Teacher Education for Sustainable Development: A Review

In a new article, Daniel Fischer and Jordan King together with colleagues from the German-Speaking Network of Teacher Education for Sustainable Development (LeNa) take stock of Teacher Education for Sustainable Development (TESD) as an emerging niche innovation in general teacher education.

This is what the authors highlight

Our review is based on N=158 publications. In our analysis, we found 5 types of TESD research, identify innovation potentials for general teacher education, and discuss future research directions. 

Why TESD? To change our current course of unsustainability requires learning. Teachers are key players in facilitating our collective unlearning of unsustainability. TESD is a priority area in the ESDfor2030 agenda. We analyzed what characterizes this research field within general teacher education and what we can learn from it. The five types of TESD research we identify are 

  • (a) designing learning environments, 
  • (b) understanding learner attributes, 
  • (c) measuring learning outcomes, 
  • (d) promoting systems change, and 
  • (e) advancing visions for the field. 
5 Types of Teacher Education for Sustainable Development Research

What was interesting to see was that more than half of all publications stem from the younger types (b) and (c) studying individual learners. This can be seen as an indication of the field’s maturation: it is now moving more fully beyond just arguing the need for TESD and initial experimentation with implementations (mostly in single case studies) to embracing systematic teaching-learning research.  

Some lessons learned are that we need to (i) diversify voices (only 16% of all papers came from the Global South), (ii) study the long-term effects on complex learning outcomes, and (iii) consolidate what TESD contributes to theory-building. At the same time, (iv) innovations in TESD (e.g. transdisciplinary learning) do not reach the mainstream of teacher education and require more impactful communication. 

Paper abstract

Teacher Education for Sustainable Development (TESD) is a niche innovation in teacher education that empowers teachers to prepare learners to address global socio-environmental challenges. To advance the diffusion of this niche innovation into general teacher education, this article offers a systematic literature review based on a qualitative analysis of 158 peer-reviewed publications on TESD research. Our results show that TESD research is a growing field characterized by five types of inquiry: designing learning environments, understanding learner attributes, measuring learning outcomes, promoting systems change, and advancing visions for the field. Major innovation potentials of TESD for more general teacher education are its emphasis on the grand socio-environmental challenges of our times, methodologies to engage with knowledge diversity (e.g., inter/transdisciplinarity), and sustainability science learning approaches (e.g., backcasting). We suggest that future work builds from this review to strengthen links between teacher education and TESD in enhancing quality education.

Fischer, D., King, J., Rieckmann, M., Barth, M., Büssing, A., Hemmer, I., & Lindau-Bank, D. (2022). Teacher Education for Sustainable Development: A Review of an Emerging Research Field. Journal of Teacher Education, 73(5), 509–524. https://doi.org/10.1177/00224871221105784

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