Joining forces and upscaling impact

Joining forces by crossing the borders of research, policy, and practice.

Establishing and consolidating partnerships is not only pivotal within open schooling practices, but it is also essential for fruitful transdisciplinary research. For the Belgian local network, the collaboration with the Flemish Government’s environmental and sustainability education team and with the province of Limburg’s Nature Centre was and is indispensable to incorporate policy-, expert- and experience-based knowledge into the SEAS open schooling activities. In particular, the collaboration in the context of MOS (Milieuzorg Op School) – the Ecoschool programme in Flanders driven by the Flemish Government, the 5 Flemish provinces and the Flemish Community Commission in Brussels – has unlocked great potential for a transdisciplinary approach to supporting open schooling practices in Belgian schools (see local assessment report).

Since 2001, the MOS project aims to develop an educative environmental care system for Flemish schools and to stimulate environmental care among teachers and pupils. MOS has concentrated substantively on a wide range of sustainability themes: the greening of schoolyards, climate change, sustainable food, biodiversity, sustainable energy and mobility, etc. Approximately 49% of the schools in Flanders are part of the MOS community, which is substantial and hopeful, to say the least.

map full of pins

Within the Belgian SEAS network, MOS and Ghent University have collaborated on supporting schools to implement Locally Relevant Teaching (LORET). LORET is designed to support teachers in using real-world problems relevant to the local community as a starting point for fascinating education. The guiding principle is to combine engagement with sustainability problems and the realisation of curriculum objectives and, in doing so, offer students unique educational opportunities and the experience of being able to make a difference. Through LORET workshops, teacher teams develop a plan for implementing locally relevant teaching and design a series of lessons that take students along in an authentic sustainability problem-solving process.

MOS and Ghent University closely cooperated in various LORET pilot projects in primary and secondary schools in Flanders. The UGent team contributed via the organisation of dynamic and interactive LORET workshops, while MOS – the Flemish Government MOS coordinators and the MOS coaches in several provinces) supported with plenty of practical experience, dedication and insights. As a result, the participating schools engaged in very creative and didactically well-considered LORET projects relating to varied themes (e.g. water, electricity, biodiversity, sustainable food). These projects did not only spark interesting teaching and learning processes – thereby challenging conventional teaching habits and contributing to educational innovation – but the pilots also helped to further develop and fine-tune the LORET tool. Participants in the workshops said that they became inspired to think-out-of-the-box, to pay more attention to tangible sustainability challenges within the local community, to implement more sustainability  teaching and learning activities and, essentially, to offer pupils unique educational opportunities through engaging with real-life and local sustainability issues and (potential) solutions.

Upscaling impact beyond the SEAS pilot experiments

The Belgian SEAS open schooling network has the explicit ambition to upscale the impact of its activities beyond only those actors directly involved in them as well as to sustain the impact beyond the three-year lifespan of the SEAS project. In particular, we aim to optimally enable teachers and partners across different schools to learn from and inspire each other as well as to optimally equip intermediary actors like MOS coaches and other school coaches to support teachers and partners in designing and implementing high-quality open schooling about sustainability problems. Structurally embedding LORET-based open schooling and building capacities to facilitate this are crucial ingredients for that.

The seeds for the network’s upscaling potential were already planted during the establishment of the SEAS consortium. Jürgen Loones, policymaker at the Flemish Government and partner of UGent while writing the SEAS application, was simultaneously involved in designing the project proposal and in an internal task force to revise the mission and strategy of MOS. This resulted in MOS’ mission being inspired by the LORET philosophy: “MOS strengthens schools to work on education with sustainability issues starting from locally relevant themes. MOS meaningfully connects these environmental and spatial themes that affect the school environment with the global Sustainable Development Goals. MOS does so by professionalising teachers and principals and supporting and inspiring schools with a whole school approach. MOS promotes an entrepreneurial environment for education for sustainable development (ESD) at school through networks and partnerships. In this way the school becomes a sustainable learning and living environment.”

Also, new strategic goals were formulated such as: “MOS schools put ESD into practice. Therefore, they focus on locally relevant environmental themes in relation to the sustainable development goals and apply a whole school approach”. This strategic goal was accompanied by several operational objectives: “MOS supports schools to meaningfully use local environmental issues and the sustainable development goals as a relevant learning context; MOS connects schools with local partners to get started with sustainability education; MOS assists schools, through sustainability education, in realising their curriculum and their pedagogical mission with a whole school approach”. As such, LORET principles can be seen as structurally and formally embedded into the core foundation and philosophy of MOS, thus reaching out to half of all the Flemish schools.

 

In order to optimally prepare future LORET workshop facilitators, 18 MOS-coaches and 2 MOS coordinators assembled in Brussels on March 24, 2022, for a whole-day, hands-on ‘training for trainers’. In small groups, they drew up LORET plans for fictitious school cases targeting diverse groups of pupils and addressing different topics (mobility, biodiversity in the city, plastics, and air pollution). The varied and challenging cases were designed by MOS coordinators Veronique De Grave and Ingrid Vanderlinden and reflected real-life experiences and contexts of MOS schools. Through a shortened version of the series of LORET workshops facilitated by UGent researcher Katrien Van Poeck, the MOS coaches could experience what it entails to develop a plan for the implementation of locally relevant teaching and to design a series of lessons that take the students through an authentic process of sustainability problem-solving.

Classroom full of people.

Although the cases were fictitious, the participants enthusiastically approached the examples as if they were real and meaningful. We witnessed the articulation of a wide range of didactical perspectives and creative trains of thought, but also critical remarks, doubts and comparisons with MOS’ traditional way of working. At the end of the workshops, some rich and intriguing LORET plans were yielded. During the subsequent discussion, also attended by LORET developer Leif Östman (EduQuality), some critical questions were raised such as whether or not LORET would unload teachers instead of burdening them.

However, most of the comments made endorsed the added value and multiple benefits of LORET: the fact that LORET is designed to offer the opportunity to tailor it to different local contexts and promote active citizenship; the fact that it simultaneously supports teachers to achieve various final attainments targets together with their pupils, while engaging in challenge- and problem-based teaching and learning practices; the fact that LORET contributes to educational innovation; the fact that it triggers teachers and students to think-out-of-the box and query their self-evident habits and ideas; and the fact that it focuses on one of society’s biggest challenges today, namely supporting, shaping and consolidating a sustainable living for all organisms on planet Earth. This very fascinating day will not only prove helpful for inspiring and supporting schools to work with LORET but also provided a fertile soil for many more future collaborations.

 

By Nordin Bigaré & Katrien Van Poeck
Published May 3, 2022 9:42 PM - Last modified May 11, 2022 11:19 AM
Trær og solskinn

Blogging for transformational change

The SEAS blog focuses on current research and activities in the intersection between scientific literacy, open schooling and sustainability challenges when students collaborate with families and stakeholders from civil society and industry in becoming agents of community well-being.