Education and Action: Climate Resiliency Fellowship

Climate change is the sustainability challenge of our time. As an organization dedicated to education for sustainability, Shelburne Farms must address this issue not just on our farm, but with our educators and partners. Understanding climate change and having the skills to address its many facets are key to making positive change. And while learning about climate change alone does not always lead individuals to act, pairing learning with opportunities to implement solutions can build an individual’s sense of agency so that they do take climate action!

We have found that teachers are eager to take on all of the above — the learning, the skills practice, the solutions, and the actions! But they need support. According to a recent National Public Radio poll, 86% of teachers agree that climate change should be taught, but many don’t include it in their curriculum because they don’t feel they know enough about the topic. Research also shows that most climate change education policies focus on K-12 students and not adult learners — like their teachers. Basically, the consensus we hear from teachers is that students are asking for more climate change education and teachers feel woefully unprepared.

Our Climate Resiliency Fellowship is helping to address these professional learning needs of educators. Programs like it have been shown to boost teacher confidence; knowledge about climate change and solutions; and strengthen teaching practices, so we feel confident that the Fellowship is heading in the right direction!

What is the Climate Resiliency Fellowship? It is a 12-month program for K-12 educators from New England who are committed to learning and teaching about climate change. At regular gatherings, both virtual and in person, fellows hear from varied presenters, engage in hands-on experiences, attend workshops, visit partner sites, and spend time with experts and local stakeholders. The gatherings integrate themes such as building knowledge, pedagogy and practice, youth voice, service learning, interdisciplinary approaches, communication, and self care. Educators are supported in applying their learning and experiences to collaboratively design and refine climate-action projects with their students.  

Through the Fellowship, we are seeing teams of educators working across disciplines to plan and implement lessons in (and outside of) the classroom using climate change as an integrating concept.  Teachers are communicating about how to engage students with the different facets of climate change as it relates to each of their subjects. For instance, in one school teachers are each addressing climate change in their classes while building the skills and proficiencies relevant to that discipline; in another school a climate action project unifies the classes, serving as a place to bring all the disciplines together.  

The recent gathering in mid-coast Maine (November, 2019) gives insight into our approach and how Shelburne Farms engages teachers in climate change education.

Partners at Maine Audubon in Falmouth, Maine hosted the first day of the gathering. Fellows reconnected and shared what they have accomplished thus far during the 2019/20 school year, and what teaching practices they are using with students. They also exchanged lots of resources!

One blustery afternoon at Wolfe’s Neck Center for Agriculture and the Environment in Freeport, Maine, we donned our hats and mittens to learn about their creative carbon sequestration practices, food waste reduction efforts, and phenology monitoring as we traversed pastures and watched the fading winter sun sink toward the tidal salt marshes. The durable insulated greenhouses provide a year-round growing season for vegetables and greens essential for addressing food insecurity in Maine and maintaining healthy no till soils on the coastal farm. Another great example of “multisolving” (addressing multiple challenges with the same solution or practice) is Wolfe’s Neck’s use of the invasive green crab as fertilizer! The Maine coast has had an influx of green crabs due to warming sea water temperatures, with no natural predators in this new range. Harvesting these crabs for use as a natural fertilizer addresses several environmental issues with one solution!

The Fellowship emphasizes the importance of student-driven learning, so at this gathering, we heard from local youth involved in climate action in their schools and communities. The students are part of the Maine Environmental Education Association’s “Maine Environmental Changemakers Program.” They talked about how to remove barriers to involvement in climate action work and how to encourage more youth voice in the classroom.

Later we explored the Gulf of Maine Research Institute in Portland, including their LabVenture program a tech savvy, interactive introduction to the impacts of climate change for students and teachers alike. Exploring what all of these partners are doing in the areas of climate change education and action is not only inspirational to us, it also helps educators think about the roles that organizations like these, in their own communities, might play in developing local climate action projects with students.

It is important to stay optimistic and connected in the realities this work. The fellowship is designed to nourish educators and create a network of people who are individually and collectively committed to climate change education. As such, this fellowship becomes a support system for self-resiliency — a source of inspiration, feedback, and personal care for teachers and community resource specialists on the front lines of this work.

The very name of the fellowship, “Climate Resiliency,” embodies the hopeful position we take. Our approach to climate change education is very action-oriented. At the Maine gathering, Doreen Stabinsky, a professor at College of the Atlantic, spoke to the fellows about climate policy and justice. Even though she spoke plainly of the facts — parts per million of atmospheric carbon dioxide and the implications of one degree of warming versus three — she said “the future is unwritten” and therefore there are multiple possibilities for us to shape it and change it.

The teachers, and especially the students we work with, deserve a safe, healthy, and just future. Investing in young people and supporting them to engage in solutions-oriented climate action projects is an antidote to hopelessness. It is the most real and hopeful and empowering work that we can do and it holds the power to shape the future in untold ways. We are fortunate there are many role models and allies implementing solutions for the climate crisis world wide. We are deeply grateful to the Jane’s Trust Foundation for their visionary support of Shelburne Farms as a leader in climate change education; and the numerous individuals and organizations supporting systems change. The fellowship highlights stories of success and encourages teachers and students to start locally to “be the change.”

The Maine excursion was the second gathering of the Climate Resiliency Fellows, following a summer retreat at Shelburne Farms. Our next touchpoint will be in January 2020, with a series of virtual engagements and webinars! Stay tuned for videos of students and teachers engaged in their climate action projects this spring!


Kerri McAllister

Posted by Kerri McAllister

November 26, 2019


Sounds like such a wonderful climate education experience! I loved reading about the connections made to local climate action solutions in different contexts- for example, related to the green crabs used for fertilizer as part of a Maine-specific environmental response- and the diverse examples of climate education opportunities provided through visits to the Maine Audobon Center, Wolfe's Neck (which I just camped at for the first time this past summer- it's an amazing place!), and Gulf of Maine Research Institute. Hearing from students directly through the Maine Environmental Changemakers program is also a crucial component of teacher climate PD-- what an awesome lineup of opportunities for the fellowship participants! Happy to have read this update, and would like to encourage teachers to reach out to me as the fellowship progresses if they ever have any comments, questions, or updates on using a food-based climate change education activity or curriculum in their schools. Always happy to support this Climate Resiliency Fellowship however I can!

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