Promoting global citizenship: a connective practice case study


Martin Haigh


Encouraging learners to take a personal responsibility for the state of the world of the future is a key challenge of education for global citizenship. This article explores how a tree planting exercise undertaken as a basis for ethical reflection in “The Ethical Geographer” module functions as a connective practice.  The act of tree planting is connective because it can attach a learner to the welfare of another living organism. Exploring the wider significance of a communal tree planting event through subsequent classroom exercises can encourage productive affective reflection upon the meaning of such acts for the participant, for their peers, and for the world at large.


Global Citizenship means: learning to live together (embracing plurality and cross-cultural awareness); learning to live in harmony with our habitat: (ecoliteracy embracing sustainability and environmental conservation); and learning to live ethically (embracing social justice and equity). Hence, Education for Global Citizenship is a process that fosters three key attitudes in learners. First is self-identification with the whole of humanity rather than merely some tribal or family group, which implies developing the understanding and emotional intelligence needed to interact constructively across cultural boundaries.  Second is recognition that humans need to learn, not simply to live together as a species, but also live sustainably with the whole of their environment, while the third involves ethics, because embedded are the notions of fairness, equity and social justice. At Oxford Brookes University, Global Citizenship is one of five graduate attributes that the institution expects to develop in all of its graduates (OCSLD, 2011: Sharpe, 2012).

This paper explores a hands-on teaching exercise that aims to foster an ethic of personal responsibility in learners, which includes greater sustainability awareness and greater appreciation for the lives of other living organisms. Its theoretical roots are in Gandhian educational theory, which emphasises learning by doing, using your hands productively (swadeshi), accepting personal responsibility and self-control (swaraj), as well as of course, adopting a way of life that does not harm others (ahimsa) (Doctor, 1967; Sharma, 2002).  The exercise also evolves from some of the Planetary Citizenship ideas of Rabindranath Tagore. Tagore’s vision assigns learners new responsibilities where each is cast as a world-worker / world-maker, a “visvakarma” (Tagore (1930, p 42), who accepts responsibility to act for the welfare of all, who demonstrates the “union of education and life” (Tagore, 1961, p 43) and who seeks a future sustainable in environmental, social and ethical terms (Haigh, 2008).

Connective practices?

Connecting learners with the world and its future is the major challenge for Global Citizenship Education.  As decades of environmental research have demonstrated, abstract understanding is not enough to invite personal engagement, something deeper, something that affects and motivates is needed (Palmer and Finlay, 2003; Chauhan et al., 2012). It is hard to construct an affective connection between personal behaviour and a future world that seems vast, beyond control and distant.  However, the future is being created by the billions of small decisions made every day by individuals.  The parallel is in the argument for democracy, one vote may not make much individual difference and for this reason many do not vote. However, votes collective, can change the way a place is governed and affect both society and its habitat.  Connective practices are affective education strategies that invite learners to connect their individual selves to some greater wholeness within which they are a small contributing part.

Tree planting as a connective practice

Tree planting is a time-honoured way of achieving this connection.  People who plant trees often develop an interest in the welfare of the trees that they have planted.  They may reflect on the fact that ‘their tree’ could be alive long after they have gone and they may wonder about its impact in the world.  Haigh observes that some of the volunteers on the ‘Cradle for Nature’ tree planting project in Wales have returned, annually, for more than 20 years (Haigh, 1998). Previously, in Uttarakhand, he observed Gandhian Sevaks, encouraging primary school children to plant trees on degraded communal lands, confident that this process would engage each child’s family in a quasi-parental determination to help their child’s tree thrive.  The question was, could some of the affective power of tree planting be shaped into an exercise that helped Oxford Brookes undergraduates connect with their habitat, their world and their future?

An exercise was devised that involved Geography undergraduates planting trees, typically on campus, but for three years off-campus as part of Oxfordshire County Council’s Wychwood Project (Wychwood Project, 2012).  Altogether, more than 10,000 trees have been planted in the 10 years since the project was launched and the work has engaged more than 300 undergraduate learners.


Figure 1. Module U21181 Tree Planting: 28 February 2012. (Photo Frank Dumbleton)

Of course, planting trees could be no more than a healthy physical exercise (Figures 1-4).  To be effective as a learning invitation, the physical work has to be connected both to the learner’s academic studies and, through guided reflection, to their own psyche and way of life.  The model here is Sri Aurobindo’s system of Integral Education, which conceives education developing different personal  levels from the physical, through the ‘Vital’ level of the emotional being, through to higher levels of the intellect (Psychic), consciousness and super-consciousness  (Mohanty, 2007).

In this exercise, the learner is engaged first in the physical exercise of tree planting, then through answering a series of questions and exercises that attempt to focus and expand their vision first through reflection upon their individual concerns and then upon larger issues, both social and environmental.  The aim of this exercise also follows the prescriptions of Sri Aurobindo and Gandhi in that they begin close to the learner and then expand into wider concerns (Sharma, 2002).

Attaching hopes

The first supporting exercise for the tree planting is an overt attempt to link the learner, the future and the tree together.  Student volunteers (for they are offered alternative projects) are encouraged to compose and attach a message of 18 words containing their hopes for the future to the trees they planted themselves (Haigh, 2004).  The exercise is set up so that the message is spread across 3 trees in a way that it cannot be read by others – so this is a private message. Learners are also told that they need not attach their message and only to do so if they think it is worthwhile. Of course, the majority do. The models for this are, of course, Buddhist prayer flags, which are contain prayers and which are set out in the open until they are carried away by the wind. In popular culture, Yoko Ono’s 1996 interactive ‘Wish Tree’ invites visitors, more than 1 million thus far, to attach their personal wishes for peace and to a tree branch. Ono writes that as a child, she joined others to attach a wish to a tree in the temple courtyard and that these trees were always covered with wish knots (Imagine Peace Tower, 2010).  Learners are also invited to submit a version of their 18 words, not necessarily that which they attached to their planted tree, as part of a larger participation exercise (Table 1).  They are also made aware that this work is not simply for assessment and they are given the choice of leaving their work with the module leader at the close of the module, if they are comfortable with their anonymised comments being used in research papers as exemplified by Haigh (2004). The messages left for research use cover a range from the deeply personal to the global / universal. Hopes are typically materialistic, sometimes social, occasionally spiritual, and not uncommonly overt attempts to couple with the module and grading process.  Notably absent in the discourse is anything between the social levels of family and humanity – community and nationality are rarely mentioned.

Table 1. Attaching Hopes – Student Voices
“It is quite difficult to summarize ones hope for the future in just 18 words… but it makes the participant think about what is really important for them (S1_12).I felt an attachment to the trees we had planted, especially when fastening my hopes for the future’ (S2_12)

As for the process of connection, the most common question both during and after the exercise concerns what will happen to the trees they plant and what happened to the trees planted by others earlier.  In 2012, when the exercise involved replanting a not-very-successful planting of 3 years earlier on Harcourt Hill campus, there was palpable disappointment at the poor performance of the trees planted in 2009. In fact, the casualty rate of tree planted on campus is very high but not due to poor growth, the majority have been destroyed by the University itself through campus development and policy shifts concerning where trees should be planted. The fate of trees planted in connection with the Oxfordshire County Council sponsored Wychwood Project, which is about enlisting volunteers for environmental reconstruction, has been better (Wychwood Project, 2012).


Figure 2.  Tree Planting at Harcourt Hill Campus: 28 February 2012, (Photo Frank Dumbleton) 

Reflection on meaning

In an attempt to further their understanding of the purpose of the exercise, learners are asked to reflect upon its significance for their teachers (who, according to the Participation Exercise (Table 2) introduction “went to all of the trouble of designing and setting up the exercise”).  The question asks the student to consider the character of the curriculum and reflect upon, not only the content of what they were being taught but also, the larger purpose.  This, of course, challenges the learners to move toward deeper comprehension and also to develop some metacognitive awareness of their own learning.  The task prompts some learners to read some of the papers on the pedagogy of the module that hosts this exercise, which is a level VI/ Honours/ third year undergraduate module called U21181: the Ethical Geographer (Boyd et al., 2010), especially Haigh (2004), and to use these in discussion of the exercise required for the reflective learning journal that forms the major part of the U21181 module’s assessment.  Several seemed surprised that any module or curriculum might

be trying to do more than simply communicate facts that should be learnt or skills that could be practiced, even if some accepted that the ability to reflect upon practice was a skill in itself.

Table 2. U21181 “Mirrors in the Trees” Participation Exercise (with design comments in italics)
1. My deepest hope for the future and the world in 18 words or less…   (the message I would post on the trees that I planted…).  Sri Aurobindo argues than an integral Education should work from the near to the far and nothing is nearer to the learner than their hopes and dreams – so this question comes first.
2. On reflection, in the context of this module – the Ethical Geographer, the purpose of this exercise is … (ca 50 words).  For most of the class, the main motivation for tackling this tree planting on this day is the fact that it is related to their coursework.  Many learners write their appreciation of being able to participate and ‘give back to Nature’. However, in the past, whenever participation has been wholly optional, the numbers of volunteers has dropped to just two or three. Clearly, the module is something uppermost in most participants’ minds so asking learner to place this exercise in context is also close to things that matter to them.
3. What (if any) significance, does this exercise hold for me, personally?  (e.g. – Its coursework worth 10%; makes a change from sitting in the classroom; ooh, it’s great to get all wet and muddy; frankly Scarlet, I don’t give a …)  Maybe 100 words…  Since, most participants actually have other things they would like to do, which may or may not include staying in a nice warm classroom, it is valid to ask them to reflect upon how they feel now that they are involved in participation. It is accepted that this question may foster reflection but not necessarily honesty in response. However, the act of creating a response suitable for an external assessor to read does begin to take the participant outside themselves.
4. On reflection, what (if any) significance might this exercise hold for your instructors, who designed this event? What is their real purpose? (e.g. – keep the blighters busy; save cash on gardeners; a jolly and invigorating day out in the fresh air – healthy minds in healthy bodies; heh, heh, right, let’s get their hands dirty; hey man, like wow, trees yeah, they are soo cool..). (Please do better; it’s your metacognition after all)? Maybe 50 words…  This question pushes the participant to move another step deeper into considering what this exercise is all about by trying to see the class through the mind of its creator – a novel experience for many it seems.
5. What do you understand by the term: “Global Citizenship” – what are its main components? (maybe 100 words) and, maybe, more in your Connections Learning Diary (on all of these) questions if you wish). ….  This last question would seem like a giant leap, were it not for the fact that Oxford Brookes University had recently adopted Global Citizenship as one of its five key graduate attributes and that the whole programme had begun to work on alerting learners to course content related to this attribute, most particularly, good traditional Geographical concerns such as climate change and sustainable development.  So few participants found this question especially challenging and most found ready answers without much effort.

In 2011, Oxford Brookes shifted its educational targets away from learning outcomes defined at course and programme level, to the inculcation of a set of five universal ‘Graduate Attributes’ that included both Global Citizenship and Personal Literacy / Critical Self-awareness (OCSLD, 2011).  In recognition, in 2012, learners were also asked to reflect upon the significance of their actions in terms of the ‘Graduate attribute’ of ‘Global Citizenship’.  In the current media climate and the context of a Geography programme, many decided that what they were doing concerned climate change and carbon sequestration, often repeating the litany that U21181 was Brookes only carbon negative module.  A few advanced beyond this to wonder, in the light of the growth rates and survival of the trees planted, about ‘green-washing’ and whether or not the claim was either valid or meaningful.  In its previous format, this exercise had been connected to another module “U21137; Gaia: Earth System Science” and, in this context, learners commonly linked this exercise to planetary environmental stewardship and to the web-of –life more generally. However, within the context of the more anthropocentric concerns of U21181, as well as the continuing retreat of Oxford Brookes University from environmental subjects in general, these issues surface much less frequently.

Another question asked about what, if anything, the exercise meant to each participant personally (Table 3). The majority agreed that it made a nice change to be in the open air rather than a classroom and many said that they enjoyed the experience. Many also commented that they appreciated the opportunity to ‘give something back’ to the natural world and the exercise, clearly, sparked thinking about how they might apply themselves, elsewhere, as volunteers for good causes. These comments indicate that the exercise was appreciated for its novelty but also that it may have had some affective impact.

Table 3. Reflecting upon Meaning – Student Voices
“I was aware of the importance of the task not just for the selfish purpose of my course and gaining marks but the to the global community, although this seems a little extreme, the task was doing good in the world, therefore – we were all being global citizens” (S3_12).“We made the module carbon neutral… we were actually being ethical geographers” (S4_12).“Stimulated us by doing good for society and the environment by offsetting our carbon footprint” (S2-12).“Interesting but quite stressful… made me worry about the future … I am glad that it made me look at the bigger picture…we do not get a chance to reflect in ‘normal’ modules. Therefore, it is quite different.” (S5_12)

Embedding further reflection on the experience

Fieldwork, like all forms of experiential learning gains in significance the more it is subjected to reflection.  In practice, the value of such experiences is often reduced because the learning does not inform the later curriculum.  In this case, learners have to come to terms with the fact that what they were doing was a lot more than digging a hole and putting a tree in it – even if this was not appreciated at the time.  The balance of this paper illustrates how this was achieved in the particular context of U21181, the Ethical Geographer module. Of course, it uses techniques and theoretical models that are specific to this course.  However, in general practice, it matters less what methods are used than that something is done to keep the experiential learning in the mind of the learner and that it remains a subject for further and deeper reflection.




Figure 3. Tree Planting at Harcourt Hill Campus: 28 February 2012, (Photo Frank Dumbleton)

For example, among the objectives of U21181 is the development of team-working and leadership skills. The first question in class, after the exercise, asked learners to reflect and report upon their own and their colleagues’ participation in the event. Who worked hard, who free-loaded, who took the exercise seriously, who played about, who planted the trees properly and who did not. After the exercise was over, as always, staff involved spent an hour or more replanting trees that had not been planted properly and retrieving trees that had been hidden from view rather than planted.  An interesting practice in 2012 was simply to drop a tree sapling into a planting tube from the previous event. One of the privileges of being a participant – observer of the event was to be able to connect observed behaviour with some individual accounts.  Several reports claimed that the learners easily self-organised themselves into teams and carried out the work effectively, where, in fact, those involved actually side-lined themselves and played around. These reports matched nicely with some fairly terse comments from peers, about those who did not pull their weight, and from still others from those who, clearly, had spent more time worrying about the work and remained oblivious to what was happening around them (see: Haigh, 2013).

In U21181, this exercise fed into further work where learners are asked to reflect more deeply upon their own and their colleagues participation in this (among other) team-work exercises, most especially the core Geography research training and fieldwork module, U21126, of the previous year, where problems of team working remained an abiding concern.  Here, they were asked to analyse the behaviour patterns they had observed using AQ mapping.   AQ mapping is a “stand-alone method for defining a problem … independently powerful and useful as a means to explore and describe the human territory of experience” (Cook-Greutner, 2005, p. 1).  There is not sufficient space here to explain the AQ method or detail students’ interactions with the technique. However, these are explored at length in a methodological paper being published in mid- 2013 (Haigh, 2013)

In brief, the AQ mapping technique involves learners in considering four perspectives on a situation (Table 4). These are:  the personal interior  or pronoun ‘I’ perspective’– how it felt, the individual exterior or pronoun ’she/he/it’ perspective – how a person’s performance appeared to an outsider,  the collective interior or ‘ we’ perspective – what the activity meant in the subjective terms of the course, class group dynamics, and its classroom  ‘culture’,  and finally, the collective exterior ‘they’ perspective – what the collective activity would have signified to an objective outsider (Haigh, 2013).  The key to mapping across the four quadrants is to use the appropriate pronoun for each of the four descriptions of an event or situation: from the inside: I felt this; we thought that, from the outside: she did that; they did that (Table 4).

Table 4:  AQ Mapping: introducing the Four Quadrants (after Haigh, 2013; Wilber, 2005)
INDIVIDUAL Intentional, the Upper Left (UL) or “I think” quadrant: this contains the subjective thoughts, beliefs, feelings, emotions and values of the individual, which are manifested as intentionality and ambition. This is the subjective, inward view, of the self.   Behavioural the Upper right (UR) or “It, S/he does” quadrant: this is the Individual Exterior, the objective individual seen from the outside and in the Third person.   
SOCIAL Communal- Cultural, the Lower Right (LL) or “We” quadrant is the Social Interior, where the beliefs, values and culture of the collective, manifest as the intentions and expectations of the class or academy as a whole.   Systems, the Lower Left (LR) or “Many Its – They do” quadrant is the Social Exterior – the objective external structures and inter-objective systems of the collective.   

Table 5 displays the way this was interpreted in the reflective learning diaries produced by participants in the ‘Mirrors in the Trees’ tree planting exercise (see also Figure 4).  The table is abbreviated from Haigh (2013). It shows the participants reflecting upon their own experience and upon how it must have appeared, from the inside and from the outside, both from their personal perspective and from that of their team.  Of course, the capacity to access these four key perspectives is a useful life and employment skill, which the module feeds into a more formal training to help learners tackle the job interviews and assessment days that many will face upon graduation in their search for employment.

Table 5: Student AQ Mapping of a Fieldwork Exercise: Tree Planting (after Haigh, 2013)
INDIVIDUAL I became more self-conscious of my actions and their effects (S6_12). I gained a sense of achievement knowing I had done something for the environment (S7_12). I believed that I was doing the task efficiently … (S8_12). It meant a lot to me that I was outside giving something back to the environment (S9_12).   She worked with her team enthusiastically and engaged with her peers (S7_12). He focussed on the task more than the group he was part of… (S8_12). That individual was not interested and just stood around, too lazy to plant trees (S9_12). She stood and watched but later took a leadership role (S10_12) 
SOCIAL We believed that planting trees was a sign of being good citizens and it was a pleasure for us to do this (S9_12). We enjoyed the experience but did not much explore the meaning behind it (S8_12). We found this time-consuming and wondered if it is really worthwhile? (S11_12) We hoped that, in few years’ time, we will be able to revisit our trees and feel a sense of pride (S2_12)  They acted as a community working together to achieve great results (S2_12). They tackled the task well, assigned roles according to their different strengths, although the discussion side was neglected (S8_12). Why aren’t they working? (S13_12).  


Figure 4. Tree planting on Wheatley Campus: February 2003. (Photo M. Haigh)

AQ quadrants can also be imagined and explored as nested series representing different perspectival layers. Haigh (2013, Table 9) demonstrates how a different fieldwork experience may be analysed using AQ tables nested in three layers, which broadly correspond to body, mind and soul. However, the Integral Education of Sri Aurobindo addresses five levels (Ranande, 2006). First is the “Physical” body – the fresh air and exercise aspect of the tree planting.  Second is the “Vital” the self-disciplining aspects of the exercise involving behavioural control and co-operation.  The third addresses the “Psychic”, the mind, and works on building the ability to focus, observe and empathise, as in the participation questionnaire responses (Huppes, 2001). Higher levels aspire to unfold higher transpersonal visions of the union of the Self-within-all-things, as suggested by the Global Citizenship question, and to develop the deep inward intuition of Truth Consciousness, which is system’s the final level of enlightenment.  Figure 5 uses the Aurobindo Integral model to display the concept of the curriculum of this tree planting exercise and its context module as well as the way it seeks to work outwards from the learner’s inner being towards the wider goal of Global Citizenship.  However, in U21181, the class exercise advances into an exploration of the worldviews signified by different participants using a different model, namely the two tiers and many levels of Spiral Dynamics, which will be familiar to those in the Business School (Beck and Cowan, 1996, Wilber, 2006).


Figure 5. Conceptual map of the ‘Mirrors in the Trees’ and U21181 Curriculum


Sustainability is a core aspect of the attitude set required by a global citizen and it involves living ‘as if the future mattered’. As United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan pointed out, sustainability should be something that is made “a reality for all of the world’s people” through education (Annan, 2001).  The keyword is reality, which means that is must be taught in ways that are affective and perhaps as part of a larger transformational framework that helps learners prepare themselves for the world of the future. Education for global citizenship creates new challenges for the ways that education is designed and delivered. These include shifting educational priorities from content to practice and from specialist skilling to the creation of whole people, citizens, who are aware of their personal duties to their communities, their world, and the future of both.  Global Citizenship is about a change in the level of consciousness, something that must be cultivated carefully and pragmatically in ways that respect individual differences. This is a long term process.  However, small exercises, like this tree planting exercise, show how this may be undertaken.

Experience shows that tree planting is an effective way of linking learners to the welfare of another living organism and can be a useful vehicle for prompting deep thinking about the future and the world.  This case study shows how such an experience may also provide a useful avenue for fostering reflection on personal responsibilities and upon the value systems of others, which reflection may also lead to pro-community and pro-environmental conclusions.  Here, these reflections are built formally using the technique of AQ mapping.  However, the method is less important than the message – that such activities, which explore the same shared experience several times in different ways, add value to the experience.  In this case, the aim was to encourage learners to develop multiple and deeper perspectives by re-envisioning the same tree planting fieldwork experience in different ways. Here, the perspectives addressed include the interior-subjective and exterior-objective, the personal and collective, as well as reflection from the perspectives of sustainable development and citizenship responsibilities as well as team leadership. The ability to conceive a situation from multiple perspectives is, of course, a key Global Citizenship skill, while the ability to analyse a situation from different angles and different reflective depths is also key to developing deeper Critical Awareness and Personal literacy.


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Martin Haigh

Martin Haigh is Professor of Geography in the Department of Social Sciences at Oxford Brookes University, a founder member of Oxford Brookes University's Centre for Curriculum Internationalisation and a former editor of the Journal of Geography in Higher Education. He is a National Teaching Fellow and a Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy and in 2010 was awarded the Royal Geographical Society’s ‘Taylor and Francis Award for Excellence in Geography Teaching (Higher Education)’.  Martin’s research focuses on education for global citizenship and sustainable development in both education and community practice.

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