James S. Gruber, PE, PhD, MS, MPA

Core Faculty and Director of the Environmental Studies PhD Program
Department of Environmental Studies

My Teaching Philosophy at Antioch University New England

The Department of Environmental Studies educates visionary, pragmatic leaders in a collaborative interdisciplinary setting that is founded on academic excellence and the principles of environmental justice and sustainability.1My teaching philosophy fully embraces this mission.

Integration of my teaching in the Environmental Studies Department and my community service work, professional consulting, and research that supports sustainable development allows me to bring to the classroom real world experiences and gives me the opportunity to expose students, through their course projects, to real world experiences. My community work can best be described as engaging people in the process of creating environmentally healthy, culturally rich, and economically strong schools and community through leadership training, environmental education, and applied research.2 This work is based on a strong support for and belief in the value of citizen participation, community education, and effective public-private partnerships between local communities and their citizens, institutions, and businesses. My teaching strives to draw upon this community work to enhance my teaching and the work of my students in the class room.

Specifically, I have enjoyed the opportunity to teach and mentor a broad range of graduate students in environmental policy, environmental economics, and environmental leadership/administrative/management skills. It has been very rewarding to see these students take on important community environmental leadership roles and succeed at making a substantive difference in their community or country. The curriculum I develop for my courses seeks to raise both the knowledge and the critical skills needed for these students to succeed in their future careers.

My approach to raise the knowledge and critical skills that I am aware are needed in resource management, sustainable development, climate change and conservation related professions is grounded in my previous 30 years of formal and informal teaching, mentoring, research, and community work. I draw upon and embrace the following personally developed learning guidelines for teaching and mentoring students.

    • Students should be able to apply newly acquired academic knowledge and skills to real and current issues that matter.


    • It is essential that students in my courses learn both scholarship and practitionership skills. Both are essential.


    • Student should work in teams. In the non-academic world, people who work together are usually more effective.


    • Provide students real applications and relevant case studies.


    • There needs to be a safe but challenging learning environment in the classroom.


    • Support open class processes where all ideas are welcome and then debated and distilled.


    • Model and embrace the group learning processes rather than the pure expert model that focuses on downloading information.


    • Focus on critical thinking and decision making rather than memorization.


  • Encourage the asking of probing questions!both the critical Why? or How? As well as the Why Not?

It is important to point out that all of these teaching and mentoring principles are independent of technology and specific course delivery format. We all know that technology and delivery formats are rapidly changing. However, I believe we can keep the heart of what we do and, through hard work, appropriately and effectively utilize the new technology. This includes on-line and hybrid courses when appropriate for the content and learning skills.

I believe that my teaching should provide content, application, experiential reflection, and an opportunity for students to reflect on and enhance their environmental leadership skills. In order for our students to be scholars, practitioners, and environmental leaders, we need to also raise the awareness and knowledge of our students in how to practice adaptive environmental leadership. It will then be up to them to choose if they wish to practice these leadership skills. The following list summarizes my principles of environmental adaptive leadership skills that I try to communicate and at times integrate into my teaching and mentoring of our students.

    • Change requires appealing to the hearts as well as the minds of our community members. This is where you work the adaptive change.


    • People do not welcome change and it may be risky to the messenger!particularly if it impacts or threatens their currently held world view. Communication and trust building is essential.


    • Practicing adaptive environmental leadership means learning how to listen to not just what people are saying but their underlying fears and prejudices as well as their hopes and dreams. This does not mean you have to agree with them. But you need to be able to listen and understand.


    • Practicing adaptive leadership means building community capital (social, human, economic) in order to support sustainably managing natural capital (the ecological commons).


    • Practicing adaptive leadership mean giving up control and letting go of outcomes. This means (if there is good information provided through an effective, inclusive, and transparent process) that you need to trust the outcomes. You need to trust that they will make wise and beneficial decisions.


  • Finally, I believe that effectively practicing adaptive environmental leadership means that the group or the local society that you are supporting builds its own community capacity and they no longer need you. They go forth on their own. You serve as a transitional vessel.

And, finally, my teaching philosophy embraces and values the opportunity for my personally learning and growth as a member of a classroom, part of a mentoring/learning process with another student, or working with other faculty members. My teaching philosophy views all that we do together in the Environmental Studies Department (students, staff, and faculty), is part of a collaborative learning process that builds our collective capacity to work towards a more equitable and sustainable society.

1 From mission of the Environmental Studies Department, Antioch University New England
2 From mission statement of Antioch New England Institute