On the role of a formal agreement as a motivator and vehicle of learning

Based on the logic of the LORET tool, a piece of wooded land owned by the Gotland municipality in the vicinity of the school was chosen as the focus our work on local sustainability: a school forest.

Drawings of forests. Photo.

When students mapped out the values of the school forest, a distinction was made between values accruing to humans, i.e. ecosystem services, and intrinsic values that are independent of the utility that humans derive from them. In these paintings, young students have illustrated such intrinsic values that they perceive in the forest. The heading on the green paper says “A school forest that is thriving” (photo: Swedesd)

During the first iteration of open schooling activities within the Swedish local network, we have worked closely with Polhemskolan in Visby, situated on the island of Gotland in the Baltic Sea. Polhemskolan houses both preschool classes and primary school classes – grades one to six. It opened recently, in August 2019, and has chosen science education and sustainable development as overarching focus areas, which provides interesting opportunities for the SEAS project to contribute to development of capacity in terms of engagement in real-life sustainability.

A school forest

Based on the logic of the LORET tool, a piece of wooded land owned by the Gotland municipality in the vicinity of the school was chosen as the focus of our work on local sustainability. The area has been designated by the school as a “school forest” for educational and recreational school activities. It holds significant biological values, with e.g. many butterflies including the beautiful Mountain Apollo, but it is also frequented by many citizens and it is subject to littering.

As a way to bring a formal structure the cooperation around the school forest and enhance the engagement and motivation, we have worked on an agreement between the school and the municipality.

The agreement will stipulate some responsibilities of the municipality and the school in relation to the use of the area by students and teachers. The details of the agreement are yet to be finalized at the time of writing, but according to the current wording, the school will be allowed to utilise the area in ways that go slightly beyond what is normally allowed on public lands, e.g. by putting up nesting boxes for birds and arranging a fireplace. The school pleads to act responsibly and to contribute, if possible, to the preservation of natural values and development of recreational values and other ecosystem services that the area offers, e.g. by picking up litter.


Children in forest. Photo.
Teachers discuss outdoor education during a SEAS workshop in the school forest (photo: Swedesd).

The formal agreement has proven to be a motivator and a catalyst for our work. It has made it easier to get in contact with planners and biologists at the municipality, as well as at the regional County Administration board. It has enhanced the feeling that the work that the school is undertaking will have a real impact on the physical planning and natural resource management of the municipality, and the sense of progress as new paragraphs have been added to the draft. Further, the process of developing the agreement has been a valuable entry point for learning.

The importance of binding agreements

It has been used to discuss with students what a municipality is, what physical planning processes look like, what can be done on public land and how such decisions are taken, and the meaning of legally binding agreements. The last point is crucial, and in our view often overlooked in discourses on learning and societal transformations for sustainability.

After all, to close formal agreements on desired change is a fundamental way of transforming societies in our modern world, and if students are to become change agents they need to master this skill as well as science literacy, critical thinking and compassion.



By Alexander Hellquist (Uppsala University)
Published Oct. 16, 2020 11:39 AM - Last modified Oct. 16, 2020 11:57 AM
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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.