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Educating for a sustainable future

It’s not so much stand-alone programs that support Cornish College teachers to address issues that concern young people, but more so our whole approach to education of a different kind. At Cornish College, when we ask the important question, “Why do we educate?” we commit to a compelling answer: We educate for a sustainable future. It is the most important obligation we have to this generation of young people and to our community.

The Cornish College curriculum is shaped through our model of sustainable thinking dispositions and a tool the school created called the Rings of Sustainability *. The four interconnected rings each represent key areas of sustainability and together they provide a critical lens for viewing the world – and all our curriculum – so that our young people become problem identifiers and problem solvers with the capacity to create social good for a sustainable future.

The four rings represent Personal Sustainability, Socio-Cultural Sustainability, Urban-Technological Sustainability and Natural Sustainability. So, when our curriculum creates an opportunity to address an issue such as Climate Change – whether that be in Year 3 Unit of Inquiry into Sharing the Planet or a Year 10 exposition into Global Drivers and Changemakers, our students will consider climate change in relation to all other areas of sustainability and look for interconnections and leverage points for change.

One of the strengths of this holistic approach to curriculum design (as opposed to programs) is that students can make strong connections between curriculum areas and between the four domains of the Rings of Sustainability. Using the Rings, our students, when considering an issue such as climate change, will consider it directly in relation to their personal sustainability. What is the impact of change in our climate to our personal wellbeing? What impact might this then have of socio-cultural sustainability, or on urban and technological developments, economies and systems? Ultimately, we want young people to view the world the way it is – as a series of interconnected parts and actions rather than siloed learning areas, which is the way a traditional curriculum is set up.

We are very mindful that young people, in being educated about local and global environmental issues, can experience ‘sustainability fatigue’ and a level of anxiety that can come from this if they feel an overwhelming sense of responsibility for leading change. This generation of young people are often called upon to be the change-makers and to understand that many of today’s problems are a result of what were essentially yesterday’s solutions – not created by these young people themselves. As a school whose motto is ‘Make a Difference’ we work with young people to remind them that the difference starts with taking care of their personal sustainability/wellbeing first. If people are not well and healthy (physically, emotionally, socially, spiritually) and informed, then they are often not in a position to take care of others or our environment. The old adage of ‘put your own oxygen mask on first’ is an important one. Our wellbeing curriculum focuses then on agency in wellbeing and empowering young people to take positive steps and making informed choices about their own health and wellbeing and knowing where to seek support. Only then can we work together to make a difference today for a sustainable future. 

When young people at Cornish College raise issues about problems they have identified, we support them to think through solutions in sustainable way. When it is time to take action, the students are supported to be the agents of this action and to lead the community in doing so. This has involved students leading many initiatives at Cornish College – some as unique actions and others as exhibitions of learning through our inquiry-based curriculum. Examples include students leading the charge to attend Climate Change rallies, students leading the Sustainability Action Team to improve our own practices and processes at Cornish College, students educating the community about sustainable liveable cities through an exhibition and students creating a series of Claymation videos to educate others about issues related to climate change.

Through our unique Design Futures curriculum in the senior years, we have seen students take their learning about sustainability from previous years and apply it to areas of personal interest through student-led curriculum to make a difference to causes they are passionate about. Design Futures was essentially created to honour student agency in recognition of the incredible things our young people are capable of learning and achieving when given the freedom to do so, beyond traditional curriculum constraints. In Year 10, Isabelle studied sustainable food packaging and has created a plan to change the systems and processes of our school canteen which is now being implemented. In Year 11, Reagan studied young men’s mental health and wellbeing and its links to personal sustainability and is now pursuing further studies in this area. Rose, in Year 11, studied the role of play-based and outdoor learning in early childhood education and the difference that can make to personal sustainability and in promoting care for our natural environment.

Ultimately, it is the dispositions the Cornish College education creates for critical thinking, entrepreneurial mindsets and systems thinking that steers our young people toward taking sustainable action for a better future for all. This is one of the greatest reasons for us to continue to make changes in education and a compelling reason for us to nurture and prioritise the wellbeing and be incredibly proud of this generation of change-makers.

* Rings of Sustainability

In the context of learning at Cornish, the Rings underpin everything we do and help us to embed a holistic approach to the understanding of big questions:

  • The personal focuses on the individual, skills for living and wellbeing
  • Socio-cultural examines beliefs, customs and practices
  • Urban/technological takes an economic perspective; and
  • The natural considers issues from an environmental perspective, including how we, as local and global citizens, manage our ecological footprint, value and protect biodiversity and work to understand how we are connected with the Earth 

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