Benefits of Using Compass

Sustainability, Interdisciplinary learning and Compass (sewing the ‘red thread’ through curriculum)

Definition of sustainability: a set of system conditions in which people can flourish indefinitelySustainability can be seen as the ‘condition’ for long-term maintenance of human wellbeing and the human species. Of course, our continued wellbeing depends on the wellbeing of the natural world and the responsible use of natural resources, thus it must include an integrative approach to planning and decision-making. This is why sustainability education is crucial for 21st Century education. Sustainability issues feature prominently in the experiences and outcomes and offer learners an opportunity to engage with complex ethical issues relating to climate change, energy use, economic principals and systems, social justice, interdependence, human health and wellbeing and ecosystem integrity and biodiversity. Embedding themes relating to sustainability within the curriculum, and in the life of the school, develops our children and young people as global citizens and equips them with skills, values and attributes for learning, life and work.

One of the best ways to approach sustainability education is through integrative interdisciplinary learning. Interdisciplinary learning enables teachers and learners to make connections across issues and subjects through exploring clear and relevant links across the curriculum. It supports the use and application of what has been taught and learned in new and different ways. It provides opportunities for deepening learning, for example, through answering big questions, exploring an issue, solving problems or completing a final project. It is the thread that sews the curriculum together so that students learn through the way that the world actually works, as a whole, ever-changing and dynamic system.

The Sustainability Compass is the perfect tool to make it easy for teachers to tie together the curriculum and for learners to comprehend and understand what they are learning with a more realistic and ‘big picture’ perspective, that can provide greater relevance to their own concerns and dreams for the future.

Enhancing competencies and skills for sustainability

If sustainability education is to be effective at engaging people in negotiating a sustainable future, making decisions and acting on them, it must first address the way we think about development and about education in general. Essential to a sustainability education approach are several important skills that the use of the Compass can enhance and strengthen. These skills include:

    • Envisioning means being able to imagine a better future. If we know where we want to go, we will be better able to work out how to get there. The objective is to establish a link between long-term goals and immediate actions, and to motivate people to action by harnessing their deep aspirations. The Compass enhances the envisioning process because it makes sure all dimensions of life and sustainability are covered and different perspectives included in working towards a ‘shared vision’ for the future.
    • Critical thinking means learning to question our current belief systems and to recognize the assumptions underlying our knowledge, perspectives and opinions. Critical thinking helps people learn to examine economic, environmental, social and cultural structures in the context of development, and challenges people to examine and question the underlying assumptions that influence their world views by having them look beneath the symptoms of unsustainable practice. Critical thinking skill leads to confidence in addressing the dilemmas and challenges of sustainable development. Critical thinking and reflective learning help us to develop the ability to participate in change through the understanding of different and ‘new’ perspectives. All of this promotes alternative ways of thinking. The Compass is a simple-to-use teaching and learning tool to enhance skills that aid critical thinking, such as taking into account different perspectives and points of view, asking questions and looking for relationships.
    • Systems Thinking acknowledges complexities and challenges students to look for linkages, relationships and synergies when trying to find solutions to problems. Systemic thinking allows us to recognize that the whole is more than the sum of its parts, and it is a better way to understand and manage complex situations. Using the Compass as a tool for systems thinking helps students to shift their thinking from isolated pieces or ‘things’ to wholes and linking these to ‘processes’ and functions, and it allows them to see how the different dimensions of life interact as complex wholes through ‘feedback’ processes. This then allows for more integrative decision-making and solution formulation.
    • Collaboration (building partnerships) promotes dialogue and negotiation, learning to work together so as to strengthen ownership and commitment to sustainability action through formal and informal opportunities for learning. Collaboration and the creation of partnership in learning and action is facilitated by using the Compass, which motivates and adds value to any initiative that comes from a diverse group of students, teachers and community members. The Compass provides the metaphorical platform for seeing the need for collaboration in order to solve systemic problems that straddle different aspects of life.
    • Participation in decision-making empowers the people that are involved in a process, thus ensuring a much greater degree of ownership and responsibility for the outcomes stemming from the decisions made. This means going beyond consultations, to involve people in joint analysis, planning and control of local decisions; learners participate in decisions on how they are to learn; the Compass assists learners to participate in active and fun ways; and using Compass with the ISIS Pyramid creates a greater sense of ownership and commitment to action.
    • Understanding multiple perspectivesincludes the ability to consider any issue from different points of view, which is essential for sustainable development and 21stCentury education. Being able to consider an issue from a viewpoint other than your own leads to intra-national and international understanding. This understanding is essential for creating the mood of cooperation that will underpin sustainable development. The Compass is an effective frame or lens for identifying stakeholders, developing questions of inquiry for investigative community interviews (collecting multiple perspectives on common issues) and for understanding how different perspectives link to others in different dimensions of life (i.e. the four Compass points).

Other Learning Skills

    • Note taking – During the learning process learners have to analyze information from different sources and organize it creatively to suit a particular purpose. The main goals of note-taking are remembering and recording. Using the Compass as a note taking tools is analytical, organizational and creative. The Compass can make study easier and more satisfying for students, and help to sort out the meaning of a large amount of information from multiple perspectives.
    • Developing questions – The ability to think – to be a lifelong seeker and integrator of new knowledge – is based on the ability to ask and consider important questions. How else can we gain, analyze, and integrate new information unless we can ask questions that force us to do these things? Students attain significantly higher levels of thinking when they are encouraged to develop skill in generating critical and creative questions and when they are provided opportunities for dialogue with classmates about the questions posed and conclusions derived from information they encounter. The Compass and its complimentary tools and methods (including the ISIS method), provide an excellent platform for teachers to challenge students to develop their own questions, whether in the case of reading a text or case together, individually or as a group, or as they prepare for community investigation. When students know how to ask their own questions, they take greater ownership of their learning, deepen comprehension, and make new connections and discoveries on their own.
    • Seeing the big picture –Students often have trouble seeing the big picture with respect to the subjects and issues they are confronted with in their educational journey. They easily remember facts and isolated concepts, but they cannot integrate the facts and concepts together to really understand the discipline. All disciplines have organizing schemes or themes from which most content can be derived, for example, the structure-function relationship is an organizing scheme in biology whereas individual differences in human behavior is an organizing scheme in psychology. The Compass is a very simple, logical and engaging organizational theme for learners to engage with the complex issues and dynamics of sustainable development as they learn to think with a sustainable habit of mind. The more we teach using organizing frameworks such as the Compass, the better students will understand how a particular discipline or subject relates to sustainable development as a whole. You can use the Compass to organize an entire course, explicitly teach using the Compass, and give assignments that require the integration of content into the Compass frame.
    • Analysis and synthesis –Intellectual skills, such as selecting and controlling variables, planning procedures, and interpreting patterns of evidence, are required for students to construct explanations and to engage in inquiry-based learning. This is all part and parcel of being able to properly analyze (breaking down a whole into component parts) an issue, problem or situation, and then synthesize (putting parts together to form a new and integrated whole) new meanings and solutions. Again, the Compass is an excellent frame or lens for allowing for both, especially in combination with the ISIS methodology (Indicators, Systems, Innovation, Strategy).
    • Assessment –Assessment is a process by which information is obtained relative to some known objective or goal. The most important element of assessment and evaluation is to provide information for improvement towards a goal or objective. Using the Compass as an aid or tool for assessment helps students to determine the areas of strength and the areas of weakness to improve the situation or case that they are assigned to work on.

The Compass and Transformative Learning

Transformative education is a process that brings about deep and significant changes (for the better) in an individual and ultimately culminates in similar changes at the societal level, principally brought about through innovative and creative teaching and learning, curriculum reform and appropriate policy at the school level.

Transformational teaching emphasizes inquiry, critical thinking, and the development of higher-order thinking and communication skills towards the creation of new knowledge and positive change in oneself and society as a whole. The teacher and the learner are co-creators of the knowledge and change, thus the role of the teacher is much different than what was the traditional role of teacher in the past; i.e. the person who transfers knowledge and learning from the experts to the student.

The Sustainability Compass allows teachers, students and administrators to view learning differently. Learning doesn’t only take place in the classroom, it can happen anywhere – while exploring new experiences with friends, while helping a younger sibling, while having a discussion with peers or between younger and older generations. With the Compass, the walls of the classroom come down as schools begin to tap into learning in new ways throughout the school community. The following points offer a few examples of the potential of the Compass to promote transformative learning within the school community:

    • Teaching – The Compass helps facilitate good teaching. It gives teachers the space to act as learning guides, good coaches and even role models for students to have strong impact on their students’ lives.
    • Lesson planning – The Compass helps facilitate discussions on adapting curricula and developing lesson plans for different subjects; it also offers a framework to guide classroom discussions, student-led projects, school events and even assessment.
    • Project-based learning – The Compass helps facilitate project-based learning where students can conduct and evaluate their own projects in their school or community. By doing so, students can take control of their own learning and gain relevant, hands on experience with the content and skills in the curriculum. Projects also help foster cooperation, self-confidence and independent learning, which are all individual characteristics associated with sustainable development.
    • Whole-school approach – The Compass helps facilitate a whole school approach to sustainability. It has the potential to bring together students, teachers, parents, school administrators, staff and even local businesses into the discussion on sustainability surrounding the school.
    • Strategic planning – The Compass helps facilitate strategic planning by promoting discussion among school administrators to align school processes, including infrastructure and policies, with sustainability in the local context.

In short, the Compass can be used to help frame curricula for sustainability, to set school policy in line with sustainable practices, to manage school operations, and offer a common ground where the whole school community can take part in decision-making for sustainability.

What distinguishes the Compass model from other tools and frameworks?

Why does your school need another pedagogical framework to be applied to the current curriculum? Given the hectic schedule of a teacher, why the Compass?

Although the Compass is unique in its nature, its adaptability can never be underestimated. The Compass’s systematic and practical attributes make the model stand out; however, it is complementary to almost all types of curriculum. It is not a curriculum or framework, it is a thinking tool. It elevates and expands students’ mind-sets in general, sharpening their perspectives on the world and enabling them to see causal patterns and to adopt systems thinking. Compass is a tool that can be used at any stage of student inquiry: as an initial brainstorming tool, to explore an issue in depth, as a study aid, etc.

Advantages of the Compass to schools include:

    • An increase in participatory learning which cultivates students’ skills and competencies for critical thinking, inter-cultural perspective, and global citizenship;
    • Integration of Environmental Education (EE) and Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) across all key learning areas in the curriculum in a format that is easily understood by K-12 students;
    • A sustainable mind-set that could readily be transferred to any subject taught, allowing students to see English, sociology, sciences, mathematics, and other subjects as one connected piece of knowledge that is relevant to them in real term;
    • Firmly established attitudes and values of open-mindedness and respect, enabling students to be more aware of the impact of their actions and decisions on others as well as the planet. Learners are better equipped with the mental models necessary for the future years to come;
    • Lively class discussion as students learn to articulate their visions and reach a consensus of what a shared vision could be. We can easily observe their development and track their progress; as a result, we are better at tailoring the curriculum to match learners’ needs and levels;
    • More participatory and democratic decision making mechanisms which have engaged the whole-school community (i.e. from governing board and school management/principals to include teachers, caretakers, parents and students);
    • Reductions in a school’s ‘ecological footprint’ (its burden on natural systems and resources) and increases in its ‘handprint’ (its contribution to the restoration and sustainability of our world);
    • Regular monitoring, reflection and evaluation procedures which inform future actions. The school is recognized not only as a center of student learning, but also as an organization that is itself learning and developing.