unleashed, in both human and environmental terms. This lens ensures the causes, impacts and proposed solutions for climate change are always critiqued from a social justice vantage point, making visible historic social, economic and environmental injustices and how their impacts today, and in the future, are disproportionately and unjustly distributed across social and geographical domains.

The Perspectives lens invites reflection and dialogue on how diverse individuals/communities/geographical locations perceive climate change issues and why. Learning from multiple perspectives and voices is paramount to enabling equitable solution pathways and understanding that climate change impacts are situated and contextual. This includes drawing from a range of subjects, discipline areas and multiple knowledges, and can be achieved by facilitating collaborations. Inclusivity and diversity are engaged through this lens.

The Creativity lens enables “What if…?” thinking opportunities while exploring the potency of creative solutions. Engaging creativity is a hopeful act in and of itself and can access and channel emotional responses toward positive solutions. Visioning is central to this lens, inviting students to envision probable, possible and preferable future scenarios driven by creativity. Encouraging and creating visions for the future–particularly positive, collective visions–underpins hope-based pedagogy, while also allowing expression of, and responses to, a range of climate emotions such as anger, joy and pain.

Lastly, the Empathy lens advances a culture of care, applying care, kindness and empathy to all aspects of this model, to ourselves, to others and to the more-than-human world in response to a “culture of uncare” ( Weintrobe, 2021 ). Reflecting on one’s own and others’ feelings and emotions is encouraged and validated, as is developing knowledge, understanding and care of the natural world.

These lenses therefore are not presented as optional but rather integral to CCE, presenting essential layers through which to engage a holistic pedagogy that is critical, relational and emancipatory ( Wals et al., 2009 ) drawing on multidisciplinary theoretical perspectives and evidence-informed practices.

Figure 1 illustrates the key elements of this model in an abstract manner through the visual metaphor of a wheel in which the handrails are spokes, the guardrails are the rim, and the lenses can be layered on top of the wheel. Table 2 presents each element in the model, questions related to this element that capture the pedagogical approach, and examples and resources for educators.

Figure 1. The Hope Wheel: handrails (spokes), guardrails (rim) and lenses to enable hope-based pedagogy in Climate Change Education.

Table 2. The Hope Wheel: Applying the elements.

To further illustrate the application of the Hope Wheel, Figure 2 indicates how the elements interact – for example, how two handrails relate to one another, and how one or more lenses can be layered upon the handrails–in terms of how an educator might approach program design and evaluation.

Figure 2. The application of the Hope Wheel: an example illustrating (A) the Honesty handrail, (B) the relationships between the Honesty and Action handrails, (C) the layering of the Complexity lens over the Honesty handrail, and (D) the layering of both the Complexity and Justice lenses over the relationship between the Honesty and Action handrails.

4 Discussion

The Hope Wheel uses accessible, visual metaphors to provide guidance for educators in response to calls for bridging the gap between research and teaching for sustainability ( Leal Filho et al., 2023 ). With such a model, even when synthesizing and responding to a broad range of literature, there are subjective decisions on what to include and how to design educational activities for educators. This article also reflects the choices of developing a working model based on a visual metaphor, and it is worth noting that a compass and flower were also considered as a means of illustrating the relationships between the various elements. We welcome other researchers and practitioners to continue to refine and improve this model and metaphor.

By aggregating central current principles from diverse disciplines, The Hope Wheel identifies pedagogical priorities for CCE that can “challenge students to participate actively, think critically and reflect” ( Scarff Seatter and Ceulemans, 2017 , 47). It champions challenging society’s dominant narratives and supports “transgressing the hidden curriculum of unsustainability: toward a relational pedagogy of hope” ( Wals et al., 2009 ).

This process, Wals et al. go on to explain, encompasses three elements; a critical element, enabling the “space to ask bold and disruptive questions about why things are the way they are, to learn how things can be changed but also what keeps them from changing,” as well as exploring dis-/misinformation. A relational element, that connects the personal, inner self with other humans (“those not in sight, those thinking differently”) and the non-human world. Lastly, an emancipatory element that foregrounds agency through “autonomy and self-determination.” The concepts behind a pedagogy of hope are grounded in these tenets and encourage educators to intentionally design opportunities for “transgressive learning” to stimulate a shift in the way the learner sees the world.

Further to this, the Hope Wheel acknowledges the necessity to respond to young people’s well-documented concerns and anxiety around the climate crisis. We argue that this can be done through sensitive, hope-based, action-oriented approaches that protect learner wellbeing while empowering agency through creativity, collective action and a culture of care.

This article represents the first articulation of a theoretical conceptual model, and the authors acknowledge the need for rigorous testing and evaluation. Some current examples of operationalizing this model in practice are shared below, followed by a critique of climate hope.

4.1 Pedagogies of hope in practice

4.1.1 spaces, honesty and awareness handrails operationalized.

Finnegan (2023) used speculative digital storytelling as both an educational intervention and participatory research method. This process–in which secondary school students participated in a series of workshops and produced video “letters from the future”–illustrates many aspects of the pedagogies of hope model. The workshops provided a “safe enough space” for emotionally engaging with climate change, in which difficult discussions were facilitated and honest information about the causes and solutions to climate change were presented. As a shared experience of reflection and support, the workshops also developed self-awareness and world awareness. Finally, the invitation to create a letter from their future self in the year 2050 supported both envisioning and communicating students’ hopes and fears for the future.

An example of informal climate education is the Museum of Climate Hope. 1 A museum trail across seven different institutions was created with supplemental digital content. The museum objects–and species at the garden–were chosen by students, educators, curators and researchers to explore the themes of resilience, innovation and transformation. This educational experience illustrates the handrail of awareness (of self and world) and perspectives lens looking at interdisciplinarity, with institutions and their collections covering humanities, social sciences, and STEM subjects. The Museum of Climate Hope also applied the justice lens by inviting acknowledgment of historic injustices, for example the items in the anthropology and archeology museum include a Hawaiian feather cloak (sustainably harvested from now endangered and extinct species) that was given as a gift to a representative of the British Empire, as well as a reindeer parka from the Evenki people in Siberia. In both cases, themes such as indigenous stewardship of place and the legacies of colonization inform modern understandings of climate vulnerability engaging the perspective and empathy lenses.

As a relatively small-scale pilot engagement project, the Museum of Climate Hope is not presented as proof of the Hope Wheel, but rather as an example of how the components of this model were incorporated into program design and delivery. Future research and evaluation activities are required to explore in more detail the relationship between such interventions and measurements of self-reported climate hope.

Through the relationships developed with schools in the above projects, the Museum of Climate Hope team was invited to deliver an assembly on climate hope to the sixth form (ages 16 to 18) of a local secondary school. This invitation followed a presentation to the same students by a climate scientist who used the opportunity to focus on the hard facts of climate catastrophe, illustrated by visuals of destruction and suffering. Afterward, students complained that the climate scientist misread their needs, and, in trying to wake them up to the climate crisis, only deepened levels of disengagement and despair. In this light, honesty about the situation needs to be balanced with honesty about possible solutions, while at the same time creating safe/brave spaces that lead to increased self-awareness and empower action.

4.1.2 Awareness and action handrails operationalized

Operationalizing the handrails of self-awareness and honesty in the Hope Wheel, d’Abreu (2022a , b) used Freire’s praxis-based pedagogy to engage students to envision change needed around social, economic and environmental challenges. Students were invited to apply theories of culture and communication–for example, Tajfel’s Social Identity Theory ( Tajfel and Turner, 1979 ) and Hall (1989) Cultural Iceberg model (1989)–to their own lived experience to identify issues of prejudice, stereotyping and othering they perceived within their cultural landscapes. Students created a video entitled “My Cultural Identity,” in which they reflected on and identified problematic identity representations within cultures, and suggested ways in which these might be challenged and changed. This invited reflection on self and world identities and envisioning possible solutions to the situation with the aim of enabling hope through the learning process. A “cinema screening” of videos was shown in plenary at the end of the course, collectively sharing these multiple perspectives and communicating possible actions to the issues students identified.

A further example is students in Oxford, UK collaborating with students in Grenoble, France on a COIL project (Co-operative, Online International Learning) in which they researched an issue of social, economic or environmental significance, comparing its causes, impacts and related campaigns in their distinct geographical locations. They conducted research and compared potential individual actions and collective responses locally and shared these with their team members via an online noticeboard. Here honesty around the situation and solutions was required and awareness of self and world was developed. Students worked on topic areas such as ecocide and fast fashion, plastic pollution and food poverty, generating possible solutions and pathways working with the aforementioned guardrails and engaging the lenses of complexity, justice, perspectives and creativity.

4.2 Climate hope pitfalls

This model builds on the premise that active, constructive, and transformative conceptualizations of hope provide a means of purposefully engaging climate change learning. However, it is worth briefly reflecting on more critical approaches to the concept of hope in the context of climate change.

One critique of climate hope could be characterized as imposed or outsourced hope, in which the burden of hope is imposed on others, versus participating in individual and collective action. This imposition of hope was described by Bill McKibben during an interview with climate activist Xiye Bastida: ‘When they say, “You give me hope,” part of what they’re saying is, “I don’t want to feel so bad about myself”’ ( Schwartz, 2023 ).

As captured in the guardrail of false hope, there can be conceptualizations of hope that are disempowering and unproductive. The observations above of outsourcing hope by imposing it on young climate activists raises the question of whose hope, and to what end? When used to justify an avoidance of discomfort and lack of action, this form of hope is not a productive form of engagement with climate change. This sentiment was echoed by Greta Thunberg when she noted that “hope is not passive, hope is not blah, blah, blah…hope is telling the truth and taking action” ( Thunberg, 2021 ).

The Hope Wheel provides a constructive framework for engaging with hope-based pedagogies. Without being prescriptive, the handrails, guardrails and lenses signpost key practical elements and considerations for educators to address in CCE while also identifying some of the potential pitfalls around unhelpful climate hope narratives.

As mentioned above, this Curriculum, Instruction and Pedagogy article is not a systematic review or original research, but rather contribution to the environmental and sustainability education community building on research and practice in educational psychology related to climate change and hope. Researchers and practitioners are invited to apply, adapt and critique the Hope Wheel, with future research necessary to validate the efficacy of this model.

5 Conclusion

Hope doesn’t soothe pain with pleasantries but is a tender reminder that the door to transformation is always open ( Nwulu, 2023 ) 2

A wheel presents a tool with structural integrity due to the intersection of the hub, spokes and rim. We use wheels to travel forward with a desired end destination in mind. The Hope Wheel aims to simplify core tenets in the literature on hope in CCE to support educators. In particular, this model offers guidance on what to include (handrails), what to avoid (guardrails) and important considerations (lenses) when designing and implementing formal and informal learning experiences.

It affirms that educators can create spaces for difficult conversations while protecting learner well-being, support honest explorations of hard climate change truths while addressing misconceptions, and facilitate the journey of self-awareness toward individual and collective action. There is no single model for pedagogies of hope in CCE, and the applications outlined above illustrate some examples of different approaches to implementing these concepts in practice. Educators are invited to reflect on aspects of the wheel they are already applying in their teaching practice and to explore how these might be enhanced or developed.

Learning about climate change can be uncomfortable, but in these moments of discomfort are the seeds of transformation. As educators, we do not need to have all the answers–armed with creativity and care, mindful of different perspectives and climate justice, we can all cultivate hope and equip learners with tools to navigate this time of change and uncertainty.

Author contributions

WF: Writing—original draft, Writing—review and editing. Cd: Writing—original draft, Writing—review and editing.

Data Availability Statement

The original contributions presented in the study are included in the article/supplementary material, further inquiries can be directed to the corresponding author/s.

The author(s) declare financial support was received for the research, authorship, and/or publication of the article. WF received funding from UKRI (EPSRC doctoral studentship).


We would wish to thank Tim Favier, Jo Hamilton, Claire Lee, Elizabeth Marks, and Maria Ojala for their insightful conversations, comment and critiques on pedagogies of hope in CCE. We would also like to thank Tina Fawcett and Anya Gleizer for their contributions to the Museum of Climate Hope and the Foundation students at Oxford Brookes Business School.

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that the research was conducted in the absence of any commercial or financial relationships that could be construed as a potential conflict of interest.

Publisher’s note

All claims expressed in this article are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of their affiliated organizations, or those of the publisher, the editors and the reviewers. Any product that may be evaluated in this article, or claim that may be made by its manufacturer, is not guaranteed or endorsed by the publisher.

  • ^ The Museum of Climate Hope is a partnership between the Environmental Change Institute (ECI) and the Gardens, Libraries and Museums (GLAM) at the University of Oxford with funding from the Public and Community Engagement with Research seed fund. More information is available at .
  • ^ Excerpt from “Like Prayer” by Selina Nwulu, a poem presented at the Hope and Action panel at the Everything is Connected season of the Cultural Programme, Humanities Division, University of Oxford, 28 October 2023.

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Keywords : climate change, education, pedagogy, hope, education for sustainability

Citation: Finnegan W and d’Abreu C (2024) The hope wheel: a model to enable hope-based pedagogy in Climate Change Education. Front. Psychol. 15:1347392. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2024.1347392

Received: 30 November 2023; Accepted: 26 February 2024; Published: 20 March 2024.

Reviewed by:

Copyright © 2024 Finnegan and d’Abreu. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY) . The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

*Correspondence: William Finnegan, [email protected]

Disclaimer: All claims expressed in this article are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of their affiliated organizations, or those of the publisher, the editors and the reviewers. Any product that may be evaluated in this article or claim that may be made by its manufacturer is not guaranteed or endorsed by the publisher.

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Critical Pedagogy

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What is critical pedagogy, why is critical pedagogy important.

  • Types of Critical Pedagogy
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This guide gives an overview to critical pedagogy and its vitalness to teaching and education. It is not comprehensive, but is meant to give an introduction to the complex topic of critical pedagogy and impart an understanding of its deeper connection to critical theory and education.

critical thinking critical pedagogy and climate change education

One working definition of critical pedagogy is that it “is an educational theory based on the idea that schools typically serve the interests of those who have power in a society by, usually unintentionally, perpetually unquestioned norms for relationships, expectations, and behaviors” (Billings, 2019). Based on critical theory, it was first theorized in the US in the 70s by the widely-known Brazilian educator Paolo Freire in his canonical book Pedagogy of the Oppressed (2018), but has since taken on a life of its own in its application to all facets of teaching and learning. The "pedagogy of the oppressed," or what what we know today to be the basis of critical pedagogy, is described by Freire as:

"...a pedagogy which must be forged with, not for, the oppressed (whether individuals or peoples) in the incessant struggle to regain their humanity. This pedagogy makes oppression and its causes objects of reflection by the oppressed, and from that reflection will come their necessary engagement in the struggle for liberation. And in the struggle this pedagogy will be made and remade...[It] sis an instrument for their critical discovery that both they and their oppressors are manifestations of dehumanization." (p. 48)

Perhaps a more straightforward definition of critical pedagogy is "a radical approach to education that seeks to transform oppressive structures in society using democratic and activist approaches to teaching and learn" (Braa & Callero, 2006).

There are many applications of theory-based pedagogy that privilege minoritarian thought such as antiracist pedagogy, feminist pedagogy, engaged pedagogy, culturally sustaining pedagogy, and social justice, to name a few.

Billings, S. (2019). Critical pedagogy. Salem press encyclopedia. New York: Salem Press.

Braa, D., & Callero, P. (2006, October). Critical pedagogy and classroom praxis. Teaching Sociology, 34 , 357-369.

Freire, P. Pedagogy of the oppressed. New York: Bloomsbury Academic.

Critical Pedagogy is an important framework and tool for teaching and learning because it:

  • recognizes systems and patterns of oppression within society at-large and education more specifically, and in doing so, decrease oppression and increase freedom
  • empowers students through enabling them to recognize the ways in which "dominant power operates in numerous and often hidden ways
  • offers a critique of education that acknowledges its political nature while spotlighting the fact that it is not neutral
  • encourages students and instructors to challenge commonly accepted assumptions that reveal hidden power structures, inequities, and injustice

Kincheloe, J. L. (2004). Critical pedagogy primer. P. Lang.

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Unleashing the creativity of teachers and students to combat climate change: An opportunity for global leadership

Subscribe to planet policy, christina kwauk and christina kwauk former brookings expert, head of climate and education - unbounded associates @ckwauk rebecca winthrop rebecca winthrop director - center for universal education , senior fellow - global economy and development @rebeccawinthrop.

March 26, 2021

  • 31 min read

What if, with a little leadership from global heads of state, including U.S. President Biden and U.K. Prime Minister Johnson, there was an opportunity to catalyze a movement at home and abroad that combats climate change, strengthens the civic health of communities, closes the learning gap in 21st century workplace skills between low and high-income girls and boys, and strengthens teacher capacity? It might sound too good to be true, but there is an opportunity for political leadership to spearhead what we are calling a new green learning agenda —a new way of educating and engaging children, youth, and adults in climate solutions—by unleashing the creativity of teachers and students to develop and implement climate action projects in their homes, schools, and communities. This approach to teaching and learning is grounded in decades of research on how children learn and helps build mastery of core academic content while also catalyzing climate action.

A powerful connection: Education and climate change

Recent research shows that if only 16 percent of high school students in high- and middle-income countries were to receive climate change education, we could see a nearly 19 gigaton reduction of carbon dioxide by 2050. When education helps students develop a strong personal connection to climate solutions, as well as a sense of personal agency and empowerment, it can have consequential impact on students’ daily behaviors and decisionmaking that reduces their overall lifetime carbon footprint. Imagine if 100 percent of students in the world received such an education. New evidence also shows that the combination of women’s empowerment and education that includes everyone—especially the 132 million out-of-school girls across the developing world—could result in an 85 gigaton reduction of carbon dioxide by 2050. By these estimates, leveraging the power of education is potentially more powerful than solely increasing investments in onshore wind turbines (47 gigaton reduction) or concentrated solar power (19 gigaton reduction) alone. When we say that all climate solutions are needed to draw down greenhouse gases, we must also mean education solutions, too.

When we say that all climate solutions are needed to draw down greenhouse gases, we must also mean education solutions, too.

But beyond education’s potential impact on reducing carbon emissions, education—especially for girls—can save lives in the context of natural disasters exacerbated by climate change by reducing climate risk vulnerability. In a study of 125 countries , researchers found that the death toll caused by floods, droughts, wildfires, extreme temperature events, and extreme weather events could be 60 percent lower by 2050 if 70 percent of women were able to achieve a lower-secondary-school education. Imagine if 100 percent of women were to achieve a full 12 years of education.

An equally important outcome of education is its potential to increase young people’s capacity to adapt to the harsh impacts of climate change by building important knowledge and a breadth of “ green skills .” For example, young people need both a strong knowledge base around the causes of a warming climate but also a strong set of skills that will allow them to apply their knowledge in the real world, including problem-solving, critical thinking, teamwork, coping with uncertainty, empathy, and negotiation. Indeed these very “transferable skills” are needed equally to thrive in the world of work and to be constructive citizens.

Today it is those communities that have historically contributed the least to present-day carbon emissions—such as minority and indigenous communities in the U.S. and many low- and middle-income countries and small island developing states —that are often the most vulnerable to its risks and impacts. In the U.S. for example, 6,000 schools are located in flood zones and 1 million children had their learning disrupted during California’s 2018-2019 wildfire season, hitting students in low-income communities the hardest. Across the globe, schools and entire communities in the poorest countries in the world are regularly upended due to severe floods and hurricanes, all expected to worsen in intensity and frequency due to climate change. For example, in 2013 Super Typhoon Haiyan killed more than 6,000 people in the Philippines, damaged or destroyed more than 3,200 schools and day care centers, disrupted the education of more than a million children, and placed 49,000 young girls and women at risk of sex trafficking due to their displacement in crowded and unsafe shelters. For these communities, climate change is an unchecked threat multiplier . Combating climate change is a move toward climate justice and gender justice . And education has a role to play. High quality climate-change education can also help empower girls and youth to become powerful change agents for sustainability in their communities, charting new paths forward for what life can and should be like.

Strong public support: Parents, teachers, and students want education to address climate change

There is growing momentum around the world to harness the power of education to combat and adapt to climate change and ensure young people—especially those girls and boys from the most marginalized communities—have the critical thinking, problem-solving, and collaboration skills needed to take action. In the U.S., 80 percent of parents ( 2 out of 3 Republicans and 9 out of 10 Democrats ) and in the U.K. 77 percent of adults support teaching climate change in school. Teachers and school administrators are eager to take up the challenge but feel they need more training and relevant learning materials to do so. In the U.S., 86 percent of teachers believe climate change should be taught in school, but nearly 60 percent of teachers report they do not teach climate change because they believe it is outside of their subject area. These statistics are similar in other countries with data: In the U.K., 69 percent of teachers agree that there should be more teaching on climate change, yet nearly 75 percent feel that doing so would push them beyond their knowledge and training. In Europe, 71 percent of teachers believe that in two years’ time the public will view climate change as a serious issue to discuss and learn about in school , but again the majority of teachers feel they needed more training and materials to do so.

In recent years, media attention has focused on the increasingly vocal demand from the world’s youth who are demanding leaders take just and equitable climate action, and also ensure present and future generations develop the knowledge, skills, and attitudes to address climate change through education. Nowhere is this more evident than in the millions of students behind the Fridays for Future movement and the hundreds of youth who stepped up to organize a Mock COP26 in place of the postponed 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26). Additionally, many of these civicly active students will soon be eligible to vote, which should further drive political support for action. But most students feel schools are not doing enough. A survey in Europe found that just 4 percent of students feel they know a lot about climate change; 42 percent feel they have learned a little, hardly anything, or nothing about it at school; and 57 percent of students want to learn more.

An audacious yet achievable goal: Climate action projects in every school by 2025

Imagine a world where every school community from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe, from China to the U.S. had students actively designing and leading projects aimed at curbing and/or adapting to climate change. In high-emitting countries, these projects might address the most pernicious underlying drivers of climate change and its disproportionate impact on vulnerable groups. For example, in the U.S., students can map and monitor local environmental challenges, analyze local practices, policies, and laws that perpetuate or enable these challenges, and design and implement or advocate for a sustainability plan that addresses the root cause(s). One specific way U.S. students of every age could bring their classroom learning to life is by finding ways to make the the 7 billion school meals served each year more just and sustainable—from sourcing food through school gardens to disposing of it through school composting.

In low-emitting country projects, students could help address the impacts of climate change. For example, young people living in communities near marine-protected areas in Mozambique could test out the real-world application of their biology and social studies lessons by working together to identify and promote the behaviors that help their community become long-lasting stewards of the oceans. And students in Bangladesh’s solar-powered “ floating schools ,” created in response to frequent school disruptions caused by monsoons and flooding, could connect their science and math lessons to support the hydroponics practice of floating farms ; this would strengthen their communities’ livelihoods and climate resilience to help curb the underlying drivers of “famine marriages” experienced by an alarming proportion of young girls .

Integrating this collaborative and experiential learning approach to students’ school experience does far more than harness their energies for the implementation of a global catalog of climate projects. It is one way to begin implementing a new green learning agenda focused on developing deeper understanding of the numerous ways human action can help sustain a planet in balance and build the civic action skills needed to solve collective problems—from climate change to gender inequality to poverty. It will also help build support for a growing call for action from leading advocacy organizations (e.g., EarthDay and The World’s Largest Lesson ) on integrating climate change across the curriculum with a focus on civic action. In other words, this learning approach will help build the mindsets and know-how of the world’s young people to be the drivers now and in the future of climate-smart nations.

Achieving this vision over the next five years—when countries will next be taking stock of their commitments to the Paris Agreement—is undoubtedly ambitious. But with the window of time to achieve the 1.5 degrees Celsius target closing by the minute, moonshots are what is needed. Luckily there are four conditions that increase this moonshot’s probability of success and make it not only an audacious but also an achievable goal.

1. Successful models of climate-focused project-based learning exist around the world

In Runesu Primary School in rural Zimbabwe, frequent drought and increasing school dropout led the community—together with CARE Zimbabwe—to install a solar-powered water system on school grounds to feed a school vegetable garden and aquaponics facility. 1 Using these projects to inspire hands-on lessons in engineering, aquaponics, agriculture, accounting, project planning, and project management (alongside science and mathematics) has led to a number of positive outcomes, including increased girls’ school attendance, leadership, and empowerment; increased overall student performance by nearly 40 percentage points; and increased community resilience to drought. And across other parts of sub-Saharan Africa, young women are honing their leadership skills through climate activism. For example, young women from CAMFED are engaging in nonformal peer-to-peer project-based learning in climate-smart agriculture to combat climate change, poverty, and gender inequality. Through their community workshops, mentoring, and demonstration farms, these young women have reached over 8,000 people and strengthened the adaptive capacity of even more. Vanessa Nakate, a climate activist from Uganda and recently U.N. Secretary General Youth Envoy , has founded the Rise up Climate Movement, which includes a focus on installing solar cookstoves in school.

In the U.K., Kingsmead Secondary School , a partner of the Green Schools Project, gave students a platform to engage with and respond to environmental issues through student-led projects, including a recycling competition, an energy campaign, vegetable garden, and a walk-to-school campaign. Not only did teachers report that such efforts helped to improve their students’ understanding of climate change, but they also helped to empower students to become agents of change for climate action in their school community and beyond. After one year, the school was able to reduce the amount of recycling going to landfills by 45 percent and after three years saved the school over $50,000 in energy costs. In the U.S., Washington State’s ClimeTime initiative is an example of a successful state-legislated investment in teacher professional development and teacher capacity building to help empower teachers with the confidence and competence to teach climate change. The teacher professional learning communities enable small groups of teacher-to-teacher learning, sharing, and brainstorming on strategies and tools to try out in the classroom and the outdoors (like argument-driven inquiry instruction models or using locally relevant phenomena to drive climate instruction), to reflect on their successes and failures, and to continue to refine their pedagogy in a safe and professional space.

All of these initiatives reflect the good practice principles from the decades of evidence on how children learn best. In “ Learning to leapfrog: Innovative pedagogies to transform education ,” experiential learning is defined as the range of teaching strategies—such as the project-based learning approaches in the above examples—that puts the learners directly in contact with what is being studied. There is strong evidence to show that this approach helps children learn better. The approach usually includes giving students concrete experiences in their schools or communities, facilitating students’ reflection on these experiences, connecting them to the theoretical concepts being studied, and allowing students to iteratively and actively experiment with how to solve a real-world problem. In one study with primary school students in Nigeria, experiential learning approaches were used to help students understand and address local environmental problems—from deforestation to desertification. Students in the program performed significantly better than those in the control group on measures as diverse as environmental knowledge to skills needed to solve immediate and future environmental problems. Indeed, “ A new green learning agenda: Approaches to quality education for climate action ” reviews the range of evidence around effective climate change education strategies, which center on experiential approaches broadly and help students develop a sense of personal responsibility and political agency to take action. These types of innovative pedagogical approaches combined with direct instruction in the classroom are essential for developing the types of skills young people need to need to shape behaviors and society, such as creative and collaborative problem-solving, evidence-based decisionmaking, reasoning, empathy, and the ability to communicate a position.

2. There is a diverse coalition of actors ready to scale successful models

Teachers from around the world are joining forces with to advocate for support and attention to climate change from global leaders—including from the heads of state President Biden is convening in April 2021— demonstrating the strong and growing commitment of civil society actors to address climate change. Education International and other teacher organizations and unions around the world have signed onto calls for more support to teach science, truth, and climate change. Environmental groups such as Earth Day Network and sustainable development groups such as Project Everyone have launched campaigns to improve climate change education globally. In countries around the world, local campaign organizations and youth-led climate activist organizations are demanding greater climate action, climate change education, and climate justice. For example, community-based youth movements that link with after school clubs and activities are helping scale climate action through grassroots mobilization, including through Paryavaran Mitra —a large-scale, project-based sustainability learning initiative across India.

Last year in the U.S., 150 individuals from 120 different organizations and networks came together to cohere a collective vision for climate empowerment for the country and developed a national strategic planning framework to put climate change education at the forefront of U.S. climate action. Such a milestone speaks not only to the volume of civil society actors standing at the ready to scale climate change education across the country (and beyond), but also to the level of expertise, experience, and energy that the Biden administration can lean on in this historic moment for climate action. Tapping into this force—and coordinating it through federal leadership—would put the U.S. at the forefront of civil society engagement on climate change education.

3. School systems are the perfect size for scaling climate action

Emerging research suggests the “sweet spot” for climate action is at the scale of 10,000-100,000 people. This is not only because the collective ability to make meaningful action is rooted in local relevance, but also because we reach a certain degree of cost-benefit optimization when it comes to the global impact of our local actions. If we apply this to education systems, this is equivalent to focusing efforts at the school-district level—or the equivalent school administrative cluster, depending on the population size of cities and counties. School districts are the perfect network of institutions that exist in every country in the world that have enough community connection potential to effectively scale green civic learning. Focusing efforts at the local level enables education interventions to be community-driven, which is aligned to what we know about effective climate action and effective climate change education : That is, it needs to be locally-relevant and tied to local environmental justice issues to local community challenges with climate change, and to action and ownership at the community level.

When it comes to concern about climate change, as well as other controversial topics, research shows that children can have a strong influence on their parents’ views.

4. Students can seed public mindset shift on climate change and climate action

Entrenched political ideology among adults is a major barrier to shifting public opinion on climate change and thus widescale behavioral change toward climate action. This could become an insurmountable obstacle to climate action, as we typically think of parents having a strong influence on the beliefs and behaviors of their children, leading us down a vicious cycle of climate inaction. However, when it comes to concern about climate change, as well as other controversial topics, research shows that children can have a strong influence on their parents’ views. Indeed, when given the tools to facilitate conversations with their parents about climate challenges in their community (without explicitly mentioning climate change), children can bypass adults’ highly resistant political ideologies that typically serve as blinders to their ability to recognize risks and take action. The effect of this intergenerational learning is especially seen by girls on their parents, and especially on male parents and conservative parents. And the effect is not limited to just increasing climate concern, but extends to changes in environmental behaviors, like reducing energy consumption and waste production . Such insights not only point to the power of young people, especially girls, but also to the opportunities to catalyze climate action even among those adults for whom the politicization of climate change has cut them off from climate communication.

Three steps to move from ideas to action

Harnessing the creativity of teachers and students to engage in climate action envisions making every educator a climate champion, every school club leader an advocate, and every lesson applicable to solving some dimension of climate change, its underlying drivers, and/or adapting to its impacts. Achieving a new green learning agenda means developing in learners the understanding and skills to address the causes and impacts of climate change at any level of education and across many different subjects. It is not just for secondary school students in science class. Young children learning to read can try their skills on stories about animals and nature, which provide a perfect segue into exploring environmental issues and climate change in the local community and identifying problems to solve. In Spain, kindergarteners in a Design for Change program noticed there was a problem with littering in a local park and decided to install recycling and trash receptacles at child-level height to address it. With the right support—from materials to coaching—teachers and youth club leaders can find many connections to learning about the environment and its connections to climate change in existing curricula, coding clubs, debate competitions, and after school clubs.

This approach of supporting teachers and students to take action today is one that complements and will help build public support for curriculum reform efforts aimed at incorporating climate change education in school policy and achieving the systems transformation needed to realize fully a new green learning agenda. On average, large-scale curriculum reform across education systems takes 10 to 15 years. To date, despite clear global commitments to harness the power of education dating back to the 1992 Earth Summit, only two countries ( Italy and New Zealand , and soon to be three with Mexico ) have fully integrated climate change into their national curriculum. And only 26 percent of countries’ Nationally Determined Contributions even mention children’s schooling—even less pay attention to education’s important role in achieving gender equality and intergenerational justice. The efforts to include climate change in national curricular requirements, develop more relevant and gender-inclusive technical education for green jobs, and invest in large-scale green public infrastructure that includes schools are all crucial. However, we do not need to wait for these to be accomplished (or even started) to begin implementing a new green learning agenda and harnessing the power of education for climate action. With such high interest from students, teachers, and parents we can begin today with the following three steps.

Step 1: Developing a coalition for action

The first step needed is to develop a diverse coalition of organizations that bring the range of needed expertise to achieve the goal. This will naturally draw on all segments of society from government to civil society to the private sector. There is no shortage of organizations willing and able to participate and it will be essential that the coalition—and the funding mechanisms behind it—is developed in a way that incentivizes the diverse actors to work collaboratively toward achieving the goal. We envision that the coalition would include:

  • Content developers. Organizations like the Smithsonian Science Education Center , Green Ninja , Office for Climate Education , or TROP ICSU , with expertise in developing and curating existing teaching and learning materials using experiential learning approaches, focused on learning about the natural environment and climate change, and linking to a range of curricular subjects across grades.
  • Teacher networks. Teacher networks, like Education International , Climate Generation’s Teach Climate Network , and National Geographic’s Educator Community , dedicated to peer mentoring, training, and resource sharing with an interest in advancing climate change education.
  • Student networks. Student-led extracurricular clubs and youth networks, like the Alliance for Climate Education’s Youth Action Network or the CLEO Institute’s Youth Empowerment Movement , interested in working in their communities to learn about and take action on climate change.
  • Media organizations with an interest in sharing the stories of how different school communities around the world are tackling the challenge set before them.
  • Technology companies. Technology companies that are willing to give their platforms and tools to help support school communities and the coalition share resources, support implementation, and/or track impact of education interventions on the environment.
  • Research organizations. Research organizations with an interest in iteratively capturing and sharing learnings across partners and innovating methods for tracking the impact of educational interventions on both behavioral change and emissions reduction.
  • Governments —including the new U.S. administration and the U.K., which will be presiding over the Global Partnership for Education’s Replenishment, G7, and the COP26 presidency this year—interested in furthering teacher and student action through lesson sharing and integration into national digital platforms and/or through increased policy uptake.
  • Funders from across the government, multilateral, philanthropic, and corporate sector drawing on those interested in supporting education, as well as those mechanisms funding climate mitigation and adaption activities.

Step 2: Supporting teacher and student creativity

The main lever for reaching the goal we set forth is to unleash teacher and student creativity to identify and address the causes and impacts of climate change in communities—and to do this they need support. Given the wide range of local community-based organizations and international organizations with high interest in this type of work, the rollout strategy should link early adopters and their local ecosystem of community organizations with resources and networks to adapt work to those communities not yet engaged in the topic. Such collaborations should be driven by communities and amplified by organizations such as Education International, National Geographic, the World’s Largest Lesson, and Teach for All, which all have global teacher networks and an interest in experiential learning approaches and social justice topics. The range of activities needed to support teacher and student creativity would include:

The main lever for reaching the goal we set forth is to unleash teacher and student creativity to identify and address the causes and impacts of climate change in communities—and to do this they need support.
  • Curating and developing relevant teaching and learning materials. There are many existing teaching and learning materials on climate change but far from all employ experiential and project-based learning strategies and many need to be contextualized to community contents. Therefore, a locally relevant review process is needed to take stock of what exists, particularly with an eye toward materials that meet several key criteria: 1) easy to use, 2) able to be contextualized and made locally relevant, and 3) uses experiential learning approaches. Where there are gaps, new materials will need to be developed. While the approach of empowering teachers and students to bring their learning to life through climate-related projects is a universally applicable principle, the specific strategies of how to do that well must be local. In the U.S., projects may center around schools themselves reducing their carbon footprint, while in Mozambique projects may center around addressing gaps in girls’ education while stewarding wildlife conservation . In urban China, projects may center around responsible consumption and waste management, while in rural China projects may center around environmental stewardship and sustainable use of the country’s major river basins . One approach that should be leveraged to help localize teaching materials and educator resources is to pair teachers and local scientists into “learning pods” where together they develop locally relevant climate-related instructional materials across subject areas.
  • Mentoring and coaching teachers and youth leaders. Teachers overwhelmingly trust other teachers the most when it comes to advice and guidance on what and how they should teach. Therefore, peer learning, exchange, and mentoring on how to incorporate climate change projects that use experiential learning approaches into daily activities can be the main lever for supporting teacher practice. Peer learning networks and mentoring are effective but often underutilized approaches to helping teachers build their skills and confidence in tackling new approaches to learning. Good practice exists within a range of organizations that have expertise in peer learning networks for educators, and these can be expanded to include a focus on experiential learning approaches to climate change. Similarly with youth networks, girls’ clubs, and extracurricular activities, building in opportunities for mentoring, leadership development, and enhancing “ green life skills ” and civic engagement could not only help to combat harmful stereotypes and barriers to opportunities, but also empower girls, marginalized groups, and youth to rewrite their own narratives as agents of change in and for their own communities.
  • Sharing good practice . Given the wide range of projects and approaches that will take place in each school community, developing a platform for sharing good practices and lessons learned will be important to deepening and extending the impact of this effort. Sharing stories via a range of platforms that can inspire other organizations, communities, and constituencies by example to tackle climate change will be an important part of helping harness the full power of education to change mindsets.

Step 3: Capturing learnings to advance impact

Achieving an audacious goal requires a crystal clear theory of change, feasible and powerful process monitoring, and a commitment to continuous evaluation and lessons sharing. Tracking impact and collecting the lessons learned for sharing will be an important component of the effort. The insights gathered from doing so will help build momentum in school communities that are not initially engaged in the effort, distill learnings for policymakers from both the climate and education space that are looking for effective strategies to incorporate into teacher development policy or the National Action for Climate Empowerment strategy . The research organizations leading this part of the work would need to:

  • a cognitive point of entry, such as the introduction of a local environmental resource challenge and possible solutions to it;
  • an affective dimension that helps cultivate empathy toward the environment;
  • an existential component that challenges one’s sense of self and one’s way of living and being;
  • an ownership dimension generated by building a sense of responsibility over a local climate solution; and
  • opportunities for empowered action through a community action project.
  • Track impact. This is particularly important for overcoming the theory of change “problem” behind education—mainly, that increased levels of education have been associated with increased levels of consumption and thus increased levels of greenhouse gas emissions. Emerging research suggests that it is not any kind of education of which we need more, but rather more quality climate change education that empowers learners with knowledge, strengthens their personal connection to climate solutions, and builds their sense of agency and civic dispositions . Together, these learning gains would create the necessary conditions for the mindset shifts needed to change day-to-day behaviors and decisionmaking with consequential effect in terms of reduced emissions and increased adaptive capacity. To complement our technical solutions to climate change, researchers must be tuned into tracking the impact of different educational solutions at different scales on people and the planet, with an eye toward understanding how context matters.
  • Share lessons learned. While currently there are many isolated initiatives to collect and curate climate change education teaching and learning materials and resources, access to these information hubs is merely the first barrier to empowering teachers to teach climate change. A second barrier is teachers’ feelings of confidence and competence in using these resources and applying them to their local contexts and to their subject areas, as indicated by teacher surveys in the U.S., the U.K., and Europe. To address both of these barriers, efforts are needed to catalogue lesson plans or community climate action projects at the school district level (or the equivalent school cluster that covers approximately 10,000-100,000 students) where they will be most relevant for teachers seeking ideas for school projects, youth group leaders to share with their networks, and teachers and student leaders to share lessons learned and ideas to try out in their own classrooms and clubs.

What success looks like

Unleashing the creativity of teachers and students to combat climate change through student-driven and student-led community-based climate action projects would be a quick win for improving the overall quality of education for a 21st century rife with crises. If done at scale across the millions of school districts across  the world, we could be well on our way to achieving net-zero emissions by 2050 and to ensuring the quality of life for future generations on this planet.

For starters, such projects could contribute meaningfully to mitigating the causes of climate change (not least by helping to green schools themselves, which often remain public institutions with large carbon footprints) and to adapting to the impacts of climate change (not least by helping build the resilience and adaptive capacity of the most vulnerable—especially girls—to climate impacts, risks, and vulnerabilities). If done with an aim to achieve climate justice, such projects could help seed the social transformations and systems change required to address climate change equitably, including tackling gender inequality, racial discrimination, poverty, and other human rights challenges underlying and exacerbated by climate change. Even our best scientific models suggest that success—that is, achieving the 1.5 degrees Celsius target—is not possible without simultaneously achieving climate justice.

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In addition, through participating in the design and implementation of climate action projects, youth will build “ green skills ,” or their own personal skills and capacities across multiple fronts, including specific capacities like project management skills, cross-cutting 21st century skills like the ability to collaboratively problem-solve, and transformative capacities like collective action and political agency needed for both the world of work and for civic engagement on climate and other social problems. This is especially critical for girls whose leadership and decisionmaking has a demonstrated positive impact on the environment. Teachers would also make large professional gains through stronger peer learning networks that could be used for a range of other topics, adding another way in which countries can build teacher capacity and their professional resilience. Teachers would be more confident and competent not only in teaching climate change across different subjects, but also in experiential, project-based, and inquiry-based learning, which is good teaching practice and can be used for any subject.

The increased relevance of education oriented toward solving local environmental and climate problems is not only a win for society in terms of increasing students’ civic participation and constructive collaboration within their own communities. It also means adding another important player—the education sector—to an important lineup of sectors, like energy, environment, agriculture, transportation, waste management, and infrastructure, working to strengthen the climate-resilience of communities and build a climate-smart nation.

Finally, implementing climate action projects in every school by 2025 will build a groundswell of momentum for climate action and climate justice, especially if community actors are engaged throughout the process. We have seen that the energy of students and their concerns about the environment and interests in climate action can have a ripple effect and help change the mindsets of parents in ways that traditional climate change communication has repeatedly failed. Students—especially girls, empowered by empowered teachers—can help to increase overall public support for climate action, including building demand for the integration of climate change education into curricula and other important dimensions of a new green learning agenda that this “big idea” does not address but for which it can build critical support.

A call to action

When it comes to climate change, humanity sits at an important crossroads with a rapidly closing window of time to take action. We have at our fingertips a big idea—climate action projects in every school by 2025—that through the coordination and activation of a coalition of actors could help set humanity down the path to sustainability. The will is there, as indicated by the millions of youth who have skipped school to demand their governments take greater climate action, as well as the large percentage of teachers who want to teach climate change. It is now time for the U.S. and the U.K., together with global leaders, to seize the moment and step into the leadership role the planet desperately needs.

As the world anticipates global advocacy efforts to shift from explaining why governments need to pay attention to climate change education to how governments can implement climate change education, one way to start—while continuing the long game of curricular integration and reform—is a moonshot idea to unleash the creativity of students and teachers to combat climate change one community at a time.

The year 2021 presents major global opportunities to build this coalition of support further. President Biden’s Earth Day Summit presents an opportunity for the U.S. to announce its plans to prioritize education for climate action, including the resources to back this up—a Brookings Climate Blueprint recommends $2 billion. Countries around the world and multilateral agencies from the United Nations to the development banks have the opportunity to put their money where their mouth is and participate in the replenishment of the Global Partnership for Education to ensure funds and resources will be directed domestically, bilaterally, and multilaterally to education for climate action. Such support and investment are a critical dimension to the success of the Paris Agreement, as education that leads to climate empowerment is the linchpin to our ability to unbridle all other climate solutions and to achieve the 1.5 degrees Celsius target. And the U.K. Presidency of the G-7 and of the much-anticipated COP26 must also mark policy wins for climate change education, not to mention the renewal of a more robust and ambitious plan for education for climate action and the convergence of agendas around girls’ education and climate change.

  • Matyanga, M. (2019). Building climate resilient schools in Zimbabwe. Unpublished final report. CARE Zimbabwe. 

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5 Critical Pedagogy: Challenging Bias and Creating Inclusive Classrooms


Regardless of the type of library you work in, your learners will come from varied backgrounds, identities, and life experiences, and will bring different interests and educational needs to the classroom. These experiences shape how learners experience the classroom, the content, and the learning activities, and ultimately impact what they learn and how they use that knowledge. As instructors, we need not only to recognize these differences and how they influence learning but also acknowledge and honor the richness of experience our learners bring. We need to create an inclusive classroom environment where everyone feels welcome and valued, and where our content is relevant to our learners’ diverse identities and interests.

In order to be effective in this role, we must better understand how existing educational, social, and political systems shape our learners’ experiences from their earliest moments and continue to influence what and how they learn inside and outside of the classroom through the rest of their lives. We must recognize how bias has impacted and continues to impact both our learners’ and our own experiences, and develop culturally competent and inclusive practices in order to mitigate bias in the classroom and interact effectively with learners from varied cultural backgrounds.

Critical pedagogy provides a theoretical framework to examine issues of power in the classroom, and to surface and challenge the biases and oppressive structures that can undermine learning and alienate students. Inclusive teaching offers strategies for translating that theoretical knowledge into action. This chapter begins with a brief overview of critical pedagogy, followed by an examination of some of the biases critical pedagogy uncovers and how those biases can impact the work we do as instructors. Next, the chapter presents strategies for mitigating bias, improving our cultural competence, and creating inclusive classrooms where all learners are able to engage with relevant content and effective pedagogies. Chapter 6 extends the discussion of inclusion to address specific issues of accessibility and universal design for learners with disabilities.

Critical Pedagogy

As discussed briefly in Chapter 3, social constructivists in particular recognize that learners’ cultures, including shared values, behaviors, and beliefs, shape their knowledge. However, no society is made up of a single, monolithic culture; rather, different communities reflect different values and beliefs, and encourage and discourage different behaviors. Political, social, and educational systems tend to reflect the dominant culture, and over time the values, behaviors, and beliefs associated with that culture become so ingrained as to be invisible. Those living within the dominant culture do not recognize it as a system but simply see it as “normal,” and anything outside of that system is “other” than normal. Some educational theorists recognized that these differences have a profound impact on education.

Bourdieu (see, e.g., Bourdieu & Passeron, 2000) and Freire (2000), for instance, saw that traditional educational systems tended to reflect and favor the experiences of children from wealthy families. Because these children understood that system and saw themselves reflected in it, they thrived and were successful, while children from poorer families struggled. Since the dominant systems are essentially invisible, those in power tend to attribute the challenges faced by marginalized individuals as inherent to the person. In other words, if a child from a poor family struggles to learn to read, teachers will often assume the issue is with the child’s innate ability to learn, rather than recognize that the child might not have had the same preliteracy experiences and current support systems that other children have. Because they do not recognize the root issue, these educational models tend to replicate rather than challenge the existing systems, so learners from the dominant culture continue to succeed while those from marginalized communities continue to struggle, a phenomenon that Bourdieu refers to as cultural reproduction. While earlier theorists tended to focus mostly on the impact of economic disparities in education, other writers and educators like bell hooks, Henry Giroux, and Ileana Jiménez have applied feminist, queer, and critical race theory to examine how existing classroom power structures marginalize women, people of color, individuals who identify as LGBTQIA+, and other learners as well.

Importantly, critical pedagogy does not end with theory but rather focuses on praxis, or translating knowledge into action. Critical pedagogy sees education as a tool for empowerment, a place where learners develop the knowledge and skills they need to undo oppressive structures and achieve liberation (Freire, 2000; Tewell, 2015). Unlike the traditional “banking” model of education that positions learners as passive recipients of information, in a classroom guided by critical pedagogy, learners engage with problems that are personally meaningful and are active agents in their own education, and through that education gain agency to enact change in the world beyond the classroom (Elmborg, 2006; Freire, 2000; Tewell, 2015).

Critical pedagogy informs the critical approaches to information literacy discussed in Chapter 2, which urge us to move away from a skills-based, teacher-centered approach to information literacy toward one that questions dominant information structures and adopts student-centered teaching methods. Building on the ideas of agency and empowerment, critical information literacy encourages learners to see themselves as part of the “scholarly conversation” and as creators of information, rather than just consumers, and provides them with ways to recognize and challenge dominant powers within the current systems of creating, sharing, and evaluating information. Thus, for instructors, critical pedagogy pushes us to surface power dynamics in the classroom and the larger communities in which our learners live, and to reflect on how our own culture and biases color our approach to the classroom. In doing so, it offers a model for a more inclusive teaching practice.

Bias in the Classroom

We all have bias. These biases might be based on gender, race or ethnicity, class, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, body type, or other elements of people’s personal identity. In some cases, we may be aware that we have a bias, while in other cases, we hold unconscious biases that we have unwittingly picked up over the course of our lifetime. Banaji and Greenwald (2013) show that our unconscious biases are particularly pernicious because we are unaware of the effect they have on our thoughts and actions, resulting in discriminatory judgments and behaviors that are automatic and hard to recognize. For example, research shows that when given résumés with equivalent qualifications from applicants with stereotypically white names and stereotypically Black names, search committees will favor applicants with stereotypically white names (Bertrand & Mullainathan, 2003) and that orchestras have historically favored men over women in auditions (Goldin & Rouse, 2000). Unconscious bias also affects library services. Shachaf and Horowitz (2006) found differences in librarians’ replies to email reference queries based on the patron’s perceived ethnicity and religious affiliation, including the time taken to reply, length and quality of answers, and the use of welcoming, professional greetings and conclusions. These examples demonstrate one of Banaji and Greenwald’s important findings–that hidden biases result in acts of commission, such as favoring men or whites in hiring, as well as acts of omission, such as providing less thorough service to some patrons.

It can be uncomfortable and even challenging to recognize our own bias. As Sue (2010a) notes, most people “see themselves as fair-minded individuals who would never consciously discriminate” and “their self-image of being ‘a good moral human being’ is assailed if they realize and acknowledge that they possess biased thoughts, attitudes and feelings.” As we grapple with our own biases, it can be helpful to remember that our brains evolved to develop heuristics that allow us to function effectively and safely in our environment. These heuristics often operate at an unconscious level; if you have ever seen a snake and instinctively jumped back even before you could assess whether the snake was venomous, you have experienced an unconscious heuristic that told you snakes are dangerous. Unfortunately, unconscious thoughts and biases influence how we react to people as well, particularly when we perceive those people as “different” from ourselves. If we want to be fair-minded, rational people, it is essential that we identify and reflect on our unconscious biases, including recognizing how our society shapes and influences those biases, in order to mitigate the effect they have on our thoughts and actions (Banaji and Greenwald, 2013). Activity 5.1 provides an opportunity to learn more about unconscious biases you may hold.

Activity 5.1: Take an Implicit Bias Test

As part of its research on implicit bias, Project Implicit at Harvard University offers tests that attempt to measure personal biases. While these tests are not perfect measures, they offer a starting point for reflecting on how we might be impacted by unconscious bias. Visit Project Implicit and try one or more of the available tests.

Questions for Reflection and Discussion:

  • How did you feel about your results? Were you surprised or uncomfortable? Did other feelings emerge?
  • If your test results revealed a personal bias, how might that bias affect your work in the classroom? What strategies could you use to mitigate this bias and deliver high-quality instruction to all your learners?


One manifestation of bias is microaggressions, which Sue (2010a) defines as “the everyday verbal, nonverbal, and environmental slights, snubs, or insults, whether intentional or unintentional, which communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative messages to target persons based solely upon their marginalized group membership.” Microaggressions may be aimed at women, people of color, individuals who identify (or are perceived) as LGBTQIA+, and people with disabilities, among others. Microaggressions come in many forms, including verbal (e.g., “Where are you from?” which implies a person of color must be a foreigner; telling a woman to smile), nonverbal (e.g., clutching one’s purse more tightly or crossing the street around a person of color), or environmental (e.g., Native American mascots) (Sue, 2010b). While microaggressions may appear minor, they create hostile classroom environments, perpetuate stereotype threat, lower workplace productivity, and cause mental and physical health problems (Sue et al., 2009, p. 183).

Because microaggressions often reflect our unconscious biases, they can be hard to eliminate. Princing (2019) notes that when we first meet someone new, we tend to notice what makes them different from us. She recommends we reflect on those thoughts and question any beliefs or stereotypes that may accompany them. The Reinert Center for Transformative Teaching and Learning (n.d.) also recommends that instructors reflect on their assumptions and expectations as a first step to avoid committing microaggressions. For example, an instructor who assumes that learners from first-generation or lower socioeconomic backgrounds are less prepared for college might make a comment to that effect in the classroom, making students hesitant to attend office hours lest they confirm the instructor’s negative belief. Additional strategies instructors can use:

  • Resist the myth of color blindness. Unconscious bias makes it difficult to be truly colorblind. In addition, claims of color blindness obscure structural disadvantages and the very real differences in the experiences of people from marginalized groups (Princing, 2019).
  • Believe the stories of people from marginalized groups. We can learn more about everyday bias by listening to and learning from the stories of individuals who have firsthand experience with bias. We must take care not to dismiss those stories as exaggerations, misunderstandings, or isolated incidents.
  • Do not ask students to speak for their entire racial or culture group. As noted elsewhere in this chapter, learners from the same broad cultural group will not necessarily share all of the same values, beliefs, and understandings, and students may not feel capable of speaking for the experience of others (Reinert Center, n.d.). In addition, singling out learners in this way can make it appear that the instructor sees them as a one-dimensional representative of a particular identity, rather than as an individual bringing varied strengths, interests, and experiences to the classroom.
  • Assume groups you are talking about are represented in the classroom. Treating every classroom interaction as if we were speaking with a member of the group under discussion can remind us to choose our words with care (Reinert Center, n.d.).
  • Remain open to learning about microaggressions and yourself. While it is natural to feel defensive when others point out that we have said something problematic or offensive, we can approach such instances as learning opportunities.

In addition to recognizing the role that bias might play in our own actions, instructors should be aware that students will bring their own biases to the classroom. These biases will affect how learners understand and interact with instructional content, peers, and instructors, and instructors should be attentive to instances where learners commit microaggressions against one another. Microaggressions can be awkward and even challenging to address, especially if they were framed as a compliment (e.g., “You speak English so well”) or reflect commonly accepted stereotypes. Offenders may be unaware of the offense they have caused and because they did not intend to offend others, may be reluctant to accept responsibility for having done so. However, it is important to address such events clearly and promptly. Sue et al. (2019, p. 134) note that when microaggressions occur, small interventions by allies and bystanders have a “profound positive effect in creating an inclusive and welcoming environment” and discouraging further microaggressions. Strategies for addressing microaggressions in the classroom include:

  • Make the “invisible” visible.  Create awareness by naming the microaggression with statements such as “I think that’s a stereotype I just heard” (Sue et al., 2019, p. 136).
  • Disarm the microaggression. Statements such as “I don’t agree” or “I don’t see it that way” and actions such as shaking one’s head communicate to the perpetrator and others that the microaggression is not acceptable (Sue et al., 2019, p. 136).
  • Take an educational, nonpunitive approach. Turn microaggressions into teachable moments by asking learners to reflect on their assumptions (Center for Teaching and Learning, n.d., p. 11). Phrases like “it sounds like you think” or “Could there be another way to look at this?” can prompt speakers to identify and question their unconscious biases (Gonzaga et al., 2019). Ferguson (2015) suggests we approach microaggressions in the spirit of “calling in” rather than “calling out.”
  • Redirect. When students are asked to speak for all members of their racial or cultural group, we can redirect the conversation with statements such as “Let’s open this question up to others” (Gonzaga et al., 2019).
  • Use “I” statements. The use of “I” statements such as “I felt uncomfortable when you said . . . ” communicate impact while minimizing blame (Gonzaga et al., 2019).
  • Discuss intent versus impact. Instructors can use statements like “I know you meant to be funny, but you hurt . . . ” to help learners recognize the impact of something they said. If learners struggle with the idea that they may have offended or harmed someone despite not intending to cause offense, instructors can use metaphors such as bumping someone in the grocery store or causing a car accident to explain the difference between intent and impact (and the need to make amends).
  • Rewind. Sometimes microaggressions happen so quickly, the conversation moves on before they are addressed. Statements like “I’d like to revisit something that was said earlier” allow us to step back and address these microaggressions ( Gonzaga et al., 2019).

Another manifestation of bias can be “othering,” or treating the history and experiences of white, middle-class, heterosexual, cisgender, able-bodied people as universal or the norm, while presenting the history and experiences of other groups as unusual, exceptional, or only of interest to members of those communities. For example, displaying books by Black authors in February, but not at other times, sends an implicit message that the history of America is the actions and accomplishments of whites and that the accomplishments of others are of limited value or interest. While special displays and programs are an important way to recognize and support events like Black History Month, Women’s History Month, and Pride Month, librarians should also integrate materials by individuals of color, women, and LGBTQIA+ authors into displays year-round.

In some cases, the systems that are foundational to libraries treat selected groups as the other. For example, the Dewey Decimal System reserves 200-289 for topics related to Christianity and the Bible, leaving only the 290s for all other religions; Schingler (2015) points out that this reflects an underlying assumption that Christianity not only has more to say on theological topics, what it has to say is more valuable. Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH) are notoriously problematic in their treatment of women and people of color (Berman, 1969, 1993; Drabinski, 2008; Knowlton, 2005). The presence of subject headings such as “women astronauts” and “African American business enterprises” reveals an assumption that these professions are for white men and that the presence of others is unusual or remarkable, while subject headings that utilize biased terminology, such as “illegal aliens,” send a message about who belongs in America.

These instances of bias and othering can create barriers to information seeking. Howard and Knowlton (2018) point out that Library of Congress Classification distributes materials related to African American and LGBTQIA+ issues throughout the collection, making browsing or even grasping the scope of the topic challenging for researchers. Even when controlled vocabulary uses neutral terminology, the accompanying thesauri can obscure topics for patrons trying to identify the database’s preferred subject heading. For example, a search for “queer” in the ERIC thesaurus returns “the term(s) you entered could not be found” with no suggestions for next steps ( ERIC uses the subject heading “homosexuality”). In comparison, a search for “queer” in the thesaurus for PubMed takes one to the preferred subject heading, “sexual and gender minorities,” along with notes about how the term is applied and related/narrower terms.

As part of creating inclusive classrooms, we must be aware of the ways in which library systems and spaces can “other” marginalized groups, and take steps to improve equity and inclusion in our spaces and collections. For example, when creating lessons, we can plan search examples that reflect the diversity of our community and learners’ interests. As appropriate, we can surface and acknowledge problematic practices, and engage students in a dialogue about the impact of those practices and how they might be changed. Integrating diversity into curricular content is addressed in more detail later in this chapter.

Deficit-Based Thinking

Learners, by their very nature, come to our libraries and classrooms with gaps in their knowledge and skills. Oftentimes, instructors seek out research that will help them identify these gaps in order to develop relevant content. While this research can provide valuable guidance for instructors, it is sometimes framed solely in terms of what learners are lacking and can lead us to focus exclusively on students’ weaknesses, an approach termed deficit-based thinking.

Increasingly, educators are taking an asset-based approach that recognizes and builds on the strengths students bring to the classroom (Heinbach, 2019; Ilett, 2019; Kocevar-Weidinger et al., 2019; Matteson & Gersch, 2019; Tewell, 2020). For example, research on returning adult learners may show that they lack up-to-date research and citation skills, framing this as a problem that will hinder academic success. An asset-based approach recognizes that adult learners, by virtue of having spent time in the workforce, bring valuable life experience that can enrich classroom discussions, along with strong collaborative and interpersonal skills developed in the workplace. In addition, adult learners tend to have clear educational and career goals and are highly motivated to develop the knowledge and skills they need to succeed in higher education. As another example, Kocevar-Weidinger et al. (2019) show that despite the stereotype that first-year college students lack research skills, they actually have extensive everyday research experience that can serve as a starting point for academic information literacy instruction.

Sometimes things characterized as weaknesses or deficits are in fact strengths if we recast our narrative. For instance, research on first-generation students may focus on the challenges they encounter because their families are unable to advise them on how to navigate the academic and social aspects of college. Research also shows that first-generation undergraduate students are less likely to use campus support services (Longwell-Grice et al., 2016; Portnoi & Kwong, 2011). An asset-based approach recognizes that families of first-generation students are often very supportive of their students’ academic endeavors and, if given information about support services on campus, will recommend their students take advantage of such services. Thus, while they lack firsthand knowledge of higher education, family members can be a conduit to connecting first-generation students to campus resources. Activity 5.2 asks you to think more deeply about asset-based approaches.

Activity 5.2: Reflecting on Asset-Based Thinking

Individually or with a group of classmates, select a group of learners you might work with, such as recent immigrants, English-language learners, international students, or older adults.

  • What gaps in knowledge or skills are typically ascribed to this group? Are these viewed as simple gaps or as deficits?
  • What strengths will this group of learners bring to the classroom?
  • How could you use an asset-based approach to build on these strengths in designing instruction?

Cultural Competency

Cultural competency is the ability to work effectively with people from varied cultural backgrounds. Cultural competency is an essential skill for librarians; it prepares us to recognize barriers to information use, to work with colleagues and patrons of diverse backgrounds, and to develop culturally responsive services and programs (Cooke et al., 2017; Kim & Sin, 2006; Morris, 2007; Overall, 2009). Instructors who are culturally competent understand how culture influences teaching and learning, and are able to engage learners from diverse backgrounds in the classroom.

Cultural differences can emerge in our classrooms in numerous ways. For example, contemporary American classrooms tend to be student-centered; students are expected to ask questions during lectures, discuss ideas and even disagree with instructors and peers, and engage in self-directed learning activities. In contrast, some cultures value teacher-centered classrooms where learners are expected to listen respectfully as teachers share their expertise. International students and recent immigrants who are accustomed to teacher-centered instruction may be uncomfortable during discussions and student-led activities and may even feel instructors are abdicating their responsibility to share expertise. They may also be reluctant to “bother” the instructor by asking questions or admitting they did not understand something. Culturally competent instructors can attend to these differences by interspersing discussion and active learning with direct instruction, encouraging questions and participation in discussions, and explaining how the planned activities support learning. In addition, librarians can create more culturally inclusive classrooms by:

  • Speaking slowly and clearly, especially when working with learners from different cultures and language backgrounds.
  • Avoiding slang, idioms, and sarcasm, none of which translates well across cultures, and using humor judiciously.
  • Avoiding library jargon, which is likely to be unfamiliar to international students and recent immigrants, as well as to novice learners in general.
  • Respecting cross-cultural rules for personal space and touching.
  • Making expectations for participation explicit.

Cultural differences may surface in surprising ways. Bunner (2017, p. 43) provides an example of a student who got in trouble for answering a question in class, not realizing that the teacher was asking a rhetorical question, something that does not exist in his culture. The student explained, “in my culture when an adult asks you a question, you are supposed to answer.” Osa et al. (2006) highlight the care we must take in using or interpreting body language and facial expressions; they provide the example of raised eyebrows, which can indicate surprise, interest, approval, skepticism, or disapproval, depending on the culture of the speaker. Whether or not to make eye contact as a sign of respect and the appropriate finger with which to point also differ by culture.

These are only a few examples of cultural differences. Cultural differences also influence written and conversational communication styles, preferences for individual or cooperative problem solving and study, tolerance for uncertainty, conventions of politeness, and expectations for how children will interact with adults (Brook et al., 2015; Cifuentes & Ozel, 2006; Gay, 2002; Weinstein et al., 2003). Activity 5.3 asks you to think about cultural differences you have experienced.

Activity 5.3: Reflecting on Cultural Differences

Think of a specific instance of a cultural difference or misunderstanding that you have observed.

  • What behaviors were central to the situation?
  • What values, beliefs, or assumptions are reflected in the behaviors of each person involved?
  • How might these values, beliefs, or assumptions influence a person’s experience in the classroom?
  • How might your recognition of these values, beliefs, and assumptions impact your understanding of your students and your instruction?

In order to provide culturally competent instruction, librarians must develop their cultural knowledge and translate that knowledge into strategies for action. Villagran (2018) suggests librarians use the Cultural Intelligence (CQ) model as a framework for reflection and professional development. This model, shown in Figure 5.1, has four components: drive, knowledge, strategy, and action (Cultural Intelligence Center, n.d.).

  • Drive: This component reflects our interest, persistence, and confidence in learning about other cultures and working in culturally diverse environments. For example, librarians might be motivated to learn about other cultures in order to improve their ability to design and deliver inclusive services for members of their community.
  • Knowledge: This component is our understanding of cultural similarities and differences. Instruction librarians who want to improve their cross-cultural knowledge might seek out readings and professional development opportunities on how culture impacts teaching and learning.
  • Strategy: This component reflects the metacognitive element of cultural competence; it is our ability to plan for and reflect on multicultural encounters. Culturally competent instruction librarians recognize their learners will come from varied backgrounds, develop strategies to create inclusive instruction, and reflect on their teaching experiences in order to identify areas for improvement.
  • Action: This component is our ability to use appropriate behaviors during multicultural interactions. Instruction librarians can translate cultural competence into action through their instructional design and delivery and through their interactions with individual learners.

Figure 5.1: The Cultural Intelligence Model

critical thinking critical pedagogy and climate change education

An example may demonstrate how librarians can use the Cultural Intelligence model as a guide to professional development. Early in her career as an academic librarian, one of the authors, Melissa, heard that international students from Asia would answer questions such as “Do you understand?” with “yes” out of politeness, whether or not they understood the material being taught. Concerned that she might not be teaching international students effectively (drive), Melissa sought out articles about library services for international students and talked with a colleague with expertise in the area (knowledge). This research helped her better understand cultural differences in teaching and learning, and confirmed the need to modify the instructional strategies she used in the classroom and at the reference desk (strategy). As a result, Melissa became conscientious about speaking slowly, avoiding slang and library jargon, using open-ended questions that could not be answered with “yes,” providing written handouts, and using a pencil or her entire hand to point, instead of the index finger (action).

Librarians can use a number of strategies to develop their cultural knowledge, including reading books and articles, participating in relevant conferences and webinars, and attending cultural events such as festivals, museum exhibits, and film screenings. Reflection is an important part of cultural competence; a teaching journal, discussed in more detail in Chapter 14, can prompt librarians to reflect on classroom experiences, record teaching success, and identify areas for improvement. Conversations with colleagues are also a way to increase cultural knowledge, reflect on one’s teaching, and develop new strategies for inclusive pedagogy. Activity 5.4 is an exercise to reflect on your own learning and instructional practices using the Cultural Intelligence model.

Activity 5.4: Building Cultural Competency

Using the Cultural Intelligence Model shown in Figure 5.1, reflect on your cultural competence, either in general or with regard to a specific patron group with whom you anticipate working.

  • How would you rate your cultural competence? Are you stronger in some areas, such as Drive or Knowledge, than others?
  • What motivates you to improve your cultural competency?
  • How have you built your cultural knowledge? What resources can you use to continue building your knowledge?
  • Do you feel confident applying your cultural competence in the classroom? What strategies would you use as you plan and deliver instruction?

While learning about different cultures can empower librarians to provide more culturally relevant instruction, librarians should avoid categorizing or stereotyping specific learners. Cultural groups are not static or homogeneous, meaning learners from the same broad cultural group will not necessarily share all of the same values, beliefs, and understandings, or react in exactly the same way to instructional experiences. In addition, learners are comprised of multiple identities, of which culture is only one aspect. Thus, we should use the knowledge we develop about different cultures as a way to be alert to potential differences that could lead to misunderstandings, but not to pigeonhole or predict the behavior and experience of an individual learner.

Strategies for Inclusive Teaching

Increasing our knowledge and understanding of other cultures is only a first step toward cultural competence and inclusive teaching. We also need to parlay that understanding into instructional practices that acknowledge, appreciate, and attend to the rich diversity of our classrooms. This section presents strategies for inclusive teaching, including fostering a positive classroom climate, integrating diverse content, and using inclusive pedagogies.

Fostering a Positive Classroom Climate

Our sense of belonging in the classroom influences our motivation to learn. The Center for Teaching and Learning (2019) at Columbia University identifies four types of classroom environments:

  • Explicitly Marginalizing: The instructor or other students say or do things, such as committing microaggressions or repeating stereotypes, that exclude learners and perspectives from marginalized backgrounds.
  • Implicitly Marginalizing: The instructor excludes some learners through subtle actions such as calling primarily on male students or using examples solely from the predominant culture.
  • Implicitly Centralizing: The instructor will discuss issues of marginalization and diversity if a student raises the topic, but such conversations are not planned or presented as essential.
  • Explicitly Centralizing: The instructor intentionally integrates marginalized perspectives into course content, raises issues of diversity and inclusion, and takes action to foster sensitivity, such as establishing norms for discussion and group work.

While the environment in any classroom can fluctuate, the overall classroom climate is often less inclusive and welcoming than instructors realize. In one study, instructors rated their course as falling midway between implicitly and explicitly centralizing, while learners rated the same course as implicitly marginalizing (Center for Teaching and Learning, 2019).

One conclusion we might take away from this research is the need for critical self-reflection on the part of instructors. In addition, the research suggests that instructors must make a concerted effort to create an inclusive classroom environment. Some strategies we can use include:

  • Express interest in students. Welcoming participants as they enter the room and learning their names help participants feel recognized (if you are worried about remembering names, you can have them create a table tent or name tag). In addition, instructors should come out from behind podiums, which can be perceived as distancing, to engage with participants. Reflective activities such as minute papers also offer opportunities to respond to individuals and demonstrate interest in their learning (Center for Teaching and Learning, n.d.; Bunner, 2017).
  • Establish ground rules for discussions. Establishing guidelines for civil, constructive interaction is becoming more common in credit courses; oftentimes, instructors engage students in creating these guidelines in order to foster a sense of ownership. The time constraints of library workshops may not allow for lengthy or collaborative agreements; however, librarians can establish simple ground rules, such as respecting the opinions of others and valuing diverse perspectives, at the beginning of sessions (Watts, 2017).
  • Foster student-to-student relationships. Instructional strategies that foster interaction such as think-pair-share, small group work, and class discussions promote positive classroom relationships.
  • Make expectations explicit. As mentioned earlier, cultural background can influence classroom behaviors such as participation styles and how, or whether, to ask questions. Instructors should make their expectations explicit with comments such as “I hope you will ask a lot of questions as we go along,” or “Right now we are going to work independently, but later we’ll share our work with others.”
  • Express high expectations for all students. Instructors should use an encouraging, positive tone, while also setting high expectations for all learners. Gay (2002) and Weinstein et al. (2003) point out that stereotypes based on race and/or gender can cause instructors to lower expectations for certain groups of students. Weinstein et al. (2003) offer the example of a non-native speaker of English who was offended when a teacher told him his English was “good,” rather than suggesting he continue to practice. He felt the former was patronizing and did not help him improve his language skills.
  • Address microaggressions and other forms of bias. As discussed earlier, instructors should be mindful of stereotypes and take care not to perpetuate them, and to practice intervention strategies that can be used when microaggressions occur in the classroom.
  • Ask for feedback. Instructors can use course evaluations and classroom observations to gather feedback on how well they foster an inclusive classroom environment.

Integrating Diverse Content

All learners have a right to instructional offerings that address their needs and interests. At the program level, we should offer workshops and other instructional resources on a wide variety of topics that are suitable for patrons of varied ages and ability levels. We should take care to schedule classes and programs at varied times to ensure access for the widest number of people. For example, a traditional storytime program on a weekday morning will serve families with a stay-at-home parent as well as families where parents work the late shift or on weekends, while a pajama storytime held in the evening will serve families where parents and other caregivers work during the day.

In addition, our course content should reflect the diversity of our communities and the larger world. Not only does this allow learners to “see” themselves in the curriculum, it provides opportunities for all learners to learn about diversity and equity and to develop cultural competence. In addition, integrating discussions of diversity and equity throughout the curriculum ensures these issues are not “othered” or treated as an addendum to a curriculum where whiteness and heterosexuality are the norm. Further, we must engage these topics in authentic ways, rather than with benign or superficial celebrations of multiculturalism (Bunner, 2017, p. 42; Kumasi & Hill, 2011, p. 252). Some strategies librarians can use to integrate diversity and inclusion into instructional content:

  • Use diverse examples. For instance, a librarian teaching a workshop on Overdrive can conduct sample searches featuring authors of diverse identities. An academic librarian or archivist teaching students to locate primary documents from World War II might highlight sites with materials from the Tuskegee Airmen or the all Japanese-American 442nd Regiment. Hinchliffe (2016) notes that librarians can call attention to issues of human rights through the examples used in class.
  • Choose metaphors and analogies carefully. While metaphors and analogies can help learners build on prior knowledge and make concepts more concrete, they are often embedded in cultural knowledge or experiences that not everyone will share. Similarly, pop culture references may exclude learners based on their age or cultural background, although in some cases librarians can pause to offer a brief explanation.
  • Discuss how issues of race, class, and gender impact the material being covered. Gorski and Swalwell (2015, p. 36) argue, “at the heart of a curriculum that is meaningfully multicultural lie principles of equity and social justice—purposeful attention to issues like racism, homophobia, sexism, and economic inequality.” Gay (2002) suggests that instructors address topics such as racism, historical atrocities, and structures of power, and contextualize issues within race, class, and gender. While librarians may initially feel uncomfortable discussing challenging topics in the classroom, Bunner (2017, p. 43) found that ignoring issues of race is more problematic for students of color than imperfect conversations.
  • Model how participants can seek out marginalized voices and perspectives. In addition to incorporating a wide range of perspectives into our own teaching, we can encourage others to adopt a wider perspective and demonstrate resources and search strategies to uncover marginalized voices.

As part of creating a more inclusive curriculum, librarians will need to build collections that incorporate the histories and voices of marginalized groups. After all, it will be difficult to use diverse examples or demonstrate strategies for surfacing marginalized voices if our print and online collections do not contain that material. In addition, we need to be skilled at working within these collections. Curry (2005, p. 70) found that small behaviors like raised eyebrows, biting one’s lip, or a reserved or even neutral affect communicated discomfort while helping a patron research LGBTQIA+ topics, leading the patron to be less likely to ask for help in the future. In the same study, Curry (2005, p. 71) found that even librarians who indicated a willingness to help the patron lacked the necessary knowledge to identify appropriate sources of information. While Curry’s study focused on assisting patrons at the reference desk, her findings are very applicable to the classroom.

Part and parcel with building our knowledge of resources, we must understand the biases and weaknesses built into existing search systems, and develop strategies to find information within (or despite) those systems. Drabinski (2008) shares her experience of teaching with a colleague who incorrectly assumed that if LCSH has a heading for “African American women,” it must also have a heading for “white women” and advised students to use that phrase when searching. Noble (2012, 2018) shows that search engines such as Google are not neutral; rather, they replicate the biases inherent in society, delivering search results that reinforce stereotypical depictions of women and people of color. Ultimately, librarians who are committed to integrating equity and inclusion into the classroom must step back to look at the totality of their library’s spaces, collections, and systems.

Inclusive Pedagogy

Pedagogy is our approach to teaching. It reflects our understanding of the learning process, our goals for the classroom environment and student learning, and, subsequently, the activities one plans for the classroom. Instructors who practice inclusive pedagogy recognize that students have varied preferences for and comfort levels with different learning activities such as lecture, whole-class discussion, and small group work, and offer varied ways for learners to engage in the classroom.

Instructors can select from a wide variety of activities when planning instructional sessions. In fact, novice instructors are sometimes overwhelmed by the seemingly endless array of options. Chávez and Longerbeam (2016, pp. 8-9) suggest cultural approaches to teaching and learning range from “individuated,” which tend to compartmentalize content and treat learning as an individual experience, to “integrated,” which are more interconnected and focus on shared learning experiences. Instructors might seek to balance activities that reflect an individuated approach such as lecture, independent practice, and reflective writing, with activities that reflect an integrated approach such as discussion, case studies, and collaborative work.

Another approach we can take is balancing instructor-centered and learner-centered activities. Instructor-centered activities are those in which the instructor has a strong role in directing course content and the process of student learning, such as lecture and demonstration. In student-centered activities, students direct and shape their own learning; examples of student-centered activities include small group work, case-based and problem-based learning, and practice exercises that allow students to explore their own interests.

In addition to varying classroom activities, instructors can offer learners choices. For example, during an online searching activity, we might give learners the option of trying a task on their own or collaborating with their neighbor. Instructors can also adapt activities to create a more inclusive environment. For example, workshop participants might be reluctant to engage in a discussion with others they do not know well, especially if the topic is sensitive. A think-pair-share, which offers time for individual reflection and ordering one’s thoughts, or a small group discussion, where one shares ideas with just a few others, may feel safer for participants and can be used as a lead-in to a whole-class discussion or activity.

Emancipatory Education

While inclusive pedagogy outlines the strategies we can take as instructors to honor our learners’ experiences and make our classrooms and instruction welcoming and accessible to all learners, critical pedagogy also recognizes learners as agents in the classroom and in the world. In Pedagogy of the Oppressed , Freire (2000) discusses the emancipatory aspects of education, or how education can be structured so as to empower marginalized and oppressed communities to liberate themselves from systems of oppression. Crucial to Freire’s approach is that the learners are the agents of their own liberation. Instructors can facilitate this process by recognizing and mitigating bias and through the inclusive strategies outlined in this chapter, but ultimately, learners should be empowered to act on their own behalf.

We can foster emancipatory education within the library classroom by surfacing oppressive practices not only within education but within library systems and structures, facilitating dialogues about these practices, and encouraging students to imagine and adopt roles for themselves in challenging those systems. Chapter 2 outlines steps we could take in the context of critical information literacy, such as helping students recognize how prevailing publishing practices and notions of authority favor some voices and marginalize others, and encouraging them to seek out those voices that have been marginalized to include their perspectives. We can also work with learners to take action in the wider world, as librarians at Dartmouth College did when they collaborated with students to petition the Library of Congress to eliminate the term “illegal aliens” from its official subject headings (Albright, 2019).

Our learners bring varied backgrounds, identities, and educational needs to the classroom. Using critical pedagogy as a guide, librarians can adopt inclusive teaching practices that create classrooms, libraries, and, ultimately, communities that are more just and equitable for all members.

Key takeaways from this chapter include:

  • Instructors should understand the role unconscious bias plays in discrimination and inequity, and develop strategies to prevent and address microaggressions, othering, and deficit thinking.
  • Cultural competence is a set of knowledge, skills, and dispositions that enable librarians to interact effectively with patrons from diverse backgrounds. Instruction librarians need to understand how culture affects teaching and learning, and develop strategies for inclusive pedagogy.
  • Elements of inclusive teaching include fostering a positive classroom climate, integrating diverse perspectives and issues of diversity and equity into course content, and using inclusive pedagogies.

Activity 5.5 asks you to reflect on inclusive teaching.

Activity 5.5: Reflecting on Inclusive Teaching

Find (or draw) an image, photo, gif, etc., that captures your thoughts on inclusive teaching. Share your image and a brief explanation with your classmates.

Suggested Readings

Accardi, M. T., Drabinski, E., & Kumbier, A. (Eds.). (2010). Critical library instruction: Theories and methods . Library Juice Press.

Edited by leading writers on issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion in LIS, this book offers a series of authored chapters that apply feminist, critical race, queer, and anti-oppressive theory and strategies to the library classroom. Chapters range from a broad examination of social power in the library classroom to application of specific strategies such as service learning and problem-based learning.

Adichie, C. N. (2009). The Danger of a Single Story. TED: Ideas Worth Spreading .

Adichie’s warning about how seeing others through a “single story” reflects systems of power and leads to deficit thinking is an important one for instruction librarians.

Banaji, M. R., & Greenwald, A. G. (2013). Blind spot: Hidden biases of good people . Delacorte.

Based on the authors’ extensive research, this is an excellent and highly readable introduction to unconscious bias.

Bunner, T. (2017). When we listen: Using student voices to design culturally responsive and just schools.  Knowledge Quest, 45(3), 38–45.

Bunner worked with students in grades 4 through 12 to identify strategies for culturally responsive teaching. In this article, she outlines six strategies and uses student voices to illustrate their importance and examples of successful implementation. The article includes an activity where instructors can reflect on their own practice.

Ettarh, F. (2018). Vocational awe and librarianship: The lies we tell ourselves. In the Library with the Lead Pipe .

Ettarh coined the term “vocational awe” to describe the perception that librarianship is a calling that requires sacrifice. As a result of vocational awe, librarians are hesitant or unable to critique libraries and the work of librarians, not only leading to workplace problems but oftentimes preventing us from solving (or even acknowledging) those problems.

Feminist Teacher . .

By noted critical pedagogist Ileana Jiménez, this blog explores a variety of issues around critical pedagogy, diversity, equity, and inclusion in teaching, with a focus on the K-12 classroom.

Freire, P. (2000). Pedagogy of the oppressed (30th anniversary edition). Bloomsbury.

Freire’s foundational text examines the ways in which traditional models of education replicate oppressive structures and argues for an educational model that centers the learners’ experiences in order to empower them to challenge those systems.

Gay, G. (2002). Preparing for culturally responsive teaching. Journal of Teacher Education, 53(2), 106-116.

Gay provides four strategies for culturally responsive pedagogy: developing knowledge about cultural diversity, designing culturally relevant curricula, developing cross-cultural communication skills, and demonstrating caring.

Inclusive teaching: Supporting all students in the college classroom. Center for Teaching. Columbia University.

Available from edX, this professional development course offers a thoughtful introduction to inclusive teaching. Although aimed at faculty teaching credit courses, instructors in all types of libraries will find valuable tips for creating an inclusive classroom environment, diversifying content, and engaging in critical self-reflection. A print resource with similar information, Guide to inclusive teaching at Columbia , is available online at and numerous videos from the course are available from Columbia Learn on YouTube at

Jensen, R. (2004). The myth of the neutral professional. Progressive Librarian, 24, 28-34.

Jensen challenges the myth of neutrality within libraries, arguing that to claim to be neutral is to support the existing political system. His critique of library programming is particularly relevant for instruction librarians.

Leckie, G. J., Given, L. M, & Buschman, J. E. (2010). Critical theory for library and information science: Exploring the social from across the disciplines . Libraries Unlimited.

Through a series of essays, chapter authors explore various aspects of library and information science through different critical lenses and apply the work of specific theorists to examine current practices in LIS. Chapter 8 proposes a model for transformative pedagogy based on the work of Freire, but readers will find inspiration and ideas for integrating critical theory into their work throughout the text.

McCombs School of Business. (2018). Implicit bias. University of Texas.

This brief, nine-minute video offers a cogent introduction to unconscious bias.

Southern Poverty Law Center. (2015). Speaking up: Responding to everyday bigotry.

The Southern Poverty Law Center offers strategies and scripts for responding to microaggressions and other forms of bigotry in workplace, educational, social, and family settings.

Souza, T. (2018, April 30). Responding to microaggressions in the classroom: Taking ACTION. Faculty Focus .

Souza provides a framework and helpful scripts for instructors to address microaggressions.

Storti, C. (1997). Culture matters: The Peace Corps cross-cultural workbook. Peace Corps Information Collection and Exchange.

Developed for Peace Corps volunteers, this interactive workbook is an excellent introduction to cultural competence. Chapters address how people of different cultures understand the concept of self, personal and social obligations, time, and locus of control, and how these differences impact communication, interpersonal relationships, and the workplace.

Sue, D. W., Alsaidi, S., Awad, M. N., Glaeser, E., Calle, C. Z., & Mendez, N. (2019). Disarming racial microaggressions: Microintervention strategies for targets, white allies, and bystanders. American Psychologist, 74 (1) , 128-42.

Sue et al. provide a concise introduction to microaggressions and the harm they cause and suggest strategies that targets, allies, and bystanders can use to disarm them. Although the discussion and examples focus on racial microaggressions, the strategies are applicable to all types of microaggressions.

Tewell, E. (2015). A decade of critical information literacy: A review of the literature. Communications in Information Literacy, 9 (1) , 24-43.

Tewell provides a concise, cogent explanation of critical pedagogy and its application to library instruction.

Weinstein, C., Curran, M., & Tomlinson-Clarke, S. (2003). Culturally responsive classroom management: Awareness into action. Theory into Practice, 42(4), 269-276.

This article is rich with examples of how culture affects expectations for teaching and learning, and provides strategies for developing a culturally responsive classroom practice.

Albright, C. (2019, April 22). ‘Change the subject’: A hard-fought battle over words. Dartmouth News .

Berman, S. (1969, February 15). Chauvinistic headings. Library Journal, 94, 695.

Berman, S. (1993). Prejudices and antipathies: A tract on the LC subject heads concerning people. McFarland.

Bertrand, M., & Mullainathan, S. (2003). Are Emily and Greg more employable than Lakisha and Jamal? A field experiment on labor market discrimination (NBER Working Paper No 9873).

Bourdieu, P., & Passeron, J.C. (2000). Reproduction in education, society, and culture (2nd edition). Sage Publications.

Brook, F., Ellenwood, D., & Lazzaro, A. E. (2015). In pursuit of antiracist social justice: Denaturalizing whiteness in the academic library.  Library Trends, 64, 246-284.

Bunner, T. (2017). When we listen.  Knowledge Quest, 45(3), 38–45.

Center for Teaching and Learning. (n.d.). Guide to inclusive teaching at Columbia . Columbia University.

Center for Teaching and Learning. (2019). Common challenges related to course climate [Video]. YouTube.

Chávez, A. F., & Longerbeam, S. D. (2016). Teaching across cultural strengths: A guide to balancing integrated and individuated cultural frameworks in college teaching. Stylus.

Cifuentes, L., & Ozel, S. (2006). Resources for attending to the needs of multicultural learners. Knowledge Quest, 35 (2) , 14-21.

Cooke, N. A., Spencer, K., Jacobs, J. M., Mabbott, C., Collins, C., & Loyd, R. M. (2017). Mapping topographies from the classroom: Addressing whiteness in the LIS curriculum. In G. Schlesselman-Tarango (Ed.), Topographies of whiteness: Mapping whiteness in library and information science (pp. 235-250). Library Juice Press.

Cultural Intelligence Center. (n.d.). CQ model.

Curry, A. (2005). If I ask, will they answer? Evaluating public library reference service to gay and lesbian youth. Reference & User Services Quarterly, 45, 65-75.

Drabinski, E. (2008). Teaching the radical catalog. In K. R. Roberto (Ed.), Radical cataloging: Essays at the front . McFarland.

Elmborg, J. (2006). Critical information literacy: Implications for instructional practice. Journal of Academic Librarianship, 32 (2) , 192-9.

Ferguson, S. (2015). Calling in: A quick guide on when and how. Everyday Feminism .

Gay, G. (2002). Preparing for culturally responsive teaching. Journal of Teacher Education, 53 (2) , 106-116.

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Gonzaga, A. M., Ufomata, E., Bonifacino, E., & Zimmer, S. (2019, August 29). Microaggressions: What are they? How can we avoid? How can we respond? [PowerPoint slides].

Gorski, P. C., & Swalwell, K. (2015). Equity Literacy for All. Educational Leadership, 72(6), 34-40.

Heinbach, C., Fiedler, B. P., Mitola, R., & Pattni, E. (2019, February 6). Dismantling deficit thinking: A strengths-based inquiry into the experiences of transfer students in and out of academia. In the Library with the Lead Pipe.

Hinchliffe, L. J. (2016). Loading examples to further human rights education. In N. Pagowsky & K. McElroy (Eds.), Critical library pedagogy handbook 1: Essays and workbook activities (pp. 75-84). ACRL.

Howard, S. A., & Knowlton, S. A. (2018). Browsing through bias: The Library of Congress classification and subject headings for African American studies and LGBTQIA studies. Library Trends, 67 (1) , 74-88.

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Kim, K., & Sin, S. J. (2006). Recruiting and retaining students of color in LIS programs: Perspectives of library and information professionals. Journal of Education for Library and Information Science, 47 (2) , 81-95.

Knowlton, S. A. (2005). Three decades since Prejudices and Antipathies : A study of changes in the Library of Congress Subject Headings. Cataloging and Classification Quarterly , 40 (2), 123-145.

Kocevar-Weidinger, E., Cox, E., Lenker, M., Pashkova-Balkenhol, T. T., & Kinman, V. (2019). On their own terms: First-year student interviews about everyday life research can help librarians flip the deficit script.  Reference Services Review, 47 (2) , 169–192.

Kumasi, K. D., & Hill, R. F. (2011). Are we there yet? Results of a gap analysis to measure LIS students’ prior knowledge and actual learning of cultural competence concepts. Journal of Education for Library and Information Science, 52 (4) , 251-264.

Longwell-Grice, R., Adsitt, N. Z., Mullins, K., & Serrata, W. (2016). The first ones: Three studies on first-generation college students.” NACADA Journal, 36(2), 34-46.

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Morris, V. J. (2007, January). A seat at the table: Seeking culturally competent pedagogy in library education [Conference presentation]. American Library Association Midwinter Meeting / Association of Library and Information Science Education Annual Conference, Forum on Library Education, Seattle, WA, United States.

Noble, S. U. (2012, Spring). Missed connections: What search engines say about women. Bitch, 54 .

Noble, S. U. (2018). Algorithms of oppression: How search engines reinforce racism . New York University.

Osa, J. O., Nyana, S. A., & Ogbaa, C. A. (2006). Effective cross-cultural communication to enhance reference transactions: Training guidelines and tips. Knowledge Quest, 35(2), 22-24.

Overall, P. M. (2009). Cultural competence: A conceptual framework for library and information science professionals. The Library Quarterly: Information, Community, and Policy, 79 (2), 175-204.

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Princing, M. (2019, September 3). What microaggressions are and how to prevent them. Right as Rain .

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Schingler, M. A. (2015, August 18). How Dewey do: Head-scratching library categorizations. Book Riot.

Shachaf, P., & Horowitz, S. (2006). Are virtual reference services color blind? Library & Information Science Research, 28 (4) , 501-20.

Sue, D. W. (2010a). Microaggressions: More than just race. Psychology Today.

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Sue, D. W., Lin, A. I., Torino, G. C., Capodilupo, C. M., & Rivera, D. P. (2009). Racial microaggressions and difficult dialogues on race in the classroom. Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology, 15 (2) , 183-90.

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Instruction in Libraries and Information Centers Copyright © 2020 by Laura Saunders and Melissa A. Wong is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License , except where otherwise noted.

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Developing Critical Thinking

  • Posted January 10, 2018
  • By Iman Rastegari

Critical Thinking

In a time where deliberately false information is continually introduced into public discourse, and quickly spread through social media shares and likes, it is more important than ever for young people to develop their critical thinking. That skill, says Georgetown professor William T. Gormley, consists of three elements: a capacity to spot weakness in other arguments, a passion for good evidence, and a capacity to reflect on your own views and values with an eye to possibly change them. But are educators making the development of these skills a priority?

"Some teachers embrace critical thinking pedagogy with enthusiasm and they make it a high priority in their classrooms; other teachers do not," says Gormley, author of the recent Harvard Education Press release The Critical Advantage: Developing Critical Thinking Skills in School . "So if you are to assess the extent of critical-thinking instruction in U.S. classrooms, you’d find some very wide variations." Which is unfortunate, he says, since developing critical-thinking skills is vital not only to students' readiness for college and career, but to their civic readiness, as well.

"It's important to recognize that critical thinking is not just something that takes place in the classroom or in the workplace, it's something that takes place — and should take place — in our daily lives," says Gormley.

In this edition of the Harvard EdCast, Gormley looks at the value of teaching critical thinking, and explores how it can be an important solution to some of the problems that we face, including "fake news."

About the Harvard EdCast

The Harvard EdCast is a weekly series of podcasts, available on the Harvard University iT unes U page, that features a 15-20 minute conversation with thought leaders in the field of education from across the country and around the world. Hosted by Matt Weber and co-produced by Jill Anderson, the Harvard EdCast is a space for educational discourse and openness, focusing on the myriad issues and current events related to the field.

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An education podcast that keeps the focus simple: what makes a difference for learners, educators, parents, and communities

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Why teach critical thinking about climate change?

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This problem is even more challenging when we consider research finding that accurate scientific information can be cancelled out by misinformation . When people are confronted with two conflicting messages and no way to resolve the conflict, the risk is they disengage and believe neither. This means that our best efforts to teach science can potentially be undone by misinformation. Teaching scientific facts is necessary but insufficient.

Fortunately, there is an answer. If the problem is not being able to resolve the conflict between fact and myth, the solution is equipping people with the skills to resolve that conflict. Inoculation theory is a branch of psychological research that offers a way to achieve this. Just as exposing people to a weakened form of a virus builds up their immunity to the real virus, similarly, exposing people to a weakened form of misinformation builds up their “cognitive antibodies” so that when they encounter real misinformation, they’re less likely to be misled. We deliver misinformation in a weakened form by explaining the rhetorical techniques used to mislead, like explaining the sleight of hand in a magician’s trick.

Consequently, as well as teach the science of how climate works, it’s also important that we teach how the science can get distorted. Applying this approach in the classroom has many names — misconception-based instruction , agnotology-based learning , or refutational teaching — all representing the same style of teaching scientific concepts by explaining scientific misconceptions. This approach has been shown to be one of the most powerful ways of teaching science. It’s more engaging for students, it achieves stronger learning gains, and the lessons last longer in students’ minds. [Note: NCSE's climate change lesson sets take a misconceptions-based approach.]

To provide a framework for explaining the misleading techniques used in misinformation, I developed the FLICC taxonomy . FLICC stands for the five techniques of misinformation: fake experts, logical fallacies, impossible expectations, cherry picking, and conspiracy theories. Of course, these five are just the tip of the iceberg sitting atop a large number of other rhetorical techniques, logical fallacies, and conspiratorial traits.

FLICC taxonomy

These fallacies can be found in misinformation across a range of topics. Fake experts are deployed to cast doubt on scientific research whether it’s relevant to climate change, COVID-19, or vaccination. Cherry picking can happen wherever scientific data can be found. This means that a critical thinking approach to teaching science can have benefits beyond a single subject. Explaining a fallacy in one topic helps a student spot the same technique in other topics. Critical thinking is a universal vaccine against misinformation.

Teaching climate science is crucially important as climate change is one of the most important issues facing humanity today. But we also need to teach our students how to think and assess arguments, particularly in a modern world where we are all bombarded with misinformation. Misconception-based learning can help teachers achieve this, building both science literacy and critical thinking skills in their students.

Read other essays from our #ClimateEdNow series .

John Cook

John Cook is a postdoctoral research fellow with the Climate Change Communication Research Hub at Monash University. His research focus is on using critical thinking to build resilience against misinformation. In 2007, he founded Skeptical Science , a website that won the 2011 Australia Museum Eureka Prize for the Advancement of Climate Change Knowledge. In 2020, he published the book Cranky Uncle vs. Climate Change applying critical thinking, inoculation research, and cartoons to engage and educate readers about climate misinformation. He recently released the Cranky Uncle game , combining critical thinking, cartoons, and gamification to build players’ resilience against misinformation. He currently works with organizations like Facebook and NASA to develop evidence-based responses to climate misinformation.

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Climate Fellows

The BiGS Climate Visiting Fellows are scholarly researchers who focus on the intersection of business and climate change, deepening our commitment to accelerating research aimed at mitigating and adapting to global climate change.

The BiGS Visiting Fellows are scholarly researchers who relocate to HBS's campus for one academic year to work on specific projects related to issues of business and society. Consisting of scholars who study climate change or racial equity, they provide intellectual leadership and research support that accelerates the process of knowledge creation at HBS and leverages the expertise of our faculty.

Current Climate Fellows

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Omar Asensio

Associate professor in the School of Public Policy; director of the Data Science and Policy Lab, Georgia Institute of Technology

Using AI to ensure an equitable distribution of EV infrastructure

As the United States prioritizes plans for EV infrastructure that facilitates highway travel with fewer emissions than traditional vehicles, Asensio will accelerate his research into whether current policies and incentives might leave some communities behind. With the largest database of electric vehicle charging infrastructure performance worldwide—featuring information such as location, pricing, charging speeds, and consumer reviews—he uses big data and machine learning to reveal strategies for sustainable growth.

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Gunther Glenk

Assistant Professor of Business at the University of Mannheim

Corporate Transitions Toward Zero Net Emissions

As part of the growing movement to slow climate change, companies worldwide are increasingly taking responsibility for the greenhouse gas emissions associated with their economic activity. Glenk will examine questions related to corporate transitions toward zero net emissions. Specific topics include the economics and management of corporate carbon emissions, decarbonization and sustainable energy technologies, and incentives for climate action.

Headshot of BiGS Fellow Conor Hickey

Conor Hickey

Research fellow in the Climate Research Programme at the University of Oxford's Environmental Change Institute

Examining the financial and organizational impacts of delayed climate action on corporations

With significant experience researching corporate net-zero strategies, Hickey plans to investigate the impact of delayed climate action on corporations. Delayed climate action can take various forms, such as an over-reliance on speculative technologies that do not exist yet at scale, or strategies that prioritize short-term solutions with limited long-term climate benefits. These approaches can hinder progress towards achieving net zero emissions and may exacerbate the negative impacts of climate change. He'll focus specifically on the sectors that currently have limited mitigation potential, such as aviation. Hickey believes by demonstrating the financial impact of delayed action, corporations may be more supportive of effective regulation.

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Andrew Hoffman

Professor at the University of Michigan, with joint appointments at the Stephen M. Ross School of Business and the School for Environment & Sustainability

A systems-level view of climate change

Having researched the intersection of business and the environment for nearly 30 years, Hoffman plans to look at climate change as a systems breakdown, rather than an environmental issue. Integrating physical, social, and political science into business decision making, Hoffman plans to conduct a systemic examination of how business and business schools can improve their approach to combating climate change, arguing for large-scale action.

Headshot of BiGS Fellow Jonas Meckling

Jonas Meckling

Associate professor at the University of California Berkeley

The political economy of decarbonization

With a focus on studying the politics of clean energy transitions and probing why some economies are moving faster than other, Meckling plans to examine the recent rise of green industrial policy currently shaping markets for low-carbon technologies. He will examine what effective green industrial policy might look like as well as pitfalls such as international conflict to help mobilize effective business investments to create and grow markets for low-carbon technologies.

Headshot of BiGS Fellow Robyn Meeks

Robyn Meeks

Assistant Professor at Duke University's Sanford School of Public Policy

The study of climate resilience in developing countries

With 20 years of experience researching water and energy technologies, Meeks plans to examine how the resilience of an electrification technology—specifically, mini grids—can be augmented in rural, remote communities in developing countries, which are disproportionately affected by climate change. Her project in Nepal brings together technology, government, and electric utilities to determine how rural, isolated communities—and their citizens and businesses—can increase the resiliency of their economies as extreme weather events become more common.

Interested in climate change?

Read our latest insights and strategies for business leaders to combat climate change.

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  21. Policies and practices of climate change education in South Asia

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  22. [PDF] Critical Thinking and Critical Pedagogy: Relations, Differences

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