By Dr. Harriet Marshall, #TeachSDGs Task Force, United Kingdom
Over the last 18 months, I’ve been collecting examples of amazing teachers, young people, and school engagements with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (the Global Goals) in England. For many of these schools, the SDGs have been an effective framework for mapping and capturing the work they have already been doing in areas, such as human rights education, global citizenship education, environmental education, or education about social justice. What makes some of the current activities slightly different from what has gone before, is that the initial simplicity of message has allowed for a more accessible and all-inclusive approach to engagement with SDG topics – often helped by the brilliant videos produced by the World’s Largest Lesson.
In this piece, I identify models and ingredients of successful practice that have emerged in schools. Most of the school practice I draw upon comes from schools in England that have been involved in the Global Learning Programme (although this is not written on behalf of the GLP and is very much my take on the #TeachSDGs movement using the UK as a case study) – there are many schools that have been actively engaged in #TeachSDGs work independently of this or through other programmes. This is a continuation of an earlier article: Teaching the SDGs – 17 Goals to Transform Our World and Our Classrooms which addresses the ‘why’ of #TeachSDGs. So, to the question of ‘how’…
Common Themes Emerging from #TeachSDG Activities in Schools
There are a number of key elements to most SDG-related activities highlighted here:
First, the SDG framework is often used as the starting point to engage students, school leaders, and other staff. It is also used as a framework to map what sort of global learning activity is already going on in the school – locating other projects, curriculum subjects, teachers, students and community or business links that are already addressing some of the SDG goals.
Second, the core values of the SDGs are often linked to schools’ pre-existing values and ethos statements. Schools that aim to achieve a broad and balanced school curriculum regularly make reference to human rights, wellbeing and/or responsible action (example here[i]), and the SDGs link easily to these.
Third, the idea of a global learning ‘journey’ is often at the heart of approaches to engagement with the SDGs in schools – especially those that build in models of behaviour or attitudinal change, and knowledge development. As mentioned elsewhere, a key opportunity of engaging with the SDGs is that students and teachers are on a fairly equal footing when it comes to prior knowledge of the SDGs[ii].
Finally, many methods of engagement with the SDGs in schools are aligned to critical thinking and the need to promote associated pedagogies like critical literacy and critical numeracy. For example, some schools involved in global learning in the UK have worked with Philosophy frameworks, such as SAPERE’s P4C.
What follows is one attempt to summarise six successful models of #TeachSDGs practice taking place in some UK Primary, Middle and Secondary schools. The list is not exhaustive and lacks nuances, but it might be of use to others. I look forward to developing it as I learn more about other practices around the world.
6 Models of #TeachSDG Practice
It’s not always easy!
Not wishing to dampen enthusiasm, it is important to recognise that #TeachSDGs activity never happens overnight and regularly meets challenges. Acknowledging that UK state-funded schools are in a fairly stable situation when compared to some other countries, many are under strain as a result of funding cuts in real terms, teachers leaving the profession and associated time constraints. Some educators also feel inundated by external agendas for schools and struggle to find the time for new initiatives – even if these initiatives might strengthen existing priorities, enhance learning, and support a broad and balanced school curriculum.
Other tensions and challenges associated with engaging with the SDGs in school relate to challenges within global learning more generally. For example, the tension between a focus on individual development and action, versus collaborative action; the potentially intimidating and overwhelming nature of the facts, figures and stories of the SDGs; and the dilemmas of engaging with stereotypes and perceptions, to name but a few!
One way in which UK teachers have been fortunate is through the additional support that they can receive from outside global education organisations, NGOs and programmes like the GLP. This support manifests itself as materials and websites, but often teachers and schools most appreciate the support they receive in person through global learning advisors, CPD providers and outside speakers. Another successful strategy has been when schools have linked up through global learning school networks to support each other, share practice and engage in SDG related partnership projects.
Finally, it has become increasingly important to show impact in global learning and engagement with the SDGs so that we can both support reporting on Goal 4.7 and individual school aims to show progress and impact.
Some of the Key Ingredients for Successful #TeachSDGs Practice
I end with a quick summary of a few of the key ingredients of effective #TeachSDGs practice in schools – in no particular order:
Further questions to think about…
I always begin and end my presentations, lectures and teaching with questions:
 In fact a recent @MYWorld2030 survey found that youth around the world are more familiar with the SDGs than older generations
Dr Harriet Marshall is on the #TeachSDGs Task Force and is a National Leader (SW) on the Global Learning Programme (www.glp-e.org.uk). She has been a global education advocate for 20 years, as a teacher, researcher, lecturer, consultant and project leader. Harriet is passionate about education, the SDGs, human rights, gender equality and social justice in education and has researched, written and presented on all of these.
T: @ham1 W: www.harrietmarshall.com/globallearning