“I want kids to be thinkers, to consider their actions, and to live consciously. I want them to understand that what they do every day has impacts on people around the world. I use the environment to do this because it’s a really cool way to get kids excited. It is a good environment to think critically about just about anything.” ~Victoria Rydberg
Victoria Rydberg is the state environmental education consultant at the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) serving all 424 school districts in Wisconsin. Before taking on this position, Victoria was the founding teacher of River Crossing Environmental Charter School in Portage where she taught seventh and eighth grade in a one-room school for eight years. Working with community partners, Victoria developed an environmental project-based curriculum with a focus on hands-on restoration projects. Previously, Victoria taught English in West Salem, reading in Madison, environmental education at a camp in Russia, and graphic design at Western Technical College in La Crosse. She serves on the board of the Wisconsin Charter Schools Association, the Wisconsin Environmental Education Board, and is a founding member of the Wisconsin Green Schools Network. Victoria is author of Hands On, Feet Wet: The Story of River Crossing Environmental Charter School and Hands On, Earth Math.
Q: Do you consider yourself a leader?
Not really. I am just a person who does things. There are jobs that need to be done and I do them.
Q: Why do you think others consider you a leader?
Because I am really good at over-committing myself (laughs). No, more seriously, I think it is because I have gotten results. As a classroom teacher, I was able to prove that we can have excellence in education while developing environmental literacy. There aren’t a lot of people that have collected that kind of data. Also, my position throws me into a leadership role. I am like a pivot point or a conductor in an orchestra; it is my job to get us all playing on the same key to maximize effectiveness.
Q: What is the change or difference you are working towards? What is your ultimate goal?
I want kids to be thinkers, to consider their actions, and to live consciously. I want them to understand that what they do every day has impacts on people around the world. I use the environment to do this because it’s a really cool way to get kids excited. It is a good environment to think critically about just about anything. For example, you can explore as a class how video games connect to the environment in terms of raw materials for production, energy use, and eventual disposal. Ultimately, I am working towards a saner world, a sustainable planet and better community. What it’s about for me is kids having good lives and good futures for themselves because they are thinking, considering their actions, and living consciously.
Q: What are the greatest challenges you see in getting to that goal?
Everything seems to work against it. Marketers don’t want kids to think, they want them to be thrown. It is important to help kids understand the ‘why’ rather than just telling kids to do things because ‘I said so’. Authority figures can be threatened when kids think consciously and inevitably ask tough questions of them.
Q: How do other people help? Or, how do you wish other people would help?
People help by being models, by challenging kids to think about the ‘why’, and to think for themselves. They can also help by treating young people like fellow humans and a valuable part of society, rather than just ‘kids’. I wish more people would become models; consciously thinking, including kids, and explaining why they are doing and thinking as they are.
Q: Do you have any advice for how others could be better leaders or ‘followers’?
To be a better leader, listen to people. Decide what needs to be done and do it. It’s also important to know that being a follower is okay as long as you’re not passive.
Recognizing the critical role of leaders in advancing education for environmental literacy and sustainability, The Wisconsin Environmental Education Foundation
(WEEF) has been working to highlight individuals that are leading the
way in Wisconsin. Victoria Rydberg agreed to speak with WEEF
Program Director, Jesse Haney, about her role as an environmental
education leader in Wisconsin.
For more Lessons in Leadership from Wisconsin environmental educators, visit the Wisconsin Association for Environmental Education blog at http://WisconsinAssociationforEnvironmentalEducation.wordpress.com for WEEF’s guest blogger entries! Do you know a leader in Wisconsin EE we should talk to? Contact Jesse Haney at firstname.lastname@example.org with your ideas.