What is the Sustainable Squiggle? The Sustainable Squiggle is a way to capture and describe the twists, turns, roadblocks, attempts, failures, speed bumps, and myriad of associated emotions inevitable when travelling the path of implementing a new sustainable initiative. I believe that it is important for everyone, particularly students, to know about and be prepared for the squiggle. The erratic path that is the squiggle hides enormous and rich learning opportunities. To ‘find’ these learning opportunities our students benefit from being front-loaded with a description of the squiggle. This provides them a toolbox as full as possible to solve their chosen tame problem. A student who can articulate and describe what they are encountering is well on their way to knowing when and how to pivot towards a new direction or push through the challenge and move closer to their goals. Another key in supporting students in the squiggle journey is for us as teachers to let them have failures. So often we want to save our students yet failures are a key part of the squiggle and everyone needs to learn to keep going, not to give up and quit when it gets tough, or uncomfortable.
I had been trying to articulate this thinking in my own classroom for some time, yet I had only been doing it from a theoretical point of view. Trying to get students to plan for and think of all the roadblocks they could predict was a counterproductive exercise on a number of fronts. A good example of why my thinking was flawed is best captured in a question – When was the last time you yourself accurately predicted life’s unknown challenges and roadblocks? If we cannot do it as adults how can I expect my students to do this in a way that will be productive? Also, I noticed in my students it created this sense of ‘assessment failure’ (a.k.a. worrying about the grade) if they didn’t produce an accurate list of unknown challenges they may encounter. Which is completely counterproductive to the type of learning we need to tackle the Super Wicked Problem. I want my students to have the grit and confidence to overcome the unknowns of life, and you probably do too!
Hopefully, once you have navigated the tame problem you and your students chose to tackle, the Sustainable Squiggle becomes a record, a reference point of what you all overcame in order to solve your part of the Sustainability Puzzle. And reminds you, as you bask in the glory, that it wasn’t all smooth sailing. On the other hand, if you and/or your students don’t achieve what you first set out to accomplish everyone is now better experienced and more prepared which will lead to successes down the road. And next time the twists, turns, and roadblocks seem that much smoother.