Guest column by Rae McEntyre, Kentucky Department of Education science consultant and KAEE board member
Educators, both formal and nonformal, interact with people who may have had vastly different experiences from their own. Experiences influence how we think, what we understand, and how we interact with one another. As learners, we draw upon our experiences as we make sense of the world. As educators, we should focus on recognizing others’ experiences and finding ways to use them to reach all students.
Whether you are working in a K-12 classroom or with adults, valuing the insights, perspectives, and experiences that students bring to your lesson will make it more relevant, meaningful, and lasting. How can you do this? Something as simple as asking for elaboration to a response provides you with insight into the student’s thinking. This not only shows the student that you have an interest in them, but also stops you from immediately discounting a response that may have not been what you were looking for.
This is especially important when working with those from historically underserved communities. Humans are cultural beings—we all have culture. We have different experiences which are influenced by our home, family life, and our community. The way we speak, how we interact with others, what we value, and even our belief systems make up our individual culture.
Get to know and understand the community with which you’re working. Are you new to the community? Ask about community history from colleagues or community leaders. This history, especially long-standing history, can provide you with invaluable insights into the community’s perspective on issues. What are their priorities? What brings them together? What values and beliefs do they share?
Remember that no one is the same, even people of the same race, gender identity, socioeconomic group, sexual orientation, or any other metric. The more you can learn about the experiences and values that your students bring with them to the lesson, the better you can help them make sense of the world.
Want more on how you can build social justice and equity into your classroom? Check out the many resources on KAEE’s equity and inclusion webpages. Like our work in advancing environmental knowledge around the state, this is work that is ever-changing and growing. Please let us know if you have suggested readings, videos, podcasts, and more to add to our collection of resources.
KAEE is one of the country’s oldest associations supporting environmental education. We are people from all walks of life, coming together to support EE.