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How The SDGs Supported My Teaching Career

Staff-led SDG workshop presentation

By Pia Patricia Hofstättner, Global Schools Advocate from Austria

It is a real challenge to describe all the emotions that can be felt right at the start of the first school year of teaching. You only go by sight, the compass needle is ambiguous. You start to swim and can't find the floating ring that would otherwise keep you on the surface. Questions buzz through your head that you would love to pose a fortune-telling crystal ball: "How do I do this?", "Where do I start?" and "What is really important?"

For me, this time was associated with a lot of anticipation and zest for action, but nevertheless, I was also looking for tools that would not let me lose the ground under my feet. One significant tool were the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), as they challenged me on a daily basis to reflect not only my teaching in terms of school materials but also my approach to learning itself as well. I learned about them during a seminar at the University of Vienna, when I was researching the topic of global learning and 21st-century education. They appealed to me because of their interdisciplinarity, the possibilities for my own further education, but also within the framework of my professional activities.

After all, the colorful 17-strong square grid is not only beautiful to look at, but really showcases and challenges us to think about what education should really be about.

Staff-led SDG workshop display

What’s more, many aspects that the SDGs clearly name are not so easy to find in the curriculum. Depending on which school system and which subject you teach in, these are further or closer connected to the regulations. For me, as a German first and foreign language teacher, there are many areas that are not covered in textbooks, and the lack of vocabulary is often discussed at this point.

It is then when things are missing from textbooks that one gets creative and researches online to find worksheets, videos, websites, and other materials. In my experience, these usually don't really fit my learners, but nevertheless, they always provide inspiration when I set out to make my own materials. To me, this is a joyful task, as I love to see how I can apply the SDGs and where I can intertwine them with other subjects. This makes me interact with other colleagues and discuss these topics together, which further drives my personal and professional development.

Staff-led SDG workshop materials (Forum Umweltbildung)

However, what I value most about the SDGs is the Pandora's box, which is opening up little by little, day by day. One of the ideas that I was able to implement was a staff-led workshop, “Making the SDGs more visible in your classroom,” which I held together with Marti Hendrichs, a former Global Schools Advocate and Mentor. During this session, we provided access to an SDGs Google classroom with general information, such as guides, lesson plans, materials, free PD courses, data, and research websites, as well as videos and podcasts. Additionally, we took the time to find specific department and subject materials, websites, and resources. However, the kind of support that my colleagues truly wished for was collaboration within the departments, something that resonated with my personal thoughts as well. It is clear that the work of a coordinator cannot be enough in order to truly make SDGs and sustainability itself more visible, as it involves embedding them in the curriculum and interconnected with the experts in their field.

It was during this time that I completed the advocacy program at the Global Schools Program (GSP), which I’m so grateful for. It made me happy to have contact with like-minded teachers and to hear about their projects, ideas, and challenges. Especially the last one weighed on me when I felt like I hadn't done enough. Working with the SDGs is like ebb and flow. At times when the school year was picking up speed, I was forced to step back, and they were "just" a poster on my teacher's desk that I looked at every day. At times when I could muster the necessary resources, I helped with projects such as a Green STEM Escape Room for middle and high school students or a display for an Equality Week that focused on energy, education, social justice, food, and natural resources.

It seems to me that it’s challenging to find tools that work for each's context, but, after my experience, I would encourage especially new teachers to take the time and see if the SDGs can support them, even if they are not always the guiding compass, the rubber ring on choppy sea or an unequivocal answer to a complicated question.

The beautiful thing is that the SDGs can not only guide the start of a career, but above all, they become a constant companion and will continue to support me professionally and personally in my future, wherever life takes me. Now I am aware that the answers to the questions "How do I do this?", "Where do I start?" and "What is really important?" will change, just as I and the world around me evolve as well. But one thing is clear: Sustainability, the Global Schools Program, and the SDGs will accompany me on this journey.

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