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Knowledge & skills currency | AAEE’s Mandjoogoordap Changing Tides Conference

Knowledge & skills currency | networking, collaboration, dissemination:

 How the opportunity to attend AAEE’s Mandjoogoordap Changing Tides conference

and Climate Change Education: Post Adaptation Symposium

[virtual] has enhanced my current focus.


Dr Anne Marie Ross, sessional academic, The School of Education, the University of Newcastle [UoN].

I really didn’t think I’d have much chance of winning the Gould League Scholarship to attend AAEE’s Mandjoogoordap Changing Tides Conference 2021. Yet, as a sessional academic experiencing changing career tides, my budget stretched to the Climate Change Education: Post Adaptation Symposium alone, so I thought I’d give it a crack. I was surprised and delighted when I got the opportunity to also attend the conference virtually. While it would have been lovely to be at the conference in person, I seriously appreciate many aspects of the virtual stream, including, importantly, the saving of carbon miles. The advantage of working around conference proceedings and the opportunity to take my time in engaging with the abundant and diverse smorgasbord of presentations was also appreciated (and take my time I have!).

After completing my PhD last year on a history of the environmental education centres within the NSW Department of Education and how they were established and survived and thrived in ever increasing neoliberal times I was finding myself distanced from what I’m passionate about— environmental  education [EE]/education for  sustainability [EfS] and contributing to a changing ecocentric paradigm. With a potted history of environmental analysis, EE/EfS research and EE/EfS community, corporate and preservice teacher education, and involvement in not-for-profit organisations aligned with EE/EfS, I also have substantial research and educator experience in unrelated, yet valuable, subject areas. While I use EE/EfS examples in my teaching and take every opportunity to model and teach into EE/EfS within these topics, this semester I’ve taken the time to change tack and refocus on EE/EfS and community work. In this process the Changing Tides Conference has been invaluable.

For starters, the conference was an excellent channel to connect with the latest research and current practice.  Additionally, it gave me an opportunity to reconnect with EE/EfS academics including Professor Emerita Annette Gough, Associate Professor Sandra Wooltorton and Professor Amy Cutter-Mackenzie-Knowles. Reconnection with Annette has furthered discussion on the possible publication of an internationalised version of my thesis—excellent. Relevantly, Annette’s presentation about the necessity of, yet minimal extent of, EE/EfS within a neoliberal oriented STEM curriculum, feed into a discussion I had in a meeting with the new Head of School within Education at the University of Newcastle. This meeting was prompted by the Gould League Scholarship obligation to use the conference advantageously and so the meeting was in part to discuss the importance of EE/EfS within teacher education at UoN. In this meeting I got the go-ahead for a future presentation/workshop to discuss EE/EfS and to disseminate resources and findings from the Changing Tide Conference to teacher educators. Resources encompassed within AAEE, such as Sustainable Schools, will also be highlighted.

[Image: Obelisk Hill | Arcadia Park Landcare: A diverse urban forest in the heart of Newcastle, NSW]

Since changing trajectory, I’ve started being active in the Obelisk Hill | Arcadia Landcare group, the Hunter Community Environment Centre and the Save Our Link Road Forest Strategic Planning Group. Participation in AAEE reminds us of what works and informs us of new processes and educational techniques, which we in turn can pass on to our networks. AAEE reminds us of the importance of being active at a local level, and how doing so can contributes to positive progress (chipping away) and individual and collective wellbeing—groundedness. Participation reminds us that political activism is an important element. For example, with Australia having one of the lowest housing densities in the world, and one of the highest land-clearing for housing development, stopping the urban sprawl is going to take some discussion and political reimagining (wouldn’t it be great to be more like Paris!).

Knowledge of the latest projects centred on EE/EfS around understandings and immersion in the natural environment is informing a fledgling research group involving Dr Sharon Cooper, Associate Professor James Ladwig, and myself in looking at authentic education through an EE/EfS lens. An example is a potential adventure in collaboration with academics in the School of Environmental Science, Miromaa [Aboriginal Language and Technology Centre], Hunter Wildlife Rescue and local council’s centred on koala and glider habitat education. In developing this project connections have been made, thanks to Rumbalara EEC, with the Crommelin Native Arboretum, academics from the University of Sydney and the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service regarding koala preservation projects (links to glider projects have also been made). I was able to share some of the educational programs and projects showcased at AAEE and drew from direct parallel’s with the bandicoot education within suburbs of Melbourne presented by Charlotte Fletcher from the Royal Botanic Gardens, Victoria and Catherine Baudain and Bonnie Beal Richardson’s (Murdoch University and City of Mandurah) Backyard Bandicoots presentation.

Tools and resources being developed to address the pressing issues and problems of our times were an important feature of the Symposium and other presentations. Too many to mention, but let’s start with Professor Tracy Bunda’s, discussion about ‘Climate Calm’—the connectedness and collectiveness—the grounding within the crucial Indigenous body. Then, Professor Marcia McKenzie’s talk on climate change policy within education (mitigation/adaptation) and the tendency of policy and practice to go together. This was accompanied by a great heat map where comparatively Australia does not even make it on the radar! Related to cause and effect of policy and practice was the opportunity to contribute to the WA Parliamentary Inquiry into Climate Change Education orchestrated and presented by Hannah von Ahlefeld and Dr Jennifer Pearson [I’m pretty sure this opportunity was a direct result of conference connections). The importance of action at all levels, including top-down and bottom-up approaches was visible through presentations. A Climate Change Emergency Declaration that came from the AAEE Biennial Conference sent to COP26 was further evidence of the bottom-up effect.


[Image: Crommelin Native Arboretum, Pearl Beach, NSW]

Also appreciated was Nicole Hodgson’s keynote on Resilience and the Adaptive Cycle, walking us through the change process and reminding us that resilience is not about resisting change—it is probing the boundaries. This presentation gave key pointers on how to deal with change, how to embrace the fear and move forward. It also reminds us of the parallels between ecological and social process and structure. Another important presentation relating to climate change was Dr Tania Leimbach & Dr Jennifer Kent’s, presentation exploring the affective dimension of crises for tertiary students and educators which provided new resources, insights and approaches with the development and application of a climate toolkit—‘pointers on staying sane in the face of climate change and other dilemmas.’

So many great presentations. Crucial Aboriginal science education developing in leaps and bounds, presentations on our waterways and oceans, sustainability, biodiversity, waste management/education—fantastic projects, and programs utilising innovative and exciting education techniques—listening to, and engaging students. Also included were empowering talks like Dr Louise Dixbury’s  ‘Relational Leadership and Practice: Why connection and love are the basis for radial change’, and Dr Eleanor Glenns’ Values-Based communications for social change and action. All inspiring.

All conference presentations collectively contribute to my knowledge and skill currency and the portfolio of research, projects, programs, resources and events that I draw from in my practice. I’m extremely grateful for the amazing foundational environmental education legacy accomplished by the Gould League and in its wake this wonderful annual scholarship opportunity to attend the AAEE Conference. I found the Climate Change Education: Post Adaptation Research Symposium, and the Mandjoogoordap: Changing Tides Conference informative, inspirational, affective, and grounding—essential elements in creating change. What a wonderful opportunity to renew currency of practice! Thank you kindly for the experience.  

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