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Introduction to the Compass Tools: Systems Thinking for Sustainability in the K-12 Classroom

Climate change… Social media… Opioid crisis… Women’s rights… Gun legislation… Natural disasters… Renewable energy… 

The world today is undeniably complex, and figuring out how to best address these issues in schools is undeniably challenging. Teachers wrestle with how to inspire a spirit of innovation and determination in their students without overwhelming them with the “doom and gloom” often connected with many of these challenges. 

“It can feel daunting, like opening Pandora’s Box” says Alyssa Ripley, a teacher at Belmont Charter High School in Philadelphia, “and teachers may end up opting to avoid certain conversations, not because they feel they aren’t important, but because they don’t have the tools.” 

While many schools introduce students to a design thinking process – empathize, define, ideate, prototype and test – these are most often applied to creative projects within the classroom. Using these skills to analyze “messier” current events, however, can be tricky. “Teachers may worry about over-simplifying the complexity of the issue, feeling more performative than productive, or not having enough understanding themselves of the topic in order to best guide students,” explains Ripley. 

Enter Compass Education, a community of education practitioners who focus on systems-thinking tools in order to foster sustainable habits of mind. Compass is currently found in 42 countries throughout the world and is working to build its presence in North America. 

Compass provides teachers with concrete tools and frameworks that can be used across the grades and disciplines. “It is not about ‘one more thing’ to teach,” explains Mark Mains, a former elementary teacher and current Compass facilitator. “It’s about integrating and building capacity among educators to teach about sustainability and also ensure that teachers themselves are sustainable.” 

Compass also makes the idea of sustainability more accessible and understandable. It takes the term out of the prison of ecology and environmentalism and demonstrates how vital sustainability is to the economy, people, and the planet. “I’ve seen middle school English teachers use these tools to analyze setting and characters’ mindsets in novels,” says Mains, “as well as elementary History teachers using it to help kids understand ancient civilizations – and why some of them collapse.” Once students have been introduced to the tools, they become a natural way to analyze any system.

“One of the other things about these tools is that they encourage perspective-taking,” explains high school teacher Olivia Vazquez. “It supports criticality in that students must consider others’ perspectives and experiences. It also encourages students to defend their opinions and listen to each other – and takes the onus off the teacher to be the one with the ‘answers.’” 

Compass is also useful for administrators in better understanding their own systems and teaming dynamics. Student Council supervisors, too, have had success in planning initiatives and fundraisers using the tools to ensure a sustainable approach. 

On Friday, June 23, 2023, Revolution School will be hosting an Introduction to Compass Tools workshop, which will focus on the two most popular tools, the Sustainability Compass and the Systems Iceberg. The six-hour workshop is designed so that all participants will leave with concrete ideas on ways to begin incorporating the tools.

About the Workshop:

This flexible, three-part program enables schools to efficiently and effectively introduce educators, administrators and support staff to the fundamentals of sustainability and systems thinking. The process is designed to scaffold learners in systems processes through the introduction of two of the most important and useful systems thinking tools; the Sustainability Compass and Systems Iceberg.

Who Should Attend:

K-12 educators, school leaders, sustainability program coordinators and service-learning coordinators who are eager to bring sustainability
and systems thinking into their classrooms, communities, and culture.

What You Will Take Away From This Course:

  • A shared language for the whole faculty or school conversations about sustainability and
    systems and framework for reflecting on issues systemically.
  • Powerful conversations make sense of complex issues.
  • Lesson ideas that educators can use in their classrooms the next day, next week or as soon as they’re ready!
  • Useful tools that can integrate sustainability and systems into any curriculum and every class level.
  • Access to our database of educator-sourced lesson plans.
  • Connection to a global movement of educators for sustainability education.

Early Bird Rate: $175
(until March 31)

Regular Rate: $195
(after March 31)


Register Now

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