Congress in Conversation - Part II with Kshamta Hunter

June 18, 2024

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Introduction | About the guest | Kshamta Hunter's Research at Congress | Transcript | Follow us 




Welcome to Congress in Conversation, a special series presented by the Big Thinking Podcast in partnership with The Conversation Canada where we convene researchers presenting at Congress 2024 to share their research and experiences within the context of shared responsibility to our society, systems, and planet. 

For our second episode, our host Nehal El-Hadi, journalist, editor, and producer at The Conversation Canada is joined by Kshamta Hunter, Manager of Transformative Learning and Student Engagement within the Sustainability hub at the University of British Colombia.

About the guest

Headshot of Kshamta Hunter


Kshamta Hunter is the Manager of Transformative Learning and Student Engagement within the Sustainability hub at UBC. She is also a sessional instructor in the Department of Curriculum and Pedagogy. She is the co-chair of publications for the Canadian Association for Curriculum Studies and member of the editorial advisory board for the Journal of the Canadian Association for Curriculum Studies.

Dr. Hunter’s research explored intersections of sustainability learning and leadership, using Transformative Learning and social innovation frameworks. 



Dr. Kshamta Hunter's research at Congress: 

Dr. Hunter’s research paper is titled “A Novel Climate Education Framework for Teacher Education”


Climate change and the related social impacts have necessitated a re-think of traditional pedagogies. Educators are faced with the challenge to not only engage learners in these conversations, but to support and address the range of emotions and pedagogical complexities that involve socio-scientific realities. Climate-Kind Pedagogy (CKP) attempts to synthesize various climate, kindness and justice orientated educational approaches into a comprehensive pedagogy geared at addressing the pressing need for both educators and learners to re-conceptualize their relationship with one another and the planet while offering a framework for embedding climate education in teaching and learning. 

[00:00:15] Nehal El-Hadi: Welcome to Congress in Conversation, a special series presented by the Big Thinking Podcast and The Conversation Canada, where we convene researchers presenting at Congress 2024 to share their research and experiences within the context of our shared responsibility to our society, systems, and planet.  

[00:00:34] My name is Nehal El-Hadi, journalist, editor, and producer at The Conversation, and I will be your host for this special feature of Congress in Conversation. Today I am joined by Kshamta Hunter, Manager of Transformative Learning and Student Engagement within the Sustainability hub at the University of British Colombia.

[00:00:56] How did we get to this point in your research?

[00:00:59] Kshamta Hunter: Well, I graduated with a cell biogenetics degree and, really went right into teaching. So my background is as educator as [...] teacher, primarily biology and science. And, and I taught for about three to four years. Comparing how I was taught in some ways versus how we were teaching in our schools here, I missed a lot of that values-driven teaching.

[00:01:27] You know, simple things, that parents would think the teachers are teaching and teachers would think the parents are teaching it, but nobody's really teaching or facilitating those conversations. So, I came back to do my master's and that's when I kind of really stumbled over this concept of sustainability and, within that concept, this idea of social justice, and values-driven approaches.  

[00:01:50] So that's where it kind of got me started. And then I did my PhD in sustainability, curriculum and pedagogy and then I was part of this group - I still am part of this group - called Kindness Project, that was started at UBC, by a student, that I worked with closely, and we started this group, and now it's a transdisciplinary network of educators across Canada, including faculty, staff, and students.

[00:02:19] And the inspiration for this project, actually, the Climate Kind Pedagogy started from this idea of how do we bring kindness into our education, into our teaching and learning approaches. So it's partly inspired by that, but partly also the understanding that the education system that we have currently hasn't been working for us.

[00:02:42] It has failed us in a lot of ways. So how do we bring these values-driven, kindness-driven, trauma-informed approaches into our education system? So it's been inspired by those two facts.

[00:02:57] Nehal El-Hadi: And now you're the Manager of Transformative Learning and Student Engagement, right, at the University of British Columbia?

[00:03:02] Kshamta Hunter: Yes, and also an instructor in the Faculty of Education.

[00:03:06] Nehal El-Hadi: So how does your role as an instructor and as manager of learning, how has that informed or influenced your research?

[00:03:13] Kshamta Hunter: I believe that it has been a key to what I'm doing because as a manager of transformative learning and student engagement, I work closely with students, with youth, between the ages of about 16, 17, up to 30.  

[00:03:27] And it's really the inspiration by the students and I guess I'm really lucky in a way that, and I always share this, that I'm able to do this research and apply it and test it, almost like campus as a living lab approach where I am doing research but I'm really testing it on the grounds with the students, with the faculty, with the staff, and then able to inform, the work, the research, that that's needed, to inform our practices.

[00:03:57] So both of my roles are very much intertwined, and intersects, leadership and learning in a, in a very cohesive way.

[00:04:08] Nehal El-Hadi: Can we talk a little bit about the paper that you're presenting? A novel climate education framework for teacher education. Could you give me just a brief summary of it?

[00:04:15] Kshamta Hunter: Absolutely. So it started with this idea of, that there are already practices that exist, and frameworks that exist around climate education, sustainability education, but also, values driven education, such as kindness pedagogies or pedagogies of care, embodied pedagogy, trauma informed pedagogy.

[00:04:36] So these frameworks and models already exist. So this research project started by diving deep into some of the existing frameworks and models and using appreciative inquiry, we really wanted to engage with what is working on the grounds. What has been successful? Let's focus on that instead of focusing on what's not working.

[00:04:57] So we wanted to bring all of these frameworks and all the successful strategies and approaches and create this new pedagogy or model, which will be easier, accessible to the educators and facilitators instead of diving into these multiple frameworks that exist.  

[00:05:15] And there are many, there are climate education, there is climate change education framework, there is ESD - Education for Sustainable Development - there is education for sustainability, and then all of those kindness and care and embodied pedagogies and, resilience pedagogies as well. So we looked at all of those and we kind of collated the best strategies into this approach.

[00:05:37] Nehal El-Hadi: And who are you envisioning will be using it? Like what level of education? Where?

[00:05:43] Kshamta Hunter: Yes, so we are definitely going for all educators and facilitators. I think this pedagogy, or this model should resonate with [...], but also post-secondary education. so I'm teaching in the teacher education program and I share this with the teacher candidates and they love it. They love that they have the toolkit, the approaches, the ways to inform their practices in the classroom and the same with the educators.

[00:06:17] Nehal El-Hadi: And why do you think, why do you think those approaches weren't present before? Like is this a new need? Or are you addressing an existing lack?  

[00:06:18] Kshamta Hunter: I think, the need always existed. But the poly-crisis that we are facing today, I think, it just exacerbated that need in a lot of ways, because students, especially youth, are, you really experiencing the climate anxiety, the poly-crisis anxiety. And they're asking for approaches that not only engages them with these crisis and these situations and these topics, but also how to manage the emotions that come with it in the classroom.

[00:06:49] And so the educators, they don't necessarily have to be just experts in content, but they also have to be experts in pedagogies. They need to support students in the classroom through various emotions, and be able to put those into perspective. So, I think educators and facilitators are realizing more and more that their practice needs these approaches to be integrated in the classroom.

[00:07:17] Nehal El-Hadi: What I find really interesting and intriguing about your research is, when you're trying to teach, around climate change and environmental issues, you're also training people who have to contend with the same issues that their students are figuring out. So, how do you prepare them and then train them to respond to their students' needs?

[00:07:36] Kshamta Hunter: Absolutely. And I think those are the emotions that we are feeling as educators and facilitators as well. So, the presentation or the workshop that I usually do with the educators, there's a lot of, examining our own beliefs and assumptions. So one of the key foundations of this model is constructivism and that really emerges with this idea of that there are multiple realities.

[00:08:02] So your reality, the way you perceive things might be really different and are really contextualized by your own lived experiences and they will be very different from my lived reality. And the way I perceive things. So when you, as an educator are going into a classroom of 30 people or even 200 in the post-secondary institutions, you are going in, in a classroom with multiple realities.

[00:08:27] So how do you engage with that? And, and a lot of it has to do with making sure that you yourself are really engaging with your own beliefs and assumptions and are comfortable having some of the conversations in the classroom before you go into the classroom.  

[00:08:44] So one example that I usually do with the educators is really examining this idea of power and privilege and positionality and really examining their own positionalities before they go into the classroom so they are comfortable with that and they are owning those identity factors that they bring with them.

[00:09:08] Nehal El-Hadi: I was also wondering; how do you train educators to respond to students' climate anxiety when they might not have dealt with their own?

[00:09:18] Kshamta Hunter: And I think we are all dealing with it. I don't think any one of us have really dealt with it completely. But I will say that a lot of the educators ask me, “that I'm not, I really want to talk about climate change, but I'm not an expert.” I don't know. But my answer to that is, have you experienced a heat dome? Have you experienced a flood? Have you experienced extreme heat? Or, anything, any kind of impacts of climate change?  

[00:09:51] And we all have experienced something to do with this, if not climate crisis, then other social crisis or political crisis. We experience it, that means we can talk about it. We don't have to be experts because we are experiencing and we bring those emotions, we bring those feelings, we bring those experiences into the classroom.

[00:10:15] And we, be transparent about what we are experts on or not and starting those discussions at that point.

[00:10:24] Nehal El-Hadi: Listening to you speak, all I can think about is the enormity of the task of kind of handling something where A, there's no resolution, and B, there's very little hope to offer in terms of like, this is what's going to happen, or dealing with environmental issues is dealing with a lot of really, problematic, difficult topics too, especially if you're addressing intersectionality and the impacts of it.

[00:10:47] So how do you, how do you prepare teachers to do all of that in addition to everything else they need to do?

[00:10:57] Kshamta Hunter: Yeah. And that's a big issue, especially with K to 12 teachers because they need to cover the curriculum. And, and I think that's the same with the post-secondary, educators as well. I think the educators are realizing that this is a huge need. The reason that we are facing this crisis is because it's being caused by the people with the most educated degrees, right?

[00:11:23] So education is really what has been a problem, but it's also a solution, but it needs to change. It needs to be a different type of education if you are really going to change that. And, you know, we don't have to change the entire way we change, it's small things that we can do.  

[00:11:41] So, some educators are already there and they're doing a lot, which is great. But the teachers, or educators who are a little bit uncomfortable in terms of, I need to cover all of this, how do I do this? There are different ways, maybe you do an assignment, maybe you do a field trip. Maybe you bring in a guest lecturer or guest speaker if you're not an expert on that.

[00:12:09] So there are different ways of doing it, but it's just starting somewhere. And I think more and more educators are realizing that they need to start somewhere. And I don't think, in my experience in teaching in last, four or five years at the post-secondary level, I haven't really had a big kind of a pushback in terms of I shouldn't be teaching this because there is a, there is a realization that they should be, and they are starting to do that.

[00:12:36] Nehal El-Hadi: Okay, so can we talk a little bit about the pedagogical framework that you have developed, the climate kind framework? Can you explain to me what it is and what it does?

[00:12:46] Kshamta Hunter: Yeah, so like I said, it's a combination of existing frameworks in terms of what approaches have been working. But one of the key foundations of this are the values. How do we bring, and enact, and uphold some of the key values like kindness, like justice, like resilience and interconnectedness into our teaching praxis.

[00:13:10] So one of the key things that I usually share, and you can go on and you will see, that there are different ways of enacting these values into your classroom. So, for simple things like doing a little check-ins, into a classroom or asking students for their pronouns and using them in the right way, that's kindness.

[00:13:32] Doing values clarification exercises and grounding exercises are also really good way of bringing some of these values and enacting and kind of bringing them in the classroom. And, you know, once the educators bring these and enact some of these values, it becomes a community agreement of sorts and community agreement is another great way to start, any classroom.

[00:13:57] So for example, in any class that I start, I usually do a community agreement in terms of what are some of the guidelines, how are we going to work together? What will make this classroom safe and brave for you?

[00:14:09] So, having those conversations right away and kind of, really laying down those values at the beginning of the class is really nice. In terms of values clarification, I would just say one thing is I think it's, it's really important to have those conversations, to explicitly talk about values.

[00:14:27] And this is informed by the transformative learning theory, which basically says that we need to interrogate and explicitly acknowledge some of the subjective understandings that we have, some of the beliefs and assumptions that we have. So, surface those values.  

[00:14:46] About 90% of the students report that they haven't talked about their values in an academic career. And I think that's a problem. We need to bring those conversations into the classroom. And this is anecdotally, so this is not research, this is anecdotal, numbers that I find in my own teaching.  

[00:15:04] And when we bring those ideas of values conversations, first, it's uncomfortable, but the more you do it, the better it gets. And, and how do you connect those values then to the projects that you're working on within that course. And that then becomes really interesting because you are influencing some of the projects or assignments or the community conversations with those values, that you have discussed in, in that setting.

[00:15:36] Nehal El-Hadi: So, how do you get the framework to function within a larger structural framework? And I'm, I'm not sure if I'm phrasing this correctly, but what I'm thinking about is say you train the teachers, the teachers go off and they have to deliver it, but they're working in a school system, they're dealing with curriculum.

[00:15:53] There's a lot of things that may not necessarily support a climate-kind framework. How do you make sure that it's effective and how do you enable the teachers to be able to implement or deliver it?

[00:16:05] Kshamta Hunter: One of the, essential things we talked about, when we started thinking about this pedagogical model is we want it to be, approachable, we want it to be relevant, and we want it to be, more practical, in a sense that, educators can take pieces or parts of these strategies and be able to embed them into their current praxis.

[00:16:30] So, they don't necessarily have to change a lot, they could bring whatever they're comfortable with into their, practice. So an example that I would give is this idea of - when we are in a classroom - and everybody does this - mostly everybody does this - is that we get students into small groups or big groups, and we say, okay, let's discuss this topic.

[00:16:54] Let's go into discussion, and we will report back. One of the key things that the model suggests is that in order for it to be justice-informed and inclusive, we need to take a step prior to that discussion, which I call dialogue. And dialogue is divergent, it's justice-driven, meaning that each person in that group gets to put their ideas on the table without questions.

[00:17:23] So the idea is that everybody gets their perspectives on the table without much controversy. The second step is that discussion, and it's more convergent. That's when we are discussing, questioning, and trying to come up with one group-informed idea from that. So dialogue first, then discussion so that everybody gets their thoughts on the table.

[00:17:47] I use this approach all the time in my teaching, and it really works. Even to the point where, I mean, there are students who don't like talking in a group environment and, and if we do this approach and consistently, then you will see that those students who are not comfortable talking in a small group also start bringing their ideas because we are doing this approach of dialogue first and then discussion, so that they are not seeking, they don't have to fight for that time, or that voice in a big group.

[00:18:22] Nehal El-Hadi: And what do you hope the work that you have accomplished does, like, when it's put into practice? Also, what would make it in your mind successful?

[00:18:33] Kshamta Hunter: Hmm. I think even if more and more educators can inform their pedagogies through those values driven approaches, that would be success for me. And, I'm not seeking a rapid change. Culture change happens very slowly.  

[00:18:51] And I think these kinds of models hopefully will be helpful. And, because a lot of the times educators, this is what I'm hearing from educators, is that they just don't have the time, to investigate different approaches or to create lesson plans that are climate informed.

[00:19:11] They just don't have the time or the expertise. So, I'm hoping that this model will offer that. So, it is still in under development. We will be posting more lesson plans and activities that teachers and educators can take and embed in their teaching practice as well.

[00:19:29] Nehal El-Hadi: And what do you hope it does for students?

[00:19:33] Kshamta Hunter: Empowers them, in different ways to not just change their own self, but people around them, and take action towards whatever inequities that they see in their communities or whatever crisis that they're dealing with. But also gives them hope that there is change and there could be changes that could happen, because I do see that a lot in students, that hopelessness.

[00:20:02] So one of the examples I would give that one of the activities that I do is called Climate Council. And we start with this idea of how are you feeling? How are you doing in this climate crisis?  

[00:20:15] And end with this idea of if this were a rite of passage to, from past to the future, where this crisis is our pathway to something completely different that we want to create. What would you not let go of? What would you not leave behind? That one thing that you would not leave behind. And that one thing is what gives them so much hope. in terms of how you can build an entire life on that one thing that you will not leave behind.

[00:20:51] Nehal El-Hadi: How would, how would you answer that question?

[00:20:55] Kshamta Hunter: I usually say my family, you know? I've heard things like the sun. I've heard things like, trees and, and all of that. But you know, it's different for different people. And I, and I think it's great that that's different for different people, but it gives them that hope, to build upon, and to fight for.

[00:21:23] Nehal El-Hadi: Okay. What are you going to do with your research beyond, like, after this? Where are you going with it?

[00:21:29] Kshamta Hunter: Get it out there for people to – yes.

[00:21:35] Nehal El-Hadi: I think this is one of the like the challenges that academics face is that you spend all of this time working on and developing research with a very practical application. How do you, how do you then move it out of the academy and into the world beyond that?

[00:21:51] Kshamta Hunter: Absolutely, and I'm also looking for - to be honest - I'm looking for non-traditional ways to share this as well. Academic articles are great, but there's only a subset of people who read those kinds of research or who have time to read that. How else can I get it out there? And that's why, it's on the website.

[00:22:10] It is funded by the UBC's Teaching and Learning Enhancement Fund. And one of the key goals was that you want to make this open-source sharing. so is one way to share that because everything will be shared on the website. There's nothing that needs to be kept under walls or, or locks.

[00:22:33] And that's my purpose too. And like I said, like I usually say, there's nothing new here, it's all of these practices already exist is just getting them out there for educators to be able to use it effectively and easily.

[00:22:50] Nehal El-Hadi: I think it's so fascinating, I trained as an environmental journalist. And so there's a lot of, you know, questions like, how do you communicate? How do you do the work? How do you then can, like, reassure people after you've just told them really, like, really pessimistic news and outcomes. And I, I can't imagine if you're a teacher who's trying to deal with your own eco anxiety to, to have to work with eight-year-olds and how do you move them through it?

[00:23:24] And, I think we're, we ask so much of teachers already and don't support them enough.

[00:23:29] Kshamta Hunter: Exactly, and I'm completely with you on that. I have, I have three children of my own, so, you can imagine that the level of anxieties that I have.

[00:23:41] Nehal El-Hadi: How do you manage that with them?

[00:23:43] Kshamta Hunter: Conversations. More and more conversations, the more conversations that I have with them, the better they're engaged, the better they're informed.

[00:23:53] They are being informed through social media, through their friends, through whatever, already. But I want to contextualize it, I want to make sure that they are taking those values driven approaches to understanding what they are hearing and reading.  

[00:24:11] So that, you know, they are supported, they feel supported, in that and, you know, I think that's the best that parents can do, is to support and have those conversations. And, and that's what we should be able to take into our classrooms too, as much as possible.

[00:24:24] Nehal El-Hadi: Thank you for listening to Congress in Conversation and to my guest, Kshamta Hunter. The Big Thinking Podcast would like to thank our friends and partners at the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, whose support helps make this podcast possible, to CitedMedia for their support in producing the podcast, and to The Conversation Canada for their partnership.

[00:24:47] Let us know what you thought of this episode and share your feedback with us on social media. Follow us for more episodes wherever you listen to your podcast and stay tuned for new episodes coming soon!

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