Devising a Competence-Based Training Program for Educators of Sustainable Development: Lessons Learned
2.1. Defining Competence
2.2. Towards ESD Competences
3. Materials and Methods
3.1. The RSP Distillation Process
3.2. Delphi Studies: Testing the Competences
3.2.2. The Netherlands
- the need for coherence in relation to the theory and practice of sustainable education
- the practicality of the framework for assessing and possibly certifying the competences
- the practicality of the framework for training courses for ESD teachers and educators
- efficacy of the framework in terms of its completeness and its clarity (with some missing and repeated elements being identified).
3.3. Competences for Learners or Educators: The Dual Purpose
3.4. Partner Survey
4.1. The RSP Competence Framework
- integration—using knowledge from different dimensions, looking at interconnections and cause-effect relationships
- involvement—building this understanding into their personal sense of commitment
- practice—combining the two stages above in their practical work as an educator
- reflection—evaluating the process and results of their work, assuming responsibility, and taking decisions before repeating the process in an iterative learning loop.
“As soon as you start to teach one of the competences, you inevitably touch on the other 11.”(Teacher in The Netherlands)
4.2. The Competences
- SystemsBasic knowledge about systems is required if one is to understand global challenges such as climate change. Dealing with complex “wicked problems”  requires a critical understanding of the relationship between environmental and social systems and the ability to see connections between components and patterns across temporal and spatial domains . This also requires us to recognize how problems are embedded with values, needs and motives, that uncertainty cannot be eliminated and that there may be implications for our actions which are not foreseen .
- FuturesFutures thinking offers ways of addressing and helping to shape the future. It allows for informed reflection on the challenges we face and on how our different actions can contribute to desirable or undesirable futures. It enables individuals to recognize relations and possible evolutions between past, present, and future and envision possible or thinkable futures alternatives and their impact. Being able to envision a sustainable future creatively and innovatively is the first step towards achieving it .
- ParticipationParticipation in decision making is an essential characteristic of sustainable development governance. It is, therefore, essential that citizens can actively engage in different ways, share and discuss their ideas and be able to contribute towards societal transformations for sustainable development in collective efforts .
- AttentivenessThis competence relates to knowledge about sustainability issues while emphasizing the difference between information and understanding. Our pre-existing knowledge determines how we see the world and what we notice in our environment . Therefore, simply seeing, hearing, or even discussing new information, without becoming explicitly cognizant of it, may not help in understanding the relationships and principles that underlie situations, especially in the case of seemingly contradictory information . The goal of an educator is to help learners to process new knowledge explicitly and not to simply be exposed to information about the world.
- EmpathyUnderstanding and responding effectively to our own and others’ emotions helps educators to create positive learning environments, build connections, and develop sources of resilience in the face of inevitable social change. Emotions such as hope, for example, have multiple dimensions; blind hope could be a form of denial, whereas hope founded on evidence  can help us act constructively on the fears and anxieties that issues around (un)sustainability can arouse.
- EngagementEducators need to satisfy the need for relatedness and autonomy of learners if they are to become motivated to learn about complex systems, to value personal growth and community development and to strive to live more sustainable lives. This means ensuring that learners feel that their ideas, emotions, values, and pace of development are respected. This builds on self-determination theory, an idea that has been validated empirically many times [49,50].
- TransdisciplinarityWorking towards sustainability calls for the ability to collaborate with a diverse group of people. This goes beyond multidisciplinary teams to consider non-disciplinary actors such as members of a local community. Educators are challenged to promote this competence among their learners and model it by, for example, facilitating school-community collaborations. Another dimension of transdisciplinarity is collaboration within an educational setting through a “whole-institutional approach”  (p. 102), which is widely seen as the most effective means of promoting ESD.
- InnovationA major challenge for those educating in the context of real-world issues is that traditional didactic methods are rarely the most appropriate; approaches such as situated learning and living laboratories are gaining in popularity. Educators will need to reflect on their practice and renew their methods as they adapt to new situations while understanding that “new” is not necessarily better.
- ActionHelping learners understand that they can make a difference is a critical role for any ESD educator. Tried and tested methods such as the action competence approach  can provide opportunities for learners to express their “political existence”—interacting with strangers as they find their place in the world .
- CriticalityIt could be said that a failure to think critically lies behind many of our current “wicked problems” and in an era of “fake news” it is more important than ever to evaluate information, data, actions, and their possible consequences. Educators therefore need to be confident in helping learners to explore underlying assumptions, keeping in mind their own and others’ values. This includes capacities to “construct” (and not only analyze) a problem, to evaluate the reliability of information sources, to draw inferences and deductions and to control and monitor reasoning .
- ResponsibilityThe educator of ESD may be in the fortunate position of recognizing that they are carrying out meaningful work and thus contributing to a meaningful life. As well as acting transparently and responsibly themselves, the educator of ESD will have a range of tools, e.g., role play, simulations, real-world engagements, through which to develop their learners’ abilities to act responsibly. In this way, they will encourage long-term thinking about what kind of human beings we want to be and what kind of world we want to live in .
- DecisivenessDeveloping a society that lives in balance with the environment and that is sustainable means that changes to our individual and collective behaviors need to be made. This requires educators to expose their learners to ethical dilemmas and leading them to think deeply about them. Ultimately, any change requires decisions to be made regarding its nature coupled with an ability to act decisively yet cautiously, weighing up available evidence and recognizing the complexity of the issue .
4.3. Levels of Achievement
4.4. Educator Preparation Programmes
Example 1: The Webbing Game
In the UK, student educators were introduced to this activity whereby each student is assigned a woodland organism (worm, caterpillar, fox, oak tree, wood mouse, toadstool, etc.) and then uses lengths of string to link to plants or animals that their organism eats or creatures that eat them. The leader takes care to ensure that all students are connected to the emerging “web” and that the student assigned as “oak tree” is connected multiple times. The leader then enacts the felling of the oak tree; the student tree sits down while holding tightly to the strings in their hand. As each student in turn feels that a string in their hands is being pulled, they also sit down holding tightly to their strings as they do so. Within a few seconds the entire class has been brought down to the floor thus providing a crude but effective analogy for the way in which nature is interconnected. The discussion that follows can be adjusted according to the level of the students; in this case, the level 5 student teachers could see immediately how they might adapt the activity to their own teaching practice and suggested activities that they could use to extend the learning with young children.
Example 2: An Ecological Field Visit
A different approach was taken in Estonia where first year (Level 4) special pedagogy students were given an eight-week course in “ecological pedagogy” during which, students discussed ecological principles within lectures. Two thirds of the way through the course the students were invited to choose a natural area (forest, meadow, bog, coast, river, etc.) and physically go there with the aim of identifying these ecological principles in the real world, e.g., positive/negative feedback mechanisms, ecological levels, cycles, ecological amplitude, relationships, succession, population dynamics). Students then posted their analytical notes and photographs to a shared learning environment (eDidaktikum). In a final meeting, students presented their insights, first in small groups and then as groups to the whole class. In this example, about 25% of students expressed that suddenly they realized that the “separate” ecosystem principles they had discussed actually form a coherent, systemic whole. What these students previously saw as simply a natural area, they now understood in terms of scientific concepts while also noticing small elements in nature that they had previously overlooked. This led to new questions with some drawing incorrect conclusions based on primitive extrapolations, which is a natural part of conceptual development. Following this experience, the task was repeated giving those students who had not had such insights a chance to discover them for themselves while the others looked for yet more examples of interconnections in nature. In an exam that followed the students had a chance to discuss individually how their thinking about these systematic phenomena has changed. As well as enhancing their metacognitive awareness of systems thinking, these students, perhaps more implicitly, addressed the competences of empathy, attentiveness, responsibility, criticality, and action.
4.5. Assessing the Competences
4.6. The Project Evaluation Process
5.1. The Identification of Competences
5.2. Pedagogical Approaches
5.4. Accreditation Models
Conflicts of Interest
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|HOLISTIC APPROACH Integrative Thinking and Practice||ENVISIONING CHANGE Past, Present, and Future||ACHIEVING TRANSFORMATION People, Pedagogy, and Education Systems|
|Learning to know|
The educator understands….
|Learning to do|
The educator is able to….
|Learning to live together|
The educator works with others in ways that….
|Learning to be|
The educator is someone who….
|Partner||No. of Participants||Nature of Participants||ISCED Level||Timing of Program|
|Frederick University, Cyprus||33||Experienced teachers and ESD professionals||6||Series of 2 h workshops|
|Hungarian Research Teachers’ Association||80||In-service teachers||N/A||30 h of webinars and face-to-face|
|Italian Association for Sustainability Science||36||In-service teachers, Science of Education students||6||One 40-h and one 18-h program|
|Duurzame PABO, The Netherlands||146||University lecturers/teacher trainers, head teachers, student teachers, NGO staff||5/6||5 × 2-h|
|Tallinn University, Estonia||149||Bachelors students and in-service teachers||6||Eight-week course|
|University of Gloucestershire, UK||80||Student teachers||5||24-h over 12 weeks|
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Share and Cite
Vare, P.; Arro, G.; de Hamer, A.; Del Gobbo, G.; de Vries, G.; Farioli, F.; Kadji-Beltran, C.; Kangur, M.; Mayer, M.; Millican, R.; Nijdam, C.; Réti, M.; Zachariou, A. Devising a Competence-Based Training Program for Educators of Sustainable Development: Lessons Learned. Sustainability 2019, 11, 1890. https://doi.org/10.3390/su11071890
Vare P, Arro G, de Hamer A, Del Gobbo G, de Vries G, Farioli F, Kadji-Beltran C, Kangur M, Mayer M, Millican R, Nijdam C, Réti M, Zachariou A. Devising a Competence-Based Training Program for Educators of Sustainable Development: Lessons Learned. Sustainability. 2019; 11(7):1890. https://doi.org/10.3390/su11071890Chicago/Turabian Style
Vare, Paul, Grete Arro, Andre de Hamer, Giovanna Del Gobbo, Gerben de Vries, Francesca Farioli, Chrysanthi Kadji-Beltran, Mihkel Kangur, Michela Mayer, Rick Millican, Carlien Nijdam, Monika Réti, and Aravella Zachariou. 2019. "Devising a Competence-Based Training Program for Educators of Sustainable Development: Lessons Learned" Sustainability 11, no. 7: 1890. https://doi.org/10.3390/su11071890