Critical reflection is required in all disciplines if deeper learning is to be achieved. It occurs when we test information, try to find holes in it and prove to ourselves that it is either authentic or false. In learning for sustainability this type of thinking is vital (Rieckmann, 2012). It empowers us to examine and test the influences on our thinking (Tilbury and Wortman 2004) and understand the root causes of sustainability (Tilbury et al. 2005).
Learning for sustainability is particularly challenging because it requires us to question and reassess our assumptions – what the environment is, what sustainability is and questioning the current paradigm of environmental management etc. A fundamental precursor to this is an ability to question, and possibly challenge, accepted ways of doing things (for instance, see Australia’s plan for education for sustainability). To do this students need to be aware of alternate approaches, theories and ways of thinking that can instigate their deliberations (e.g. systems thinking, creativity, transdisciplinarity etc) (Mintz, 2014).
From a teaching perspective, this does not mean that we lead our students in how they are ‘supposed’ think and behave (Rieckmann, 2012). Instead, our role is to guide them in how they can ask critical questions, knowing they will likely need to examine their own worldviews and to understand that the way we think is shaped by the world that surrounds us (Wals, 2007).
We will also need to support them to engage with perspectives very different from their own – a journey which can be uncomfortable and confronting if done authentically. This requires a safe learning environment. Lastly, it is important for us as teachers to be honest with our students that the information we provide them is not value free either.
When we do see the courage to engage in authentic critical reflection it is worthy of celebration. In this research Adrian Lamande communicates his own deep reflective practice exploring environmental management paradigms in Bhutan. His is a journey of critical reflection which has clearly deepened his understanding of what environmental management comprises.