Wellbeing and climate change – Teaching and learning as “ radical nature”

Hygiology is the science of preserving health, and care to preserve; the act of keeping from destruction, decay, or any ill. The state of being preserved, looking at how something has survived can be perceived as well-being, as resilience. The capacity of the system to adapt, ideas from “Teaching to transgress” by the amazing bell hooks. 

Radical nature, as concept that inspired me to approach well-being not as a cure for our stresses and disruptions in our classes and in our education, but as proof that our work can be transformative, we can both do innovation and heal, care, that teaching and learning work can be “radical nature” proofed. Here is the inspiration from Aalto University:

“ ‘The collection’s name Radical Nature references Dipoli’s wild spaces of varying shape, but also to the responsibility people hold for the wellbeing of nature and the environment. For example, behind the beauty displayed by thousands of glittering drops of water in artist Renata Jakowleff’s work, there is an underlying concern for the contamination of our seas and oceans and a optimism that we may find solutions to build a better environment…”

Radical nature from Aalto University

1. Teaching through wicked problems

“Climate change means that the past can no longer serve as a reliable guide for the future” (Leichenko & O’Brien, 2019). I have written more on teaching and learning in times of “wicked problems” in this article. Future foresight in the classroom, and teaching with future thinking, in any lesson we can practice this question or mindset: “ what kind of ancestors do we want to be?”. Climate change no longer seems like something that is outsourced something “outside of our life timeline” and “ like other generations’ challenges”, it becomes part of everyday choices and decisions. Practice with students “-1.5 degrees life”: step into the future, suspending what we think we already know, and explore what kind of materials we use, what kind of food feeds us, what kind of clothing we are wearing, what kind of transportation, how is it that we build etc. It is a wonderful practice I did with the teacher in the program of Coaching Strategies Turn Challenges into School Development with principals and teachers from Belgium, UK, Latvia, Romania, Republic of North Macedonia. Stepping away from fixed thinking patterns for a moment, allowing relaxation and joyfulness (playfulness) of “ What if ?….”. Suspending what we already think we know; that is part of a predictive, logical, repetitive problem-solving past, a rather industrial way of approaching education, that no longer serves us. Teachers were amazed by the easiness with which they approached very serious problems yet with the playfulness, joyfulness, and openness for new possibilities, and fresh new ideas, that we see in preschool students. We want and need to make space for that in our classes and teachers’ meetings. These are serious “crazy” ideas and that thinking and teaching with future anticipation are welcomed in 21st-century classes. You might like to explore UNESCO’s agenda for “Futures literacy”. And for future ancestry this rich dialogue between two amazing women indigenous artists and educators Ancestral Futurism

“Climate change means that the past can no longer serve as a reliable guide for the future”

Leichenko & O’Brien, 2019

2. “Climate change matters also for reasons of security and well-being”

Bringing practices in the class that will invite action, that create meaning for the students and teachers, the classroom learning scaffolding into the world outside, and a sense of meaningfulness as students feel empowered to improve their lives and the lives of the ones around them, humans and more than humans. Because what is, in the end, sustainable curriculum: it is students and teachers learning what is meaningful to them.   Build in ourselves and students confidence ( the root meaning of the word is with trust con-“fideo”) that is not dependent on some achievement or success, of some kind of expectation to a certain outcome, and then we can feel it. Cultivating the process of the joy of learning and a positive image of life, a life worth living indifferent to external circumstances ever-changing. This is essential for the new high school curriculum, allowing the teachers and supporting them to make space for “ more facilitation in the classroom”. 

New Learning Ways and Spaces teachers May 2022, exploring in Fyyry library elements for well-being, safety, and this photo stayed with us as inspiration for the work of making space in our minds for peace, picture by Nikol Vrysouli, teacher from Greece

“Humans care about: safety, prosperity, and a sense of place ( (Leichenko & O’Brien, 2019).

Leichenko & O’Brien, 2019

3. Place-Based learning

Place-based learning approaches from different integration levels. First could be teaching with an interest to tackle social, economical, and political challenges in our communities called also community-based learning. Teaching with ecology awareness, and care for the planet, with Sustainable Development Goals with the relevant and important, even a sense of urgency, a calling, in our context. Teaching with SDGs on Galapagos Island might look very different than teaching with SDGs in Delta Danube Romania. Another level of integration is making space for indigenous sciences and wisdom in our classroom. This could mean the opportunity to create curiosity and attractiveness as well as a sustainable approach to our STEAM curriculum. With Integrated Curriculum -Teaching global skills teachers in March 2022 we worked with Junior Aalto Lab on STEAM lessons for different ages that allow students to ponder on their place. In the case of Finland, rocks, minerals have been an important part of the cultural, social, and economic development. So Junior Lab would support teachers with different workshops to bring in their classes STEAM lessons that would invite students to create prints that imitate different types of minerals and peer reflect and continue the dialogue. Another level of integration for place-based learning is a somatic one, very much needed in our digital world and learning, essential for well-being in 21st-century classrooms. The body as a place, the practices of strengthening our attention, following our attention, and deliberately strengthening our capacity to hold attention. As a child and student myself, I remember the teacher demands or asking for attention to be on them, or on the subject. But that is not that easy is it, especially in today’s world of fast information and continuous disruptions? It is actually a privilege to be able to rest your full attention for longer than a few minutes or seconds on the subject or on the learning relations, the privilege of self-regulation and we learn that with contexts and settings. I invite you to listen to Sarah Elisa Kelly, ecology and embodiment teacher and artist in this webinar Bodies as Places.

capture image from the webinar by Sarah Elisa Kelly, part of Reimagining Education
Conference 2022, “Bodies as places”

4. Moving collectively through the emotional process

The teacher and the student might share the lesson interest, share the learning, yet when it comes to climate change everyone in the room might experience very different emotions, we build coherence to move through the process collectively while practicing the awarness that we start from very different places, and we all start from where we are. Teaching with Integrative practices well-being and climate change is developing the EQ, the emotional incremental process, and here is one example to work with and through from Peter Hawkins and Judy Ryde that I have been applying in teachers coaching and teachers programs.

source: Integrative Psychotherapy in theory and practice: a relational and systemic ecological approach, Peter Hawkins and Judy Ryde, 2020

5. Well-being, developing the competencies of the self

We can also call it enlightenment, the moving through levels of consciousness. Bildung- the Scandinavian concept for education, German philosophical roots, the enlightenment, is an individual process yet it cannot be done alone, there is the collective context. In the context of the class, it is the everyday practice of a teacher facilitator, that allows students, at different ages, to ponder (the mind to wonder), encourages self-reflection, self-assessment as well as peer assessment with the aim of creating a context for students and teachers to be curious, share passions about the subject. One might like to explore the evolving self-theory of prof. Robert Keagan.  Teaching inner skills is essential for our collective well-being and resilience as a “ capacity to deal with complex environmental challenges”. In programs with teachers,  I developed and adapted a model of 5 inner or development competencies we work step by step: 1. Trust and Relationship. 2. Centered listening ( levels) 3. Autonomous learners/teachers 4. Joy of Learning (acceleration of learning, stretching). 5. Transformative capacities- what we do with what we learn. 

6. Teaching with passions and hobbies

The inner process of the teacher is making space ( including time) to come as a whole person in the classroom, and bring her/his own hobbies into the classroom. Say you are a math teacher or art teacher and you are passionate about fishing, making space for you to wonder how can you bring making your own fishing fly for example to the lessons, as students will learn by mimicry ( just like in nature) and they too will want to discover hobbies they might like to pursue. Hobbies create a sense of well-being and bounding or belonging, connecting with others that enjoy like you making sense of and exploring the world in that particular way. What else is multiliteracy in our curriculum, if not this? With teachers in different programs, we practiced integrated lessons in Oodi Library, in Helsinki in maker space, and we noticed that the students that had the opportunity to do crafts with soft and hard materials in their schools are now the adults that come there to make a t-shirt, or print on wood, or sew or knit together.

Climate change matters because it shows that we matter”

Leichenko & O’Brien, 2019

7. Teaching with strike

“ Children and young people represent a critical link between the current adults and future generations; they are potentially the strongest advocates for action on climate change” ( Flora and Roser Renouf 2014)”. In teachers’ training with “ New learning ways and spaces” program in Helsinki spring 2022, together with teachers and Tuovi Ronkainen we explored the multiculturality of teaching with strikes. The awareness of the emotions present in the classroom, that we bring as adults, as representatives of these cultural narratives we carry. The invitation was just to pay attention; some of the emotions we noticed depending on our cultural settings, about strikes might be: shame, embarrassment, unsafe, or lack of self-trust or empowerment. It is part of future skills to practice with students’ awareness of moving through these emotions, where ever we find ourselves, we start from there. Practicing social activism is part of the 21st-century toolkit in education, and it should be. I recommend teachers to make space in their classrooms for teaching with toolkits like the ones from Jamia Wilson http://www.jamiawilson.com/ as one example. Cultivating everyday little practices of listening to one’s voice, practicing Open Will, action-based learning, and what is that we can do/act with courage (the root of the word courageous is from the heart). It is also a tool for the competence of “ taking care of oneself and the others”, wellbeing is a shared, common value. In Finland because of the above-mentioned Bildung, there is a culture of striking and making petitions, it is also an experience of peace, of learning to speak one’s voice and cultivate peace, as we do that. As we create space for everyone to see things in many different ways. “Make space in the mind of women and men for peace,” says UNESCO’s agenda for anticipatory futures skills in education. With teachers, we moved through the emotions collectively. As we continued with the practice of writing a petition about something each cared for, we then practiced empathy dialogue in nature, we noticed that collectively we were now all coming from a place of empathy and care. At the end of the practice, everyone got “a very little action they felt encouraged to take” and follow up on the scaffolding effect of “ that very little action”. It felt easy to take and it felt safe as teachers got to share their petitions with others, from a place of curiosity and centered listening. Short funny story about Finnish education: when Helsinki University was moved from Turku to the new capital of Finland Helsinki, the government asked the city architect to actually place the University in front of the Government building “ this way we can see what they are protesting about”, as even in the early 19th century students were well known for social activism. 

Children and young people represent a critical link between the current adults and future generations; they are potentially the strongest advocates for action on climate change

Flora and Roser Renouf 2014


  1. Defining hygiology, https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/hygiology
  2. Radical nature concept, from Aalto University https://virtualexhibitions.aalto.fi/en/public-art/radical-nature 
  3. Radical Nature, Aalto University approach https://virtualexhibitions.aalto.fi/en/public-art/radical-nature 
  4. On Climate change and social transforming, Leichenko, Robin M. & O’Brien, Karen (2019). Climate and Society: Transforming the Future. Polity Press.  ISBN 9780745684383.  250 s.
  5. On developing the self-levels theory – The Evolving Self Problem and Process in Human Development, Robert Kegan
  6. Toolkit for teaching with strike https://www.sitra.fi/en/articles/who-decides-in-the-future-and-how/ and https://www.sitra.fi/en/articles/hope-lies-in-youth/ 
  7. Social Activism, Jamia Wilson http://www.jamiawilson.com/. books like THis book is Anti-racist, This book is feminist or Step into your power cand be adapted to different ages’ curriculum
  8. Inner Goals, teaching with SDGs the human process https://www.innerdevelopmentgoals.org/
  9. Teaching (making space) in our classes for indigenous science https://futurumcareers.com/what-if-indigenous-science-were-part-of-the-science-curriculum#:~:text=Indigenous%20science%20is%20the%20science,scientific%20knowledge%20into%20their%20practices. and UNESCO https://en.unesco.org/links#:~:text=%C2%A9%20UNESCO,day%2Dto%2Dday%20life
  10. Place-based learning, a somatic approach, cultivating attention in the classroom https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CLzoom_HCsY&list=PLMmsDJI3oSWKH5G62SoKO1imL1GXHCGii&index=85
  11. Ancestral Futurism- what kind of ancestors do we want to be, dialogue with Daniela Brasil and Peninah Lesorgol https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=II9BBHZhiCU&list=PLMmsDJI3oSWKH5G62SoKO1imL1GXHCGii&index=18 

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