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Practicing Sustainable Habits of Mind: An Intro to our 2024 Blog Post Series

What do you picture when you think about students thinking and acting for sustainability? 

Setting up recycling bins?
Studying the science of climate change?
Designing ethical consumer campaigns?
Spending time outdoors?
Engaging in a climate protest?

At Compass Education, we know that there is a plethora of ways people define ‘sustainability,’ let alone what it looks like to engage students and schools with this multi-faceted concept. 

One of our organizational goals is to help educators and schools embrace a systemic perspective on sustainability – it’s not just about the traditional ‘green team’ nature topics and projects but also the human systems that promote sustainable socioeconomic thriving that enable all individuals’ wellbeing. Earth’s systems will recover without us, but we won’t survive without them, so we must set up our human systems to interact with nature’s sustainability to ensure our future. 

When we think about sustainability this way, the list of ways students can think and act for sustainability vastly increases. Now, it’s not just about climate change and environmental conservation, but all the topics outlined in the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and more!  This means that projects focused on poverty reduction, social innovation, materials development, gender equity, physical health, etc.… could all arguably be students educating and acting for sustainability. 

So that begs the question, what makes something ‘sustainability education’? There is a famous quote from David Orr: ‘All education is environmental education.’ The same can be said for ‘sustainability education.’ Everything that we teach and guide our students to do can be used to teach about sustainability. Whether in a math lesson, an art class, a community service project, or a football practice, sustainability isn’t just about understanding specific topics (although there are many important ones!). It’s about a worldview and skillset that, when applied, encourages sustainable thinking and action.

This is one reason our Compass Education team has identified  the ‘Sustainable Habits of Mind.’  Inspired by the article Dancing with Systems written by renowned environmental activist and system thinker Donella Meadows, we put together a list of skills that we think, when developed, prepare us to contribute to building a more sustainable world. 

These ten habits of thought and behavior can be nurtured and cultivated through systems thinking practice to help us thrive in and contribute to a more sustainable world.

Throughout 2024, members of our Global Facilitator Team will be writing articles about these Sustainable Habits of Mind and what they look like in practice in Education. To kick off our series, here’s a brief description of these habits and how they might manifest in your practices as educators and learners working towards a more sustainable future.  

Don’t Stress the Mess

• Acknowledge the messy complexity of the world.
• Embrace the web of messy interrelationships in any given system as part of what makes life and our world what it is.
• Practice periodically zooming out to see the “big picture” to consider the dynamics between interconnected elements.

Focus on Learning, not Knowing

• Accept that the world around you is constantly changing.
• Gather evidence through observation, talking to others, learning about history, and other methods to understand the dynamic world around you.

Imagine the Possibilities

• Go beyond problem-solving to dream about the many possibilities of a more sustainable world!
• Innovate, create, and act to cultivate abundance.

Look for Loops

• Recognize that cause and effect is nonlinear.
• Practice identifying the drivers of continuity and change in your environment.
• Harness leverage points to cultivate. positive change in the systems of which you are a part.

Learn from Nature

• Reflect on the natural processes of our world that sustain and thrive over time.
• Seek ways to mimic natural cycles and learn from natural materials.
• Cultivate a sense of connection to the natural world.

Get Perspective

• Seek perspectives from those who may challenge your assumptions and have different worldviews.
• Acknowledge and respect that other people have valuable skills, knowledge, and ideas that can help you and the world grow and change the world.
• Explore the different ways of knowing that inform people’s understanding of the world.

Change Your Mind

• Form new opinions when presented with new evidence.
• Allow yourself and others to change their opinions over time.
• Design projects and structures that promote accountability and reflection to improve, grow, and learn continually.

Think Beyond the Here and Now

• Recognize that any one event is just a ‘snapshot’ moment in a broader trend over time.
• Learn about the trends and events of the past that have shaped the modern world and systems in which we reside.
• Consider the far-reaching impacts of your actions on the near and distant future.

compass value the unseen

Value the Unseen

• Consider facts and quantifiable evidence of a situation alongside the intangible elements of people’s thoughts, actions, relationships, and beliefs.
• Practice appreciating the intangible elements that shape life, such as happiness, beauty, and joy.
• Consider the impacts of your actions and words on other people’s feelings and experiences.

Cultivate Connection

• Demonstrate care and compassion for other living things through your world and actions.
• Care for yourself and foster your inner relationships to develop a strong sense of being.
• Connect with others to collaborate for positive impacts on our community and the broader world.

Which of these most resonates with you!! How could you imagine using the Sustainable Habits of Mind in your classroom? We want to know. Let us know on social media.


Gitanjali Paul

Gitanjali Paul

Since joining Compass Education in 2014, Gitanjali has worked with the Youth and Learning Empowerment Groups to design and facilitate educational workshops, camps, and courses. As Education Program Manager, Gitanjali coordinates learning experiences, oversees new product development, and supports CE’s stellar network of educator volunteers in fulfilling organizational goals and mission. Gitanjali's experiences as a student and teacher in international schools have fortified her motivation to equip individuals with knowledge and skills to thrive in and create a more sustainable world. In addition to her work with Compass Education, Gitanjali freelances as a learning designer and facilitator for other organizations in whose work she believes. She is an avid lover of nature, cooking experiments, adventures with family, and spending time with her Filipina rescue cat, Mahatma Charlie.

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