Professional Development and Sustainability
Professional development refers to education programs intended to help teachers (among others) to improve their professional knowledge, competence, skills, and effectiveness. ESD competence-based professional development can help teachers acquire ESD competences and support them to delivery ESD to the curriculum, as well as to develop and implement school ESD policy.
Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) addresses the global environmental and social challenges by providing knowledge, skills, values, and attitudes that empower learners to contribute to sustainable development. It is transformational and holistic and involves learning about different sustainable development (SD) concepts and issues through suitable and effective pedagogies and learning environments (UNESCO 2014). The importance of education’s role in achieving SD has been extensively discussed (e.g., UNECE 2011, 2013), recognized by the UN and highlighted throughout the Millennium and the Sustainable Development Goals (UN 2015; UNESCO 2018).
Education is expected to act as a driver for change (Fullan 2006), and teachers are crucial components for integrating ESD as a transformational process in educational systems and need to be empowered. Recent discussions for the future of education and ESD stress the importance of supporting educators through quality training, capacity-building programs, and continuous professional development on inclusive education and the promotion of democratic citizenship and sustainable development (UNECE 2009; UNESCO/EC 2018). Opportunities to reflect on the various pedagogical approaches they employ and to acquire the competences needed for empowering learners for engaging in decision-making and transformational action (UNESCO 2018) are also supportive to the educators’ role.
The dialogue on educational change and ESD effectiveness has brought into light the necessity for developing ESD competences through teacher education and professional development (UNECE 2011, 2013; Roorda 2012; Adombent and Hoffmann 2013; Rauch and Steiner 2013). Teacher professional development and education concerns all the activities that develop individual skills, knowledge, expertise, and any other teachers’ characteristics, within the design and delivery of specific education programs (Avgitidou 2014; Athanasoulla-Reppa et al. 1999). Competence acquisition is deemed necessary as it shifts education from input to output orientation (Reickmann 2011) and can bridge the gap between knowledge and action (Reickmann 2018 in Leicht et al. 2018).
In teacher professional development and education, competences are about those attributes and factors that enable teachers to demonstrate appropriate behaviors and attitudes (Charlton 1993; Meyer 1996) and be effective in their professional practice. The reorientation of teacher professional development and education toward competences development can recast ESD as quality education (Kadji-Beltran et al. 2017) since it affects learning at the level of the learners in their learning environment and at the level of the system that creates and supports the learning experience (Pigozzi 2007, p. 30).
ESD Competences as an Intrinsic Part of Teacher Professional Development and Education
Several projects and international initiatives have been working toward identifying the ESD competences that teacher education should address. The CSCT Comenius project (Curriculum, Sustainable development, Competences, Teacher training) run by Environment and School Initiatives (ENSI) in 2002 was an attempt to meet the call of UNECE to offer curriculum models to teacher training institutes that would promote ESD integration in their curricula. The CSCT project envisioned teachers as individuals who are in a dynamic relationship with their students, their colleagues, and the wider society in ways that enable genuine and effective learning. For all these levels of engagement, teachers need specific competences which were explained with the five domains: values and ethics, action, knowledge, systems thinking, and emotions. These domains were connected to three overall competences: teaching, reflecting and visioning, and networking (Sleurs 2008).
The United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE 2011) developed a framework of competences for ESD educators in order to guide their preparation for ESD delivery within formal and nonformal education systems. Learning for the Future, the UNECE competences framework, consists of 39 key competences organized under 3 broad headings related to key ESD characteristics (holistic approach, envisioning change, achieving transformation) and clustered according to the 4 dimensions of learning identified by UNESCO (1996): (a) learning to know, (b) learning to do, (c) learning to live together, and (d) learning to be. This effort was supported by another initiative undertaken by UNECE (2013) focused on empowering educators to work practically with competences in ESD, by preparing tools and providing concrete examples and activities that could be used and make ESD competences understandable and usable in the educational context.
Although these frameworks and models were well received, take-up and implementation were limited perhaps due to the fact that they were somewhat abstract, contained large numbers of competences, and were defined in complex and theoretical language.
The RSP Competences for ESD Model
A Rounder Sense of Purpose is developing educator competences in Education for Sustainable Development (RSP) which started in 2015 as a 3-year, Erasmus-funded project with the aim of developing an accredited framework of educator competences in Education for Sustainable Development (ESD). Led by the University of Gloucestershire, UK, the project involved partner institutions from Cyprus (Frederick University), Estonia (Tallinn University), Hungary (Hungarian Research Teachers’ Association), Italy (Italian Association for Sustainability), and the Netherlands (Duurzame PABO).
The starting point for this work was the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe framework of educator competences for ESD (UNECE 2012), which itself draws upon earlier international work. The UNECE ESD framework is an important theoretical tool that set the foundation for elaborating and defining the ESD competences framework. The project’s task was to revisit the UNECE ESD competences with a view to making them more accessible, easy to transfer, and measurable, acknowledging the economic imperatives facing teachers across the EU.
During 2016, RSP partners worked on “distilling” the UNECE competences, i.e., reducing the number by removing repetition while identifying gaps. This was done with reference to other significant studies in the field including Roorda (2012) who developed the RESFIA+D framework and the work of Wiek et al. (2011) that informed UNESCO’s (2017) eight competences for sustainable development. The resulting framework comprises 12 competence statements (on systems, futures, participation, attentiveness, empathy, engagement, transdisciplinarity, innovation, action, criticality, responsibility, and decisiveness), each with 3 learning outcomes that are further defined with the support of a number of underpinning components. In this way the framework provides enough detail to make it practical for use in developing training programs while leaving it open for each user to integrate it into their national qualification framework using their own template to define assessable learning outcomes (see also Vare 2018; Vare et al. 2017).
Once the draft framework was agreed, training programs for pre-service and in-service educators were developed. The training programs provided opportunities for reflecting on and discussing the impact of competence-based professional development on ESD. The current paper presents the outcomes of a teacher education program based on ESD competences delivered in Cyprus.
ESD Teacher Professional Development and Education Models and ESD Transformation in Schools
The support and reinforcement of competence-based teacher education on ESD acquires a special meaning if we consider the limitations that initial teacher education poses in competence transfer and practical pedagogical skills development (Ferreira et al. 2007; Duncombe and Armour 2004) and the need for education to lead to action and change. In this context, EU reports and actions acknowledge the importance of in-service training (INSET) and the need for its reform (European Commission 2003a, b, 2004).
Teacher professional development and education on ESD needs to be aligned to ESD characteristics and principles. It should therefore draw from models of education and training that promote learning as an independent and documented activity that is constructively critical in its practice and situated in a framework of critically viewed professional values and responsibilities (Bolam 2000; Zachariou 2013). For ESD delivery, this scope of teacher education and training is particularly important if we consider that the key expected outcomes of education (action and participation, responsibility, and the ability to effect change) are rarely achieved by schools (Wilkinson and Waterton 1991; Shallcross and Wilkinson 1994).
Ferreira et al. (2007), having studied a number of teacher education initiatives for promoting ESD, identified three broad models for reorienting teacher education toward sustainability and achieving change.
The Collaborative Resource Development and Adaptation Model assumes that change can occur through the provision of curriculum and pedagogical resources and adequate training in the use of these. It can access a large target audience at low cost. The resources are often developed along with professional development and can be improved through collaborative development processes that target not only curriculum but also pedagogical and philosophical change.
Initiatives following the action research model for teacher education aim to build educators’ competence to deliver curriculum and policy by following the four-phased cyclical process of critical inquiry: plan formation, action, outcome observation, and reflection. This process provides the practitioners with the opportunity to reflect upon, improve, and innovate their practice (Tilbury et al. 2005). Action research as a model for ESD teacher education was also explored by Cebrian et al. (2012). The researchers argue that there are many types of action research approaches used in a variety of disciplines: participatory action research, emancipatory or critical action research, collaborative inquiry, active learning, and narrative inquiry.
Finally, Ferreira et al. propose the Whole-of-System Model. This is a complex model which assumes that change toward sustainability will only occur through leveraging top-down and bottom-up approaches to change simultaneously in a multifaceted, system-wide manner. The model is not prescriptive as it enables contextually specific strategies to be developed.
The demanding need for ESD competences’ development and the complexity of the nature of ESD require the use of elements from more than one of the teacher education models or even a combination of the models if such an education and training is to be effective (Zachariou 2013).
ESD Teacher Professional Development and Education in the Cyprus Context
Sustainable schools in Cyprus are at the core of the new ESD curriculum. Each school is expected to develop and implement its individual Sustainable Environmental Education Policy (SEEP). This conduced to a demand for skilled and competent teachers of ESD, which in turn makes teacher education and especially ESD teacher education a high priority in Cyprus’ educational reform (Zachariou and Kadji-Beltran 2015). In response, the Cyprus Pedagogical Institute (CPI) has developed diverse ESD teacher education courses, addressing teachers of all levels of formal education. Compulsory courses focus on the implementation of the National Curriculum on ESD, planning and designing the SEEP, schools’ self-assessment of ESD implementation, and the use of ESD educational tools and materials (MoEC 2013; Zachariou 2013). Optional ESD courses are implemented in educational settings like Environmental Education Centers, museums, and in outdoor environments. The courses introduce participants to subjects such as sustainable schools; the theory, methodology, and pedagogical techniques of ESD; the use of outdoor settings as a pedagogical mean for promoting ESD through formal and nonformal education (MoEC 2008, 2009); and designing ESD projects through parental involvement and local community collaborations (Zachariou and Symeou 2008). Alternatively, they can take the form of school-based seminars and focus on the needs, interests, and priorities of the schools. Most of the courses have both a theoretical and a practical structure (CPI 2009).
Despite substantial progress in the field of teacher professional development and education for ESD, the Cyprus educational system is still far from moving from the transmissive to a transformational model for teacher education in ESD. Research conducted with school principals and educators indicates that teachers have limited self-efficacy for delivering ESD to their classes (particularly with planning ESD lessons using ESD teaching materials and the ESD curriculum), establishing links with the local community and applying ESD educational approaches emphasizing the need to reorient education toward holistic programs based on teachers’ competences (Zachariou 2013).
Teachers’ professional development and education is the driving force within the Cyprus Ministry of Education’s efforts to raise quality in education. It is aligned to the newly emerging unified policy and the new system of professional teacher education based on professional learning instead of development (Ministerial Board 2015, no.79.273/19/8/20180). Therefore, the purpose of the current paper is to contribute to the overall effort (nationally and internationally) for raising the quality of the delivery of educational programs and redesigning ESD programs by evaluating the use of the RSP model, as a simple and solid model that supports and facilitates the development of ESD competence-based teacher education courses.
The research took the form of a case study of an ESD teacher education program that aimed to scrutinize and transfer ESD competences to a group of educators in Cyprus. The program was delivered as part of the requirements of the RSP project previously presented. It explores (a) participants’ experience with ESD competences prior to the program, (b) their ideas and perceptions about how ESD competences support the ESD curriculum implementation, and (c) how RSP competences can help the development and delivery of a whole school ESD policy.
The Training Program
The 10-h training program was developed according to the Collaborative Resource Development and Adaptation Model (Ferreira et al. 2007) and was attended by 32 educators. The goal was to help trainees become familiar with key ESD competences and experience activities that support their development. Training started with a plenary session on the concept of “competence” in order to clarify terms and eliminate misconceptions. It presented the RSP competences and discussed the importance of their integration in teaching and learning and their connection with the development of a whole school ESD policy. Three parallel workshops (on Systems Competence, Empathy, Transdisciplinary, Futures, Attentiveness and Evaluation competences) presented and implemented the teaching material produced for each competence by the RSP project. This practical engagement was expected to encourage teachers to integrate ESD competences in their planning, in their teaching and learning practice, as well as in their schools’ ESD policy. A closing plenary session discussed each workshop and gave the participants the opportunity to reflect upon their experience.
Thirty-two individuals participated in the educational program after responding to an open invitation, addressing educators. Nineteen of them (16 women and 3 men) also volunteered to participate in structured interviews exploring their experience with the program and discussing implications for their education. Three of the interviewees were unemployed teachers, three were novice teachers (<10 years of experience), ten had 11–20 years of experience, and three teachers had more than 20 years of experience. The majority were primary school teachers, three were pre-primary teachers, and three were biology teachers in secondary education. All of the interviewees had a special interest and specific studies in ESD through postgraduate courses. Most of them were involved in ESD programs in their schools or worked as educators in nonformal education (Environmental Education Centers). A few were also involved in the development of the ESD curriculum. Several participants had occasionally received professional development through conferences, seminars, and in-service training and participation in ESD research projects. In the current paper, we only present the interview data related to the three stated research objectives. Data analysis followed a qualitative approach (content analysis). Quotations from the interviews will be referred as Interviewee 1 (I1), etc.
Prior Experience with ESD Competences
Being ESD professionals, most interviewees had some experience with competences in the context of ESD. Some explained that they had come across ESD competences through professional development seminars and scientific articles (four) although one admitted that “Despite my long experience as an EE advisor and EE trainer in EE Centres, it is the first time I attend a seminar focused on ESD competences” (I4). Eight interviewees explained that they experienced ESD competences during their ESD postgraduate studies or university studies briefly and superficially: “… very general and superficial mentioning of competences in one of the modules I attended during university studies” (I1). Other participants came across ESD competences through their participation in research projects (concerning ESD professional development or specifically ESD competences) in an indirect and theoretical way.
Participants employed in positions outside formal education appeared to also engage with competences due to their work. Environmental Education Center educators (five) had to consider competences when developing the educational programs of the centers: “…for the development of EE/ESD programmes in the EECentre I am working, I had the opportunity to work with some competences (e.g. systems) while I have worked less with others (e.g. empathy)” (I3). An ESD school advisor and a public servant (environmental inspector with a background in education) also had to address ESD competences as part of their work. The environmental inspector mentioned that she used the ESD competences “…for developing a proposal on professional education for transferring knowledge, skills and competences for new sustainable methods in agriculture…” (I2), while the school advisor also working as a teacher trainer addressed ESD competences for the delivery of ESD INSET “…so as to encourage teachers to take action for SD…” (I5).
School teachers that reported working on the development of ESD units within the new national curriculum and setting ESD achievement indicators explained that these were developed following a transdisciplinary, collaborative, and experiential learning approach and took into account the ESD competences (I6, I5). Most of the school teachers/practitioners (five) explained that they had to consider ESD competences “on a practical level while teaching” (I6, I4, I7) and while working on the Sustainable Environmental Education Policy (SEEP) of their schools: “…I was quite familiar with the ESD competences presented in the workshop, since our SEEP addressed 5 sets of competences: knowledge, systemic thinking, senses, values and action…” (I8).
Teachers’ Ideas on How ESD Competences Support the ESD Curriculum Implementation
The interviewees explained that understanding competences is the first step to understanding how these can be applied in classroom. They acknowledged that all competences are necessary for the national curriculum delivery and the development of the schools’ SEEP. They also considered that specific competences might be required for specific curriculum areas: “…delivering ESD in different lessons mainly requires systems competency, empathy, transdisciplinarity and evaluation” (I9) and found the use of these competences easier.
Specifically, five interviewees pointed out that acquiring ESD competences gives depth to understanding and constructs a solid theoretical background for ESD. Competences and indicators of achievement are specific; they clarify what is pursued and support the achievement of the curriculum goals: “... competences are a tool supporting ESD in both formal and informal education. They are our guide… They are aligned to the new role that teachers need to embrace in order to educate in a changing world” (I9) (I10).
Five participants considered that teachers can transfer competences in a practical way and provide a cross-disciplinary and systemic framework for addressing SD issues. Cross-disciplinarity promotes collaborations between different subject areas and encourages everyone to engage. “…The educators that possesses these competences can understand the systemic character of SD issues, acknowledge the principles of interdisciplinarity in ESD, seek to collaborate with individuals from other scientific areas, are able to evaluate, to act with transparency and recognise their personal responsibility…” (I11).
Some interviewees explained that the pedagogical value of competences lies in the connection they have with specific educational approaches and techniques. In this sense, competences enhance and facilitate the ESD curriculum delivery. Competence-oriented ESD encourages effective planning and gives a clear focus to the process of teaching and learning. “…holding these competences will help educators implement the Curriculum starting with planning and organising, choosing the topic, the activities, raising awareness and finally evaluating…” (I12). On the other hand, some interviewees highlighted that the ability to set appropriate goals and use a variety of teaching approaches and techniques is what enables the development of the various competences (I13) (I12), (I7).
… the development and delivery of educational programmes at all levels of education, is founded on competences: holistic thinking and vision for change are important for bringing change. Teachers should help students see the interconnections amongst social and natural world (e.g. using cane for weaving) and examine the consequences of their actions… draw their attention to the most urgent non-sustainable aspects of the area and its community seek alternative versions of a sustainable future and be able to contribute to changes that would support SD. (I4)
Overall, most interviewees explained that ESD competences promote a new way of thinking that will enable change in the school culture and help teachers realize the new role they have. Most importantly, they acknowledge the connection between ESD competences’ development and action: “…They [ESD – competent teachers] take action and motivate their students to do the same, resulting into the pursued change that would transform their school into a sustainable school” (I11).
Teachers’ Ideas on How ESD Competences Support the Development of a Whole School ESD Policy (SEEP: Sustainable Environmental Education Policy)
Acquiring competences makes them transferable in schools and EE Centers: “if for example a teacher does not have developed systemic thinking, how can s/he transfer it to his/her students… how can s/he help them make the connections between complex social and environmental issues…evaluate and think critically of the available information taking into account all involved parties?” (I8). Therefore, as interviewees argue, acquiring competences raises teachers’ self-efficacy and helps them become able to create the conditions necessary for achieving sustainability.
Interviewees commented that competences could help teachers transform schools (I11) into dynamic, self-regulating, self-evaluating, and organizing systems able to interact with their communities and other parties. (I2) (I6). They can help teachers become creative and innovative and consequently help their students also become creative. Within such context, students can engage in exploring SD issues (I13), “…understand the interconnections, the consequences of their actions and the need for change… They will be able to envision a sustainable future, identify solutions and mainly become active citizens” (I11).
Competences-oriented ESD is considered by most of the interviewees to be helpful for the development and implementation of a whole school’s “Sustainable Environmental Education Policy” as all competences are needed for its development. Several interviewees (I17, I5, I4, I10) share the view that “ESD competences will help [me] develop and implement my school’s SEEP. I will have the competences needed to challenge my students, in order to express themselves, investigate, evaluate and reflect upon a sustainable future…” (I17). One of the interviewees even stated that ESD competences help her to better understand SEED (I14).
The ESD competences’ practical value within SEED development was identified in the fact that they can help teachers plan and apply a unified strategy for improving the school unit in the framework of SD, leading to a gradual change of the school culture (I2), (I15, I16, I10): “… Competences need to be accounted for during SEEP development. This will result into more focused and quality SEEPs” (I6); “They result to better planning of the SEED, better implementation, better evaluation and revision” (I3, I13, I7). The program helped teachers understand how to choose suitable activities/teaching techniques for the SEEP in order to develop competences (I15, I8, I14, I13). Most importantly, they realized “which parameters have to be considered in order to implement the SEEP… for each step of the school policy development, different competences are needed. In order to implement SEEP, teachers need all these competences and use them through all stages of the policy” (I11).
Overall, the orientation toward ESD competences was considered necessary for the development and delivery of action in schools (I6), (I3), (I4).
Research findings indicate that informal learning contributes to developing competences because it is integrated in activities (Dohmen 2001, as reffrered in Barth et al. 2007, p. 24). Accordingly, Marsick et al. (in Overwien 2005, p. 344) stated that informal learning directing the attention to the learning process could strengthen the capacity for reflection, by creating an atmosphere of cooperation and confidence. Schoolteachers were able to identify and acknowledge the links between different tasks performed at school for ESD implementation and the competences after they received the RSP ESD competence-based educational program. Outcomes indicate that while the Cyprus ESD policy is being delivered by the practitioners and competences development is identified throughout different levels of its implementation (curriculum delivery and whole school policy – SEED), this process is not conscious conscientious and reveals a gap between policy and its practical delivery. The missing element is appropriate ESD teacher education. This conclusion is particularly important if we consider that the research participants were individual educators with special interest and additional preparation on ESD delivery. Interviewees’ responses reveal the need for enactment of a unified policy regarding teachers’ ESD competence-based education, which will enable them to self-organize their professional learning, to take the responsibility for their own learning and development, and to become important agents of educational change (MoEC 2015; Donaldson 2001). This requires teacher education programs on ESD, based on the action research professional education model as a participative form of education that places learning responsibility to the learner. Action research is a holistic and long-term model and addresses the national and local priorities and the individual needs on ESD (Karagiorgi and Symeou 2006; Somekh 2006, p. 8).
The fact that teachers felt that the competences support implementation of the ESD curriculum suggests that teacher education programs on ESD should be redesigned according to ESD competences frameworks (and RSP model in particular). This enables teachers as educators and learners to reflect on the education they deliver and to consider different disciplines with regard to their relation to the world, to life-worldly goods, and to other disciplines (Defila and Di Giulio 1996, as refferred in Barth et al. 2007, p. 133). Findings also indicate that competences support teachers in responding to the complexity of these interconnections and the “osmosis” needed for bringing together the different subjects. There is a need for developing ESD teacher education programs that would provide interdisciplinary opportunities on ESD supporting the development of ESD competences (Barth et al. 2007). Results that support the pedagogical value and the action orientation give competences a practical value and explain why teachers considered that the RSP ESD competences help them support the implementation of the ESD curriculum. According to this, ESD teacher education should address ESD competences as the basis for more effective curriculum design and pedagogy and link them to the assessment of processes and outcomes (Mochizuki and Fadeeva 2010, p. 393).
Participants’ observation on how important RSP ESD competences are in order to give depth to understanding and construct a solid theoretical background for ESD points toward a currently superficial ESD delivery. This needs to be addressed through ESD competence-based teacher education that will complement ESD 1, which reflects a more instrumental view of education that tends to be driven by policy makers, with ESD 2, a capacity-building and open-ended process that provides teachers with opportunities to see themselves as reflective learners (Vare and Scott 2007).
The potential of the RSP competences model as a transformational force stands out in the teachers’ answers about the development and delivery of a whole school ESD policy. They also argue that competences are necessary for action. Their answers indicate that the RSP competences help them understand better the theory behind the whole school policy framework as well as the “hows” and “whys” concerning its development and implementation. Competences give teachers the freedom and confidence to plan, design, and choose suitable approaches and activities to achieve different goals. Most importantly, they become aware of their role and that of all the different actors within a whole school ESD policy for achieving change and shifting ESD practice into a deeper and more effective delivery. Competences support the dual role of educators as members of the organization and members of society. Educators are in a dynamic connection with their students, their peers, and the society in ways that promote change (see also Sleurs 2008). The RSP ESD competences cover aspects such as transdisciplinarity that goes beyond transformative learning among students and teachers in order to engage stakeholders and civil society. This highlights the cultural context, which is critical in promoting the organizational change processes required to achieve a whole institution approach (Cebrian and Junyent 2015; Cebrian et al. 2012; Mochizuki and Fadeeva 2010).
The educational program was illuminating for the participants, helping them realize the theory and foundations of what they were practicing. Teachers responded positively to the education received. They considered that it helped them understand competences better and encouraged them to employ competences in their efforts to achieve change. There is an urgency to reexamine the way in which ESD competences are seen in the educational systems and teacher education specifically. ESD competences are not “laundry lists,” lacking concrete and explicit theoretical justification (Wiek et al. 2011), but the intrinsic ingredient for ESD teacher education as third-order transformational learning (Balsiger et al. 2017). Transition springs from the experience of recognizing our own worldview rather than simply viewing our world so that we can be more open and draw upon other views and possibilities.
How is ESD professional learning connected to various models of professional education?
Which elements of other professional development models can facilitate the development of ESD competence-based education courses?
How and in which ways can action research, as a model of professional learning, integrate professional communities of learning based on ESD competences?
What elements of formal and informal/nonformal settings should be integrated in designing ESD competence-based education so as to make it more effective?
There is clearly more to be done, but the work outlined above points to an immense potential of a well-defined and accessible competence framework in engendering positive change in education.
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