Sustainability in education – It’s about more than birds, bees and trees.

imagesFollowing a long Summer’s break, where much of the academic focus tends to be on individual reading and catching up on the latest ideas and developments, coming back to more collegiate work practices can be a challenge.

Fortunately though, some practices can really re-energize teams so that there is renewed enthusiasm for engaging positively with others and so smoothing the road for the academic year ahead. Recently, I was inspired having attended a rewarding full staff professional development event at the school where I am chair of governors. The headteacher, who has been in situ now for eight months, arranged with the senior leadership team to lead on a full morning’s activities aimed at reviewing the school’s mission and vision.

Because the head teacher had invited all stakeholders to attend this significant event the school’s hall was packed to capacity and there was a palpable air of enthusiasm and purpose. Teachers mingled with parents, teaching assistants, those in charge of the school grounds and school governors.

Our headteacher Ed, first shared why it was important to review the vision and mission of the school. He identified that as a result of the changing external and internal environments it was imperative to review current practices and the values underpinning them. Of particular import was the current and projected growth in the numbers of children attending the school. Allied to this was a noticeable shift in school demographics of this special school. Growing numbers of children attending the early years setting had been identified as being autistic. These factors, among others, meant it was important to plan for future social and pedagogical experiences for all children at the school.

An engaging attribute of the morning’s experience was the dynamic and interactive nature of the facilitated small group sessions aimed at encouraging reflection on key values and principles. Diverse groups representing all stakeholders were encouraged to identify core aspects of their future vision for the school. Within my own group, one of the participants had responsibility for teaching of outdoor education. The school is fortunate to have a wonderful sensory garden and a small woodlands area where glimpses of the wonders of the wider world outside of the classroom can be incorporated into the learning.

This teacher was passionate about the need to posit the concept of sustainability at the heart of the learning process. His passion was infectious and convincing. I was struck at the time about the relevance of his argument that sustainability could form an important strand of learning, not only for the children within the school, but also for the teachers who might learn how to become more socially responsible through a focus on issues of sustainability.

On reflection, following the event, I began to realize the wider significance of this teacher’s observations about the centrality of sustainability for learning and teaching in a special school and its wider implications for education more generally. At its core, sustainability involves the relationship between children and their environment. In many instances, whilst there should necessarily be a strong focus on academic achievement, for children with special educational needs there is perhaps a more fundamental requirement to enable these children to author their own interrelationships with the outside world. The natural environment offers a wealth of opportunities to facilitate this exploration and authorship. This is especially the case for children who are identified as being on the autistic spectrum.

In this context, sustainability is more than admiring the wonders of nature, reflected in the birds, the bees and trees, it is more a way of reinterpreting our values as educators so that what is important for children comes to the fore. It is a questioning about the efficacy of the competitive and individualistic curriculum as experienced in mainstream schools and its applicability to special school settings. It is an awaking to the potential for opening up the classroom to the world beyond and for enabling children to chart their personal learning journeys in ways that are more meaningful for future fulfilled lives. The concept of sustainability is also a challenge to teachers to challenge themselves and to engage more meaningfully in the longer terms responsibilities of the profession. It involves collegiate discussion and questioning about the relevance and future applicability about what happens inside and beyond the classroom.

In the space of a few hours, through creative and innovative professional development, honed by the art of the ‘letting go’, this professional development session inspired me to review and reinvigorate my own practices. Through dialogue and interaction, all present were able to contribute to mapping the school’s journey for the years ahead. When all have had opportunities to chart the future direction, there is a better shared sense as to where everyone needs to go. What an energizing and sustainable way this was to recommence meaningful interactions with children, colleagues and the wider world.


Links to Dr Doug Belshaw’s keynote

To follow up from the IoE TEL SDD, here are the links to the keynote and free book offer.


Marie Stowell also circulated these links that you might like to explore:

Making Student Engagement a Reality: Turning Theory into Practice

Learning design has greatest impact on student satisfaction

Inclusive Pedagogy: Principles, Policy, and Practice

Message sent on behalf of Sean Bracken

SHARE AND INSPIRE-Sean Bracken-14-12-2015 (doc1) (003)

 Dear colleagues,

 Given the diversity of our student profiles and mindful of the current focus on widening participation and internationalisation in HE, the need to develop inclusive pedagogical practices has never been greater.  

 Please find attached the flyer for our forthcoming Share & Inspire Seminar entitled Inclusive Pedagogy: Principles, Policy, and Practice which takes place on 14th of December from 11:30-14:00, in EE2009. The seminar will provide key information about the diverse teaching and learning context at Worcester, it will provide insights into current great practice across the university and it will enable space to inform future policy through a hands-on seminar.

The IoE will be well represented so please do support your colleagues and sign up for this seminar here (


Sean and Karen.


‘So what do we tell the students to use for their referencing?’

This was the question put to me several times during the staff development day on 16 November 2015, while I manned a ‘stall’ in the morning (with Linzi McKerr) and facilitated a workshop in the afternoon (with Anthony Barnett, and Darren Cooper from ISES), both covering bibliographic management software. A simple question with a not-so-straightforward answer!

Students are often on the lookout for a simple tool that will do the mechanical task of referencing for them, putting dots and commas in the right place, and displaying all the elements of a reference for any given source with ease. We often come under pressure to ‘teach’ referencing, and recommend the tool which will solve all their problems.

When considering a response to such requests, an internal conflict flares up:

‘But referencing is an academic skill, it is part of your writing, you can’t expect a tool to do the work for you…. Then again, I can see that if you are new to academic writing, or find that referencing is problematic for other reasons (e.g. dyslexia), a tool might help…. There is no good time to ‘teach’ referencing, if it can be taught, you need to have a go and practice, and get feedback to develop this skill… Just follow the Harvard guide, you can’t go wrong!’

However, after some constructive and interesting discussions with colleagues on Monday, I’m starting to think about whether we should be making students more aware of their options. If they want to use a tool, can we recommend one (or more)? How do we manage their expectations of what these tools can do? When is the ‘best’ time to introduce the concept of reference management? (Indeed, when is the ‘best’ time to ‘teach’ Harvard referencing, and how??) Will they understand it all early on, or is it yet another ‘thing’ they have to learn?

I’m not sure I have the answers to all the questions posed above just yet, but perhaps there are discussions to be had which could take those questions forward. Leaving aside the wider issues of referencing policy, and the integration of academic skills teaching throughout university curricula,  I thought it would be useful to add a blog post on #thelearningconversation which points towards some of the available bibliographic management tools which might help.

Al the tools I’ve played with investigated so far are covered on a short document available here. My prezi from the workshop is here. At the risk of seeming a little biased, here are two tools I particularly like:

Mendeley: If you want to know more about what this can do, Darren Cooper is your man! He presented a great introduction to the tool during the afternoon workshop, demonstrating how he uses it for his research to manage his papers and references, and how he uses it with colleagues and students in a collaborative way. With Mendeley, you can save references, add PDFs, manage your references into folders, export bibliographies and cite while you write in Word. UW Harvard style is available in Mendeley. More information here. Zotero offers similar functionality; Anthony Barnett offered his insights during the workshop, showing how the tool can be easily used online to collect and store references.

RefMe: this strikes me as a little more basic compared to Mendeley, but this might be a bonus for new students and undergraduates. It is web-based, so saved references are stored and managed online, in a RefMe account. The UW Harvard style is available so bibliographies can be created and copied/pasted or inserted into Word. It works best with Chrome browser. You can add an extension (browser button) called a web clipper, which can save references you find to your RefMe library. There’s even an app which scans barcodes of books and pulls the reference into your library. More information here.

As with any tool though, it won’t always get it right 100% of the time. Students must be prepared to proof-read and tweak the output before submitting any assignment!

Sarah Purcell

Knowledge mobilisation and translational research BERA 2015

Last week Moira presented a paper at BERA 2015 at Queens University Belfast as part of a MESH (Mapping Educational Specialist knowHow initiative) symposium with Professor Marilyn Leask. The paper was titled ‘Mobilisation of new pedagogic knowledge to support national curriculum change – a model from the IT in Teacher Education professional organisation’.   Details available at :

Academic librarian update Jennifer Dumbleton

By Jennifer Dumbleton

Module reading lists are useful teaching tools, but as a librarian I have seen firsthand how confusing they can sometimes be for students. When are they supposed to find the time to read all these books? Are some better than others? How do they even know if the boks are relevant to them?

I don’t think the answer is to spoonfeed students all of their reading, but I think it is important to listen to the student perspective on reading lists and their ideas about how to improve them. This term University Librarian Judith Keene, Primary students Sarah Brewster and Ellie Newman, and I  completed a Students as Academic Partners project designed to do just that. The slideshow below shows the background of the project, how it was carried out, and where we hope the work will lead.

Using the new resource list system Aspire, Sarah and Ellie created their own version of the PITE2001 Professional Studies 2 reading list. I have to say I think it’s a good one; it has a lot of breadth, which is appropriate for the subject, and is current. At the same time, though, it reflects their interest in making sure reading lists are assignment relevant, rather than just providing wider reading around the topic of the module. Next year, the student-generated list will run alongside tutor Joy Carroll’s list, and the library will try to compare usage and feedback for the two lists.

I may be biased, but I hope this is the beginning of a renewed interest in reading lists, how they are used and how they influence reading habits. Both Ellie and Sarah seemed to believe the new, easier-to-find lists created in Aspire wouldn’t put them off investigating further, off-list reading. I look forward to seeing what happens next year.

Slide1 Slide2 Slide3 Slide4 Slide5 Slide6 Slide7 Slide8 Slide9 Slide10Slide12 Slide11  Slide13

Joining in with The Learning Conversation before, during and after the Annual UW Learning, Teaching and Student Experience Conference 2015

The UW Learning, Teaching and Student Experience Conference 2015 programme and abstracts can be found at

Joining in with The Learning Conversation 

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