Just like there are many ways to reach out to a school principal and plan for an awareness session on ecosystems, there are many ways to conduct them too. These depend on the region, medium of instruction, age group, the resource person’s core values and skills, and the content. It involves public speaking skills too. There are very good online resources and books which provide tips on public speaking.
The 10 points covered here are what I have gathered specifically from my experiences after conducting 300+ hours of awareness sessions and education programmes in schools.
By ‘begin with why’, I don’t mean to tell students that we are here because of World Environment Day or because of an organisation’s outreach. Here, I mean the real reason why the session is being conducted.
For instance, an approach like this would illustrate my point: “Every minute, the equivalent of 36 football fields of forest is disappearing globally. If we understand our relationship with the natural world and the ways we can involve in conservation, this might reduce. That’s why we are here for a session on…”
If I am asked to choose one core value before entering a class, I will choose empathy without any second thought. By definition, empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.
When we are empathetic towards students, we ensure that there is enough time for interaction. We will treat students equally, and with respect. Spiels will reduce.
All these add up while taking the message of environment conservation to students.
When you are putting heart and soul into the topic, students feel it and they pay due attention. Period.
A few years back, when conducting a 6-month conservation-education programme in schools, I asked three questions to students on day one of the first month, before introducing myself or the program. They were: “Do you like to watch films on nature?”, “Do you like to play games?” and “Would you like to create art?” I could see the students raise their hands as quick as possible. I knew that I had got them on my side, and that I had got a strong base to build their experience. So, getting students on our side before you begin the session is crucial for learning to happen.
An experienced filmmaker once told me that as communicators, we must hold the audience by their hands and take them on a journey in the film. The same holds true while conducting awareness sessions.
One of the most simple formats that has worked for me in a multicultural setting (irrespective of the region) is to tell the students what you are going to do.
This format has to be woven into a narrative that begins with an introduction that perks the curiosity of the audience. Please don’t begin by saying, “I am going to tell…”
Environment and conservation are complex subjects with multiple layers. In such a context, it is important to connect the topics coherently so that the students feel that they are being taken on a guided tour. Remember – it is not about the information. It is about the experience.
Here are a few examples of the transition I use during a talk on why I do what I do.
Tigers are the apex predators in a forest. Turtles have flippers. The gestation period of king cobras is…The list goes on.
Students feel tossed up when they hear words like ‘apex predators’, ‘flippers’, ‘gestation period’ etc. They are jargon – and jargon are thorns!
It’s best to avoid jargon when interacting with students. If you have to use them, explain briefly what the word means, give them an analogy and demonstrate it.
For example, “Turtles have flippers. They can be compared to our own hands. Like we use our hands to swim, turtles use flippers to swim in the oceans, cover their nest and move on sand.”
The power of silence cannot be explained by words. It has to be felt.
To feel the power of silence, watch Emma Gonzalez’s March for Lives speech here.
Students already put in a lot of time reading in class for days at a stretch. So, let us not make them read PowerPoint slides too. Use visuals. Go with less words, or no words at all.
Closing an awareness program with pointers on what students can do is extremely important whether your session is on tigers or tarantulas – even if it may not be in your mandate.
Any programme can be linked to daily environment-friendly practices and volunteering opportunities in which students can participate to further their interest in environment.
If your scheduled session is for an hour, leave sufficient time for interaction. For example, I use documentaries most of the time which run for about 20 minutes, following which I speak for 10 minutes. After this, I leave the remaining half-hour for interacting with the students.
Finally, document your session. I record videos of my session and review them later to see where I can improve myself. We must understand that, a successful awareness session is, a combination of planning+content+medium+timing+skills of the presenter+school involvement.
During this time, we must not project ourselves as knowledge-givers, but as empathetic facilitators with the goal of enabling students to understand the importance of environment and conservation in the best way possible.
The author is an environmental educator, founder and lead-coordinator at the Youth Conservation Action Network (YOUCAN).
Featured image used for representative purposes only.