Becoming the teacher I want to be



“Personal transformation can and does have global effects. As we go, so goes the world, for the world is us. The revolution that will save the world is ultimately a personal one”

Marianne Williamson

This week I welcomed my students to our first “Sustainable and Happy Classroom”. For the last couple of months I have been preparing (mainly wondering how) to make changes to my Economic Geography class so that it will be a space for transformative learning for social change. Inspired by several readings on sustainable happiness, sustainability education and transformative learning and action I set off to make changes to what I normally teach as well as how I teach it (O’Brien 2013; Steward 2010; Widhalm 2011; Frisk and Larson 2011).

Imposed deadlines normally get me moving, so I sat down to modify the course outline (syllabus). One of the first tasks I attempted was changing the content. Passionate as I am about Globalization (the main topic of our course) I realized that all the lectures, as well as readings, focused on giving students information about all the economic structures that keep us living in a world that generates poverty and inequality while at the same time destroying our natural environment and challenges the wellbeing of present and future generations. I am an academic after all and have been trained to be a “critical thinker”. Nowhere on the outline however, was there a sign of hope. While I normally do take the time while lecturing to discuss sustainability solutions, I had no readings supporting this topic. The first change I made to the outline was to incorporate content that can show the students that another world is possible and that many people and institutions are working for it. I added a unit on sustainability and wellbeing, with readings from the gross national happiness website and other sources. I will continue to identify discussion topics and readings that will reinforce students’ learning about solutions.

It was with a degree of sadness that I confirmed that research contends that knowledge is not directly correlated to behavioural change. My first thought was, I am not ready to give up content! I can think of a thousand reasons to not delve beyond content in my classroom, one of those being time. There is no time to “waste”. We only have three hours a week (in our case) to be with the students so I have to teach them all they need to know.  However, knowledge transfer cannot be our only priority if we are educating for change. We all need to develop competencies that can support the transformation of our world. So, I set out to incorporate social engagement as an important objective in our classroom. Supporting group collaboration and engagement in the classroom is key to sustainability. Students need to develop leadership, communication and interpersonal skills in order to work together in finding solutions. They need to learn work together and also to care for each other, build their own community and that all starts with knowing each other. How could I ask them to care about the woman who is sewing their jeans in a machiladora in Mexico if they can’t gather enough empathy to care for the students they are sharing a classroom with? We all know that group work is not easy, specially in a competition based education where students feel they need to do/be better than their peers? Thus, in our class we are going to do group work. I modified the syllabus and instead of three term assignments they have two. They must however work in groups and I have committed myself to support their group development as well as find fare ways of assessing them.

A third important change to the course outline was incorporating community service as a requirement. Students will be required to give back to their community, while it is to the Dawson College educational community or another community they are a part of. Each of the two assignments will need to have a community service requirement. This can vary from sharing their knowledge with the rest to the community, to taking action on the issue they tacked through their assigned work.

I presented the outline to my students and they seemed enthusiastic about it and I am thankful that they are giving me the opportunity to grow as a teacher.


Lastly, I will share with you an activity we did at the end of our first class. Students were asked to write a goodwill message to another student in the classroom, a message that could lift a student’s spirit during a trying time. They were asked to introduce themselves to a student that they did not know and give that student their “love note”. At the end of the class a couple of students read the notes they received. I don’t know if it was just me, but I think we are off to a good start.

Here is what one of the students wrote

“Welcome back to Dawson! Wahoo! Now is the time to have fun and work, obviously! I want to wish you an awesome school year and hope in the future you will achieve your goals and go very far in life!

Stay awesome! xo”

I will keep you posted on our developments….


Frisk, Erin and Kelli L. Larson. Educating for Sustainability: Competencies & Practices for Transformative Action. Journal of Sustainability Education. Vol2. March 2011.


O’Brien, Catherine. Lessons in Sustainable Happiness. Sydney Nova Scotia: Smashwords Edition, 2013.


Stewart, Mark. Transforming Higher Education: A practical Plan for Integrating Sustainability Education into the Student Experience. Journal of Sustainability Education. Vol. 1. May 2010.

Wildhalm, Barbara. Educators as Architects of Living Systems: Designing Vibrant Learning Experiences beyond Sustainability and Systems Thinking. Journal of Sustainability Education. Vol. 2. March 2011.

My Sustainable and Happy Classroom

What makes you happy? Sustainable Happiness Certificate participants at Dawson College (Credit: )

What makes you happy? Sustainable Happiness Certificate participants at Dawson College (Credit-pending.)

My Sustainable Happy Classroom

On the week of May 26-30 I had the opportunity to participate in the first Sustainable Happiness Certificate (at Dawson College).  The course was given by Dr. Catherine O’Brien, who developed the concept of “Sustainable Happiness” which she describes as an approach that ” invites reflection on sustainability issues coupled with opportunities to enhance our quality of life and contribute to individual, community, and global wellbeing” and by Chris Adam, a colleague and friend at Dawson College who is the Director of Sustainable Dawson and the Director of the Earthvalues Institute.

After participating in the certificate I made a commitment to work towards transforming my classroom into a sustainable and happy space and to share my learning with others. So, I started this blog in order to share with all of you the path I am taking, to take my classroom from a place of critical analysis, to one that engages students to think critically but also encourages them to think and act positively and constructively. It has been a while that I have been reflecting on how knowledge about the state of the world as presented in the courses that I teach often leaves students feeling discouraged and disempowered. And while I have worked to generate the positive change I want to see in the world through my research and engagement with students outside of the classroom, my classroom continues to be a space for critical analysis.

I have a few ideas in mind. Firstly, I will start with one class, my Economic Geography class. The first step is going to be to review the content of my class and find room for content that is inspiring and gives my students hope for the future. I will then work on integrating different teaching practices that support the establishment of relationships of trust and fellowship among all of us in the classroom. I will also work towards giving the students an opportunity to give back to their community and to connect with the natural environment as part of their class activities and assignments.

Through this blog I will share with you this experience, including the resources I identify along the way, the lesson plans, activities and other materials I generate through this journey.  I know there will be quite a few challenges but that is what happens when you get out of your comfort zone.  Also, if you have sources, ideas, encouragement, smiles, love, send it my way!!!!

-Gisela Frias