Renewable English (guest post)

I’ve been aware of the Renewable English website for a while, and the interesting work Harry Waters has been doing with it. Harry and I met at the IATEFL Belfast conference in 2022, and I asked him to tell me more about the story of the site and what he is aiming to do with it. Over to Harry…

People often ask why Renewable English came about. The truth is, there was no 1 single reason. Like most courses, companies, and language schools out there it was a plethora of reasons culminating in what we realised was an absolute necessity in the world of ELT.

Since I started teaching, a little over 15 years ago, I’ve always had a keen focus on the planet and helping my students understand what is now known as the Climate Emergency. Sadly, the first 12 of those 15 years there was little or no support within the profession and coursebook treatment of the topic was always one of doom and gloom in what felt like a far-off land.

There were plenty of units talking about melting icecaps but none talking about local issues. Not one coursebook I could find talked about working with local community groups to make a difference in your own area. They simply talked of how bad everything was and said nothing about how it could be fixed. This always led to a huge sigh when we reached the environment unit in our books and was leaving students not just apathetic about the climate emergency but often rejecting it completely because it was so irrelevant to them and had become boring.

So, reason 1 for Renewable English was to bring climate change awareness to “every” unit in the book. The first series of free online lessons looked at 12 common book units and how they affected the planet. Themes like the Home, Fashion and Food all came up. In the first series the aim was to look at oneself, to raise awareness of the small actions we could do to make a difference. We’re all aware that buying a bamboo toothbrush and doing a bit of recycling won’t save the planet. But you have to start somewhere and starting on yourself is a great place to begin.

The lessons provide vocabulary, environmental tips, functional language, expert interviews and some seriously unfun facts. It’s all done in a way to engage learners in the climate emergency.

Another reason for the inception of Renewable English was seeing the difference a teacher could make. While working at a primary school a group project with my 5th grade students led us to writing letters asking the school to do something about its lack of environmental care. No recycling, no healthy breakfast campaign, basically nothing. The campaign worked and recycling was brought in, solar panels were purchased, and the idea of a healthy breakfast was introduced. It showed the students that collective action worked.

Now Renewable English aims to empower students to go forth and take action, to work together with local groups to make a difference within their communities.

Our second series of free online classes is drawing to a close. This series was all about each of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, how they are going and what we can do to make them more effective. All lessons and materials are open access and free for anyone who wants to use them, students and teachers alike.

Series three will be released in October and will focus on Cultivating Change(makers). We’re speaking to 5 young changemakers and asking what we can do to emulate them and go out there and make a difference.

We work directly with schools across the globe, including schools in India, Mexico and Italy, as well as here in Spain and in the UK. We provide workshops and lessons to raise awareness about the climate crisis and empower students at the same time. We tackle the issue of eco-anxiety and try to harness it into agency.  

The biggest issue is we’re very small and can only do so much. For that very reason we developed the Creating a Greener Mindset course. Its aim is to give teachers the power to spread the word of change and help students become greener more eco-conscious humans.

As teachers we are amplifiers of knowledge. We need to use that for the good and not simply help our students get to B2 level or figure out when to use the second conditional. If I had a magic wand, I’d give everyone the ability and confidence to tackle the climate emergency head on. Sadly, no magic wand.

If you’d like to know more about the training course or, in fact, anything else we can help with, our door is always open. Especially in summer because, you know, it’s really hot.

I only mentioned two reasons above, but the others are fairly simple. We want to make a difference; we love our planet, and we know that education is fundamental in making those changes. It’s been a learning curve for us, not just in terms of how to get things started but also in terms of scientific knowledge and understand of the climate crisis and how to approach it.

Jane Goodall said: “You cannot get through a single day without having an impact on the world around you. What you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make.” What kind of a difference are you going to make?

Harry Waters has been teaching for over 15 years. He is a trainer for the ELTon award winning Pearson and BBC Live Classes project. He is also the learning guide for Pearson and BBC Studio’s project Speak Out for Sustainability

Recently he’s been working hard with the Macmillan Advanced Learning team in their quest to help build a more sustainable future. He spoke on their behalf at this year’s IATEFL in Belfast (2022). 

His climate activism within education and drive for reform led to an invitation to speak at the world’s largest climate summit ChangeNOW in Paris. 

His passion for teaching and obsession with the planet led him to create Renewable English, an online English course, providing free classes and materials aimed at raising climate change awareness across the globe. Harry is also a passionate teacher trainer.                                     

He is the trustee for the British charity Kids Against Plastic and a radio presenter for Teacher Talk Radio. He describes himself as an imperfect environmentalist with a love of flags and funky second-hand shirts

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