In Morocco, Specialist Christina Kwauk played a vital role in equipping educators with the knowledge and skills to integrate climate change topics into their classrooms. Over a whirlwind two and a half week period in February 2023, she was able to deliver three two-day workshops to teacher educators in multiple fields in the cities of Tangier, Safi, and Oujda, as well as a workshop for pre-service English language teachers in Rabat.
Kwauk maintained a consistent format for the workshops which helped keep her busy schedule manageable. “Each workshop began with a session on climate change basics, breaking down what could be an intimidating topic for non-science teachers into five key ideas that educators could use to help introduce the topic to their students,” she said. “The rest of the workshop focused on introducing participants to a set of design elements and steps for integrating climate topics into their teaching. Participants put these steps to the test in both individual and small group work, leaving the workshop with initial lesson and activity ideas to continue working on.”
Aside from the English language teachers she met in Rabat, Kwauk’s audience was a diverse array of academics, with backgrounds in mathematics, natural sciences, Islamic studies, French language, and other fields. Kwauk was excited by the opportunity for collaboration that came with engaging such a diverse community in the development of their own climate action goals for the classroom, and she credits the work of “two incredibly talented student interpreters” as instrumental to the success of the workshops.
Kwauk was aware that her work in climate change is firmly positioned within the larger goals of the program. “Together, these workshops addressed a priority of the U.S. Department of State to tackle the climate crisis by building the capacity of Moroccan educators to integrate climate change topics into the classroom,” she said.
Research and New Experiences
While Kwauk’s background in education for climate change made her a great match for this project, working with pre-service teachers and teacher educators presented a new and unique professional context for her. She saw the challenge of working in a new professional environment as instrumental to her success on the project. “I understand conceptually the critical role that teachers play in helping to ensure students gain the important knowledge and skills needed to tackle the climate crisis,” she said.
Moreover, the characteristics of Morocco and North Africa, where “drought, heightened by the climate crisis, has already caused people and communities to have to adapt their livelihoods and ways of living in response,” provided interesting opportunities for her as a Specialist and as a researcher. “I was looking forward to ‘testing’ first hand my materials, my knowledge, and my assumptions about climate change education by being in a context with an audience who has been experiencing the effects of climate change daily.”
Contributions and Impact
Kwauk found that the greatest contribution of her project was inspiring participants to believe in their ability to address climate change through their teaching. “It was both inspiring and humbling to engage in critical discussion with workshop participants about climate justice topics in a country like Morocco that has done little to contribute to the climate crisis but bears a disproportionately high burden of its impacts and social and economic costs,” she said. Through the use of icebreakers, Kwauk was able to quickly establish the level of climate change related knowledge in her audiences. After two days of workshopping, even the educators who were least confident in their ability to integrate climate materials into their lessons had developed concrete ways of doing so.
A Vision for the Future
Kwauk also employed what she terms a future visioning exercise to help educators set their goals and expectations. Participants sketched front-page headlines while imagining the impact their classes could have on their students or the country in five years. This exercise set an aspirational tone and facilitated goal-setting for integrating climate change into their teaching. “This helped participants, including those who were more skeptical about being able to address climate change, to start thinking about what kind of change they wanted to see happen, and then to work backwards (through subsequent workshop activities I had planned) through all the action steps that led back to their journey’s starting point,” she explained.
Relationship Building over Moroccan Cuisine
As is often the case during in-person projects, some of the most meaningful personal connections Kwauk made in Morocco developed over a delicious meal. At each workshop, she recalled, teachers ate family-style lunches with her. “I had the opportunity to learn not only about Moroccan food, but also about its preparation (and the slight differences and nuances in preparation depending on the regional context) and its centrality in Moroccan families and communities,” she added. “Such moments and memories remind me of how food is such a universal anchor for human society.”
Working and Growing Together
From a professional standpoint, the project left an enduring mark on Kwauk’s work in climate change. This began with what she learned from working with her remarkable student interpreters. Their contribution was invaluable not only because it ensured a diversity of educators at Kwauk’s workshops but also because the interaction between them became a way of identifying “pain points” in her messaging. “Working through interpreters highlighted the importance of being crystal clear in the design of small group activities, in stating the objectives of these activities to participants, and in providing instructions prior to and ‘checking in’ during small group activities,” Kwauk said.
Just as importantly for Kwauk, the project opened her eyes to future opportunities for her and other action researchers to engage with educators in Morocco and around the world. “The need for teacher professional development in areas of climate change is big, and the research on effective approaches to doing so in geographically and culturally diverse settings is sparse,” she noted. “This project has piqued my interest in continuing to work directly with teachers and teacher educators, and I am hopeful that my experience in Morocco will help me identify future opportunities to continue working directly with teachers and teacher educators in other countries as well.”
Christina Kwauk is an education consultant and research director at Unbounded Associates. There, she leads the company’s portfolio on education for climate action and climate justice, supporting a diverse range of stakeholders to address the climate crisis through education across the lifetime. Kwauk is trained as a social scientist with expertise on girls’ education, 21st century skills and youth empowerment, and the intersections of gender, education, and climate change. She received her Ph.D. in Comparative and International Development Education from the University of Minnesota, her M.A. in Social Sciences from the University of Chicago, and her B.S. in Psychology from Sewanee: The University of the South. Kwauk is co-editor of Curriculum and Learning for Climate Action: Toward an SDG 4.7 Roadmap for Systems Change and co-author of What Works in Girls’ Education: Evidence for the World’s Best Investment. She has published numerous policy papers, including “The New Green Learning Agenda: Approaches to Quality Education for Climate Empowerment.”