Cultural Relevancy In Environmental Education - Presentation Transcript

I often give presentations on environmental education topics, and I've turned my scripts for those into a few blog posts here. The following is a snapshot of a presentation I gave at the annual Association of Environmental and Outdoor Education (AEOE) in Malibu on Spring of 2017 , co-presented with my friend and colleague Celeste Royer from the San Luis Obispo County Office of Education. What follows is my section of the presentation only. 


AEOE Presentation

So why is culturally relevant teaching important? 

The home language and experiences of the students we serve are a part of who they are. When you create culturally relevant experiences for your students, you recognize that students learn best and are more open to instruction when they feel like what is being taught is a part of their life, and not in conflict with who they are or what they already know. Student's ability to connect with the material being presented determines how much they will retain. We must build a bridge between a student’s experiences at home, and their experiences in the classroom (or field trip) and bring elements into the lessons that validate their culture and experiences.  

When students suffer from a disconnect between their home and school, they’re at greater risk of academic failure. If they do not see themselves or their culture represented in the classroom or if they feel they had to assume another culture the material may feel less relevant to them. 

We want students to have THEIR experience in our programs – not OUR experience. It's important to convey the message that this place, idea, program etc. is not MINE to share with you, it belongs to all of us. You belong here. Your ideas matter. You already have some experience in this area.

At TreePeople during our eco-tours, we emphasize that Coldwater Canyon park is a public park belongs to everyone. We invite the students to return with their families, and to become familiar with the trails and exhibits. 

Making your presentations and experiences culturally relevant can be as simple as accessing prior knowledge. Ask students if they have ever experienced a program/location/activity like the one you are about to share with them. Be inclusive. A BBQ at a nearby park is a worthwhile time spent outdoors, and allow everyone a chance to speak. 

Being inclusive as we’ve defined earlier requires conscious effort on our parts. What pronouns do you use for yourself or to address students? She/her or he/him pronouns? Do you call your students boys & girls or do you call them scientists, future naturalists, nature investigators, their nature name, etc.?  "You may have noticed that people are sharing their pronouns in introductions, on name tags, and when GSA meetings begin. This is happening to make spaces more inclusive of transgender, gender nonconforming, and gender non-binary people. Including pronouns is a first step toward respecting people’s gender identity, working against cisnormativity, and creating a more welcoming space for people of all genders." - GLSEN By calling your students by their nature names, or "scientists", we remove the need for binary pronouns and create a space where non-binary students can feel more comfortable. They will be the students who notice and appreciate this effort while other students will likely not even notice. 

Some examples of gender-neutral language include “friends,” “folks,” “all,” or “y’all,” rather than “guys,” “ladies,” “ma’am,” or “sir.”

Another way to be inclusive is to encourage the students to circle up instead of bunch. Circles share and evenly distribute power and respect. Circles also help girls succeed. When girls are given an opportunity to be on equal footing with boys and instructors do things like pause after asking a question to give girls an opportunity to answer as they usually take longer than boys to raise their hands, we create a more inclusive learning experience. 


Candice Dickens-Russell