In June 2019, was thrilled to get the call that I had been nominated for, and won, the IUCN Commission for Education and Communication’s inaugural Award for Excellence for the Oceania region. Here is the interview:
What motivated you to start a career in this field?
We have seen from the IUCN #natureforall campaign the importance of instilling a love (and passion) for nature in the very young. My personal journey started very far away from the Pasifika environments that I have come to embrace, growing up as a small girl in a working class, urban environment in the UK. My natural world was restricted to a small patch of garden attached to the house and to be honest given my upbringing and circumstances I was probably not expected to amount to much. Fortunately, I had a mother who taught me to stand up for myself and the proximity of a National Trust expanse of woodlands I could explore. This led to a love of nature, geography and field trips and was boosted by an incredibly supportive and inspiring geography teacher at my high school in Bristol (a big shout out to Mr. Peter Hobbs!). In turn it led to being accepted to study environmental science at the University of East Anglia in the UK which obviously expanded my both my work opportunities and my understanding of environmental issues. After starting out as an environmental health officer, I stumbled almost by accident into the teaching and education world when I migrated to Australia. I was consequently introduced (and mentored) by Professor John Fien into the environmental education world and a career that would ultimately lead to my nomination for membership of the CEC back in 1997. The common theme throughout seems to be serendipity but by allowing myself to follow paths and seize opportunities that opened up, together with a set of generous and encouraging mentors, I have had a soul satisfying (albeit not glamorous or financially stable) life!
What are you most proud of?
It’s hard to narrow it down to one as the one I’m most proud of occurred before I became an IUCN CEC member. It was the development of the breakthrough resource Teaching for Ecologically Sustainable Development: A Guide for Senior Geography Teachers (1992). Sustainable development was a very recent phenomenon and I believed that this concept and approach would be an increasingly important one for geography teachers as it aligned with the systems thinking and human-environment interactions at the core of the discipline. By using the focus of Ecologically Sustainable Development (ESD), the publication encouraged teachers to incorporate concepts and principles of ESD into their Geography teaching programmes.
A more recent example which I would like to think had great influence was introducing the authentic assessment task on “Communicating Conservation” to undergraduate and postgraduate Environmental Management students at the University of Queensland (described here). This built the capacity of approximately 600 potential Environmental Managers per year. I believe the premise and process of the model used is transferable to other contexts and gets to the core of the transformative pedagogy which enables the behaviour change that we need.
What was a major obstacle / challenge you faced?
I’ve moved around a lot professionally (what some call a portfolio career!) and have often had to take jobs not directly linked to environmental education to survive financially. This has meant that there have been times when I have been working for organisations that have been not particularly supportive of my passion for EE or my IUCN CEC membership. In fact there have been some people or organisations that have been actively obstructive to it. During these times it has required great resilience to stay the course and remain connected and I have appreciated the support of IUCN CEC Membership more acutely.
I would also like to briefly mention something that has become spoken of around the world and it is something that many women of achievement are now speaking of and that is imposter syndrome. It is something that has plagued me throughout my life and has probably held me back from pursuing certain high-level positions. I have often been told that I give away too much for free with my volunteering! I was truly thrilled to receive the phone call from Peter Cochrane telling me that I had won the CEC Excellence Award.
How did you overcome it?
I’m pretty sure I haven’t overcome imposter syndrome as I think it is no doubt a product of my social background and gender, but awards such as this do help to alleviate it!
In terms of the career portfolio and challenge of remaining connected there is no doubt that the IUCN CEC membership has remained a constant linking me to the national, regional and global community of practice even when I am not working for a supportive organisation. As Penny Figgis said at the IUCN ORC in July: “Commission membership is all yours; you don’t have to be working for an IUCN member org (or indeed working for any org!); it goes with you when you change your job.” So it is a two way street… During times of high personal capacity I have been able to engage more actively and during other times I have drawn support of being connected.
Which golden tip do you have for new comers who want to follow your path?
I have 2 which I think have stood me in good stead!
Number 1: If you are stuck on a path or in a rut that is not nurturing your soul… be brave and make a change so that you get the #NatureDose that you need! This might mean taking on a volunteer position in a new field, engaging in a new area of study, or linking with people from outside your ‘echo chamber’. The new perspectives and experiences gained will help you find the innovative thinking and practice that you need.
Number 2: If you come across mentors who are generous with their networks – pay it back and also pay-forward. Nurture your own mentors so that they feel valued and don’t abuse their generosity. In turn be generous with your own networks and experience and mentor others.
Is there anything else related to your professional achievements you would like to share with the CEC community?
In terms of the specific work of the CEC, I guess like all other commission members I see education and communication as fundamental and “the priority of priorities”! It is a truism banded around in environmental education world that we can have all the information and data at our finger tips, and we can even believe in it but we still behave contrary to the knowledge we have. Without transformative pedagogy resulting in behaviour change we are ineffective. We are also guilt of operating within our own echo chamber so we have to break through the ‘glass wall’ and speak to those not in our circle and create influence beyond our echo chamber.
I’ve mentioned the constant drive to instilling lifelong passion for nature in the young and through formal education systems, but the other challenge in education and communication I believe is to explore the transition period from leaving formal education and moving into the more competitive world of work where other motivations and priorities begin to compete and which can lead to a disconnect with nature. I don’t have the answers but it is something I am getting into at the moment exploring learnings from the world of neuroscience. So we often speak about the wicked problems of sustainability that we must engage with but there are also the wicked problems in the education field that we must also address.
Living and working in the Pacific and in particular Tuvalu has given me the lived experience of the close connectivity with nature, the environment and the challenges of climate change of the small Pacific Island Nations. Islands are microcosms that encapsulate the whole of human environment relations and a view of how sustainable development goals hang together in a settings approach. In terms of education my time in Tuvalu also brought home the message of the inappropriate ‘one-size-fits-all” approach. By rejecting the temptation to leap immediately into western style instruction mode and by embracing indigenous local knowledge, fatele and different ways of working, the learnings of that project were also a two way street with me learning as much if not more about Tuvaluan culture and therefore how behaviour change through education is more effective in context.
Read more stories about the CEC Excellence Award winners!