Teacher Spotlight: Brian Johnson

Sophie Drukman-Feldstein & Kiley Allen

Aug 1, 2021

Brian Johnson is an instructional coach at Westmont Junior High School in Westmont, IL and a member of our Teacher Taskforce. As an instructional coach, he helps educators set and achieve goals to improve their teaching. He has previously worked with several Chicago schools as a coach at a nonprofit, and before that he taught middle and high school science in California.



Have you taught 𝗮𝗯𝗼𝘂𝘁 𝗰𝗹𝗶𝗺𝗮𝘁𝗲 𝗰𝗵𝗮𝗻𝗴𝗲?


The three years that I was teaching sixth grade science, climate change was part of my curriculum.


𝗪𝗵𝗮𝘁 𝗸𝗶𝗻𝗱𝘀 𝗼𝗳 𝗺𝗮𝘁𝗲𝗿𝗶𝗮𝗹 𝗱𝗶𝗱 𝘆𝗼𝘂 𝗰𝗼𝘃𝗲𝗿?


We did project-based learning at the school where I was working. So, the project I planned was, students were ultimately trying to design a solution for mitigating the greenhouse effect.


They would do this experiment where they took a two-liter soda bottle and stuck a thermometer in it, put it by a lightbulb, and watched the temperature rise. And then they could also do the vinegar and baking soda chemical reaction, capture the CO2 from that, put it in the bottle, and see that it gets warmer. Then, they would have to design something to prevent the bottle from warming up as much.


Leading up to that, they learned a lot about the greenhouse effects and weather and climate in general. They learned about the effects and impacts of climate change. Where all those greenhouse gases are coming from.


𝗜 𝗺𝗶𝘀𝘀 sixth 𝗴𝗿𝗮𝗱𝗲 𝘀𝗰𝗶𝗲𝗻𝗰𝗲. 𝗧𝗵𝗮𝘁 𝘀𝗼𝘂𝗻𝗱𝘀 like 𝗳𝘂𝗻.


Yeah, I loved it. It was a lot of fun.


𝗪𝗵𝘆 𝗶𝘀 climate change 𝗶𝗺𝗽𝗼𝗿𝘁𝗮𝗻𝘁 𝘁𝗼 𝘁𝗲𝗮𝗰𝗵 𝗶𝗻 𝘀𝗰𝗵𝗼𝗼𝗹?


I mean, because it’s an existential threat to all of humanity. I can’t think of any other reason than that.


Look, no one can predict the future exactly, but we know that this is not good. We know that we are contributing to it. So at the very least, we’ve got to do something. 


Some science teacher I was talking to put it great. People always talk about saving the planet. But the planet will be fine. The planet has been around for billions of years. It’s going to continue to be around. It’s us that we need to be worried about, because it’s our survival that is on the line here.


You don’t want to sound too alarmist, but it’s pretty alarming. We’re the ones that most likely aren’t going to survive it , if it gets really bad. Like, life will go on in some way or another, but there’s a good chance we won’t be a part of it if things get as bad as they might. 


𝗪𝗵𝗮𝘁 𝗱𝗼 𝘆𝗼𝘂 𝘀𝗲𝗲 𝗮𝘀 𝘁𝗵𝗲 𝗯𝗶𝗴𝗴𝗲𝘀𝘁 𝗯𝗮𝗿𝗿𝗶𝗲𝗿𝘀 𝘁𝗼 𝗰𝗹𝗶𝗺𝗮𝘁𝗲 𝗲𝗱𝘂𝗰𝗮𝘁𝗶𝗼𝗻?


Misinformation is a really big one. I think feeling powerless is another really big one. And that fear: “I feel powerless, and I’m afraid there’s nothing I can do about it, so I’m just going to ignore it and hope that the problem goes away.” And powerful interests who care more about short-term profit than long-term solutions and survival. They’re absolutely working to stop this kind of stuff. So I’d say those three are probably the biggest ones.


What about your own teaching experience? 𝗗𝗶𝗱 𝘆𝗼𝘂 𝗳𝗶𝗻𝗱 𝗶𝘁 𝗲𝗮𝘀𝘆 𝘁𝗼 𝗴𝗲𝘁 𝗺𝗮𝘁𝗲𝗿𝗶𝗮𝗹𝘀 about climate change 𝗮𝗻𝗱 𝗴𝗲𝘁 𝘆𝗼𝘂𝗿 students 𝗲𝗻𝗴𝗮𝗴𝗲𝗱 𝘄𝗶𝘁𝗵 them?


I think I did. I feel okay about what I found.


I really like planning. I just personally enjoy that aspect of teaching. I know a lot of other people don’t. Some teachers, it’s not the part of teaching that they really like. So I know that for some people, the work that it takes to find resources and put things together can be a barrier, for sure. And there’s just a lot of garbage out there. Especially with science, there’s a lot of science stuff that is either incorrect or not explained well. So I think that certainly can be a barrier for people.


𝗛𝗼𝘄 𝗱𝗶𝗱 𝘆𝗼𝘂𝗿 𝘀𝘁𝘂𝗱𝗲𝗻𝘁𝘀 𝗿𝗲𝗮𝗰𝘁 𝘁𝗼 𝗹𝗲𝗮𝗿𝗻𝗶𝗻𝗴 𝗮𝗯𝗼𝘂𝘁 𝗰𝗹𝗶𝗺𝗮𝘁𝗲 𝗰𝗵𝗮𝗻𝗴𝗲?


When I was student-teaching in 2006, with high schoolers, we did a lesson on climate change. I distinctly remember a lot of those students at the end of the class saying things along the lines of, “well, it seems like a bad thing, but it’s probably so far off that I don’t have to worry about it.”


And I compare that to 2015, 2016, when I was teaching sixth graders. It was just a very different reaction. They didn’t seem surprised by it. You could tell they’d heard about it before. They seemed interested in it, curious about it. You know, they were sixth graders, so whenever you talked about the effects on animals they cared a lot and were really worried about it. 


That was the biggest thing I noticed, was that difference in ten years.


𝗪𝗵𝘆 𝗱𝗶𝗱 𝘆𝗼𝘂 𝗷𝗼𝗶𝗻 𝘁𝗵𝗲 𝘁𝗲𝗮𝗰𝗵𝗲𝗿 𝘁𝗮𝘀𝗸𝗳𝗼𝗿𝗰𝗲?


I like what I do, but I miss teaching science. So, I’m always looking for opportunities to still be involved with it in different ways. And also, I just really care about the topic. I want other science teachers to teach about climate change and to feel like they have the tools and the resources they need to be able to do it well.


𝗗𝗼 𝘆𝗼𝘂 𝗵𝗮𝘃𝗲 𝗮𝗻𝘆 𝘁𝗲𝗮𝗰𝗵𝗶𝗻𝗴 𝘁𝗶𝗽𝘀 𝗳𝗼𝗿 𝗼𝘁𝗵𝗲𝗿 𝘁𝗲𝗮𝗰𝗵𝗲𝗿𝘀 𝗶𝗻𝘁𝗲𝗿𝗲𝘀𝘁𝗲𝗱 𝗶𝗻 𝗰𝗹𝗶𝗺𝗮𝘁𝗲 𝗲𝗱𝘂𝗰𝗮𝘁𝗶𝗼𝗻?


Make sure you get educated yourself. Build your own background knowledge. Know that the kids you teach— they already have heard about it, they know about it, they care about it. They want to know what they can do about it.


And as much as possible, be realistic about the threat, but also be optimistic about the possibilities, because the only way that we’re going to do something about it is if people feel like there is hope and a chance to make things better. I think we’ve got to build that mindset in the kids.


F𝗮𝘃𝗼𝗿𝗶𝘁𝗲 𝗽𝗹𝗮𝗰𝗲 𝗶𝗻 𝗻𝗮𝘁𝘂𝗿𝗲?


The California redwoods, for sure. I lived around there for ten years, and we would go there frequently. It’s like nowhere else I’ve ever been on Earth. It’s amazing.

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