Nicola Tanner | GLP Rwanda

During the summer of 2014 Nicola Tanner, Faculty Head for Design & Technology at St Machar Academy in Aberdeen, spent four weeks living and working in Bugesera in the Eastern Province of Rwanda.  Here, using her own experiences, Nicola offers some practical tips for encouraging your students and colleagues to adopt Learning for Sustainability as an ethos.

Being in Rwanda provided me with perspective and I appreciate our education system a lot more now.  Rwandans are dedicated and passionate people; the resourcefulness and the resilience I witnessed was a truly positive learning experience; an experience that I was motivated and inspired to share.

“Three years on, Learning for Sustainability is more than a project, it is a personal and professional ethos.”

My top priority in developing and delivering lessons is to make sure my students understand what they are learning and how it is linked to sustainable living and, their role as active citizens.  Learning for Sustainability promotes an awareness of opportunity, resilience, tolerance and respect and, an understanding that we should be working towards the same goals.


Looking back, I know Learning for Sustainability was incorporated into my practice, it just wasn’t explicit.  I suspect that this is the same for most teachers and, if I had to give advice, I would say: “look at what you are already doing and establish the links.” Once I was aware of what I was already doing it became easier to identify what I wanted to do better and who could help me.


To get students and colleagues interested in Learning for Sustainability, I decided I needed to provide a context for learning.  I felt the best approach was to have tangible evidence to initiate interest both in class and throughout the wider school.  GLP provided me with resources and real experiences which bring discussion to life. For example: When I first returned to school, I developed a new project for my S3 Graphics class which required the students to create tea towels inspired by Rwandan prints which they would then sell at our school’s multicultural week.   I found that providing students with samples of Rwandan fabrics, interspersed with stories from my summer in Bugesera, really promoted curiosity.  The quality of the work produced as a result was excellent and, the end product provided tangible evidence for my colleagues, prompting questions about my inspiration for the project.


It is important to spread the knowledge to ensure you aren’t trying to create change alone.  Identify colleagues who are willing to jump on board but bear in mind what you are asking people to become involved in.  From my own  experience, I know that my colleagues like structure and understand the purpose of what they are doing; if I am asking them to support a cross-curricular project, I identify the links to their subject, ensuring they know how it fits with their teaching priorities.  If you are creating resources to sit alongside your project, use your colleagues’ expertise to develop them, this way, they too can utilise the resources to support what they are doing in class.  As you go, remember to invite more members of staff to help you, once a few are actively engaged, the rest will follow; this keeps the work sustainable, but it also adds fresh perspective. 

Don’t limit yourself to working solely with colleagues in school.  You become part of a large network and there is many opportunities to work on mutually beneficial projects.  Following my trip to Rwanda, I have continued to work with other Global Teachers from my cohort.


James Packham (Principal Teacher at Sunnybank Primary School in Aberdeen) wanted to increase his students’ awareness of the world and their place in it but found the data to be quite challenging for primary level pupils.  He identified “Miniature Earth” as a way in which his students could manage the statistical challenge of the world’s data, as it reduces the world of 7 billion to a village of 100, adapting global statistics to help grasp where we fit, how the world’s wealth is distributed, how many people have access to sanitation etc.  James approached me and asked me to be part of a working group with other Global Teachers to develop Miniature Earth as a resource for learners aged 5-18.


Using the Miniature Earth concept we incorporated the statistics that sit behind the Sustainable Development Goals to create a suite of cross-curricular activities and lesson plans for primary and secondary practitioners that can be delivered as a sole project or a value add to existing study units. We piloted the programme in the last term of 2015/2016 and the resources are now available to other practitioners across the North East.  To ensure it is delivered sustainably and doesn’t impact our teaching time, we have enlisted the help of our local Development Education Centre; MDEC are now supporting the programme and delivering Miniature Earth Learning CLPL sessions.  This is a great outcome, and one that we maybe couldn’t have imagined at the start our GLP journey.



Inspired by Nicola’s experiences?

Find out what your GLP could look like here