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ETECAP (English)

Environment and Sustainability: a holistic, embodied approach

By Marli Santos

Posted: April 15, 2013

On April 4, 2012, I conducted a workshop on the Environment and Sustainability for 42 high school students at Escola Técnica Estadual Conselheiro Antonio Prado (ETECAP) in Campinas, Brazil, on a hot afternoon at the beginning of fall (in Brazil), under a clear blue sky, within a traditional “building block” educational facility, surrounded by lush and rejuvenating vegetation in different tones of green. The students were in the 2nd and 3rd years of a technical program related to environmental issues. The public school is run by the State of São Paulo. State technical schools (ETECs) are well known in Brazil for the quality of the education they offer.

Can you imagine working with this number of teenagers, full of energy, in a space designed for indoor lectures? Normally, I prefer to work outdoors, because the kind of classroom I envision is about deconstructing boundaries – among students, between teachers and students, as well as between students and nature – through experiential, embodied, learner-centered activities.

Indoors, 42 energetic teenagers and we worked intensely for four hours. The slight initial reserve of the students soon melted away... and students asked for more, inviting me to come back every week! Unfortunately, I could not grant their wish this time, but this experience was remarkable and unforgettable!

I started the workshop by asking the students if they were breathing. They laughed, perhaps finding the question silly. In unison, they answered: “Of course, we breathe!” I asked: “From where exactly, can you tell?” From that point on, we established a dialog, opening space for the first activity that focused on how to feel our breath. We breathed together, yelled “HA” together, and laughed together.  During this very first activity, based on a yoga breathing technique called the breath of joy, their expressions began to soften as their heartbeats accelerated; it was followed by a very still standing pose, with their hands placed together at the center of their heart and their eyes closed. Suddenly, the big room was silent except for the sound of our breath.

During the workshop, I facilitated an activity called Going Dotty. Students were invited to close their eyes; a self-adhesive colored dot was then stuck on their forehead. Their mission (with eyes open, but without speaking) was to form groups with the same colored dots. A great number of students demonstrated their compassionate nature when one student was left alone, because his color was purposely unique. It was fascinating to hear the students’ feedback, questioning why I had done that to this student. Through this simple, enjoyable but thought provoking activity, students were able to reflect on the feeling of being left behind and the need for cooperation to solve the problem. Furthermore the ecological principle of interdependence, which is important to sustain life on our planet, and the notions of empathy, compassion and caring were well recognized during our debriefing. The students were able to connect the dots and demonstrated an open mind towards this way of learning. I was impressed and touched by the rich interaction and engagement among them. Human nature is compassionate, we are taught. But sometimes this inner quality is not nurtured and we forget about its beauty and importance.

This experience made me reflect on what could become of this wonderful school and those lovely, fresh, open-hearted students if the school opened itself to a more interactive style of learning? What if the students had more space to learn from their own experiences, by doing, by moving (inside out and vice versa)? What would happen if they had more moments to cultivate their inner landscape? What if they had more opportunities to develop “attention-with-intention” through meditation and simple yoga postures, which enhance concentration, inner-peace, clarity, contentment, self-esteem, and joy, among other things? What if contemplative practices were infused into their busy daily school schedule? What if they had spare moments for self-reflection through journaling or diary writing, including self-evaluation?

I hope some of the students, who by now may have completed their program, will be able to continue to appreciate this kind of holistic learning and integrate this approach into their professional lives in the environmental field. Who knows, some of them might become teachers in this school or elsewhere.

Marli Alves Santos, M.A. (OISE/UT), author of Educação para a Cidadania no Brasil (2006) and Discovering New Paths for Global Citizesnhip in Brazil (2004); Co-author of Do Alicerce ao Teto (1998). Was the originator of global education in Brasil, in the early 90's, a holistic approach of teaching and learning. She has being integrating more and more yoga and mindfulness meditation into her teaching experiences.

This article was kindly edited by Hedley Richards