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  • Nina Stevenson

It is time to reflect on our role as educators

Education is the leverage point for change in societies, cultures, and economies, and in a time of climate emergency, individual and systemic change in fashion is needed now more than ever. As fashion educators we have the opportunity and responsibility to be changemakers; to teach fashion students the knowledge, skills and competencies that both challenge the damaging practices of the existing fashion system and design new systems that restore and regenerate nature and equality.

At CSF, we commit to facilitating environments for critical, supportive questioning and experimentation and nurturing capabilities of future changemakers through education. The way in which we teach and learn fashion has this year experienced extreme disruption and realignment. We have redesigned our teaching to respond to the primary and urgent need to protect ourselves and each other through the creation of safe spaces online and offline. In doing that, students and tutors have engaged in practices of resourcefulness and ingenuity – finding ways around problems that were unimaginable this time last year. We’ve seen pattern cutting on the kitchen table, infinite re-use of precious materials, homemade films detailing technical processes, and kitchens turned into dye labs. BA and MA courses across design, media and business shifted teaching and learning online seemingly overnight, whilst juggling caring responsibilities, isolation and uncertainty.

As plans were cancelled, and jobs were paused or lost, CSF saw huge uptake in our online course, with record numbers enrolling during Spring 2020, and now have a global network of more than 70,000 online learners. Located in London, we once had everything we needed to teach and learn fashion in easy reach, and we once talked about these behaviours and practices of resilience and resourcefulness as hypothetical and for the future - now they are our everyday reality.

Through our work in Education for Sustainability Transformation at LCF, and through networks such as FashionSEEDS, we recognise that fashion tutors and students do not sit in silos but that they operate and interact as part of a system. The purpose of education is to cultivate a sustainability worldview, a holistic phenomenon that involves a combination of values, knowledge, dispositions and agency so that learners see and interact with the world through the lens of sustainability (Nolet 2016). An increasingly complex world demands these competencies in its citizens, it is therefore our responsibility as a university is to ensure that the needs of our tutors are considered as of equal importance to those of our students.

As we draw a close to this remarkable year, it is time to reflect on our role as educators - what do we need, and what have we learned? How can we ensure that we are not layering on ever-increasing demands for adaptation to our education system, but that we are creating one that has the space and the opportunity to flex and shift as the world around us does so at an unnerving rate? How can we ensure that the teaching and learning of fashion places regenerative practices as its core pedagogic framework?

We propose that the fashion education system needs to value and invest in its tutors in order to ensure a resilient and thriving experience for students and all citizens that participate in its activities. In a recent survey undertaken by CSF, 87% of fashion tutors across four universities in Europe stated that ‘lack of time’ was the biggest barrier to learning about their own teaching practice in sustainability. However, 98% of these tutors were interested in testing new pedagogies or teaching methods to foster sustainable approaches and practices of students.

So, in a time when our ability to flex and adapt is one of our most highly prized skills, and the world we have created is continuously throwing us new and complex challenges, how can we ensure tutors feel invested in, and have the time and space to develop their own pedagogic practice and sustainability worldviews? What do tutors need now more than ever?

Through personal reflection and discussion with colleagues, we propose the following:

Time to rest, reflect, and renew. The opportunity to connect with students and co-workers in the real world. Safe and secure work. To move our bodies and minds away from the digital environments we find ourselves living through. To learn from others. To be able to access new knowledge and practice in a supported way.

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