Every month at ITZA we give the floor to one inspirational teacher and ask them our three favourite questions. This month, we’re speaking to Breck Foster, Social Studies, Spanish and Sustainability Secondary Teacher at Lake Oswego High School in Oregon.
For nearly 20 years, Breck Foster has worked as an educator for sustainability, social studies and spanish.
Most recently her work has been centered around teaching climate change and fostering sustainability, collaboratively working alongside other stakeholders in her school and within her community. Her tireless work has won her the Amazing Educator Award, May 2023, issued by the Pamplin Media Group.
Breck's journey to understanding sustainability and taking climate action has been relatively recent and has come from a commitment to learn more from others. Working with local groups like LO Sustainability Network, Oswego Lake Watershed Council and Oregon Green Schools, she has deepened her understanding of how school communities can develop climate literacy through education. Her Green Team and Sustainability elective students have done amazing work, from reducing food waste to removing invasive ivy and blackberry vines, to advocating for sustainability to be part of their district strategic plan.
What is the most important lesson you’ve learned?
That we as a world are interdependent and interconnected.
When I was in high school I remember an influential teacher telling me that I should care about air pollution on the other side of the planet because ultimately we are all breathing the same air. He was getting at the idea that systemic issues are not an “us” and “them” problem but our collective one as global citizens. This is a recurring theme in my class as we study not only interconnected global issues today but also over time.
In that memorable lesson, he was tapping into the very real human instinct of self-preservation—we all breathe the same air we all need to survive—but he did not leave it at that. He engaged us in historical context and current events that illuminated solutions and the individuals and governments that had worked for positive social and environmental change.
That same teacher had a “think globally, act locally” poster which still rings true today. How can we make changes in our own sphere of influence that will radiate outward? The United Nations echoes this idea saying we all need to take climate action now-especially at the local level. Knowledge plus action transforms into agency and hope. How can educating ourselves and taking action also provide hope for our students who are really anxious about their futures?
What is your most treasured memory of teaching?
I am happiest when my students are engaged and making connections, it’s part of my role as a teacher to make space for what’s on their mind.
I get extra excited when they make human-environment and climate change related connections because I have worked hard to add those themes to my classes.
Recently whilst exploring a story about the spread of mosquito-borne diseases, my students made connections to global temperature rising (as well as solutions that are being proposed). They have also analyzed the way the Willow Project (oil drilling project in Alaska) sparked a backlash among the youth for not only what it means for the local Alaskan Native community and the wildlife in the area, but also how it speaks to our national challenges of meeting the demand for renewable energy and the ability of government to lead on these critical issues around the climate.
Finally, my favorite moments are when students have used their passion and knowledge as agents of change. They take a bus to the state capital to advocate for climate change education in all classrooms and all grade levels. They look to the UN Sustainable Development Goals in a sustainability elective or school club like the Green Team to analyze and propose changes to school policies and practices. Or a student pulls me aside after class and tells me about the video game he designed for another class about sustainable development in the Anthropocene and in doing so expands my thinking of where the concepts we’re learning in history apply to computer science or a capstone English project. Or when a student writes me a card saying what they have learned about sustainability and climate change has led to changes in her parents’ thinking and behavior at home.
All of these teaching moments reflect the inspiration I feel by the passion of young people to change systems and I can do my part by helping build the necessary skills and knowledge and giving them creative time and space to do so.
The one thing education needs more of to meet tomorrow’s world is...
To prioritize schools as a place to foster sustainability, resilience and regenerative practices. For me, 21st century learning should start with role-modeling the changes we want to see in the world.
Rather than seeing schools as separate from the larger community or world, they should strive to reflect the best version of the world. Traditionally, this hasn’t been seen as a role for schools and there are real challenges in making this a reality, both financially and politically. But they are a place to innovate and inspire our young people.
Schools can themselves institute the policies and practices that we want to see at the larger community, state, national and international levels. I am excited to see out of California the Climate-Resilient California Schools: A Call to Action Report that centers schools on the frontline of climate change and spotlights facilities but also mental health and teacher training. I love the GreenPrint from Green Schools National Network which is “a framework for whole school transformation that promotes best practices in leadership, curriculum and instruction, culture and climate, and facilities and operations.”
I am thrilled to see states like New Jersey begin to adopt multidisciplinary K-12 climate change education standards. I feel fortunate to have met like-minded educators in Oregon like Oregon Educators for Climate Education who have put forward SB 854 working to integrate climate change education into K-12 core classes.
Every community has schools so they are an excellent place to develop the most sustainable and equitable practices and policies that should be happening at the wider state and national level. Ideally these experiences will radiate out to all stakeholders. And because symbolically the youth will inherit the earth that we adults leave behind, how better to be stewards of the earth than to lead the way as adults?