Advancing the Environmental Literacy Movement: Connecting, Reinforcing, Aligning and Resourcing a Network-of-Networks

Advancing the Environmental Literacy Movement:  Connecting, Reinforcing, Aligning and Resourcing a Network-of-Networks

Environmental education is a powerful way to teach PK-12 students and change behaviors that impact our environment.  It has been shown to positively influence students’ academic success, confidence, critical thinking, and civic responsibility, preparing them for this century’s challenges and opportunities.  In support of a vision where all students graduate environmentally literate, Local Concepts conducted an assessment for the Chesapeake Bay Program Education Workgroup to determine the best way to strengthen the environmental literacy ecosystem of educators in the multi-state region of the Chesapeake Bay watershed.  

The results of our assessment are enlightening. We learned that there is a lot of work happening within each state at multiple layers to advance environmental literacy and that a network-of-networks already exists among the environmental literacy movement.  To illustrate this, we developed a conceptual model adapted from June Holley’s 2018 blog “Transformative Power of Networks of Networks”. The model also includes elements from the article “Transformative Networks are Multiscalar,” where Holley shares that “multiscalar networks, networks that cross levels or layers, have the capacity to turn innovation into widespread systemic transformation.”  Currently, across the watershed, there are different “levels” of networks that support environmental education including: 1) local school district level, 2) state-wide level (e.g., organizations, agencies and network-like entities), and, 3) decision-maker level (those who influence policies and practices).  Critical work is happening at each level, and through our assessment, we found that gaps exist both within each level and across levels (from school district to decision maker) in every state, effectively slowing the expansion and systemic integration of environmental education initiatives to date.  

Connect, Reinforce, Align and Resource

Based on our assessment, we distilled a number of recommendations to connect, reinforce, align and resource a network-of-networks across the Chesapeake Bay watershed. Achieving the vision of all students graduating environmentally literate is a large scale, complex problem made even more complex because it is at the state level where standards of learning, graduation requirements, and other educational priorities are most often set and each state’s policies and standards of learning are different.  Given this, our recommendations center individual states within the multi-state region and then explore how knowledge and resources at the school district and decision-maker levels can advance that vision as well as how regional efforts (e.g. the Chesapeake Bay Program) can continue to share and catalyze the work across states. 

Using what we learned from the environmental education community and our experience with other networks, we recommend focusing first on strategically connecting and reinforcing the layer of the network-of-networks that will most effectively strengthen the rest of the system and bolster through lines for communication and information sharing.  Specifically, this is the state level where a number of statewide formal education and non-formal environmental education network-like entities (e.g. state-specific Science Teacher Associations, Departments of Education, and Associations for Environmental Education) are doing great work, but are often not well-connected.  We recommend intentionally bridging the existing formal and non-formal educator networks, agencies, and organizations that operate at the state level.  The goal is to strengthen strategic ties, open information flows, and leverage resources to  reach school districts and decision-makers together.  

Once the state organizations and networks are better aligned, they can then identify and resource network weavers to scale the periphery to reach under-resourced communities, bring new school districts into the fold, and resource innovative approaches.  A network weaver is an individual who is a strong communicator, sharer of information, and environmental education cheerleader; someone who wants to help build relationships and spread ideas.  They are also good listeners, collecting important information about educator interests, challenges, and capacity building needs.  Network weavers can then share the stories of school district innovators with the newly aligned state-level networks so that the approaches and lessons learned can be scaled out.  We recommend that the state-level networks then take the school district innovations and success stories and develop effective messaging for network influencers to share with decision-makers to scale up the work to influence policies, practices, and resource allocation.   A network influencer is someone who is capable of distributing strategic messaging and may have experienced the benefits of environmental curricula or an environmental education.  Finally, another essential piece of this system that is not reflected in the conceptual model are the network catalysts, those that support the environmental literacy vision, believe in the power of networks to achieve the vision, and may fund the work.   The Chesapeake Bay Program Education Workgroup is an important network catalyst.  We recommend they continue to align and distribute resources, catalyze change through advisory support, build capacity by offering professional development, and share information across states in the region.  

Want to learn more about our recommendations?  Click here.

We are just beginning this journey to intentionally and strategically support a network-of-networks to advance a common vision without burdening folks with significantly more work or creating redundancies. We hope this will result in more diverse voices, leveraged resources, and knowledge-sharing to scale innovations and shift policies, practices, and mental models. 

We will be asking ourselves:
Where can we effectively strengthen ties to resource community-based environmental education and open meaningful and strategic communication pathways, so that the right-sized innovations and strategies can be shared back through the network to spread innovation and enhance student learning?

What has your experience been supporting a network-of-networks?  What lessons learned do you have to share?   We want to hear your stories and are happy to share ours.  Please contact us anytime: Christy Gabbard,; Sonia Keiner, Local Concepts LLC works with networks and organizations to accelerate values-driven transformation. 

A BIG thank you to NOAA, EPA, Chesapeake Bay Program, and the Chesapeake Bay Trust whose staff work tirelessly to improve conditions in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, and who serve as deep thinkers and advisors on this project!

Access the full Landscape Assessment: Informing the Development of a Regional Outdoor Learning Network HERE

Featured Image found HERE

PLEASE DONATE to help Network Weaver continue in it’s mission to offer free support and resources to networks worldwide.