The Staffroom. Strategies to unleash your green changemakers

Helen Cresswell shares lessons from the Green Changemakers programme on how to ensure everyone plays their part in decarbonising further education

Helen Cresswell shares lessons from the Green Changemakers programme on how to ensure everyone plays their part in decarbonising further education

6 May 2024, 5:00

In December, the government updated its sustainability and climate change strategy, specifically noting that the area in which the DfE has “the most work to do is reducing our environmental footprint”. Its efforts are not yet adding up to the wave of change we need.

To make the difference, the government has provided funding to train staff in FE settings to become Green Changemakers. The aim of this effort is to support professional development that will upskill colleagues and empower them to influence the green skills culture of their organisations.

Having undertaken the Green Changemakers programme, I feel it’s important to share some of the thinking, talking, and listening strategies I have learned to enable other FE staff to make these vital changes.

The thinking environment

As Time To Think founder Nancy Kline has written, “The quality of everything we do depends on the quality of the thinking we do first. The quality of our thinking depends on the way we treat each other while we are thinking.”

Kline goes on to outline ten components of thinking environments that, individually and together, favour high-quality thinking and action. One of these is ‘feelings’, and when it comes to climate change it is particularly important to acknowledge people’s genuine and valid fears.

But it is equally important to convert those fears into what Susan Hoyle calls constructive hope. To do that, equality (valuing each contributor’s voice as expert in their field), positive encouragement and a sense of place. Creating a shared sense that we are making a difference means showing appreciation for every success along the way, no matter how small. 

Kline’s ‘Ten Components of a Thinking Environment’ are a great place to start to ensure your climate action has a transformative impact – on attitudes and on your college’s carbon footprint.  

Thinking councils

So how can we go about creating the sense of community Kline talks about? After all, colleges are not run like cooperatives.

For that, we can turn to an example from the NHS ‘Learning handbook’ on supporting systematic learning before, during and after project activity.

Among its recommendations is the use of ‘learning councils’. These are “similar to a focus group and can be used either to inform future work or to tackle a specific problem that is experienced in a project”.

Their aim is not to upend hierarchies but to “pass knowledge and experience from a group to the person in need of support”, in this case the college’s leadership team.

In conjunction with Kline’s ‘ten components’, learning councils begin to outline a strategy to empower smaller actions at the classroom level while informing better decisions at the leadership level.

Both, however, rely on providing genuine opportunities for colleagues to share their ideas and feedback without fear of interruption or judgement. Not all will be accepted or taken forward, but only in this context will truly creative solutions and solid consensus arise.

Facilitating the experts

The bigger issues around climate change can appear insurmountable. The key to a successful strategy in your college is to stay focused throughout on how each of us can be part of the solution, by providing essential information on local or departmental issues, suggesting steps to implementing our shared goals and communicating about the potential positive impacts taking those steps could have.

Here, The Knowledge Academy’s Sienna Roberts offers invaluable insights on specific facilitation techniques to guide groups through decision-making processes.

When choosing a method to facilitate decision-making on climate action in FE, recognising the audience is key. Open, respectful conversation about green matters will only occur with appropriate support, guidelines and role modelling.

A top-down, one-size-fits-all approach is unlikely to work, especially in the diverse context of further education. However, once a method has been successfully utilised in one area, the mix of a positive thinking environment, formal methods for collective decision-making, and the right facilitation will all but guarantee ripple effects across the organisation.

‘Green Changemakers’ aims to ripple across the sector. Accordingly, our shared knowledge is shared openly and open to growth and challenge. The more of us there are, the greater the chances that the ripples will add up to a wave.

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