Achieving Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) in Early Childhood Education Through Critical Reflection in Transformative Learning

Living reference work entry


The central role of education in creating a more sustainable future has been already recognized by educators and policy-makers alike. This chapter argues that this can only be truly achieved through the efforts of teachers in implementing an “education of a different kind,” a general educational shift that seeks to encompass a converging transformation of the priorities and mindsets of education professionals. In this regard, the professional preparation of teachers, as the leading actors in shaping children’s learning processes, and their continuous professional development are vital considerations for Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) to be successfully achieved. Linking transformative learning and ESD has emerged as a distinct and useful pedagogy because they both support the process of critically examining habits of mind, then revising these habits and acting upon the revised point of view. This study aims to describe and evaluate the potential of transformative learning in innovating mainstream education toward sustainability by focusing on the role of critical reflection in a capacity building research project realized in Turkey. The data was gathered from 24 early childhood educators using a mixed-method research design involving learning diaries, a learning activities survey, and follow-up interviews. This chapter identified content, context, and application method of the in-service training as factors that have contributed to the reflective practices of the participants. In addition, presenting the implications regarding the individual differences in how learners engage in critical reflection practices, this research offers a framework for a content- and process-based approach derived from Mezirow’s conception of critical reflection.


Transformative learning Education for sustainable development Early childhood education Critical reflection In-service teacher training 


  1. Ärlemalm-Hagsér, E., & Sandberg, A. (2011). Sustainable development in early childhood education: In-service students’ comprehension of the concept. Environmental Education Research, 17(2), 187–200.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Balsiger, J., Förster, R., Mader, C., Nagel, U., Sironi, H., Wilhelm, S., & Zimmermann, A. B. (2017). Transformative learning and education for sustainable development. GAIA: Ecological Perspectives for Science and Society, 26(4), 357–359.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Barlas, C. (2001). Learning-within-relationship as context and process in adult education. In Forty-second annual adult education research conference and proceedings. East Lansing, MI: Michigan State University.Google Scholar
  4. Belenky, M. F., & Stanton, A. V. (2000). Inequality, development, and connected knowing. In J. Mezirow (Ed.), Learning as transformation: Critical perspectives on a theory in progress (pp. 71–102). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.Google Scholar
  5. Blake, J., Sterling, S., & Goodson, I. (2013). Transformative learning for a sustainable future: An exploration of pedagogies for change at an Alternative College. Sustainability, 5(12), 5347–5372.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Boldermo, S., & Ødegaard, E. E. (2019). What about the migrant children? The state-of-the-art in research claiming social sustainability. Sustainability, 11(2), 459.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Bonnett, M. (2002). Education for sustainability as a frame of mind. Environmental Education Research, 8(1), 9–20.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Bourner, T. (2003). Assessing reflective learning. Education and Training, 45(5), 267–272.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Boyd, D. J., Hirst, N. J., & Siraj-Blatchford, J. (2017). Understanding education for sustainability across the UK. London, England: Routledge.Google Scholar
  10. Brookfield, S. D. (2006). The skillful teacher: On trust, technique and responsiveness in the classroom. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.Google Scholar
  11. Brookfield, S. D. (2017). Becoming a critically reflective teacher (2nd ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.Google Scholar
  12. Brunnquell, C., Brunstein, J., & Jaime, J. (2015). Education for sustainability, critical reflection and transformative learning: Professors’ experiences in Brazilian administration courses. International Journal of Innovation and Sustainable Development, 9(3), 321–342.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Cope, J., & Watts, G. (2000). Learning by doing: An exploration of experience, critical incidents and reflection in entrepreneurial learning. International Journal of Entrepreneurial Behavior & Research, 6, 104–124.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Cranton, P. (1994). Understanding and promoting transformative learning. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.Google Scholar
  15. Cranton, P. (1996). Types of group learning. New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education, 71, 25–32.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Cranton, P. (2006). Understanding and promoting transformative learning: A guide for educators of adults (2nd ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.Google Scholar
  17. Cranton, P., & King, K. P. (2003). Transformative learning as a professional development goal. New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education, 98, 31–37.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Creswell, J. W. (2014). Research design: Qualitative, quantitative, and mixed methods approaches. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.Google Scholar
  19. Daloz, L. A. (1999). Mentor: Guiding the journey of adult learners (2nd ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.Google Scholar
  20. Davis, J., & Elliott, S. (Eds.). (2014). Research in early childhood education for sustainability: International perspectives and provocations. London, England: Routledge.Google Scholar
  21. Davis, J. M. (2009). Revealing the research ‘hole’ of early childhood education for sustainability: A preliminary survey of the literature. Environmental Education Research, 15(2), 227–241.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Dawe, G., Jucker, R., & Martin, S. (2005). Sustainable development in higher education: Current practice and future developments—A report for the Higher Education Academy. York, England: Higher Education Academy.Google Scholar
  23. Dyment, J. E., & O’Connell, T. S. (2011). Assessing the quality of reflection in student journals: A review of the research. Teaching in Higher Education, 16(1), 81–97.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Eraut, M. (1994). Developing professional knowledge and competence. London, England: Falmer.Google Scholar
  25. Escrigas, C. (2016, June). A higher calling for higher education. Great Transition Initiative. Retrieved from
  26. European Panel on Sustainable Development (EPSD). (2010). Taking children seriously – How the EU can invest in early childhood education for a sustainable future. Report No. 4. Göteborg, Sweden: The Centre for Environment and Sustainability, GMV. Retrieved from
  27. Feriver, S., Teksöz, G., Olgan, R., & Reid, A. (2016). Training early childhood teachers for sustainability: Towards a ‘learning experience of a different kind’. Environmental Education Research, 22(5), 717–746.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Freire, P. (1970). Pedagogy of the oppressed. New York, NY: Herder and Herder.Google Scholar
  29. Freire, P. (1985). The politics of education: Culture, power, and liberation. South Hadley, MA: Bergin & Garvey.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Freire, P. (1997). Education for critical consciousness. New York, NY: The Continuum.Google Scholar
  31. Freire, P. (1998). Pedagogy of freedom: Ethics, democracy, and civic courage. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.Google Scholar
  32. Fulghum, R. (1986). All I really need to know I learned in kindergarten: Uncommon thoughts on common things. Great Britain, UK: Grafton Books.Google Scholar
  33. Gay, G., & Kirkland, K. (2003). Developing cultural critical consciousness and self-reflection in preservice teacher education. Theory into Practice, 42, 181–187.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Glisczinski, D. J. (2007). Transformative higher education: A meaningful degree of understanding. Journal of transformative education, 5, 317–328.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Grant, A., Kinnersley, P., Metcalf, E., Pill, R., & Houston, H. (2006). Students’ views of reflective learning techniques: An efficacy study at a UK medical school. Medical Education, 40(4), 379–588.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Habermas, J. (1984). The theory of communicative action. Boston, MA: Beacon.Google Scholar
  37. Halupa, C. (2017). Are students and faculty ready for transformative learning? In J. M. Spector et al. (Eds.), Learning, design, and technology: An international compendium of theory, research, practice and policy.,917,727-4_70–1CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Hanushek, E., Rivkin, S. G., & Kaim, J. F. (2005). Teachers, students, and academic achievement. Econometrica, 73(2), 417–458.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Harmin, M., Barrett, M. J., & Hoessler, C. (2017). Stretching the boundaries of transformative sustainability learning. On the importance of decolonizing ways of knowing and relations with the more-than-human. Environmental Education Research, 23(10), 1489–1500.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Hedefalk, M., Almqvist, J., & Östman, L. (2015). Education for sustainable development in early childhood education. A review of the research literature. Environmental Education Research, 21(7), 975–990.
  41. Hoggan, C. D. (2016). Transformative learning as a metatheory: Definition, criteria, and typology. Adult Education Quarterly, 66(1), 57–75.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Huckle, J., & Wals, A. E. (2015). The UN Decade of Education for Sustainable Development: Business as usual in the end. Environmental Education Research, 21(3), 491–505.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Johnson, A. G. (2006). Privilege, power, and difference (2nd ed.). Boston, MA: McGraw-Hill.Google Scholar
  44. Jung, C. G. (1971). Collected works, volume 6: Psychological types. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  45. Kember, D., Jones, A., Loke, A., McKay, J., Sinclair, K., Tse, H., … Yeung, E. (1999). Determining the level of reflective thinking from students’ written journals using a coding scheme based on the work of Mezirow. International Journal of Lifelong Education, 18, 18–30.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. King, K. P. (2009). Handbook of the evolving research of transformative learning: The learning activities survey (10th anniversary ed.). Charlotte, NC: Information Age.Google Scholar
  47. Koole, S., Dornan, T., Aper, L., Scherpbier, A., Valcke, M., Cohen-Schotanus, J., & Derese, A. (2011). Factors confounding the assessment of reflection: A critical review. BMC Medical Education, 11, 104–114.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Kreber, C. (2005). Reflection on teaching and the scholarship of teaching: Focus on science instructors. Higher Education, 50(2), 323–359.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Kreber, C. (2012). Critical reflection and transformative learning. In E. W. Taylor & P. Cranton (Eds.), Handbook of transformative learning: Theory, research, and practice (pp. 323–341). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.Google Scholar
  50. Kubow, P. K., & Fossum, P. R. (2007). Comparative education: Exploring issues in international context. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.Google Scholar
  51. Ladson-Billings, G. (1998). Just what is critical race theory and what’s it doing in a nice field like education? International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, 1, 7–24.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Lambrechts, W., & Van Petegem, P. (2016). The interrelations between competences for sustainable development and research competences. International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education, 17(6), 776–795.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Li, S. T., Paterniti, D. A., Co, J. P., & West, D. C. (2010). Successful self-directed lifelong learning in medicine: A conceptual model derived from qualitative analysis of a national survey of pediatric residents. Academic Medicine, 85(7), 1229–1236.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Liu, K. (2015). Critical reflection as a framework for transformative learning in teacher education. Educational Review, 67(2), 135–157.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Lundgren, H., & Poell, R. F. (2016). On critical reflection: A review of Mezirow’s theory and its operationalization. Human Resource Development Review, 15(1), 3–28.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Mälkki, K. (2010). Building on Mezirow theory of transformative learning: Theorizing the challenges to reflection. Journal of Transformative Education, 8(1), 42–62.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Mälkki, K. (2012). Rethinking disorienting dilemmas within real-life crises: The role of reflection in negotiating emotionally chaotic experiences. Adult Education Quarterly, 62, 207–229.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Mann, K., Gordon, J., & MacLeod, A. (2009). Reflection and reflective practice in health professions education: A systematic review. Advances in Health Sciences Education, 14, 595–621.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. McDonough, W., & Braungart, M. (2002). Cradle to cradle: Remaking the way we make things. New York, NY: North Point.Google Scholar
  60. McLaren, P. (2003). Life in schools: An introduction to critical pedagogy in the foundations of education (4th ed.). Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon.Google Scholar
  61. Mezirow, J. (1981). A critical theory of adult learning and education. Adult Education Quarterly, 32, 3–24.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Mezirow, J. (1990). How critical reflection triggers transformative learning. In J. Mezirow (Ed.), Fostering critical reflection in adulthood: A guide to transformative and emancipatory learning (pp. 1–20). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.Google Scholar
  63. Mezirow, J. (1991). Transformative dimensions of adult learning. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.Google Scholar
  64. Mezirow, J. (2000). Learning to think like an adult. In J. Mezirow (Ed.), Learning as transformation: Critical perspectives on a theory in progress (pp. 3–33). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.Google Scholar
  65. Mezirow, J. (2009). An overview on transformative learning. In K. Illeris (Ed.), Contemporary theories of learning. Learning theorists … in their own words (pp. 90–105). London, England: Routledge.Google Scholar
  66. Moore, J. (2005). Is higher education ready for transformative learning? A question explored in the study of sustainability. Journal of Transformative Education, 3, 76–91.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Neumann, J. (2013). Critical pedagogy’s problem with changing teachers’ dispositions towards critical teaching. Interchange, 44(1/2), 129–147.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  68. Nieto, S., & McDonough, K. (2011). “Placing equity front and center” revisited. In A. F. Ball & C. A. Tyson (Eds.), Studying diversity in teacher education (pp. 363–384). Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.Google Scholar
  69. Orr, D. W. (2004). Earth in mind: On education, environment and the human prospect. Washington, DC: Island Press.Google Scholar
  70. Picower, B. (2013). You can’t change what you don’t see: Developing new teachers’ political understanding of education. Journal of transformative education, 11, 170–189.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  71. Pramling Samuelsson, I. (2011). Why we should begin early with ESD: The role of early childhood education. International Journal of Early Childhood, 43, 103–118.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  72. Pramling Samuelsson, I. (2016). What is the future of sustainability in early childhood? In A. Farrell, S. L. Kagan, & E. K. M. Tisdall (Eds.), The Sage handbook of early childhood research (pp. 502–516). London, England: Sage.Google Scholar
  73. Pramling Samuelsson, I., & Park, E. (2017). How to educate children for sustainable learning and for a sustainable world. International Journal of Early Childhood, 49, 273–285.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  74. Rickinson, M. (2006). Researching and understanding environmental learning: Hopes for the next 10 years. Environmental Education Research, 12(3–4), 445–457.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  75. Ripple, W. J., Wolf, C., Newsome, T. M., Galetti, M., Alamgir, M., Crist, E., … 15,364 scientist signatories from 184 countries. (2017). World scientists’ warning to humanity: A second notice. BioScience, 67(12), 1026–1028.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  76. Rolfe, G., Freshwater, D., & Jasper, M. (2001). Critical reflection in nursing and the helping professions: A user’s guide. Basingstoke, England: Palgrave Macmillan.Google Scholar
  77. Sandars, J. (2009). The use of reflection in medical education: AMEE Guide No. 44. Medical Teacher, 31(8), 685–695.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  78. Sauter, M. B., & Frohlich T. C. (2013, October 15). The most educated countries in the world. 24/7 Wall Street. Retrieved from
  79. Schumacher, E. F. (1997). This I believe’ and other essays. Dartington, England: Green Books (essay first published in 1974).Google Scholar
  80. Siraj-Blatchford, J., Mogharreban, C., & Park, E. (2016). International research on education for sustainable development in early childhood. Dordrecht, the Netherlands: Springer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  81. Siraj-Blatchford, J., Smith, K. C., & Pramling Samuelsson, I. (2010). Education for sustainable development in the early years. Organisation Mondiale Pour L‘Education Prescolaire (OMEP). Retrieved from
  82. Somerville, M., & Williams, C. (2015). Sustainability education in early childhood: An updated review of research in the field. Contemporary Issues in Early Childhood, 16(2), 102–117.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  83. Sterling, S. (2001). Sustainable education. Devon, England: Green Books.Google Scholar
  84. Sterling, S. (2004). Higher education, sustainability, and the role of systematic learning. In P. B. Corcoran & A. E. J. Wals (Eds.), Higher education and the challenge of sustainability: Problems, promise and practice (pp. 49–70). Dordrecht, the Netherlands: Kluwer Academic Publishers.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  85. Sterling, S. (2010). Transformative learning and sustainability: Sketching the conceptual ground. Learning and Teaching in Higher Education, 5, 17–33.Google Scholar
  86. Sterling, S. (2017). Assuming the future: Repurposing education in a volatile age. In B. Jickling & S. Sterling (Eds.), Post-sustainability and environmental education: Remaking education for the future (pp. 31–45). London, England: Palgrave Macmillan.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  87. Sterling, S., & Thomas, I. (2006). Education for sustainability: The role of capabilities in guiding university curricula. International Journal Innovation and Sustainable Development, 1(4), 349–370.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  88. Strauss, A., & Corbin, J. (1998). Basics of qualitative research: Techniques and procedures for developing grounded theory. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, Inc.Google Scholar
  89. Tanis, D. J. (2012). Exploring play/playfulness and learning in the adult and higher education classroom (Unpublished doctoral dissertation). The Pennsylvania State University, Pennsylvania.Google Scholar
  90. Taylor, E. W. (2007). An update of transformative learning theory: A critical review of the empirical research (1999–2005). International Journal of Lifelong Education, 26(2), 173–191.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  91. Taylor, E. W. (2017). Critical reflection and transformative learning: A critical review. PAACE Journal of Lifelong Learning, 26, 77–95.Google Scholar
  92. Taylor, E. W., & Snyder, M. (2012). A critical review of research on transformative learning. In E. W. Taylor & P. Cranton (Eds.), The handbook of transformative learning: Theory, research and practice (pp. 37–55). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.Google Scholar
  93. Thornton, B., Peltier, G., & Perreault, G. (2004). Systems thinking: A skill to improve student achievement. The Clearing House: A Journal of Educational Strategies, Issues and Ideas, 77(5), 222–227.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  94. Tilbury, D. (2011). Education for sustainable development. An expert review of processes and learning. Paris, France: United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).Google Scholar
  95. UN. (2015). Transforming our world: The 2030 agenda for sustainable development. Resolution adopted by the General Assembly on 25 September 2015. Retrieved from
  96. UNESCO. (2017a). Education for sustainable development: Partners in action. Paris, France: Author.Google Scholar
  97. UNESCO. (2017b). Education for sustainable development goals: Learning objectives. Paris, France: Author.Google Scholar
  98. Union of Concerned Scientists. (1992). World scientists’ warning to humanity. Cambridge, MA: Union of Concerned Scientists. Retrieved from
  99. Wallman, A., Lindblad, A. K., Hall, S., Lundmark, A., & Ring, L. (2008). A categorization scheme for assessing pharmacy students’ levels of reflection during internships. American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education, 72(1), 1–10.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  100. Wals, A. E. J. (2006). The end of ESD…the beginning of transformative learning. Emphasizing the ‘E’ in ESD. In M. Cantell (Ed.), Proceedings of the seminar on education for sustainable development held in Helsinki.Google Scholar
  101. Wals, A. E. J. (2015). Beyond unreasonable doubt – Education and learning for socio-ecological sustainability in the anthropocene. Inaugural address held upon accepting the personal Chair of Transformative Learning for Socio-Ecological Sustainability at Wageningen University.Google Scholar
  102. Woodrow, K., & Caruana, V. (2017). Preservice teachers’ perspective: Transformations as social change agents. Journal of Transformative Education, 15(1), 37–58.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  103. Wright, T. S. A. (2002). Definitions and frameworks for environmental sustainability in higher education. Higher Education Policy, 15, 105–120.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  104. WWF. (2018). Living planet report 2018: Aiming higher. Gland, Switzerland: WWF International.Google Scholar

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Faculty of Education, Department of Elementary and Early Childhood EducationMiddle East Technical UniversityAnkaraTurkey
  2. 2.Faculty of Education, Department of Mathematics and Science EducationMiddle East Technical UniversityAnkaraTurkey

Section editors and affiliations

  • Konrad Morgan
    • 1
  • Kaushal Kumar Bhagat
    • 2
  • Şebnem Feriver
    • 3
  1. 1.EduvateHavantUK
  2. 2.Centre for Educational TechnologyIndian Institute of Technology, KharagpurKharagpurIndia
  3. 3.Department of Elementary and Early Childhood EducationMiddle East Technical UniversityAnkaraTurkey

Personalised recommendations