ELT Footprint – steps towards a greener profession

Reproduced with the kind permission of Modern English Teacher, Pavilion Publishing 2019.

Christopher Graham and Katherine Bilsborough describe a new ELT community.

The global ELT community is becoming more and more socially and – using the team broadly – politically aware. The appearance of global issues such as gender equality, LGBTQ identity, migration and human rights are slowly, rather too slowly perhaps, shifting towards the mainstream in teaching materials, conferences and the general discourse of our community. This is a positive development in itself. But also, perhaps as importantly, a demonstration of our collective realisation thatbecause of our formidable global reach, commonality of purpose (we all somehow teach English) and unique
contact with teenagers and young adults, we have the potential to bring about
significant changes.

During the Innovate conference in Barcelona this May, a climate emergency was declared in ELT. The environmental impact of our community was placed centre stage. From this talk, and the strong reaction and emotions it stirred, grew the ELT Footprint community. 

In this article we’d like to introduce readers to this community. This article is in two halves, each written by one of the ELT Footprint founding members and Facebook group administrators. The first part, by Christopher Graham, will take a moment to reflect on ELT Footprint and explore a little what it is (and isn’t) and outline what might happen next. The second part, by Katherine Bilsborough, will look at some classroom applications and implications of ELT Footprint and some of the environmental issues it has focused on. 

The two-part structure of this article is deliberate, as it reflects the dual purpose of ELT Footprint. Firstly, we are a forum that raises environmental awareness in what is a community of teachers, educational managers and writers, a place for discussion and awareness- raising. But we are also an organisation that is closely linked to what happens in schools and classrooms, sharing teaching resources and ideas for the classroom.

Part one: ELT Footprint, a forum for discussion

So where are we with ELT Footprint? Surprised and heartened is the reaction of this admin. Surprised at the sheer volume of both people joining the group and the number of posts and reactions, and heartened that this ELT community is so aware of the challenges that face us and ready to take some serious steps to alleviate the impact of what we do.

This community comprises a number of stakeholders who seem, at least at first sight, to have different priorities in the eco-space. And it is part of the role of ELT Footprint to allow these stakeholders to exchange ideas with each other. A list of the stakeholders would include teachers, teacher trainers, academic managers, publishers, writers, conference organisers and examination providers. The interesting thing about the Footprint experience has been that, by and large, there is unanimity around the impacts that we make, the opportunities we have and the measures that need to be taken. We use huge quantities of paper, a lot of us find that we have to fly a lot in our jobs, we love our big-ticket international conferences and, the big one, we are in a position to influence the content of the education of millions of people around the world. There has been lots of virtual head-nodding around these issues, any disagreements tending to be around the speed that change can be put into practice – these disagreements often being influenced by stakeholder perspective. We also have witnessed the familiar eco-debate of small, local steps versus large-scale system reform. 

So what’s next for ELT Footprint? This might best be described by outlining what Footprint isn’t. We are not a lobby group, we do not write to stakeholders telling them what they should or shouldn’t do, and we are most certainly not involved in ‘eco-shaming’. We have asked, and will continue to ask stakeholders for statements or blog posts on environmentally-relevant policies and plans. We will continue reporting and supporting stories of successful projects – especially small, local ones. But most of all, we want to cement our role as a resource bank for ELT people wanting to make a difference.

Part two: ELT Footprint, a resource for teachers

One of the best things about the growing community of ELT Footprint members is their generosity in terms of sharing. They share all kinds of things; sometimes it might be an acute observation about a current issue related to the environment or it might be a link to a relevant article. For example, this article on the Greenpeace website, ‘Beyond reduce, reuse, recycle: the 9 ‘R’s of a sustainable life’, is a perfect springboard for a classroom project where the finished outcomes are colourful posters or presentations and where, along the way, students work together researching what each ‘R’ means and brainstorming ideas for new ‘R’s; other times it is information about Brazilian school children taking part in an educational project, a Forest School in the UK or perhaps a personal reflection on a classroom activity that resulted in students taking some kind of real action beyond the walls of the classroom. 

All of this is interesting, thoughtprovoking and inspiring. But perhaps most useful for institutions and teachers – after all, the members of the ELT Footprint group are first and foremost English teachers – are the practical, tried and tested classroom ideas and free resources that members frequently share. These valuable contributions for teachers can be divided into three types: Type 1 can be found on our Facebook Group and Types 2 and 3 have their own sections on the ELT Footprint blog.

Type 1: ‘How to’ posts

These are posts which share something that can be used in a lesson and an invitation to suggest how you might use it in your context, maybe with an example. This can be anything from an infographic showing how long it takes everyday objects to decompose, to a video about extreme weather, a news article about the ‘Extinction Rebellion’ movement or a photo of a plastic-covered beach. Our members come up with very creative ideas and demonstrate how a simple stimulus can lend itself to multiple interpretations and language learning opportunities. If you scroll through the posts on the Facebook group, you’ll come across lots of these. Better still, post something yourself and see what ideas come forth.

Type 2: Useful links

These can be found in a tab on the homepage of the blog. Here you can find links to organisations such as the World Wildlife Fund, to other useful blogs like ELT sustainable, and so on. Follow these links and you will find useful resources such as a carbon footprint calculator or an interactive quiz. One of my favourite links is to a CNN interactive quiz about the most effective climate change solutions – perfect for a class of adults who could do the quiz at home and then come to class ready to share some thoughts on their findings.

Type 3: Materials

These can be found in a separate tab on the home page of the blog. They are ready-to-use lesson plans and classroom materials that teachers can use immediately or adapt to their context. They have been shared by publishers, organisations and individuals. Some link directly to significant days such as World Environment Day (June 5) or Clean Air Day (June 20). We make an effort to anticipate such days and look around for suitable materials to share. We also share materials for ‘The World’s Largest Lesson’, based on the UN’s Global Sustainability Goals. One of my personal favourites is a climate crisis integrated skills lesson for teenagers and adults based on a short video and written by Jill Hadfield. It comes with a link to the video, an easy-to-follow lesson plan and student worksheets.

ELT Footprint members come from all corners of the globe and every kind of imaginable teaching context. It is therefore unsurprising that the resources shared should be so varied. There really is something for everyone, whether you teach primary children in a state school, one-to-one online Business English or anything in between. The one thing they all have in common is the overall theme of reducing our impact on the environment and saving our planet.

 

This article first appeared in the October 2019 issue of the Modern English Teacher. Pavilion Publishing are kindly offering the readers of this blog a special 20% discount on the digital subscription to the magazine which also includes access to the archives. The offer lasts until the end of October.

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