Once upon a time, a collection of environmental groups in New Brunswick collaborated to form the Sustainability Education Alliance (SEA). Late in the afternoon on March 12, the Chief Medical Officer of Health advised postponing large meetings in the province. Luckily, earlier that same day, the SEA group held a successful conference, “Narrative Change: The Power of Storytelling” and all 38 participants got home safely. (Not) The End.
For many people, the phrase “Once upon a time …” indicates a story is coming and opens our minds in a special way. Scientists have found that people connect to stories differently than to other kinds of information. Telling a story about the environment can be more powerful and have more of an impact than presenting the information in a standard format. At the SEA Narrative Change conference, participants learned from each other, sharing different ways to tell their stories.
The conference explored ways that educators can use storytelling to communicate sciences, engage the community, and encourage sustainability. The goals included showcasing interesting examples of environmental storytelling in New Brunswick and providing participants with methods, skills, and approaches to include storytelling in their teaching, art, or communications for all ages, from outdoor classrooms and Indigenous language games to visual art and orchestral nature-based learning.
The many groups participating that day included the Aster Group, the Conservation Council of New Brunswick, the RAVEN project at the University of New Brunswick, the Université de Moncton, the Cross-Cultural Youth Project, Brilliant Labs, the Sustainable Energy Group, Three Nations Education Group, and others.
Among the presenters, Sam Arnold from the Sustainable Energy Group Carleton County introduced his orchestral composition, the Wolastoq Fantasia, which has been performed three times in the province. An outdoor session, Storytelling on Showshoes, took advantage of the conference location, the new Hanwell Place building near Fredericton on the edge of a nature park. Gail Francis of Three Nations Education Group Inc. read her brand-new publication, Moonbeam, to the group.
Annika Chaisson from the New Brunswick Environmental Network presented “Drawing Concepts: The Art and Science Behind Doodling” and with the help of participants developed a graphic summary of the conference during the day. Hara Saadia from the Université de Moncton presented vignettes and visual representations showing how art deepens connection to environmental issues. A team of three PhD candidates from UNB – Adrian Downey, Alicia Noreiga, and Courtney Pyrke co-imagined speculative curricular futures for healthy and equitable education, and Casey Burkholder presented on Cellphilms and their power for teaching, learning, and social change.
The Sustainability Education Alliance connects organizations, agencies and individuals throughout New Brunswick “who want to work together in moving towards a culture of sustainability education.” SEA organizes conferences annually or bi-annually to bring groups together to share innovative ideas.
Tzomi Burkhart is the coordinator of the Sustainability Education Alliance, at the New Brunswick Environmental Network. Susan O’Donnell is the lead researcher on the RAVEN project.