How to Foster our Students’ Ethical Footprint

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La sostenibilità entra in classe


Oggi il tema della sostenibilità ha un forte impatto su tanti aspetti della nostra vita. Ma come possono i docenti sensibilizzare i propri studenti e spingerli a coltivare la loro ethical footprint?

by Rossella Manni & Maria Grazia Maglione

At present, the theme of sustainability is a strong issue which affects political, social, economic aspects of life. Therefore, it is necessary for everyone to be aware of this worrying scenario and how to face it. How can teachers cope with it in the classroom and actively involve their students in order to foster their ethical footprint? This was our main objective of a workshop held at the 44th TESOL Italy National Convention in Rome last November. It is our own responsibility as teachers to inspire new generations and make them reflect about a sustainable future and promote ethical behaviour. We drew inspiration from our visit to Atlanta, known as the cradle of the Civil Right Movement and M.L. King’s birthplace, where we could think about our ethical footprint and our role as agents of change.

When presenting these topics to students in the classroom, we should consider both ethical and didactic objectives: the former are important to enhance students’ awareness, the latter allow them to improve key competences and skills.

We identified four areas to be explored with our students: digital, fashion, environmental and human rights footprint. For each of them we planned motivating and involving activities to develop sustainability in the classroom.
Here are some examples for each area

Digital Footprint

● Brainstorming questions to check what students already know.

What is a digital footprint?
– Is it a negative or a positive thing to have? Why?
– Does everyone have a digital footprint?

● Giving a definition

A digital footprint is a trail of data you create while using the Internet. It includes the websites you visit, emails you send, and information you submit to online services. (Digital Footprint)

● Using educational resources like videos, readings, TED talks to investigate and learn better the issue

– The following video aims at raising students’ awareness of their digital footprints (The Digital Footprint)
This reading helps them to manage their digital footprints: Reading skills practice: Your digital footprint – exercises
10 things to know about digital footprints
– With these videos they learn how to protect their own identity: Four Reasons to Care About Your Digital Footprint
Follow the Digital Trail (2015 - OLD VERSION)

● Involving students in creative activities in order to develop their critical thinking and soft skills.

The following set of questions are aimed at generating discussion on how they can manage their digital footprints
– What is a negative and what is a positive digital footprint?
– If you Googled your name or username(s) what do you think you would find?
– Would you be proud to have your teachers/parents/friends look at everything in your digital footprint? Why? Why not?

5 P’s for a positive digital footprint, ask students to give an answer for each P
– In order to remind students they should pause and think before posting anything online they can make a bulletin board which, according to the age, can be realized on the PC or by means of stickers on the wall. Here are some examples: Bulletin Board-DIGITAL FOOTPRINT
– In this video Juan Enriquez looks at the surprisingly permanent effects of digital sharing on our personal privacy. He shares insight from the ancient Greeks to help us deal with our new "digital tattoos: Juan Enriquez: Your online life, permanent as a tattoo | TED Talk

Fashion Footprint

● Eliciting students’ response on the meaning of ‘ethical footprint’ applied to fashion.

How can we measure how much of an ethical consumer we are? How can we promote sustainable behaviour?

● Defining ethical consumers and their behaviour

What do ‘ethical consumers’ care about? Are they aware of the consequences of production, consumption and disposal?

● Raising students’ awareness of fashion footprint and how to reduce it

Giving tips for shopping ethically and sustainably, inviting students to express their views.
– Buy less
– Buy second hand
– Buy more durable clothing
– Repair/mend ripped clothes
– Be conscious about energy consumption

● Understanding the impact of fashion industry on the environment using some effective videos, TED talks and animations, podcasts, articles, reports in the classroom.

– The following National Geographic video How Your T-shirt Can Make a Difference” shows how we can help reduce the t-shirt effect on the environment
– This Ted-ED animation about the cycle of a T-shirt helps students understand how and where the average t-shirt is made and what its environmental impact is: The life cycle of a t-shirt - Angel Chang
– This TED talk explores some creative ways the industry can evolve to be more conscientious about the environment: The big problem with fashion — and how to fix it
– This podcast Measuring your fashion footprint examines the environmental price of the fast fashion phenomenon and explore how technology could hold the key to a more sustainable system
– This article from The Guardian Want to teach ethical fashion to kids? highlights the role of schools in bringinging about change
– Using the wide range of educational resources in Fashion Revolution site

● Teaching ethical fashion and developing critical thinking skills

The two euro T-shirt video in LearnEnglishTeen British Council website with the related educational resources can make students reflect on big social issues like the exploitation of workers (especially women and children) in the global garment industry and get them actively involved in a discussion about ethical fashion.

What would you have done at the vending machine? Would you have bought the t-shirt or donated the money? The two euro T-shirt

● Bringing about change by involving students in creative writing and speaking activities.

Some examples:
– Write a letter to a person who made my clothes. Fashion Revolution
– Write an article for your school magazine or website about the problem of fast fashion.
– Write a speech to be delivered in your school on the importance and need of fashion footprint.
– Give a 3-minute speech explaining why we should consider what we buy (shoes, clothes and sports equipment).

Environmental Footprint

● Image brainstorming

A picture showing women in Ecuador wearing masks, while preparing roses for shipment to the US, can encourage students’ imagination to create different perspectives and new angles on the problem they’re facing.

● Giving a definition

It is the harmful effects of your activities on the environment (The Longman dictionary)

● Using educational resources like videos, readings, TED talks to investigate and learn better the issue

The following readings can be useful to monitor understanding by questioning, thinking about, and reflecting on the ideas and information in the texts making the invisible visible.
The Environmental Impacts of the Cut-Flower Industry
Is it ethical to buy cut flowers?

This reading highlights the hidden environmental cost of Valentine's day roses. Beneath the graceful expression of love the roses convey, there is the hidden cost little known to many: environmental degradation, socio-economic imbalance, blatant human rights violation, and adverse health consequences for workers.
The hidden environmental cost of Valentine’s Day roses (The Financial)

● Involving students in creative activities in order to develop their critical thinking and soft skills.

Using pros and cons as a decision model:
Write down the Pros and Cons of buying cut flowers

– Is the flower industry bad for the environment?Why/why not?
– Would you buy roses for Valentine’s Day?Why/why not?
– would you join a campaign to ask local florists to sell fair-trade flowers? Why/why not?
– Would you be willing to organize such a campaign? Why/why not?

Write a report
Your class has been involved in a nature project. The students helped to create a garden in the school grounds. Your head teacher would like you to write a report explaining the success of the project and suggesting ideas for the future.
Write the report for your head teacher (200 words)

Are there any attempts in your home to become more sustainable? Discuss changes and modifications that could be made to your environment to make it more sustainable.
Write an essay of about 300 words.
Recycling game (for younger students) Recycling Roundup

Human Rights Footprint

● Raising students’ awareness about the importance of human rights

Students are shown a video with an interview to the Chinese artist and activist Al Weiwei who designed a flag to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Then they are encouraged to answer questions on the milestone document and the fundamental human rights.

● Focusing on the 30 articles of the Universal Declaration and exploring one of the following:

– Right to education
– Right to childhood
– Fight against persecution
– Fight against any discrimination

Students in small groups will be involved in a webquest about one of the 30 articles and then in an oral presentation about an aspect that most interests them (for example women’s education inequalities, human trafficking, child labor).

● Developing students’ critical thinking and soft skills in order to bring about change

Get students engaged into creative and challenging activities such as discussions, debates, short public speeches, problem posing and problem solving activities.

Some examples

Right to education - guided discussion or debate
Think of your own experience with school
If you were unable or not allowed to attend, what would you do instead?
Would you be happy without the opportunity to learn?

Right to Childhood - public speech
Prepare a short speech in defence of the rights of children and their violations in the world

Fight against persecution - problem solving / discussion
What would you do if you lived in a country where your ethnic or religious group is persecuted by another group?
Martin L. King once said : He who accepts evil without protesting against it, is really cooperating with it. Do you agree?

Fight against any discrimination - cross-curricular and CLIL links
Create a poster or a slogan opposing discriminatory behaviour.

● Connecting Human Rights and the Global Goals to deeply engage students for a sustainable development

Organize an exhibition in your school on your chosen human rights topic, a human rights concert with a local school band, a human rights film festival; sports events - such as a human rights relay; photography, poetry, poster design contest; a flash mob.
Take action!

Through this didactic path, the teacher makes students consider ethics not as something to think of once in a while but as a lens through which everything can be seen. This allows them to improve their ethical footprint and promote sustainability.
Both teachers and learners become the protagonists of this change. As Nelson Mandela said, ‘Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world’ .


Rossella Manni & Maria Grazia Maglione

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