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Pedagogical Commitments for Climate Justice Education

Connected Science Learning September-October 2021 (Volume 3, Issue 5)

By Fikile Nxumalo and Pablo Montes

Pedagogical Commitments for Climate Justice Education

“All of the waters are connected. If we poison our sacred spring here, it poisons the river, which poisons the ocean, which poisons our relations across the sea. That is why we have to protect our sacred springs.” – Maria Rocha 

Effective climate change education connects the impacts of and solutions to climate change with the local contexts of students’ lives. In our work, we have learned from teaching practices designed to focus on local justice-oriented challenges that are facing the communities in which students live. Below, we discuss three interconnected guiding commitments we have found important in our work as educators and illustrate how they are enacted within a community-based summer encounter for Latinx and Indigenous youth led by Coahuiltecan elders in San Marcos, Texas. As you read about each commitment, we encourage you to pause and think about the questions we have posed.

Commitment 1: Anti-colonial Pedagogies

A commitment to anti-colonial pedagogies means that educators seek possibilities for curriculum and pedagogies that bring to the foreground Black and Indigenous land knowledges and climate justice concerns. This includes a commitment to unsettling pedagogical approaches that privilege Western science. In the San Marcos summer encounter, this has included learning from elders Dr. Mario Garza and Maria Rocha (Coahuiltecan; Miakan-Garza Band) who head the Indigenous Cultures Institute, which organizes the summer encounter. Through situated water stories, their teachings center the spirit of water—Yana Wana, which is one of the Coahuiltecan names for Central Texas waters. Alongside elders and educators, young people engage in multimodal learning with (rather than simply learning about) Yana Wana through visual arts, dance, and song as well as through a boat ride on ajehuac yana (Spring Lake), the site of the Coahuiltecan creation story. They also learn about the importance of water protection and land defense amidst threats to Central Texas aquifers posed by a planned gas pipeline. The opening photo shows youth who are offering a prayer to Yana Wana, an act that encourages them to build a relationship with the water that gives them life in the region.

Question for reflection: In your context, how can you engage community-based anti-colonial teaching that centers local Black and Indigenous land relations, knowledges, and climate justice issues?  

Commitment 2: Pedagogies of Radical Relationality

Attention to climate justice requires attention to human/more-than-human or nature/culture relations, rather than viewing climate justice only through a human-centric lens. In the context of the summer encounter, pedagogies of radical relationality are guided by xene yo hui, a Coahuiltecan description of intrinsic connectedness with and relatedness to the more-than-human as kin. Xene yo hui is enacted in multiple ways including the teaching of the Coahuiltecan creation story. Throughout the week, youth rehearse and then act out this creation story, which centers the relatedness of Coahuiltecan people with ajehuac yana, with the Earth, and with specific animal kin.

Question for reflection: In your teaching how do you encourage relationships between students and the more-than-human world, including in ecologically damaged places?

children perform creation story
Children perform the Coahuiltecan creation story, which honors ancestors and more-than-human relations.

Commitment 3: Pedagogies of Reciprocity

Pedagogies of reciprocity are inspired by what we see as an urgent need for teaching and learning that interrupts extractive relations with the more-than-human world and instead centers reciprocal relations of mutual responsibility to co-inhabited lands and waters. Put another way, we are interested in a multispecies conceptualization of climate justice that considers what kinds of reparative actions (at multiple scales) might be needed—where repair is not solely focused on human benefit. One example is the water ceremony that is led by elder Maria Rocha, before the beginning of the annual summer encounter. In this ceremony, youth and educators pray with the spirit waters of Yana Wana to guide them in the encounter, and also to make a pact as stewards who will protect and defend all lands and waters. This ceremony sets a powerful precedent: We are of service to that which gives us life.

Questions for reflection: What might pedagogies that center reciprocal rather than extractive relations look like in your context? What might it look like to enact environmentally conscious pedagogies that are grounded in reciprocity?  

Engaging With Justice-Oriented Pedagogical Commitments 

The examples we have illustrated here, like others within the Climate Action Childhood Network, are situated pedagogies—meaning they are responsive to a particular place and in relation to specific communities—and therefore are not offered as a model to be directly transferred to different contexts. However, as we have previously written (Nxumalo and Berg 2020), we see exciting potential for educators to inquire into what climate justice pedagogical commitments might look like, sound like, and feel like in their particular contexts.

Author Note

The sacred springs of central Texas, as taught by the Miakan-Garza Coahuiltecan Band of Texas, are tza wan pupako (Barton Springs in Austin), ajehuac yana (Spring Lake in San Marcos), saxōp wan pupako (Comal Springs in New Braunfels), and yana wana (the Blue Hole headwaters of the San Antonio River).

Fikile Nxumalo ( is an assistant professor at the University of Toronto. Pablo Montes is a doctoral candidate at The University of Texas at Austin.

citation: Nxumalo, F., and P. Montes. 2021. Pedagogical commitments for climate justice educationConnected Science Learning 3 (5).


Nxumalo, F., and L. Berg. 2020. Conversations on climate change pedagogies in a Central Texas kindergarten classroom. In Teaching climate change in the United States, eds. J.A. Henderson and A. Drewes, 44–57. Routledge.

Climate Action Childhood Network. Several collaborators’ blogs are available at this site:

Advocacy Crosscutting Concepts Curriculum Environmental Science Equity STEM Elementary Informal Education

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