Founder, Renewable English
Harry Waters, teacher and founder of Renewable English, speaks with Rebecca Durose-Croft about giving teachers the tools to raise climate change awareness and how to bring the climate change discussion into the classroom.
Hi, and welcome to Westchester Words , UK and International. I'm Rebecca Durose-Croft ,
Managing Director for Education at Westchester Education Services. Today I'm
talking with Harry Waters, teacher, content creator and founder of Renewable English, a
free online resource that gives educators the tools to raise climate change awareness.
Harry, it's great to have you here today. Thank you for joining me.
Oh, it's a pleasure to be here. Thanks for having me.
You're very welcome. Let me start with a congratulations, as you've recently won an
award at the Eltons. Can you tell me a bit more about that?
Well, thank you very much. I have indeed. A project I worked on, we were nominated
and finalists in the l earner resource category, uh, and we received the j udge's c
ommendation for e
nvironmental sustainability and climate action, which is a bit of a
mouthful. U m, but we were absolutely delighted with that because it is of course, you
know, in the field in which well, I'm dedicated.
Well, congratulations aga
in, it's a huge achievement. It would be really great to start
today's conversation with a little bit about your background and how, and probably more
importantly, why you created Renewable English.
Well, I'll , I'll do the nutshell vers
ion, otherwise we'll be here all day long. Okay. <laugh>
. Um, so I've been in teaching for about 15 years. I've, I've been involved in the
environment in, in activism since as long as I can remember, to be honest. So the Twain
met basically when I started
teaching. And it wasn't really until about 2016 I realized the
full potential that, that, you know, teaching could have on environmental studies on the
planet and such when I , I worked to a private school where we got all of the fifth grade
to work toget
her to, to write some letters to try and improve the, the sustainability of the
school. And , and I saw that that kind of collective action was really working. So from
there, I, I just worked harder to, to develop Renewable English, to hopefully get it out
as many people as possible and share that message with as many teachers and
students across the world.
Wonderful. So would you say that's what motivates you then, looking at how education
impacts the planet and empowering tho
se students to understand that?
Exactly that, exactly that. It's, it's so good when, when you , you see that kind of light
bulb moment in students, you know? Mm . And they, they go out there and they start
doing things for themselves and
you know, it, it takes on a life of its own. And all you
have to do is, you know, be that spark in somebody and then they can go on and, you
know, create the fire. I guess if I'm using Spark as an analogy, I guess we should talk
about a fire there.
< laugh>. No, that's wonderful. A nd I think it's so needed now as well, isn't i t?
I've been having a good look on your website and the type of resources that you offer.
am I right in thinking that Renewable English goes beyond the learner and is also
about educating the educators through your training?
Exactly that. It , it started out as a, as a way of helping teachers, you know, just provide
them with materials so they could go into their classes. Cause when I spoke to a
lot of teachers, the , the issues they had were, they didn't have enough time and they
didn't have enough know
how. So the idea at first was just to create the materials and
here are videos on there as well. So teachers literally just had to sit back and press
play. Um, and all the materials were there for them. Uh , but yeah, then I thought, you
know what, this isn't really enough to, to spread out like that. You know, we nee
d to be,
as teachers, we need to be amplifiers of knowledge and, and to help other teachers. Uh
, you know, I've created a training course and, and I work with, with various publishers
to try and help spread that, that knowledge as far as possible.
Wonderful. And you mentioned then about your , um, materials online. Can you just give
more , a bit more information about those and what types of materials they are?
At the moment there are two series on there. Uh ,
the first series was, was really kind of
the, it was the start of everything. Obviously it's the first series <laugh> , um, but one of
the main drivers behind Renewable English was that, you know, we've got all these
course books out there with hundreds an
d hundreds of different topics, but at the end of
the day, they're really focused around sort of 10 or 15 general topics that we churn out
year after year after year with this grammar based syllabus and the same vocabulary
about food , sport, the home, all
of these different things. And there's absolutely no
mention whatsoever of the climate or of the climate crisis or, or of anything. Mm
<affirmative> . So the idea of the first series is to take those main 12 themes and, and
focus in on them and how
we can look at the climate crisis through those different
topics. So there are the, there are 12 main lessons. There's also a bonus lesson all
about bees. Um, cuz I've got a friend who who works with bees and, and who doesn't
love bees <laugh>. Um , uh, so
they're all available. They're all, you can watch the
videos and, and within the videos there are, there are interviews with experts in each
area and , uh, some youth activists as well. And, oh , sorry, changemakers as , as we
should call them. Yes. Uh ,
there's also a whole bunch of tips in there that , um, come
from one of my favorite young changemakers who, who happens to be my daughter
who brings out her top tips, <laugh> and yeah. Some unfun facts and yeah, just some
general materials on how we can fo
cus those lessons. So, you know, at the end of each
unit there's usually a , like a culture section where we'd look at how Halloween is in
Ireland or something like that. Mm
hmm. <affirmative>, it's like that, but it's with the
climate focused on, on fashi
on or beauty or something like that. Right. And the second
series is all about the sustainable development goals, which I see as an incredible tool
for education. They're a wonderful way to help our students, you know, raise their
awareness about a lot, lo
t of different social justice issues, perhaps, you know, as, as
sustainable development goals. They're not po possibly being achieved as well as they
could be, but as a tool for education, they're brilliant. So if you are thinking of adding
those to your c
lasses, then feel free to head on over and just pull out the free materials.
Great stuff. And you talk then about an ELT focus, which is obviously where your area
of expertise lies. Do you think there's a place for , um, for this
type of format across all
of the subjects or some of the subjects?
Absolutely. I mean, it, it really should be a cross
curricular topic if it isn't a topic in itself.
hmm. <affirmative>, which I know that with some , um, some publish
moving out towards, you know, sustainability projects where they, you know, they bring
all areas of STEAM into it, you know, so that there's all sorts of different topics coming
into one. So yes, if we don't have that, which in a lot of cases w
e don't, then it really
should be cross
curricular. You know, you can get history involved in mm
<affirmative> the climate crisis without any problems whatsoever. You know, you can
look at the big incidents that happened throughout history, we can lo
ok at how people
dealt with life before technological advances, you know, and how we can go back to
those certain ways. We can look at geography, we can look at, you know, how different
indigenous peoples across the world deal with farming, deal with fishi
ng, and uh , and ,
and take all of this into account when we're looking at sustainability. And it really should
curricular and , and it should be from primary through to secondary. So with,
with the materials I create, they tend to be for mm
<affirmative> , ELT secondary.
But I know that a lot of the schools that use them as well are, are in the UK and they're
primary schools. Right . Okay . So they can, you know, adapt them to their materials
completely agree. I think there is a place for this completely cross curricular and
you, you could see it working as well, couldn't you, like you say, you know, look at
geography, look at history, look at those, those subjects that absolutely leap out as,
ones which would be, would be fantastic to weave this into.
I mean, even maths, to be honest, because there's so many numbers involved in when
you talk about Of course, yeah . Facts and the climate crisis and, and you know, there
so many projects that you can do on , uh, audits and tracking your plastic uses or
tra tracking your energy usage. You can write, you can draw graphs, you can do all the
Yeah. And that point about facts is an interes
ting one cuz I know when you and I last
spoke, we talked a lot about news literacy , um, and how we can ensure today's
learners not only have the , an awareness of climate change, but they also have that
ability to be able to question sources of informatio
n and the messages that they're
reading. Do you think Renewable English plays a part in ensuring that our learners are
I hope so. There are certainly areas of it that are , uh, they do focus on, you know, the
source of whe
re the materials have come from mm
hmm . <affirmative> , um, and in
the, the following series in the one coming up , uh, in February, which starts in
February, which is all about cultivating change makers , there is a look at, you know,
eco anxiety and, an
d ways to avoid that. And then of course greenwashing as well,
which, which is something that's, it's, it's really tricky to, to kind of unsee once you've
seen it. Um, and suddenly you're walking down the street and almost everything seems
Can you explain that term greenwashing just to the listeners in case they've not heard of
Oh, absolutely. It's when a company, for example, puts out an idea that they're doing
something that is
particularly sustainable , uh, to basically hide from all the, the bad
things that they are actually doing towards the planet. So for a lot of fashion companies
do this with, you know, their , their recycled fabrics while they're at the mean , in the
ime churning out tons and tons and tons of, of new fabrics and, and polluting
water everywhere. But, you know, they are recycling three different things. So, you
know, that idea that they are being sustainable and they're helping the planet while it , at
the same time they're , they're polluting it. I think my favorite one though has to be , um,
whenever you , I I still have a petrol car. I , I can't afford any other kind of car. So when I
do, you know, drive places, I , I have to put petrol in the car mm
hmm . <affirmative>
and at the petrol station , um, when I , I'm printing my receipt, they say, do you want to
print your receipt or do you want to help the planet? And you're just standing there at a
petrol station thinking, me printing this receipt is mak
ing such a small or , or not printing
it is making such a small impact in comparison to, to what fossil fuels do to the planet.
So I hope that's a good enough explanation.
No, absolutely no, it is. It is. It really is. There's
so many phrases and, and terminology
now being banded around to make sure everyone understands it is important, I think.
The next question might be quite a difficult one, and I hope it doesn't throw you too
much, but we work with a really varied mix of publishers and ed tech companies across,
across the globe , uh, producing print and digital materials largely for kind of primary up
through secondary into , um, kind of the academic journal publishing as well. If you
could give this varied mix of companies
one same message about creating content
that's not only sustainable but also fits in with the ideals of Renewable English, what do
you think that message would be?
I think the ,
the most important message for these publishers and so on and so forth, is
to walk the talk, as it were mm
hmm . <affirmative>. Don't just go out there making
materials saying that, you know, you need to turn off the tap while you're brushing your
which of course you do. Um, and that is a , a great starting point for a four year
old , but walk the talk. So go out there and, and be open about who you're banking with
, um, and make sure you show people you're not banking with people who are investing
in fossil fuels. Mm-
hmm . <affirmative> , do your best to recycle any materials that you
haven't finished, you know, re repurpose your books and and, and print them again. And
if you're doing that, then by all means shout about it. It, but, but don't only
certain materials that, you know, I've, I've worked on a project recently, which , um, it
was, it was a great project to work on. I I really enjoyed it, but it was that kind of, you
know, scratching the surface thing, you know , it was that in
terms of deforestation, it
talked about using less paper rather than, you know, get into the important side of
things and looking at mining and looking at agriculture and these other things that, that
really do cause a huge amount of damage to rainforests.
And rather than just saying,
you know, use both sides of your piece of paper, you know, it's , yes. Again, that is a
great way to, to change that, that mindset in students, you know, if you've got 5, 6, 7
year olds in your classroom, you can't, you know,
be going out there and saying, well,
did you know that the agricultural industry destroys a huge amount of , uh, rainforests
and what you need to do is, is stop eating meat. It , it doesn't work the same way with a
, with very young learners. No, you do ne
ed to have those very simple things they can
do at home, but I think there's far too much focus on the individual still in materials and
so on. So taking it to a larger scale would be really important is the long answer.
? No, it's great. And I'm , and it made me think when you just said then, cause I
was thinking about my next question, I was thinking, you know, what if I , if we had to
ask that same question to our learners, so maybe thinking about more of the secondary,
the secondary age group, what, what could they do? But you made a point then that it's
not about the individual, it's more about the group. So is there anything as individuals
you think we can be doing or our students can be doing to feel empowered to at
even have these conversations around climate change?
Oh , absolutely. And, and the thing is, it has to start with the individual. You know, you
can't suddenly go out there and , and become, you know, Greta 2.0 and, you know,
change the world and, and collect hundreds of scientists essays and publish them as a
book. Like it has to start with yourself. So it has to be those small individual actions at
first. And even if it is going out on a litter pick , which, you know, it can start
but then it can spread out. It can move on. Yes . And it , it can, it can then become a
community-wide thing. And my advice would be start with those small things. So let's,
let's talk about schools for example. Start with one thing, like, okay,
we want our school
to be plastic free , you know, single use plastic free mm
hmm. <affirmative>. And that
can start with an individual, but it can spread to the whole school. They can connect
with schools across the globe, like connecting with people like
kids against plastic. Um,
they can see the actions that other people do and, and from there it can build and you
know , they can write letters to decision makers and, and it starts with a small individual
action, but it becomes group action and then it be
comes community wide action. Mm
hmm. <affirmative>. So that would be my, my main piece of device . It is start small, but,
but you know, be persistent.
Yeah. You have to start somewhere and you have to be realistic, don't you as
Exactly. Okay. My last question then is a big one, <laugh>. Um , you and I have spoken
separately. We've both got daughters at diff different ages and actually learning , um, in
different countries as well being schooled in different countries. But
in an ideal world in
general, what would education look like to you? Ooh ,
<laugh> , um,
You can take a breath and have a.
Yeah, so looking at a broader sense rather than just the, you know, the sustainability
side of things. I , I do think that it should be integrated as its own subject in, in classes,
of course. Um, but I think we need to step away from the, the very traditional, you know,
exam, exam-based classes. I know here in Spain it's so focused, a child's ability is so
focused around the score they can get in an exam. And, and we know for a fact that
that's not how somebody is intelligent. You know, that yes , people are intelligent in so
many different ways. And so there needs to b
e far more project
based learning and
based learning in our classes. And that leads on perfectly to the environment
and sustainability and, you know, cross
curricular studies. If, if you have a project about,
let's say, going plastic free in your s
chool, that can go across all your different subjects ,
um, and your students can learn, it can integrate learning in all these different classes.
Teachers will work better together as well. And it won't be as stunted as it is now. I
mean, at the moment st
udents go to maths class, they sit there for an hour, they're
hammered with sums, and then they go to language class where they're hit there and
they're hammered for an hour with something different. Which, you know, I don't know
because I'm not a language
teacher , uh, of, of the Spanish language that is. But yeah,
so I think integrating as many classes together as possible, more project based learning
would be, would be fantastic. And, and far fewer exams because it's just something so
wrong about seeing
exam stress in a seven year old that.
Yeah. It's just not really okay. And yet it reminds me of a few years ago when my
daughter was really nervous about going to school because she had an English exam.
Um, now my daughter's bilingual, so <laugh> , there shouldn't have been the nerves
there, but, but they were so, you know, fewer exams, more projects, more fun, more
Oh, I couldn't agree more, Harry.
I couldn't agree more. Thank you so much for joining
us. That was such an interesting discussion. Should we end by you? Could you let the
listeners know where to go to, to get those fantastic resources from Renewable
Oh, of course. They can come to www.renewableenglish.com. Um, or they can, they
can find Renewable English on almost every social media <laugh>. Um , we we're on
LinkedIn, Facebook and Instagram. Um, we've tried TikTok, but , um, <laugh> , other
than the fact it takes up a lot of memory on our phones, it also takes an awful lot of
effort to, to try and be cool <laugh> . Um, we're not, we're not quite at that level yet. So
yeah, at Renewable English , um, across social media or Renewableenglish.com.
Wonderful. Thank you Harry.
Thank you so much for having me, Rebecca. It was an absolute pleasure and I hope to
speak to you again very soon.
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