Sustainability is not just a “feel good” topic for parents, students and educators. Research shows that a commitment to sustainability – in operations and educational offering – produces a wide spectrum of positive outcomes for schools. One study found that students whose course work included education on the environment showed significant increases in skills (90%), while another discovered that going to school in sustainable facilities reduces student absenteeism (87%) and boosts the ability to attract and retain teachers (74%).
While the benefits of sustainability education and operation are clear, the challenge is, too: schools, and especially teachers, are already overloaded with expectations and overburdened with work. Thankfully, there are many ready-made resources for teaching sustainability and creating sustainable school environments.
How to teach sustainability: thought-starters to complete lesson plans
The need for and interest in sustainability education is so great that a multitude of resources are now offered by government agencies, non-profit organizations and even business (in addition to that which may be offered by your own school district or state board of education). Here’s just a sampling:
- Education for Sustainability Starter Kit. This free, professional development resource from the Sustainable Schools Project (SSP) provides a great starting point for teachers and administrators. It’s a “do-it-yourself” program, with content covering foundational concepts, strategies and implementation tools, which can be tailored for sessions ranging from 60 minutes to full, two-day training seminars. SSP offers many more resources for schools as you pursue sustainability education.
- From the kindergarten lesson “Water in the Desert?” (provided by the National Park Service, to teach the concept of groundwater and preserving our resources) to the high-school level “Cell Wall Recipe: A Lesson in Biofuels,” (from the Green Education Foundation), teachers can easily find lesson plans created by experts, via a quick search online. Most education and/or sustainability-related organizations, such as Teach for America, are eager to support sustainability education and frequently post compilations of lesson plan links. In addition, public-private partnerships are jumping in to fill the need, as with the “Future Generations” lessons plans provided by The Forest Stewardship Council.
- Sustainable Schools Green Classrooms. These free programs expose students to topic experts and can help take your students from understanding to action. They start with a grade-level-appropriate workshop, proceed to an action project and culminate in pride-inducing certification of your class.
Practicing sustainability makes the perfect partner to teaching it
Of course, schools need to teach by example as much as by lesson plan. With that in mind, several organizations offer guides to creating a sustainable school, both in terms of its operations and education. The Academy for Global Citizenship applied its own experience in creating the School Sustainability Handbook, which covers key topics including energy, transportation, land and water use, waste management and engagement of students and the community.
Consider joining a sustainability education organization
Your school can also explore joining one of the associations that are combining educational, governmental and community resources to address the opportunities and challenges of sustainable education. These include: The Green Schools Alliance, The Green Education Foundation, and the North American Association for Environmental Education, just to name a few.
Get the support you need – apply for a sustainability education grant
All of these efforts require time and money, and in addition to free resources, you can apply for one of the many grants that seek to support the teaching and practice of sustainability in schools. The Captain Planet Foundation, for instance, provides grant funding for environmental education as well as student-led action projects that engage learners in real solutions. You’ll find many other funders eager to support your efforts, such as The Nature Conservancy, the Environmental Protection Agency, along with local and regional opportunities, such as the Gray Family Foundation in Oregon, focused on programs in that state.
Don’t forget – new products and technologies can help
As acknowledged at the outset of this article, teachers and administrators already have too much on their plates. If all of the above exceeds your bandwidth right now, don’t forget that you can still take simple, but important, steps forward in sustainability. Re-examine your supplies. Are they recycled – or recyclable? Take a fresh look at simple upgrades, like towel dispensers that help prevent waste. And challenge your providers to come up with solutions that fit with your sustainability goals.
Sustainability is much more than a trend. It’s a necessity – and our children know it even better than we do. What is your school doing to lead the way in sustainability education?
Download the full infographic HERE.
Academy for Global Citizenship: School Sustainability Handbook
Re-sources.org (example of local resource/WA state)
Sustainable Schools Project (esp. curricular resources)
US Dept. of Education: Green Ribbon Schools
Green School Alliance: Why green schools?
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