Game Over or Game On?

Game Over or Game On?

For the past three years, I’ve taught a required graduate course on the Ethics of Sustainability in the Design for Social Innovation Program at the School of Visual Arts in NYC. During this time, I’ve witnessed the unintended results of educating about unsustainability.  Although my students come from all over the world, they have at least a few things in common at the beginning of the year. These young people report feeling depressed, hopeless and guilty. Many of these students, believing they hold degrees in sustainability, have become experts in its opposite--unsustainability. They are nervous at first at the thought of discussing the ethics of sustainability. They tell me that their professors were very effective at pointing out that it’s too late, that we’ve already exceeded too many critical thresholds and that there is no way back. Game over?   

My response to them is always the same, “I think what your professors have actually been saying is that they cannot imagine and they don’t know how we are going to pull off the mid-course correction that is required if we want human and other life to flourish on Earth indefinitely.  I think this has more to do with their imaginations, mental maps and knowledge base than it does our fate.”  Game on.

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Embracing Education for Sustainability (EfS) with Jaimie Cloud

This post, written by James Gast, was originally published on The Willow School website, 9/9/16.

“What kind of future do we want?” That’s the central question that Jaimie Cloud poses to educators and students.

As president of The Cloud Institute for Sustainability Education, Cloud has since 1993 worked with schools to “sustainable-ize” their curricula. It’s her contribution to the kind of future she wants – one where human beings thrive all over planet Earth, without undermining the fundamental support systems of Nature and Society.

On August 30 – 31, 2016, Cloud worked with Willow’s teachers to align elements of their curriculum with the “enduring understandings” associated with educating for sustainability and its nine core content standards: Cultural Preservation & Transformation; Responsible Local & Global Leadership; The Dynamics of Systems & Change; Sustainable Economics; Healthy Commons; Natural Laws & Ecological Principles; Inventing & Affecting the Future; Multiple Perspectives; and Strong Sense of Place.

Over the coming school year, Cloud will continue to consult with Willow and to coach faculty to deepen our understanding and delivery of sustainable education, and to more effectively document and map the curriculum as a whole.

“We had two goals in bringing Jaimie in this summer,” said Willow’s Head of School, Jerry Loewen. “One was to become more focused and more effective in our delivery of sustainability education. The other was to provide the entire faculty with a totally shared experience and totally shared definitions and expectations.”

The workshop marks Cloud’s third round of work with Willow in the last decade. Over that time, she has noticed a maturing of the school and a deepening sense of grounded-ness.

“I am glad to be back,” said Cloud, who collaborated closely with Loewen and Assistant Head of School Amy Swenson to customize her two 2-day workshop for Willow’s needs.  “I look forward to working with Jerry, Amy and the faculty to build a regenerative curriculum to match the buildings!”

For Willow’s veteran teachers, the workshop offered a chance to more fully map their courses in relationship to one another, and to document what’s been working. For new hires, it was a chance to learn more about the Willow brand of education.

“Jaimie Cloud’s work on developing the whole child through a lens that appreciates the interconnectedness of all things is incredibly inspiring,” enthused Willow’s new third grade teacher Amy Arnold. “The EfS curriculum is just one more reason I am thrilled to be part of Willow. I cannot wait to see our students in action—working together toward their greatest purpose!”

Throughout the coming school year, teachers will document and map aspects of their curricula online.  Cloud will serve as a coach, visiting Willow monthly to work with teacher-leaders as they embed appropriate knowledge, skills and dispositions of Education for Sustainability into exemplary curriculum units to share with their colleagues.

“The habits of mind we are developing for our students through these efforts are vital not only for them and their future, but for the broader community,” explained Loewen, “so we are examining ways to spread this work much more widely this year.”

The end goal of all this effort is to truly teach our students in ways that make them agents of effective and sustainable change for themselves, and ultimately for the world.

EfS in Schools: Denver Green School



Today, we’d like to introduce you to the Denver Green School (DGS), a public neighborhood K-8 school now in its seventh year. DGS, located in a diverse urban setting, is one of Denver’s “Innovation” schools. These schools create their own unique program design with waivers from certain state and district rules. Recently, DGS was among four schools granted even more autonomy through the approval of a new “Innovation Zone”.
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EFS in Schools: Compass Charter School

Photo Credit: CCS Website


Today, we’d like to introduce you to Compass Charter School,  a new progressive elementary school located in Brooklyn, NY. The school, which opened in 2014, currently offers kindergarten through second grade, but plans to serve children in grades K-5 at full capacity. Compass Charter School is the result of a 2012-13 journey by three Brooklyn teachers who traveled the nation in search of what is working well in the American education system. Brooke Peters, Michelle Healy, and Todd Sutler called their expedition The Odyssey Initiative (OI) and returned home to establish a school using lessons learned along the road.  “ From our experience on the trip, we decided to start a new school that was progressive, inquiry based and one that connected with authentic experiences in the real world,” explains Healy.  It soon became clear that a charter school was the best fit for the trio’s innovative philosophy, which required a departure from the traditional public school structure of leadership and budgeting.  

A Mission is Born

Upon their return, the travelers noticedthat a number of the schools encountered on their journey were using Education for Sustainability (EfS) as a unifying framework and ultimately connected with The Cloud Institute.  “It turned out that some of the schools we visited were partners with The Cloud Institute so we got to see the program firsthand and how they worked with Jaimie,” describes Healy.  EfS seemed to connect many of the ideas the trio wanted to focus on for their new school.  “We found that it brought everything together for us.  We wanted it to be natural and have a social justice and economic side,” says Peters.  “EfS helped us get the vocabulary and the framework. It lead us to Jaimie and the mission was born.”

The Road Map Emerges

Intrigued by the EfS standards,  Healy and Peters first attended The Cloud Institute’s Summer Design Studio (SDS) in 2014.  They immediately noticed the SDS was not a typical Professional Development (PD).  “It really was a design studio,” says Healy.  “Jaimie was there and flexible when we needed it, but she was also able to step out if we wanted to do some work designing.”  The two spent the week exploring how to vertically align the EfS standards with K-5 curriculum and integrate Science and Social Studies standards in a meaningful way. “ Even though our school wasn’t approved yet, we just paid for the studio to help us develop what we wanted and where we wanted to go,” explains Healy.  “We added very special foundational things, like overnight camping, a trip to see civil rights things and more, all depending on the units and years.  That was the road map.” Another benefit of participating in the SDS was the opportunity to connect with others doing this work. “We also met some other people while we were there and we got to visit and learn from educators in NJ and other places. So it was a nice networking event as well, “ describes Peters. Once the school opened, the two returned to the SDS to work on unit design, this time accompanied by the school’s new Sustainability Coordinator, Kristen Beneke and a few founding faculty.  Jaimie began monthly on-site coaching to support school leadership and faculty to help build the school, refine the units and focus on content skills and assessment. The team is planning to return to SDS this summer to continue to document and map their curriculum.

An Integrated EfS Curriculum

The Compass Charter School created a curriculum that aims to connect children with the natural world and the systems that sustain communities. Located in one of the most racially and culturally diverse places in New York City, the school takes advantage oflocal resources, such as people, green spaces, architecture and history.  Sustainability is woven throughout the entire curriculum, including a twice weekly Sustainability Studio and ongoing classroom units at least three times a week. Teachers and staff meet every week to plan the integrated sustainability lessons. All curriculum is aligned with EfS standards as well as Common Core and Next Generation Science standards. In grades K-2, students immerse themselves in the natural world and begin scientific inquiry through play, exploration, and hands-on activities. Once grades 3-5 are added, students will participate in civic engagement by researching natural and built environments, and designing and implementing service projects within their own community.

Walking the Talk

At Compass Charter School, sustainability education doesn’t end at the classroom door. Green practices are implemented throughout the school such as vermiculture, composting, recycling and even CSA (community supported agriculture) shares distributed at the student-run farmer’s market in the schoolyard. Community members help to provide healthy snacks, cleaning products, and water bottles for the students. The classrooms at Compass offer natural environments that contain wood furniture, plants, and signs made by the students and teachers. Students transfer what they learn in the studio throughout their day at school and at home. Families donate recycled materials for arts and crafts projects and students recycle and reuse materials by transforming them into new objects. Everyday a student comes into school with a new object from nature that they must share or use as inspiration for a piece of writing about the Earth.

The Odyssey Continues

Creating a school from the ground up is as energizing as it is daunting.  “We are riding the bicycle and building the bicycle at the same time,” explains Beneke.  “It’s a challenge, but from it we will create something beautiful.” And they are not doing it alone.  The Cloud Institute’s partnership has been vital to Compass Charter School’s early progress.  “I don’t know where we would be without the dedicated assistance from The Cloud Institute.  It’s the centerpiece.“ says Peters. ”EfS brings it all together.”

For more on Compass Charter School, visit their website.

Keep Calm and Lead On: Practice really does make perfect!

We all know that person… focused, positive, kind and able to bounce forward from even the most challenging circumstances.  You may think that these sought after qualities are hard wired in certain folks and out of reach for the rest of us. Well, according to the latest scientific research, we can actually “learn” these skills, much in the same way as we would master a musical instrument.  The secret?  Practice!

In the article, How Science Reveals that “Well-being” is a Skill, world renowned neuroscientist Richard Davidson makes the case that by practicing the skills of well-being, we can get better at them.  He breaks well-being into four “constituents” or skills: resilience, outlook, attention and generosity -- each well researched and documented in the field.  He claims that if strengthened, we can all promote higher levels of well-being, regardless of our personalities or circumstances. What does that have to do with contributing to a sustainable future?  Everything. Well-being is what we are striving for when we say we want a sustainable future for all. Dr. Davidson’s attributes of well-being are also listed as learning outcomes of Education for Sustainability. In other words, if we develop and practice them, we are better positioned to make a contribution to a sustainable future for ourselves and future generations.  So well-being is a “two-fer”-- simultaneously our preferred future AND the means to get there.

The Skills of Well-Being

Let’s dig in a little deeper into these four skills of well-being. As you read on, think about the relationships between these attributes and our sustainability. Dr. Davidson describes resilience as the ability to recover from the inevitable “bad stuff” that comes our way. “It’s not what happens to you, but how you respond to it” is not just great advice, but is actually based in science. Outlook, he says, is the ability to see the inherent goodness in others and to savor the positive experiences in our lives. Research shows those suffering with depression have disruptions in these underlying neural pathways. We’ve all had the experience of being distracted in today’s plugged in world and know know first hand how  it can directly impact our lives. Studies show that almost 50% of our waking time is spent not paying attention to what we are doing, leading scientists to call a “wandering mind, an unhappy mind.” And who knew that when we practice generosity, we actually activate the well-being circuits in our brains, resulting in a win/win for us and those we are kind to!

Train Your Brain

We are constantly being shaped by the world around us, whether we are aware of it or not. Dr. Davidson encourages us to take more responsibility for the intentional shaping of our brains “in ways that would enable these four fundamental constituents of well-being to be strengthened.”  He refers to the mounting research that suggests that mental training in the form of mindfulness meditation or compassion exercises, can make a difference in our brain’s ability to foster well-being. Just like running scales and arpeggios on the piano, science says that a regular meditation practice gets results.

Leading from a Place of Well-Being

Now, let’s get back to that one person in our lives who always seems to have a sense of calmness and purpose. Chances are they are a pretty good leader, too.  The ability to deal with adversity, stay positive and focused and to give others the benefit of the doubt are valuable qualities for inspiring others and helping them feel more comfortable with innovation.  Developing these skills intentionally can help all of us meet our potential as change agents as we educate our kids, our communities and ourselves for the future we want.  

Educating for Mindfulness

While the research on adults suggests that mindfulness strengthens our skills of well-being, experts are still figuring out how to best adapt these techniques for kids.  Many schools across the country have embraced programs to help students learn to be mindful of their breathing, senses, thoughts, and feelings with good results. The Cloud Institute has aligned our EfS Standards and Performance Indicators to the attributes of mindfulness and creativity for those schools that have taken on all three as strategic initiatives. Designing curriculum, assessments and activities that foster mindfulness  prepares students to take their role in creating a sustainable future.    

Learn more about Dr. Davidson’s approach and try out his sample exercises here.  And remember… practice makes perfect!

Lori Braunstein is the Director for Change Leadership at The Cloud Institute for Sustainability Education and the founder of Sustainable Cherry Hill, a NJ based civic organization. Follow along as she writes about “change agentry”, community/school partnerships and more. You can reach her at


When I first heard about STEM, I thought, “Oh—it’s the new and improved Science, Technology and Society (STS)!” But no, Society did not seem to play a part in the new equation.  I looked for benchmarks for quality STEM.  And, no again.   Then I asked people about what it really was, and they spelled out the acronym for me: Science, Technology, Engineering and Math.  I knew what the acronym stood for, I wanted to know what it meant i.e., what goal it was in the service of, and what problem it was designed to address.  I discovered it was generally understood that our students were not performing well in science and math compared to many other countries with whom we were competing in the global market place.  STEM seemed like a robust way to address that…problem?  symptom?

Then I heard that a significant investment of funds was to be made by government and private institutions to support STEM initiatives that increased students interest in, and preparedness for Job Readiness in the 21st Century.  OK—That I could understand.  That seemed like a good idea.  If we want education to contribute to a sustainable future for us all, we will need to design and re-design infrastructure, buildings, food and transportation systems, and we will have to be cognoscente of the Earth’s carrying capacity.  If we had all been able to “do the math” since the turn of the century, one could argue that we would not have exceeded Earth’s carrying capacity in the 1980s.  Doing the math helps us identify and tap the power of limits.  So I began to think I understood what STEM was for.  As I continued to look for quality criteria for STEM programs, I came across the idea of STEAM. Since the arts have been so marginalized in our schools systems, I thought it was a creative idea to make sure arts and creativity was added to STEM to make STEAM.  Of course once you add the arts, then all you have to do is add the Humanities and you have school—all over again. 

So, why not make the same significant investment in transforming our schools into learning organizations that can prepare our students to thrive in the 21st Century? When that happens, students experience truly interdisciplinary design challenges that weave together the science, technology, engineering and math with creativity, ethics, systems thinking and anticipatory thinking, for example.  When that happens, students seamlessly move from class to class weaving together the experiences they are having into an integrated and whole understanding of what they are studying. When that happens, it is obvious that what they are learning in school is relevant and meaningful, applicable and transferable to life outside of school and over time.  And when that happens, our students will be more likely to contribute to a healthy and sustainable future for us all. 

- Jaimie Cloud for The Cloud Institute for Sustainability Education

Teachable Moments | Let’s Optimize Our Children’s Capacity to Be Creative and Smart

Sir Ken Robinson describes creativity as, “a process of having original ideas that have value”1. Fritjof Capra describes it in this way: “Creativity is a key property of all living systems and contributes to nature’s ability to sustain life”. Either way, it’s a good idea if you like living. We should be cultivating it.  Sir Ken is famous for describing how our industrial model of schooling kills creativity by not preparing us to be wrong—by not honoring our originality and by operating mindlessly - trapped in the past, instead of taking us into the future we cannot grasp yet.  Fortunately, we have already begun to create learning organizations designed around how students learn for the future we want.  We have some exemplars of schools that are intentionally educating for a sustainable future.  We don’t have enough yet and we don’t have the data we need yet to go to scale.  I invite you to make the commitment to optimize our children’s capacity to be creative and smart, to be responsible and to make their unique contributions.  It is less expensive and more productive to educate for sustainability then it is to educate for un-sustainability.  You can quote me on that.  Better yet, join me.

- Jaimie Cloud for The Cloud Institute for Sustainability Education


1. Azzam, A. (Setember, 2009) Why Creativity Now? A Conversation with Sir Ken Robinson. Retrieved from

Teachable Moments | Water Here, There, Not There, & Where?

The California Drought, flooding in North Carolina… water water here, there, not there, and where?  Water is one of our most precious natural commons.  We –you and me- must tend it as such.  The fact is we all depend on it (we can only last 3 days without it) and we are all responsible for taking care of it. California has legally declared that every citizen has a right to safe drinking water, and Detroit has privatized it.  Regardless of how our State governments perceive it, we need to learn the difference between natural changes and disruptions that are part of dynamic life on Earth, and the kinds of changes that we are contributing to, and, therefore, can do something about.  There is never going to be more or less water on Earth.  We have what we have.  This is due to the First Law of Thermodynamics (Matter and Energy don’t appear or disappear on Earth) and gravity.  We cannot run out of water, but, we can disrupt or displace the water cycle in our places, and we can undermine its quality by polluting it and by causing saltwater intrusion, if we are not careful. We are all responsible for the difference we make. 

Here is what we can do:  

  • Respect and contribute to its purity. Keep it clean. Don’t dump chemicals or drugs or weird things down the drain or the toilet. There is no such place as away.
  • Value its value. Celebrate it, think about it and use it well and wisely  
  • Avoid disrupting its natural cycles. Make sure our towns plant trees and plants, maintain and restore soil fertility, build green roofs wherever possible, make the shift to clean green renewable energy,  and use permeable surfaces wherever possible (roads, sidewalks, driveways).
  • Tap the power of its limits. Don’t waste a drop of it. Individually and collectively monitor the water tables in our regions and make sure we don’t use more faster than nature can replenish it there.

Here is a quote I picked out from an article at on the California drought.  “The drought [in California] is dragging on. Water is only becoming more precious and more expensive.” 1

The truth is, water cannot become more or less precious. It is the source of life on Earth. It is more “expensive” because we have made good clean water a scarce commodity instead of a limited commons.  We have not been tending it.  Now would be a good time to do so.

- Jaimie Cloud for The Cloud Institute for Sustainability Education


1. Bliss, L. (Oct 1, 2015) Before California's Drought, a Century of Disparity. Retrieved from

Jaimie Cloud Wants YOU to Say No to Waste!

Repost with permssion from:
Published October 2015

The more people I educate for sustainability, the more I am convinced that it is not our values that need adjusting, it is our thinking.

I don’t meet too many people with unjust values. I meet educators, students, community members, and people who work in non-profit organizations, businesses, and community based organizations, and governments. Our values are perfectly reasonable by any ethical or moral code. For the most part, the people I meet and work with are good people who love their families and friends, work hard at meaningful jobs, pay their bills, and want to leave this world better than we found it. So the question is, how could such good people be responsible for undermining the health of the living systems upon which our lives and all life depend?

The answer: the unintended consequences of our behavior are inconsistent with our values, and the laws that govern the physical world in which we live—and we simply did not see that coming. So what can we do about it? One of the Big Ideas of Education for Sustainability is, “Live by the Laws of Nature: We must operate within the physical laws and principles derived from nature rather than ignore them or attempt to overcome them. It is non-negotiable.” If we don’t have a choice, how is it possible that we are not abiding by them?

The 1st Law of thermodynamics, a law of physics, explains why matter and energy don’t appear or disappear from Earth—why we say there is no such place as “away”. Here is a classic example: as a result of the forces of gravity and the 1st Law of thermodynamics the stuff we have here on Earth—the water, the soil, the metals, the yogurt containers, the whole material world—is what we have to work with, forever. Everything we eat, breath and use comes from somewhere on Earth and goes back to somewhere on Earth. Since matter cannot be created or destroyed, nature up-cycles everything, creating value every time ­­­things move through the cycle of biological materials, and so life goes on. While entropy (another law of physics called the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics) breaks things down over time, photosynthesis puts it all back together by producing order and structure. Think: trees, leaves, decomposition, soil; trees, leaves, decomposition. More examples of material cycles include the rock cycle, the water cycle, and the nitrogen cycle—around and around and around they go…that is how it works.

Somehow, we good people of planet Earth must have missed the memo.

We produce materials that can’t join the biological cycle and create a thing we call “waste” i.e., materials that have no use. Even things that can be composted end up in the waste stream. We produce waste and we throw it out to a fictional location we call, “away”. We have been ignoring the 1stLaw! We are, in fact, the only species that leaves behind materials that have no value to any other living system. The only one. “Waste” has become such a normal thing that we don’t even think about it. What are we thinking? We need a new normal.

A no waste society will contribute to our ability to be a sustainable society. That is where we are headed. After all, waste is, well, a waste. For every 100 lbs of manufactured goods we produce, we generate 3000 lbs of waste in the U.S. (Hawken). We waste 50% of our food in the U.S., and the same globally (USDA). Given that more and more people are going hungry in this world– especially farmers, it is as wrong as it is unfair. It is unsustainable for us to continue to use up natural resources (forests, fisheries, farmland) at a rate of 50% faster than the Earth is able to replenish them—and a huge part of our ecological footprint is waste and wasted. We have a design challenge and we have a different choice to make. The design challenge is fairly straight forward. Design and use things that can be re-used, upcycled, or continually left out of the waste stream. We already have a “techno-cycle” (a human-made invention that mimics the way nature cycles materials) for things that can’t go back to nature (plastics, metals, chemicals etc.). So let’s stop pretending that there is such a place as, “away”—and cycle things we can. We can all take responsibility for the difference we make. Simply put, we need to become conscious of where our stuff comes from, what’s in it, and where it is going when it leaves our care. It is a lot of responsibility, so it will be easier if we keep the flow of stuff, to a minimum. Anything that can go into the compost pile and back to nature contributes to nature’s ability to sustain our lives and other life on Earth. Anything that can’t, needs to be continually up-cycled in the techno–cycle. No waste. A healthy, fair and sustainable future is possible and everything we do and everything we don’t do makes a difference.


Is this Education for Sustainability?

Is this Education for Sustainability? - Jaimie P. Cloud


The questions I ask faculty and administrators to consider when I am invited to a school to audit their sustainability education program are:

  1. Have you chosen a set of Education for Sustainability (EfS) benchmarks for the faculty to design, teach and assess with?  
  2. Do you document and map the curriculum?  If so, is it a living document that is continually improved and innovated over time?
  3. Does the faculty use the benchmarks to assess for evidence of EfS? 
  4. Do they explicitly communicate quality EfS performance criteria to their students?
  5. Do you have student work as evidence of the enduring understandings, knowledge, skills and attitudes of EfS?

If the answer is “no” to all the above, then my next question is,

6. Is there a shared understanding within the school community of what Education for Sustainability is?

If the answer is “no”, then my next question is,

7. What can I see?  Where can I look for evidence of EfS in the Curriculum?  I learned a long time ago that even if the answers to all my questions are “no”, it doesn’t mean people are not educating for sustainability.  It simply means we have to ask the next question, which is “how can we know?”

The way The Lovett School in Atlanta Georgia addressed my last question was to provide me with an extensive list of Stage 3 (UbD) curricular activities that the K-12 faculty was asked to prepare so that I could help them determine to what extent they were, indeed, educating for sustainability. 

I read through the list with great interest, honored that they took the time to carefully describe what they have been doing.  I didn’t actually consider using any of it in my audit because anecdotal information is not evidence I can assess.  However, after some conversations back and forth with the leadership team, we agreed that it would be valuable to all of us if I were to annotate the descriptions I was given to let the faculty and administration know how we can know if they are educating for sustainability at Lovett. 

Ordinarily I would have recommended that we use the Cloud Institute’s EfS Standards and Enduring Understandings as benchmarks against which I could annotate their descriptions, but I am working with the Journal of Sustainability Education to build consensus among EfS thought leaders and scholars on Sustainability Education Benchmarks which will be published this summer, and we all agreed that Lovett should wait for the new Benchmarks—since our work will be influenced by them going forward.  So, I decided to use my experience and my knowledge of EfS to inform my annotations.  I do this kind of work with faculty all the time in conversations during our coaching sessions.  The work of “sustainablizing” the curriculum is difficult to describe if you are not the one experiencing it—maybe even if you are.  I do hope that by capturing this work in writing, that I can increase understanding and shed some light on what it means to educate for a sustainable future, and how that is similar to, and different from, other types of education.  Some themes you will see over and over again:

  1. Document document document.  That way we can know what to keep, what to change, what to stop doing and what to start doing.  If you design, document and map in a robust mapping software, we can do all the analytics we want to do with the push of a button.
  2. If you use UbD/Backwards Design to document and map the curriculum, Stages I and II  (Outcomes and Assessments/Performance Criteria) will be clearly articulated so when we look at Stage III (lessons/descriptions of lessons) we can look for congruence between the 3 stages.  “If you don't know where you're going, any road will get you there.”
  3. Collecting, sorting and calibrating student work as evidence of EfS is essential if we want to get this right.
  4. A shared understanding of what EfS is, will send a consistent and reinforcing message to students, and will have synergistic results over time.  It is critical to differentiate between educating about sustainability, educating about un-sustainability and educating for sustainability. 

Click Here to read excerpts from The Lovett School descriptions with my annotations.

Useful Steps to Embedding EfS Standards into your Core Curriculum using Backwards Design (UbD)

By Jaimie P. Cloud


For those of you who understand what EfS is, who can articulate why you should do it, who are inspired and clear about the role that education plays in accelerating the shift toward sustainability… and just need some guidance on HOW to embed EfS into your core curriculum, this is for you. If you don’t yet have the tools and vocabulary you need to make sense of this, you can participate in one of our introductory professional development programs and receive follow up coaching services. Or take advantage of our “do it yourself” resources in our bookstore. The Fish Game and The EfS Curriculum Design Manual will get you started.


  • EfS Standards - The knowledge, skills, attitudes and habits of mind of Education for Sustainability (EfS) are embedded in The Cloud Institute's EfS Standards and Performance Indicators. Aligned to Common Core, Next Generation Science and other and State educational standards, each EfS Standard has a set of coded Performance Indicators used to guide educators as they infuse their curriculum, instruction and assessment practices with Education for Sustainability. We believe that by meeting these EfS standards, young people will be prepared to participate in, and to lead with us, the shift toward a sustainable future. The Cloud Institute's EfS Standards and Performance Indicators are available on the Rubicon Atlas Curriculum Mapping system. Contact us if your school is using Atlas and would like access.

  • Backwards Design/Understanding by Design (UbD) - Understanding by Design® (UbD™) is a framework for improving student achievement. Emphasizing the teacher's critical role as a designer of student learning, UbD™ works within the standards-driven curriculum to help teachers clarify learning goals, devise revealing assessments of student understanding, and craft effective and engaging learning activities. UbD was developed by nationally recognized educators Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe, and published by the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD). “Backwards Design” is a term we use to describe the process of designing curriculum with the end (the desired learning outcomes) in mind.

  • Levels of Accomplishment
    Introductory: Students are assessed at an introductory/basic level of accomplishment
    Progressing: Students are assessed based on their ability to demonstrate progress toward accomplishment
    Mastery: Students are assessed for mastery of the content or skill being addressed

  • Curriculum Stages - In UbD and Backwards Design, there are three stages to the design process. The first two stages make up the curriculum.
    Stage 1
    - Learning Outcomes (rationale, transfer goals, standards, enduring understandings, content knowledge, skills, /Essential Question(s).
    Stage 2
    - Assessments and Explicit Performance Criteria

  • Instruction Stage - In UbD and Backwards Design, the third stage is made up of the instructional practices that deliver on the curriculum.
    Stage 3
    - Lessons, Activities, Learning Experiences


A.   Acquire a shared understanding of sustainability and Education for Sustainability in your school community; develop personal rationales for educating for sustainability; become informed, inspired and hopeful about the role that education can play in making the shift toward a sustainable future

B.     Align the EfS Enduring Understandings, Standards and Performance Indicators to your core curriculum. 
(This activity is in the EfS Curriculum Design Manual in the bookstore. You can also receive the protocol with the EfS Alignment Charts available in the bookstore.) 

C.     Select a unit of study you want to “sustainablize” or design from scratch. Make note of how much time you have to deliver the unit. (Time is our only currency.)


D.     Select the required standards (Common Core, NGSS, Content, etc.) that this unit will address.

E.     Select the EfS Enduring Understanding(s), and the EfS Standards and Performance Indicators that are aligned to this unit, and that this unit will address.

F.     Decide what Essential Question(s) will drive the unit. Make sure that the Essential Question(s) corresponds to the Enduring Understandings you have selected. You may want to write a rationale for this unit (sooner or later it is good practice to do so) and you may want to develop a transfer goal(s) for the unit so that you keep in mind right from the beginning what, in the long run, you want students to be able to do independently and in a novel context as a result of this unit. It is a humbling experience to develop transfer goals. I recommend it.

G.     Using your UBD/Backwards Design Unit Overview Template, “Un-Pack” the Standards and Indicators (all) by dissecting each performance indicator and breaking it down into concrete understandable content knowledge (nouns) and skills (verbs) in those sections of your template. (Standards and Indicators are always written in abstract language—and this is an excellent step for meaning making and translation into practical language.) A good unit overview template is laid out so that the content section and the skills section sit side by side so you can see them together. This is really useful—because it is these two boxes you will work with most when it comes time to sketch lessons.

H.     Sequence, color code, and group the content knowledge in the order in which it will be delivered and do the same with the corresponding skills that will demonstrate that students have learned the content. Here is one exemplar of a Kindergarten Unit entitled, Change: Smile Through It! written by Jaimie Cloud and Marie Alcock. CLICK HERE

I.     Once you have the content and skills the way you want them—you can sketch the sequence of guiding questions you will ask that corresponds to the content and skills. Do a quick check to make sure that the content, skills and guiding questions you are sketching are all congruent with one another and serve your Enduring Understanding(s) and Essential Question(s).

J.     During the design process, I like to write the guiding questions in the content section first—so that I make sure that I haven’t missed anything. Sometimes I leave a copy there as a reference and then I always copy and paste the guiding questions into the learning opportunities/lessons section (Stage 3) because they will eventually drive the lessons and activities that will deliver on everything in Stage 1.


K.     Look back at the Outcomes you selected and indicate the level of performance for each one you will assess (Introductory, Progressing or Mastery (IPM), and/or, The Depths of Knowledge (DOK). Decide what assessments will provide evidence of student learning, when they will need to be administered, what level(s) of accomplishment you are assessing for, and what quality performance criteria (rubrics, checklists, exemplars…) you will use explicitly with your students—and how and when you will need to communicate it to them.


L.     All along stages 1 and 2 you have been thinking about activities, readings and resources you will use with your students. Whenever your mind goes there, just jot them down in the Stage 3 Box. Don’t spend too much time in Stage 3 while you are still working out Stages 1 and 2, but don’t lose a good idea you will use in Stage 3 because you aren’t there yet. This is an iterative process—not a linear one. At the end of the day you want to make sure that all three stages hang together in a whole system of congruent mutually beneficial parts.

M.     Now it’s time to really dive into the specifics of your lesson planning—the timing, the flow of activities and assessments, the handouts you will need, the scheduling and logistics of the projects and place based learning opportunities, etc. Much of the heavy lifting has been done by this time and if your content, skills and guiding questions are robust and clear to you, and you have been checking to make sure it all serves the Essential Question(s) and ultimately the Enduring Understanding(s) and the standards and benchmarks, then through the lessons you sketch you should get exactly what you designed for: Students who are engaged mindful and reflective, whose products and performances demonstrate that they have met the standards at the appropriate level, and who are prepared to participate in, and to lead with us, the shift toward a sustainable future.

The Journal of Sustainability Education Publishes the 2014 “State of the Field” Issue

By Jaimie P. Cloud, JSE Guest Editor

I am proud to announce the first in a series of three issues of the Journal of Sustainability Education entitled, Sustainability Education:  The State of the Field.  As Guest Editor of this Journal series it has been my privilege to work with an outstanding Editorial team who designed this series for one purpose - To create benchmarks for Sustainability Education by asking the thought leaders and scholars who have created and continue to study EfS to address the following questions:

What is Education for Sustainability (EfS)?  What are the “essential ingredients” of EfS that distinguish it from other educational frameworks? What paradigms, knowledge, skills and attitudes characterize EfS?  What instructional and engagement practices are congruent? What are the favorable organizational conditions that will make it possible?  What types of school/community partnerships are key?

I invite you to go to the Journal of Sustainability Education to see the Table of Contents of this first issue in the series.  Then I invite you to read my introduction to the series here, and finally to explore the Matrix we have created of the different author’s work. You will see that some authors have spent decades drilling down deeply into one aspect of Sustainability Education, while others have worked to conceptualize the whole system of EfS. Some have focused on content for one or two categories in our database template, and some have contributed material in all the categories. We have combined all grade levels here as a starting point - before we attempt over time to determine the developmental appropriateness of the different aspects of EfS for different age groups (although some of us have already begun to do that in our own work driven by the markets we serve).  You can sort the data by author and by category and you are invited to compare and contrast the thinking represented there. Remember, the overarching question is “What is essential to Education for Sustainability?”

Sneak Preview of the next two issues:

The 2nd Issue in the Series:  A Meta-Analysis
Fourteen years into the 21st Century, educators and decision makers on the ground must be able to trust that what they are doing, and what they are receiving in the way of assistance, meets the industry standards for EfS. In order for that to happen, we need to have agreed upon industry standards or “standards of excellence” for EfS.   In the 2nd issue of the series, a core group of the thought leaders and scholars and a group of emerging scholars will come together to conduct a meta-analysis of our collective body of work with the goal of developing industry standards for EfS.  These standards, which should come to represent the whole of our collective thinking to date, will be used by school administrators and Board members, text book publishers, parents, faculty, students and the community at large so that they can assess the extent to which their institutions are educating for a sustainable future, and to what extent they are meeting those industry standards. More importantly, these benchmarks can help us to produce and distribute the highest quality EfS programs, curricula and learning experiences, intentionally designed to accelerate the shift toward a healthy and sustainable future.

The 3rd Issue in the Series:  Exemplars
For the 3rd issue in the series, we will invite educators worldwide to submit exemplars of curriculum units, courses, assessments, rubrics and other forms of explicit performance criteria, as well as student work samples (with aligned performance criteria) that meet the EfS Standards of Excellence that emerge from the meta analysis published in the 2nd issue.

Please let us know your thoughts about the first issues - we are feedback driven and would love to hear from you.

Introducing Schools to the Future | The Journal of Wild Culture

Repost from:
Original Post Date: September 28, 2013, by Whitney Smith

Education as we have come to experience it is a system structured around 19th century models and needs is heavily influenced by the industrial revolution. Many have argued that this system is no longer relevant to the demands and aspirations of modern-day society; others have made claims that it is even detrimental. A few organisations have set out to redefine the weary standardised view within the education system today. • One of those organisations, The Cloud Institute for Sustainability Education, works closely with individuals within school systems in the US and around the world. Jamie Cloud, lifelong global educator and founder of The Cloud Institute, wants schools to become ‘learning organisations’ which place children in the centre of a curriculum that encourages, inspires and empowers them to think about the wider systems of ecology, economy and ethics. • In these video talks Jamie outlines the origins and importance of the Institute’s work, and how it is now time to relent our old fashion notions of education: to allow the fertile, vibrant, and bright minds of tomorrow to experience a school system that will help to nurture and cultivate their potential. • If you have a story like this one please let us know. The domino effect of a few of these can make the difference that Jaimie Cloud is talking about. — Matthew Small, Education Editor.

Here Jaimie discusses using the Fish Game and understanding Mental Models as a way to start the conversation about education for sustainability.

Watch the entire video series here:

How our Teaching Changes our Thinking, and How our Thinking Changes the World

Repost from:
Original Post Date: May 8th, 2011

How our Teaching Changes our Thinking, and How our Thinking Changes the World: A Conversation with Jaimie Cloud

By Pramod Parajuli and Rosemary Logan

(Guest Editor’s Note: Jaimie Cloud, the Founder and President of the Cloud Institute for Sustainability, is one of the sustainability education thinkers and practitioners we chose to interview and profile in this issue of JSE. The conversation below took place during December 2010 and January 2011 between Jaimie, Pramod and Rosemary.  After the draft version of this conversation was prepared, Jaimie filled in with additional contents and illustrations. A systems thinker and a thought leader in Education for Sustainability (EfS), Jaimie concludes this conversation with five-fold working principles. First, live by the natural laws. Second, read the feedback. Third, a healthy and sustainable future is possible, we just have to educate for it.  Fourth, it all begins with a change in thinking. And, finally, we are all responsible. Jaimie also points out that only 29% of her EfS clients are attracted to this area due to their concern with the environment. This is eye opening and demands our attention to other dimensions of learning and seeking sustainability. Perhaps they are social, cultural, economic, political, ethical and moral. I hope you enjoy this conversation. Through the pages of JSE, you are also invited to expand and enrich what we have started.

Pramod Parajuli, Ph.D.)

1. Rosemary and Pramod:

Jaimie, you are recognized as one of the thought leaders of the Education for Sustainability (EfS) concept and movement.  Will you tell us about your background?  Who are you and what led you to found the Cloud Institute? What is the work that you do, with whom, and how did your organization come to be?

Jaimie: I was in one of the first experiments in global education from the 6th-12th grades.  As a result, my work began at the age of 11.  I grew up in Evanston, Illinois.  Our teachers were influenced by Buckminster Fuller and other luminaries of the time. The gist of the experiment was to prepare us to thrive in the 21st Century, to become agents of change and inventors of the future we want.  They provided us  with learner-centered, constructivist methodologies  that produced reflective, flexible and creative questioners, systems thinkers, lateral thinkers, media literate, self-regulated learners prepared to deal with rapid change, increasing complexity and interdependence, uncertainty, diversity, and global challenges, including the environment, peace and security, human rights and human development.

In middle school, I could not have predicted that I would be a founder of the field of Education for Sustainability.  The term sustainability and sustainable development, as we understand it today, would not be coined until 1987, nineteen years later, and the field of Education for Sustainability would not be born until 1992 in Chapter 36 of Agenda 21—some 24 years later.

I grew up to become a Global Educator because that’s what I knew.  In 1987, when the word sustainability appeared in a U.N. report, Our Common Future, I thought to myself, “That’s the name for the desired condition I want to educate for.” I had been tracking the state of the planet data since 1968—since I was 11.  Now I had a word to describe what I saw:  The situation was un-sustainable for humans and other species of plants and animals with whom we share the planet.  Sustainable seemed like a better idea.  Once I had the word, I had the concept. Once I had the concept, I knew I needed to educate for sustainability. My first questions were: What is sustainability?  How do you measure it? What knowledge, skills and attitudes will be required to make the shift toward a sustainable future?  How will we educate for the sustainable future we want? Am I already doing “it” as a global educator? How will it change what I’m doing now? Who is being attracted to this work? Are they smart, creative whole systems thinkers? Can they dance?

I founded the Sustainability Education Center in 1995 at The American Forum for Global Education.  I felt like a laggard.  It had been three years since Chapter 36 of Agenda 21 was written.  In 2002, we officially spun off and became a 501-C3, and we were eventually re-branded by Heller Communications as The Cloud Institute for Sustainability Education.  As thought leaders involved in the development of the field of Education for Sustainability (EfS), we work to define the field of EfS through our framework, our EfS standards and performance indicators, enduring understandings, and the articulation of all the fields that inform EfS and the other frameworks and standards with which we are aligned.  Our mission is to ensure the viability of sustainable communities by leveraging changes in K-12 school systems to prepare young people for the shift toward a sustainable future.

  • We monitor the evolving thinking and skills of the most important champions of sustainability and transform them into educational materials and a pedagogical system that inspires young people to think about the world, their relationship to it, and their ability to influence it in an entirely new way.
  • We believe that K-12 education can substantially influence beliefs, attitudes, values, and behaviors related to sustainability. This is the most fertile ground for helping to shape a society committed to sustainable development.
  • We develop in young people and their teachers the new knowledge and ways of thinking needed to achieve economic prosperity and responsible citizenship while restoring the health of the living systems upon which our lives depend.

That is my story. Please also visit our blog at: /blog/category/resources

2. Rosemary: Though EfS is a relatively new term, the concept is not. Could you, for example, describe some of the precursors to EfS? What fields most strongly contribute to EfS? What, for example is the relationship between EFS and environmental or ecological education? Has environmental education played a role in the identity formation of EfS?

Jaimie: Precursors to EfS are global education, future studies, environmental education, wholistic education, diversity education, win/win conflict resolution, systems thinking and system dynamics education, to name a few. From my perspective, there is no one field that dominates EfS in the U.S.  Each country is different in this regard. In the U.S., the field grew because a handful of people from a lot of different fields emerged simultaneously, independently and co-constructively. The momentum to grow the field is much greater internationally than it has been in the U.S.  My colleagues globally are in Ministries of Education and Colleges of Education.  Here, we are a few NGOs holding the space for the development of the field, and a very few colleges of education have taken the lead.  Prescott College is one of the few.

The fields that strongly contribute to EfS are:

  • Sciences

–        Environmental Science and Education

–        Science Education (Physics, Biology, Chemistry, Earth Science…)

–        Neuroscience

–        Quantum Physics

  • Economics

–        Sustainable Economics

  • Social Sciences

–        Global Education

–        Ecological Design and Architecture Education

–        Holistic Education

–        Future Studies

–         Arts and Humanities (Literature, History, Performing, Visual…)

–        Organizational Learning and Change

–        Environmental Ethics and Philosophy

–        Ecological Psychology

–        Positive Psychology

–        Science of Happiness

–        Conflict Resolution Education

–        Systems Thinking and System Dynamics Education

–        Game Theory

The field of neuroscience and the new research on the brain has been extremely useful in contributing to our ability to teach and learn about the paradigms, frames, or mental maps that drive people’s behavior.  Thinking drives behavior, and behavior causes results.  If you don’t like the results, the most upstream place to intervene is the thinking.  That is why education of a certain kind (Orr) is key to making the shift toward sustainability and regeneration. Piaget explained the difference between assimilation and accommodation. So much of our current reality is a result of old ways of thinking and a gap between old mental models and current reality. Our job is to close the gap between mental models and the reality itself based on the evidence—based on the data. That is why Neuroscience is included on The Cloud Institute’s list of fields that contribute to EfS.

Understanding the relationship between EfS and environmental education is interesting because it is not as simple as you might think. From a conceptual point of view they are, in many ways, aligned and complimentary.  Certainly, we are all interested in contributing to a sustainable future through education.  What is in a name? This is where things get tricky.  People call what they are doing whatever they want to call it—whatever there is funding for, or whatever they are used to calling it.  The only way to know whether a program is EE or EfS is to study the attributes, the competencies, and the measureable outcomes.

If one is doing outdoor education and kids are connecting to nature and falling in love with nature by studying science and biology or ecology and ecosystems, then some people would call that environmental education, place-based education, Environment as an Integrating Context (EIC), environmental science, and/or outdoor education. EE has a robust set of standards that are well respected and do an excellent job of capturing what EE is and does. The Cloud Institute’s EfS Content Standards for Education for Sustainability include Responsible Local and Global Citizenship, Sustainable Economics, the Dynamics of Systems and Change, Healthy Commons, Multiple Perspectives, the Natural Laws and Ecological Principles, Inventing and Affecting the Future, Sense of Place, and Cultural Preservation and Transformation. Embedded in the content standards are twelve enduring understandings, five distinct thinking skill sets, six core attitudes and a host of best instructional practices.  It is quite easy to see the similarities and differences between EE and EfS if you look carefully at the core content and learning outcomes we have each articulated.  Everyone wants to be the umbrella and no one wants to be under it.   So there is no sense in trying to determine which one is the “umbrella” field.

The purpose of Education for Sustainability, from our perspective, is to contribute to our individual and collective potential and that of the living systems upon which our lives depend.  We have to learn how to be well in our places without undermining their ability to sustain us over time. Even better is to learn how to develop a regenerative relationship with the living systems upon which our lives depend.  The foundations of our knowledge, skills, and habits of mind are cultivated in our schools.  All the children and young people are legally required to go to school.  That is why we work in schools.

3. Pramod: Has David Orr’s work, his 15 principles we need to know for example, informed your work?

Jaimie: Absolutely. We have embedded his thinking, and that list informs our standards and performance indicators. They fit most appropriately in our core content standard, Natural Laws and Ecological Principles. We have integrated David’s list as well as several other people’s, including Janine Benyus’s work in the principles of Biomimicry, and Sim Van der Ryn’s Principles of Ecological Design, along with several other authors who have tried to capture the essence of what we need to know about the “operating instructions” for the planet. All of David Orr’s books are required reading. He has had a huge influence on my work. He was also one of the first people to make the case for the role of education in contributing to sustainability.  “The worth of education must now be measured against the standards of decency and human survival—the issues now looming so large before us in the 21st century. It is not education, but education of a certain kind, that will save us” (Orr). Too few have said this out loud or have published on the topic.

In most serious conversations about sustainability, I have not detected a shared understanding of the role of education, particularly K-12, in contributing to the shift toward a sustainable future. I have spoken to system dynamics modelers who assume that the time horizon for the return on an investment in Education for Sustainability is twenty years. When I hear that, I ask them, “Do you know any children?!” In my experience, it takes children and young people very little time (especially compared to adults) to turn what they’ve learned into action at the local level.  On average, they are much more responsive, creative, and quicker to make change than we adults are. A seriously flawed assumption is at work there. To quote David Orr again, “This current situation we find ourselves in is not the work of ignorant people. On the contrary, it is the work of extremely well educated people—with advanced degrees.”

In David’s book, Earth in Mind, an entire chapter is devoted to the question, “What is education for?” In the service of what?  We begin many conversations about EfS by asking the following questions that are classic to our field:

What kind of future do we want? What do we want to sustain? For whom, for how long, and what does education have to do with it?  The very next question begged has to be, “What is education for?

4.Pramod: As of now, there are some 400 plus definitions of sustainability.  Is there a particular definition of sustainability (or a mix) that you prefer? What are foundational concepts of sustainability that you and the Cloud Institute are comfortable with?

Jaimie: Yes…there is one that I love. The one I love is from Donella Meadows, “A sustainable society is one that is far-seeing enough, flexible enough, and wise enough not to undermine either its physical or its social systems of support.” I also love and use Mathis Wackernagel’s definition a lot too.  He says that sustainability means “a quality of life for all within the means of nature.” That’s a nice, short, and elegant one. We collect definitions of sustainability because people always ask us for one. Having said that, defining it is not actually going to be enough if you really want people to understand what the “it” is.  I often get calls for advice from people who are learning how to educate for sustainability.  They will often call after the fact when they feel that they have flopped. My first question is always, “Tell me you didn’t define education for sustainability in your opening line.” That was their first and last mistake.  In my experience, defining sustainability is like defining education, or grace, or democracy or excellence.  It is not the definition that captures the essence. It is the essence itself, and you just have to learn what it is and experience it to get it.  Defining sustainability makes people’s eyes glaze over…it doesn’t help people get it. Yet, definitions are required.  That is why we collect them.  When people ask me for my “elevator speech,” I often recommend we take the stairs…

Sustainable solutions solve more than one problem at a time and minimize the creation of new problems (Wendell Berry). They contribute to the health of the very systems upon which they depend. Think about the word Sustain-ABLE- what makes something sustain-able? What makes human life on Earth sustain-able? Mutually beneficial relationships with all of the living systems upon which we depend. It’s real simple. It’s not sustain-GUARANTEED. Death and taxes are still the only two guarantees. I do not see evidence of a shared understanding among a critical mass of human beings on Earth about what it takes to sustain us as a species over time. We have created incredibly unfavorable conditions for humans to survive (let alone thrive), as well as for all the creatures with which we are interdependent to survive and thrive over time.  Unintentionally, to be sure, but the feedback is the feedback.

5. Pramod: Among others, your work with the K-12 school teachers seems to be very prominent and rigorous.  I call it the “one teacher at a time” approach to deepening sustainability.  What is your experience in working with teachers?  Do you have some success stories (or lack thereof) to share?

Jaimie: Actually, we work with “one system at a time.” One teacher at a time would take too long. The most whole system work we do is with school districts and their communities learning together for a sustainable future.  We call those our Sites Learn initiatives. Examples include the nine sites around the country that are members of the Society for Organizational Learning (SoL) Education Partnership that Peter Senge and I created with a team of colleagues, and also our New Jersey Learns program which is funded by The Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation and is made up of a growing number of sites around New Jersey that participate in Sustainable Jersey. The next level on the continuum is our Districts Learn work. We work with individual districts and consortia of districts to Educate for Sustainability. The best example of that is our work with seventeen districts through the Putnam Northern Westchester BOCES on a massive and multifaceted EfS initiative that is grounded in a core set of web-based exemplary units of study across all grade levels and disciplines ( Next, we work with individual schools (Schools Learn) from PS 208 in Harlem to the Denver Green School, and from Trevor Day School in NYC to Marin Country Day School in Corte Madera, California, to name a few.  We need to have models and exemplars of what EfS looks like in a school, a district, and a community. If you go to our website you can see our approach and all our programs described there. We network all with whom we work so we can scale up the quantity and quality of the work as efficiently and effectively as possible.

Having said all of that, indeed a big part of the work we do involves professional development and coaching of teachers, leadership development and organizational learning consulting and planning with administrators, and work with educators to embed EfS into the core curriculum. Most K-12 schools are new to EfS. A small minority have been working on it since the early 1990s.

We usually begin a relationship with a school or district by providing an introduction to sustainability and education for sustainability in order to achieve three outcomes: 1) A shared understanding among the stakeholders of sustainability and EfS; 2) A personal rationale for educating for sustainability, and; 3) Participants will become inspired and hopeful about contributing to sustainability through education. If we are able to spend one day with educators—even just a day—as crazy as education is these days with testing, budget cuts, and graduation rates at an all time low, at the end of that day, the overwhelming response from teachers and administrators is, “Yes, this is important. I will do what I can to educate for sustainability.  It’s our responsibility. Kids need and deserve this kind of education.  Yes, I will do this.” Maybe they are an “early adopter” and they are ready to start “sustainablizing” (a short hand word we made up) their curriculum and instructional practices, or maybe they’re not quite ready for that yet, and they go home and pow-wow with their families to start being more conscious about their food buying habits or their waste production. Whatever they are ready for, I can say with all honesty that I have never met an educator that said, “Nah…I think I’ll keep educating for unsustainability. I don’t really like kids all that much anyway. I don’t care about their future.” Never once.  All the educators that I have ever met without exception want what is good for kids. It is a deep and fundamental aspiration to contribute to the health and well-being of our children and of future generations. They remember why they became educators in the first place…and the creativity and the work begins. Sustainability and EfS are what’s better for the kids. This is goosebump material!  The work of educating for sustainability is extremely exciting, energizing, and fun.  It is a lot of work—especially in the beginning—and it is worth it.  Our children are worth it.

Let me provide some examples of what it looks like to work with a teacher in a school to embed EfS into the curriculum:

Example ONE:  This is a story from one of our partner schools, St. Paul’s School in New Orleans. They use the Cultural Literacy Curriculum developed by E.D. Hirsch.  One of the teachers we work with was teaching a course on the human body and trying to figure out how to incorporate EfS into the learning. What people don’t always realize is that educating for sustainability is not always about sustainability. It is first and foremost about developing the knowledge and the ways of thinking that will help us to thrive over time—systems thinking is a good example. We want to develop as systems thinkers and to be able to transfer those habits of mind where and when appropriate. The human body is a great thing to study to understand systems and interdependence and the system’s archetypes. You can chart behavior over time…study interdependence by understanding how one part of the system affects the other parts… and all of this can be studied through the human body.  As soon as the teacher saw the connection—saw that systems thinking could contribute to her students’ understanding of the human body (and contribute to sustaining human life on the planet…)—it was a win-win-win. She fell in love with the idea and off she went. It is a great unit of study.

Example TWO: An example of the results of EfS on students is the work of a science teacher at Marin County Day School in California, which is another one of our partner schools. This science teacher was interested in having her students study indigenous plants on the mountain upon which the school is built. They went to the local library to find books on the topic. No books on indigenous plants to the mountain were to be found. The fifth graders decided to write the book. So they did. They published and illustrated the book, and there are now several copies in the local library for others to use. Authentic curriculum and instruction are attributes of EfS. This is a beautiful example of EfS. It is an example of an authentic contribution by students in school to the sustainability of the place in which they live. The process was as relevant as the content of the book itself.

Example THREE: Another example of our work with schools includes the development of two full courses of study for the NYC Board of Education.  A new Participation in Government course, Inventing the Future: Leadership and Participation for the 21st Century and an Entrepreneurship course, Business and Entrepreneurship for the 21st Century are learner-centered, standards-based, assessment-driven, and differentiated, all attributes of EfS. Each course was accompanied by a series of professional development programs for teachers and both were very successful at accomplishing the learning outcomes for teachers and students that they were designed to achieve.

Example FOUR: A Pre-K teacher of 3-4 year olds at the Denver Green School is a Reggio-trained teacher. She is a master of constructivist education.  The EfS learning outcomes and content standards worried her, because she wanted her students to drive their own inquiry. Her curiosity and dedication to Education for Sustainability (the mission of the school) inspired her to teach for Healthy Commons. Her students have a play space that is a commons that the kids share. She decided that it would be useful if her students understood their rights to, and responsibilities for, that commons. She thought it would take the entire school year. She called me in October and said, “They’ve already got it! They are applying it and testing it and are transferring it outside of school…now what am I going to do?” The kids understood very quickly the difference between “mine” and “ours” and embraced the idea that the commons were that upon which we all depend and for which we are all responsible. It was a powerful reminder of how quickly children and young people learn and apply what they have learned.

The LAST Example (for now): Earlier I mentioned our work with seventeen districts in the Putnam Northern Westchester BOCES in NY. Hundreds of teachers are involved in innovating and writing exemplary curriculum units that other districts can subscribe to ( Some teachers in the 3rd -5th grade teacher cohort decided they wanted to teach about the Commons as well (the Commons is one of the favorite EfS Standards among teachers). They had chosen a book entitled, Our Commons, by Molly Bang. The teachers were so excited the librarian found a book on the Commons, and they wanted to use it in the unit. Halfway through the book, however, the author starts talking about the state of our local and global Commons…all bad news. I was concerned.  We talked about the brain’s reaction to fear and how it produces the “away response” in people.  We discussed what the unintended consequences would be of scaring ten-year-old children with the bad news of our current reality and how we could solicit engagement and creativity and help them to turn the problems into opportunities to create positive change. This is not the field of Education About Unsustainability. It is the field of Education for Sustainability.  One of the teachers found the solution: “We can take the kids through the first half of the book, then challenge them to write their own endings to the book.” It was brilliant.  The plan is to send the students’ new endings to the author so that she can read their ideas for creating healthy Commons.

6. Pramod: In my experience, K-12 public education and the role of teachers in its success (or failure) has always been one of the most contentious and difficult issues in the United States. Recently, there has been much praise as well as vilification of the public education system. Amidst the push for privatization of the school system, how does your work around Education for Sustainability fit in? How does your work empower public (or private) schools and teachers to succeed and thrive?

Jaimie: Many people have given up on public schools and yet we keep sending the majority of our children there. It is a bad scenario. We can either give up on them and create something else in their stead, or we can transform them into learning organizations that contribute to our children’s individual and collective potential and that of the living systems upon which our lives depend  (we actually like a bit of both.) We cannot, I would argue, continue to send the majority of our nation’s children to places for thirteen years of their lives that we have abandoned financially, psychologically and emotionally.  That’s just a disaster. That’s part of the problem. I’ll say that upfront.

Schooling has not, for the most part, evolved and changed with the evolving and changing world in which we live.  It’s no secret.  The old industrial form for education (public and independent schools can both be guilty of this) is part of the reason our schools are failing our children, our society, and our world.  We cannot blame that on our teachers. Actually no blame can be assigned to any one of the players responsible for K-12 education in our communities. All systems are perfectly designed to get the results they get (Senge). Education in the U.S. is a systemic problem. Schools that are still modeled after the industrial revolution were not designed to change, were not designed to respond to, or to make change, and were not even designed to produce learning. They were designed to train people to work in factories. We know the history of schooling here in the United States. Schools are outdated if they are teaching the disciplines in silos, if class periods are forty-two minutes long or close to it (which no research on learning supports, by the way), and if teachers are still standing, delivering, and testing for recall. They will not be successful in the 21st Century and they will not prepare our children and young people to be successful. It is a design challenge to be sure. You can put that design challenge on top of challenges presented by the No Child Left Behind initiative that put many public school systems in a tailspin, which on the one hand was useful, and on the other hand destructive. Useful in that they asked teachers/districts to be accountable for student learning and student performance, destructive because of the unintended consequences of test preparation and a focus on tests. Test scores are an indicator of success; they are not the goal of education.

How does Education for Sustainability address the current reality of schooling in the U.S. today? We create learning organizations that are vision-oriented and feedback driven. We improve the relationships between schools and their communities, which generates emergent properties that benefit the health of both by accelerating the shift toward sustainability in those places. We inspire educators with aspirational goals, high quality teaching and learning, and low tolerance for mediocrity or failure. We stand for authentic teaching and learning and youth leadership. We use all the best instructional practices that improve teaching and learning, including backwards design in our curriculum planning with educators, curriculum documentation and mapping, and the use of data (feedback in the form of student work, evidence of growth over time and, yes, standardized test scores) to inform practices continuously improving through teacher development and critical conversations. We use learner-centered, standards-based, feedback driven, place and project-based, differentiated instruction in EfS (to name a few). We increase critical, creative, and systems thinking, which contributes to good test scores and college acceptances while contributing to civic engagement and the sustain-ability of human life on the planet. EfS is 21st Century education at its best.

7. Pramod: At the Cloud Institute, you value the importance of educating “for sustainability” rather than “about sustainability.” What is the difference you have found between these two? At Prescott College Ph.D. program in Sustainability Education, we also talk about education as sustainability. In our interpretation, if “education for sustainability” could be about enabling people to do no harm to the people or the planet, “education as sustainability” is to actually do good to people and the planet as much as possible. Any thoughts you have on the emerging vocabularies we use and conceptualizations?  Have these words and concepts been helpful to you and your work?

Jaimie: It is clear that people educating for sustainability do not all have a shared vocabulary with shared meanings. What you call “education as sustainability—actually do good to people and the planet as much as possible,” we would call educating for sustainability by contributing to the regenerative capacity of all living systems. What you call “educating for sustainability—doing no harm to the people or the planet” we call “better than a poke in the eye” but we have higher aspirations for EfS than that. As I mentioned earlier, the Cloud Institute’s framework for Education for Sustainability is designed to contribute to our individual and collective potential and that of the living systems upon which our lives depend (also see questions 3 and 5 above). The ultimate goal is regeneration, of course. However, it’s no easier a word to sell than sustainability…which is why we don’t use it in marketing materials. Bill McDonough, who is famous for Cradle to Cradle Design, always talks about how wrong it is to aspire to doing less bad when doing more good is so much better. We agree with Bill on this and many other points.  More good is what we aspire to.   

When we educate about sustainability we treat sustainability as a topic. In my opinion, its use strictly as a topic is limiting and does not allow for what I believe is its highest and best use. To us sustainability and regeneration (whatever is considered the most aspirational goal) is the name for the desired condition we are educating for. I think the greatest value to us is that the concepts of sustainability and regeneration have their value as aspirational and measurable destinations.

The reason I don’t abandon the word sustainability is that you can measure it. There are measurable indicators of sustainability. We can measure whether we are using more resources faster than the replenishment rate. We can measure our Ecological Footprint.  It is the Ecological Footprint that has made it possible for us to realize that we are using bio capacity on Earth faster than it is being replenished, and that is that the very definition of unsustainable. We are constantly looking at stocks and flows and looking at the health of the systems upon which our lives depend. We measure the quality of the water, the air, the state of our Commons, the health of our wetlands, fish stocks, top soil, public health, the gap between rich and poor, graduation rates, etc. These are all indicators of sustainability that we can measure. We use the indicators we have, and we are developing new and better measures all the time. How are our education systems doing ? We can measure it.  If we put it all together in a place, we have sustainable community indicators. I think the fact that we can measure to what extent we are moving toward or away from sustainability (and even regeneration) is very useful.

8. Pramod: You have also been enthusiastic about considering schools as learning organizations. Your approach to EfS seems to be informed by a whole systems approach. I will throw one more metaphor for your consideration: schools as ecosystems. How successful have you been in getting across these ideas to school administrators, teachers, and parents?

Jaimie: In schools that “learn,” everyone is encouraged to keep thinking, innovating, collaborating, talking candidly, improving their capabilities, self-correcting, and making personal commitments to a shared future… 

We have a description of our whole systems approach on our website at /our-approach

To me, the difference between using the term “schools as ecosystems” vs. “schools as learning organizations” is the perception of these two terms in the marketplace. Ecosystems conjures up the word environment and that suddenly limits the market. This is my experience. As soon as people think what we do is related to “the environment,” then either they are interested or not interested. Our research shows that consistently over time; 29% of our audiences are interested in education for sustainability because of the environment, and the other 71% want to educate for sustainability for a variety of other reasons.

On the other hand, it is sort of obvious that a school should be a learning organization—like a hospital should be a healthy hospital. It seems so obvious to people and doesn’t scare anyone away. It explains that we’re moving from industrial silos of training to a more integrated place for learning. Peter Senge coined the phrase “learning organization” in his book entitled, The Fifth Discipline. He then wrote a book called, Schools that Learn. We agree that the attributes of a learning organization are perfectly suited for schools that want to thrive in the 21st Century. That is why we use the term.  Having said that, schools are of course ecosystems, and as biomimics, it makes perfect sense to think of them as such.

9. Rosemary and Pramod: Last month (October 2010) we attended the AASHE (American Association for Sustainability in Higher Education) conference in Denver, Colorado. There we saw that assessing sustainability education was a hot topic. Could you please describe some ways that the Cloud Institute assesses student learning of EfS? How are these correlated with federal or state standards? Why is assessment important for EfS? What are the challenges posed to assessing such a form of education? What areas are in greatest need of improvement?

Jaimie: We distinguish between evaluation, assessment, and grading. When we assess, we are gathering information about what students are learning, how they are learning, what it means to them, what they know, and what they can do, using multiple indicators and sources of evidence. Assessment is used to meet a variety of evaluation needs and can be done informally (observation) or formally (tangible evidence). Assessment allows teachers to ascertain, monitor and produce learning. To evaluate is to ascribe a value to the information we have gathered. Evaluation legitimizes teachers’ and students’ assessment data. To grade is to assign a symbol/number to the evaluation.  Grading communicates evaluation information but produces no new learning. 

We use pre-post instruments to measure growth over time, formative measures all along the way, and we use summative measures at the end of units and courses to measure overall retention and success. Assessments that produce learning are doing double-duty, and that’s a good thing. There is never going to be more time, so integrating your instruction and your assessments/evaluations makes sense. Nature only integrates. We use a variety of tools to measure student performance. We regularly use prompts that promote reflective thinking and are project-based, and service learning opportunities are excellent ways for students to express what they have learned while making authentic contributions to sustainability in their communities.

Why are assessment and evaluation important? If you want to know whether you have addressed an EfS standard or any standard, you have to produce evidence of it in student work. You have to assess for it.  We want EfS to produce the kind of knowledge, thinking, and attitudes that will prepare children and young people to participate in, and to lead with us, the shift toward a sustainable future. With our EfS Standards and Performance Indicators, the proper instruments and explicit scoring criteria we can measure the acquisition and application of the knowledge, skills, and attitudes that characterize EfS.  We are working toward being able to demonstrate a correlation between a comprehensive approach to EfS in schools and communities and the improvement of sustainable community indicators in those places. What doesn’t get measured doesn’t get managed.  We aim to see improvement over time.  This is not just an intellectual exercise. EfS leads to a different way of thinking that drives different behavior that produces different results—sustainable results.  We are responding to Einstein’s quote, “The significant problems we face cannot be solved with the same level of thinking we used to create them.”EfS is our contribution to that different way of thinking.

Evidence of success would include evidence of the enduring understandings of EfS and the EfS Standards and Performance Indicators embedded with the thinking skills that characterize EfS. Here is an example of how we do it:  One of the teachers we work with at the Trevor Day School in NYC teaches health and nutrition and the food pyramid in science. As a result of working together, she completely redesigned the unit to educate for EfS through food and nutrition. She chose the EfS Standards and Performance Indicators she wanted the unit to address. She designed learning opportunities and the assessments, and now we’re looking at student work to see how well she accomplished her objectives. Looking for evidence, communicating degrees of quality through rubrics, exemplars, and other forms of explicit criteria, helps students develop a frame of reference for excellence.

10.  Rosemary: To put a more human face on assessment, could you share with us a personal story of a moment or a series of moments that communicated a student or group of students “got it?” “It” being the concept of sustainability.  What did it look and feel like? What were you thinking at the time?

Jaimie: The first one that comes to mind is not one of our students but is a great story about a student from Bristol, Vermont, who eventually received a Brower Youth Award for the work she started through school. Her name is Jesse Ruth Corkins.  I always tell her story because it is exemplary. Jessie Ruth was in the fourth grade when Vermont adopted State Standards for Sustainability Education. By the time she got to 9th grade, she was not new to the concept.

In 9th grade, a science fair challenge her teacher assigned her class was to convert their school building from oil to a clean, green renewal form of energy. Jessie Ruth and her partner, another 9th grader, did just that. They did the research, the science, the math, the business case, the politics, the economics, the planning, the writing, the fundraising, the purchasing, and the project oversight and completion. The school board gave them the money to convert their school building to wood chips. They saved the building $30,000 in the first year and $90,000 in the fourth year. Jessie Ruth is a poster child for sustainability education. Every EfS Standard is evident in her work. Jessie Ruth then moved on to organize a statewide coalition called the Vermont Sustainable Heating Initiative. Her coalition received 20 million dollars and 100,000 acres from the state legislature to grow switch grasses and other plant products so Vermont could grow its own energy supply in the form of pellets. They shifted the market for pellet stoves from one stove a week to 1,000 stoves per week. That was all before Jessie graduated high school.

You see every attribute for EfS in her thinking and actions and their integration. She represents the new paradigm in every way. She’s smart, can do the math, and collaborate. That’s not something you would be able to capture in a multiple choice test, and it is not something you can produce in one course or one year. You get that over time. EfS was normal for her from 4th through 12th grade. It was embedded in her consciousness. Now she’s attending the University of Vermont.

Other examples include the 3rd grade students in Byram Hills, NY, who designed and implemented the recycling program in their school and community; the students in Portland, Oregon who saved the Swifts’ “migration rest stop” by instituting an upgrade to their school’s source of energy; the 4th grade students in Salt Lake City who responded to an RFP from the city and who won 4 ½ acres to build a  nature trail and playground and park; and the secondary students at the Lawrenceville School in Lawrence, NJ, who serve as the “research arm” of the Sustainable Lawrence initiative. These are all examples of authentic assessments that produce learning and make authentic contributions to community sustainability.

11. Rosemary: What do you think are the greatest areas within EfS in need of further research? If you were to put the call out for the next generation of sustainability educators and researchers, what would you tell them?

Jaimie: Certainly assessment and evaluation are big areas that require research. Developing longitudinal studies to track progress over time is paramount. We want to provide evidence of the correlation between EfS and the improvement of sustainable community indicators in a place.  Can we compare the data to others who are not doing EfS? We need baseline data and then we will need to set up systems to track progress over time. We need good researchers to do all of it.

We need help in designing robust assessments to measure student learning in all of the EfS Standards and Indicators. We need great rubrics and a great variety of methods to communicate performance criteria. We need to communicate to people what it looks like to meet an EfS standard. We need to determine what the best measures are. We need to know what the best ways are to assess the degrees of quality of EfS attributes. We need to know what it takes to prepare an educator to educate for sustainability, an administrator to administrate for it, etc. We need to know what kinds of capacity building and professional development works best in different contexts, and we need to have a great deal of student work that produces evidence of EfS attributes. I will give you a quick example: One of our teachers designed an elegant unit of study and was interested in addressing two performance indicators of the Multiple Perspectives Standard of EfS. She designed her unit to produce evidence in her students of respect for other’s points of view and empathy. When the teacher showed me her rubric for the unit, there was nothing about empathy and point of view articulated.  She did all that work to design and teach for those attributes but had forgotten to communicate to her students that those two EfS Performance Indicators were important. She had used an existing rubric that did a great job of assessing for the characteristics of a good essay. To analyze her students’ work, she put the work in three piles: Meets Expectations, Exceeds Expectations and Below Expectations.  Though the student work in the first two categories demonstrated good to excellent writing skills, none of them demonstrated empathy. The writing was indeed poor in the Below Expectations pile, but the work of two students in that pile demonstrated empathy, and they didn’t get any recognition for that. It was a simple issue to resolve.  We added respect for other’s points of view and empathy to the rubric, and the teacher decided to pay closer attention to the congruence between what she was designing for, what she was assessing for, and what she was communicating to kids was important.

How can we best help teachers to do this work? What resources do they need? What professional development opportunities do they need to relatively quickly adjust teaching and assessment practices that will improve student learning and contribute to a sustainable future? We would love to get some help from great and smart researchers out there. We’d be happy to participate in pilots and create focus groups and study teams. We can provide the research subjects, but we have received very little to no funding to do this kind of thing. It has been very difficult so far for us to get money to design and implement robust research and assessment agendas. There are a few studies out there that are fabulous and very useful. At Antioch, David Sobel has evidence of the great impact of place-based education (an attribute of EfS) on civic engagement and test scores. Employing the Environment as an Integrative Context for Learning: Closing Achievement Gap (Lieberman et al., 2002) is another good study that is useful. We need more data to prove EfS contributes to critical thinking or other benchmarks people want, like meeting state standards. We need more evidence that EfS contributes to student performance and success in life.

As Pramod himself is aware, food and learning gardens-based initiatives in Portland, Oregon, and other areas need a total assessment.

12. Pramod: Pedagogy based on a sense of place seems to be one of the areas of your focus in EFS. How do the notions of “local,” “bioregional,” “national,” and “global,” figure in your sense of place? How do you suggest a sustainable citizen would navigate between these scales and responsibilities?


All of those are nested systems. A local system is nested in its bioregion, is nested in the national and political systems…etc. Nested systems are all interdependent on one another. From a systems perspectives all problems are endogenous. They arise from within the system.  If we solve our problems locally, we contribute to solving them globally. You can use the cliché both ways—think globally, act locally…and vice versa. We can’t have global sustainability without local sustainability. Linking all the locals to one another over time produces global networks of communication, shared understandings, and best practices. We are all in this together.  Prescinding is very useful in this regard.  To prescind is to look with a “zoom lens” at our local systems while, at same time, using a “wide angle lens” to keep our eyes on the big picture. We move from parts to whole and whole to parts. That’s what you’re doing all the time….negotiating and reconciling relationships between the two.

13.  Pramod: What have you found about the new generation of learners in K-12 setting? What are their characteristics? What new technologies are they using to learn and live in the world? How should EfS adapt to those new modalities of teaching and learning such as identified in the Curriculum-21 volume?

Jaimie: The learners that I come into contact with run the gamut. In general, our younger students are hungry to learn and passionate about sustainability and making a difference. As they get older, I see three groups emerging:  Some are becoming more cynical, less reflective, feeling disconnected, and have little hope for the future. Others are in denial completely—thinking that their lives will be fine, even though they see that the world is in trouble (as if, somehow, they had immunity from the results of that trouble). The third group—a growing group, thank goodness—is being educated for sustainability in one form or another, and  they are on fire to learn and to contribute to a healthy and sustainable future.

In terms of young people’s uses of technology, I think the rapid change is really challenging for adults and not that big a deal for young people if they are educated to adapt and to thrive in that context. The speed of technological change is a good example. It is easy for kids to navigate because they’re used to it, and things are always changing in their lives. There is great plasticity in the brain until the age of twelve or thirteen. There is still plasticity after that, but it is never as easy to adapt after thirteen as it is before thirteen. Once the patterns and habits kick in, we have to work hard to keep our minds open and flexible.  The role of teachers is more and more to become “guides on the side” instead of “sages on the stage.” It is a great time for constructivist education. Students don’t need teachers to deliver information anymore. Technology can provide it faster and in differentiated ways for different learners (see the School of One, NYC). We hold students back if we are standing there delivering content.

At the same time, students, and all of us, need tremendous help to not overuse technology and to navigate the use of the Internet in gathering data and doing research. Alan November, in the volume Curriculum 21 (HH Jacobs, ASCD, 2010, visit:, tells a story in his article called, Teaching Zack to Think, about a student who was studying the Holocaust. He somehow learned through his online research that the Holocaust was really a health spa. It turns out that all the websites he used lead back to one engineering professor at a prominent university who hated Jewish people and had set up eight different websites all linked to each other, all delivering consistently bogus information. They all had at the end and so the student thought they were legitimate. He could not distinguish the lies from the truth. The article then goes on to teach people how to unpack a URL to determine legitimacy. I see students all the time doing research on the Internet by Googling and picking the top three things that come up as their sources. These are some of the benefits and challenges to the use of technology in our classrooms.

I think it is common knowledge these days (though it is not all reflected on the standardized tests) that our job as educators more and more is to teach students how to do things like analyze information, distinguish opinions from facts, back up their statements with evidence, do research, be media literate, and live in community—sustainably, of course.

14. Rosemary: I had the immense pleasure of attending both a workshop you presented on assessment at Bioneers as well as the Advanced Summer Design Studio this summer (2010). Both experiences were among the best trainings I’ve been to on EfS. Could you please describe the variety of resources that the Cloud Institute offers to educators and schools (including opportunities for collaboration via the Cloud Commons)? Where might someone looking to get into EfS find you (professional conferences you present at etc.)?

Jaimie: The Summer Design Studio is a great way to get started or to continue deepening your work in EfS. Each summer teachers and administrators come from all over to design something through the lens of sustainability (units of study, curriculum maps, professional development programs, organizational change strategies, assessments…). They spend five days with us plus the one day introduction if they haven’t had it yet. They have time (our only currency) to work. It is a real treat. There is work time scheduled with optional mini-sessions and coaching when they need it. They have time and space and colleagues, resources, and the Internet. People meet each other and form affinity groups.  Everything we’re doing is encouraging learning communities so no one feels alone out there.

In our consulting work throughout the school year, we are doing more and more long-term work with schools for 3-5 years—a  whole school approach.

We also do individual professional development programs and we’re launching the upgrade of our “Cloud Commons,” a digital resource library with e-portfolio capability for educators to document, share, and receive feedback on their work. Cloud Commons is a great resource people can subscribe to. They can share units and draw on units and plans that other people have designed so that we can all learn from one another and build a repertoire of exemplary EfS materials. This next year will be very exciting.

If you are an individual or small group and district not ready to make a commitment, you can start with a One Day Intro to Sustainability and Education for Sustainability in our shop in NYC or in your own location.  You can buy our EfS Curriculum Design Studio in a Box or you can purchase some of our exemplary units and courses to get you started.

For folks who are ready to do the deeper dive and make the commitment to educating for sustainability, we have four major programs – E-learn (online), Districts Learn, Sites learn and Youth Learn. They are all beautifully described on our website at /model-programs/

15. Rosemary: While at the Cloud Summer Institute, several of us joked that we wished there was more than one Jaimie—we want your expertise and energy not just in New York City but also across the country and world. If you could imagine for one moment that financial resources for the Cloud Institute were unlimited and the demand for EfS was skyrocketing, how might you envision the role and work of The Cloud Institute?

Jaimie: Thanks Rosemary, I appreciate that. What we need are models to be able to point to and sites around the country that are doing this work seriously, robustly, and comprehensively. We also need to do more product and service development. We need more exemplars and more tools/webinars/videos to make it really easy for people to do this work. We need to do site development and to build capacity in schools and in communities to do this work. We would develop partnerships with Schools of Education, and we would work with sites that are ready to do this work that just need the money to do it seriously. They would be willing to participate in the action research and the externally driven research and evaluation agendas. I know that there are a great many sites that are ready.  We just need the significant financial investment to be made.

16.       Pramod and Rosemary: Any closing thoughts or comments you would like to share with the readers of the Journal of Sustainability Education?


Here are my five one-liners, elevator speech and sound bites:

  • Live by the Natural Laws
  • Read the Feedback
  • A healthy and sustainable future is possible we just have to educate for it
  • It all begins with a change in thinking
  • We are all responsible

Jaimie P. Cloud is the founder and president of the Cloud Institute for Sustainability Education in New York City.  The Cloud Institute is dedicated to the vital role of education in creating awareness, fostering commitment, and guiding actions toward a healthy, secure and sustainable future. Ms. Cloud has written several book chapters and articles, teaches extensively, and writes and facilitates the collaborative development of numerous instructional units and programs that are designed to teach across disciplines through the lens of sustainability. In addition she serves as an advisor, board or committee member to several organizations with related goals and interests.

Educating for Sustainability with the Brain in Mind

Useful Tips and Principles for Educating for Sustainability - notes by Jaimie P. Cloud adapted from the work of David Rock and Jeffrey Schwartz.

Create a Shared Understanding

A shared experience, shared understanding, and shared vocabulary within the organization or group of people you are working with will save you a lot of time. That statement couldn’t be truer in relation to our work to Educate for Sustainability. Don’t assume that everyone has the same understanding of what sustainability is, why it is important, or what it means to educate for it.

Understand How Our Brains Process New Learning

Our brains need a rationale in order to learn new things and to make new and sustained cognitive connections (make things stick). We all learn on a “need to know” basis. To encourage our participants to develop a rationale for educating for sustainability, we begin our workshops by asking them, “Why educate for sustainability?” Their initial rationale is a useful entry point through which we can engage our audience. If they don’t have a rationale yet, asking them to think of one “primes the brain” for learning.

As part of rationale building, people need to first be able to identify what is un- sustainable about their current practices and our current global reality (un-sustainability). Once they learn this, they will be able to understand why it is necessary to learn about what sustainability is. Then they can move to thinking about what it will take to make the shift toward practices that contribute to a sustainable future.

At the end of the Introduction to Education for Sustainability Workshop we ask people again to address the question, “Why educate for sustainability?” We do this for a few reasons. First, we are interested in growth and changes in thinking. Second, we want to make sure that each participant has a personal rationale for Education for Sustainability by the end of the day. Third, we collect rationales over time as a way to predict and teach to the entry points and rationales that are most likely to be present in new audience groups as a way to be learner centered even before we know our learners.

Know Your Terminology

Different fields have different names for the same basic premise: our thinking drives our behavior and our behavior causes results. Here is some of the terminology from the fields we draw on: Mental Models (Systems Thinking); Mental Maps (Neuroscience); Paradigms (Innovation); an Accepted Premise (Rhetoric); and Frames/ Framing (Cognitive Linguistics); “In the box” Thinking (Design); and Schema (Education). Popular terms used for the same concept include worldview or frame of reference. The phrase, “Right Thinking, Right Action” also describes this idea well. Thinking about our thinking is the most “upstream” place we can intervene in order to make transformative personal, organizational, and societal change. The thinking itself comes next.

Ask Permission to Shift People’s Paradigms

The shift toward sustainability and regeneration will require new and different thinking. We liken the shift to the Copernican Revolution. No matter who your target audience is, its members are most likely still operating in the “old paradigm” (most people are). Before playing The Fish Game or any transformative learning experience with adults, ask permission to cause new learning which could “shift their existing paradigm(s)”.

Piaget called learning something that reinforces your existing schema “assimilation.” He called learning something new that requires shifting your schema to understand it “accommodation”. We call it paradigm shifting or “out of the box” thinking. The reason we ask people for permission to “leave their comfort zone” is because being explicit about it both primes the brain for learning and reduces resistance (impasse) which provides a safe space for the brain to “re-frame” or “re-appraise”—literally “re-wire”—in order to make new cognitive connections (create new maps/neuro-pathways).

“Changing circuitry” (creating conditions for learning/paradigm shifting) makes it possible for people to pay attention to, and literally see, different aspects they could not perceive before. They can and do pay attention to things they could not—and therefore did not—pay attention to before.

Understand What Triggers Tremendous Learning and What Triggers No Learning At All

We want to create a learning environment where people feel comfortable and safe to learn, to change, to think “out of the box”, and to grow. Shifting people’s paradigms is disruptive and potentially threatening for people. We have found “SCARF”, a brain based model for collaborating with and influencing others very useful in ensuring that tremendous learning takes place in our programs. Developed by David Rock, Author and Founder of the Neuro-Leadership Institute, SCARF is a useful acronym to remember if you want to create the conditions for tremendous learning (“the “toward” response) to take place in your participants, and to avoid no learning at all or “the away” response.

TREMENDOUS LEARNING (The “Toward Response”) Takes Place When People Experience:

STATUS: Status refers to a person’s self esteem, perceived status, position, and/or personal best. How can we connect sustainability, learning and new thinking to our participants’ increased status?

CERTAINTY: The brain likes certainty. Uncertainty is perceived by the brain as a death threat. In uncertain times, focusing on principles and things that you can count on is critical. Make a case for why education for sustainability provides us with more certainty and things that we can count on than does our current reality. We tend to hang on to what we know because it is impossible to predict the future and we need to exist in a “known” state even if this is just our perception.

AUTONOMY: Autonomy is a person’s perceived ability to choose (e.g. “veto power” = free “won’t” and free “will”), a sense that what I do matters. Moving toward a sustainable future will preserve our ability to choose wisely. Continuing down the unsustainable road we are on will reduce our options. Many people confuse sustainable practices with a loss of autonomy. It is important for people to connect making responsible and sustainable choices with their autonomy.

RELATEDNESS: Relatedness is the perception that I am among friends, trust and fairness are assumed, and I have a desire to be connected/to belong. Creating learning communities, communities of practice, or geography of interest gives people a sense of belonging and connectedness to one another. We can help each other make the shift toward sustainability.

FAIRNESS: Fairness is a person’s perception of what’s honest, just and equitable. We are “hardwired” to pay attention to fairness and justice because we depend on one another in our groups. Ironically, fairness only applies to “us” not to “them.” Emphasizing that in the context of interdependence, there is no “them”, helps people extend their need for fairness and justice globally and across generations.

The “toward” response reinforces new insights and new “re-wiring” by connecting to previous knowledge. As a facilitator, help people connect new ideas and new thinking to things they already know so they are reminded that they have a foundation on which they can attach the new thinking.

The Result: Much more is possible in the “toward” state; more creativity, greater capacity for problem solving, and more energy.

CONVERSELY, NO LEARNING takes place when the “away” response is triggered. The “away” response takes place when people:

  • Cannot make connections to previous knowledge (this causes anxiety, tiredness, uncertainty, and is threatening and causes retreat)

  • Feel no sense of autonomy (no choices, no agency)

  • Do not feel part of the group (among foes, no empathy distrust and unfairness assumed)

  • Status Threatened (left out, challenged/questioned, not respected, not valued)

The Result: Much less is possible in the “away” state; loss of attention, loss of focus, distracted, fuzzy thinking, and anger.

Be Prepared To Regulate Emotional Responses

An audience will have emotional responses to what you are saying. This will vary depending on whether they are in the “Away” state or the “Toward” state. By tuning into their feelings you will be able to know what is needed to flip an “Away” response into a “Toward” response. People need to express their thinking so they can evolve it. Expression is the first step to moving from current reality to new learning. A gesture of empathy and/or respectful and timely humor can serve as comic relief for people who are in or passing through the “uncomfortable zone”.

Use A Learner Centered Approach

A learner centered approach assures that people can develop expertise which increases their status, allows them to make connections, demonstrates their relatedness and celebrates their autonomy. Self generated information is remembered best. Ask guiding questions that help your audiences to come to their own understanding and drive their own inquiry.

Concentrate On What We Want

When we concentrate on what we don’t want it embeds those things even more into our thinking. Suppression makes us unhappy, impedes memory, and makes us feel bad.

Instead, concentrate on what we do want so we can re-wire toward that. Re-appraisal/Paradigm-shifting/ Re-framing/ Re-wiring/Lateral Thinking all change our interpretation, so it makes us happy, makes it possible to remember and it allows us to find comfort in the new interpretation. The kinds of things that contribute to making it possible for people to “re-frame” or shift to a new way of thinking include: transformative experiences; asking different questions; activating the creative process; telling stories or providing case studies and exemplars; empathizing; changing perspective; reflective thinking; reading the feedback; and mindfulness.

Be Mindful and Create Conditions for Mindfulness

Mindfulness is required when open “mindedness”, new learning, and new behaviors are required. Attention, intention, focus, consciousness, and choices (veto power) are essential in order to create different results. Before we can employ “free will,” we often need to employ “free won’t.” It is our decision not to continue thinking and behaving in the old way that makes the space for the new thinking/behavior.

Provide Enough Time

Make sure you have left enough time for new learning to be applied so it has a chance to sink in and be reinforced before participants leave the program. Encourage low stakes application of new learning before high stakes application. Provide enough time to be able to adequately debrief difficult concepts so that people do not leave with too much uncertainty or ambiguity. This could backfire and reinforce their “old” thinking. Sometimes, this means that “less is more.” On the other hand, avoid feeling the need to answer all the questions people are asking and be happy that they are being generated as a result of your facilitation.

The adult learning curve—from awareness to trial and error (mostly error) to internalization or being “hardwired”— is three to five years. Mastery is never finished.

Balance Authority with Humility

We must be authoritative enough to keep our participants in the “toward state” and humble enough to generate new and better thinking among the collective that goes beyond what we alone have already learned. There is no such thing as an expert in the field, and we are no exception.

Why Are We Doing This?

Our job is to create the conditions for people (including us) to learn and to continue to learn. We want people to ask better questions than the ones they came in with—and even better questions than the ones we are asking. We need to create new knowledge and understanding as a result of our work—that is what is required.

EfS Curriculum Design & The Cloud Approach - FAQ's

Jaimie Cloud answers the most frequently asked questions about EfS curriculum design and the Cloud approach.

Q. Is this another “add on”? Where am I going to get the time? I am swamped as it is! I have no more time in my day or in my curriculum! A. No. Education for a sustainable future is not an “add on”. It is education that contributes to the future we want. Educating for an unsustainable future doesn’t make any sense—no matter how much time you have or don’t have. Don’t think of the curriculum as a crowded room that people keep trying to stuff more and more things into. Think of the curriculum as a rich colorful garden. The richer and the more productive the better—and it all happens within the same amount of time and space. Here are some useful analogies: When you add children or new friends to your life, your day does not get longer. You re-orient your day. You consolidate. You integrate. You prioritize. You accomplish more than one goal at a time… . When you add a new vocabulary word to your lexicon, your head does not get bigger. In fact, your sentences often get shorter, because finding a precise way to say something is more efficient and more effective, and therefore saves time.

Tap the power of limits. When you embed the attributes of EfS into your curriculum through “backwards design”, the learning is precise, authentic, effective, applicable, sticky, engaging, transferable and causes more and varied cognitive connections to be made. It takes time up-front to re-orient the curriculum—that is certainly true, and it saves more time over time, increases student achievement and civic participation, produces happy teachers, improves school culture and contributes to sustainable community indicators (citations). If you are already achieving all those outcomes consistently over time, you are already educating for sustainability and by all means keep doing what you are doing. If not, educate for sustainability. The goal: Healthy and sustainable communities in which our children can reach their individual and collective potential. The means: Education for Sustainability. Next question?

Q. The science teachers already teach about the environment. Why do we have to do this too? A. EfS is not about the environment. It is not even about sustainability, and it is certainly not about the indicators of un-sustainability (pollution, destruction of rainforests, etc.). EfS is education for a healthy, vibrant and sustain-able future for generations to come. It is completely interdisciplinary and includes the “hard” sciences, the arts and humanities and a great number of social sciences. After all, we are the ones who need to learn how to live sustainably on the planet. Education of any kind always yields results. The “learned curriculum” includes “the hidden curriculum” as well as the explicit one. Why not be intentional about the future we want by explicitly educating for it?

Q. How can I educate for sustainability when I have to teach to the test? A. Standardized tests are an indicator of student achievement. They are not the goal of a great education. The more you manage the indicators, the harder and harder it will be to achieve them and you will create new problems by doing so. (It mimics the “Shifting the Burden Archetype” in System Dynamics literature in which the symptom is addressed in the short run, but over time, becomes worse and worse and creates new problems.) In addition, standardized tests measure 13% of the Content and Performance Standards students must meet (Martin-Kniep). Having said that, there is growing evidence that educating for sustainability increases student achievement, and achievement measured by standardized tests (citations). Educators for Sustainability rely on State and Common Core Standards as base knowledge and skills into which we embed the attributes of EfS. If your students are meeting the Standards by being educated for sustainability, it will increase their chances of doing fine on the tests AND it will increase their chances and future generations’ chances to thrive over time. EfS solves more than one problem at a time and minimizes the creation of new problems. That makes it a sustainable innovation for schools.


Q. Can you walk me through what it looks like when all the parts of the EfS framework are implemented? A. Yes. We have a tool called the EfS Reality Check that we designed for this purpose. You can find the beta version at It will be revised again this year so stay tuned. In a nutshell, we begin by inviting a representative group of stakeholders in the school community (everyone or a sub group—depending on the school) to attend an introduction to sustainability and education for sustainability.

The introduction is designed to:

  1. Develop a shared understanding and vocabulary

  2. Give everyone a chance to develop a personal rationale for educating for sustainability

  3. Inspire everyone to be hopeful about the role of teaching and learning in making the shift toward sustainability.

Then we invite a First Cohort of educators to innovate (sustainablize) units of study and to produce exemplars that other educators in the community can see. That is how we get Cohorts Two, Three and so on. There are designers, adapters and deliverers in every building. We work with them all at the appropriate levels of engagement. While we are regularly working with the faculty who are ready and able to innovate curriculum, we are also working with administrators to help them create the policies and practices necessary for the school to become a learning organization that educates for sustainability.


Q. What do we need to know, be able to do and be like if we are to contribute to our ability to thrive over time? How can we ensure that our students are being educated for sustainability? A. Complete an inquiry online, or call The Cloud Institute directly 212-645-9930.

I hope this list of common questions and our anwers has been useful to you.


Jaimie P. Cloud, Founder and President
The Cloud Institute for Sustainability Education



  • Academy for Educational Development (2007). An evaluation of the Cloud Institute’s “Business and Entrepreneurship Education for the 21st Century” and Inventing the Future curricula. Washington: AED.

  • Barrat Hacking, E., Scott, B., and Lee, E. (2010). Evidence of impact of sustainable schools. Bath, U.K.: University of Bath, Center for Research in Education and the Environment. Downloaded April 16, 2010 from

  • Duffin, M., Murphy, M., & Johnson, B. (2008). Quantifying a relationship between place-based learning and environmental quality: Final report. Woodstock, VT: NPS Conservation Study Institute in cooperation with the Environmental Protection Agency and Shelburne Farms. 

  • Duffin, M., & PEER Associates (2007). Why use place-based education? Four answers that emerge from the findings of PEEC, the Place-based Education Evaluation Collaborative, (Presentation version). Retrieved on May 10, 2011 from

  • Sobel, D. (2008). Nature and children: design principles for educators. Portland, ME: Stenhouse Publishers

  • Ofsted, The Office for Standards in Education, Children's Services and Skills (2009) Education for Sustainable Development: Improving Schools - Improving Lives. Manchester, UK. Crown

  • Gayford Christopher (2009) Learning for Sustainability: from the pupils’ perspective. Godalming, Surrey: World Wide Fund for Nature

Reflections on ‘Happiness and Wellbeing: Defining a New Economic Paradigm’. By Jaimie Cloud

On April 2nd of this year I attended a meeting at the U.N. Hosted by The Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Bhutan, Lyonchhen Jigmi Y. Thinley entitled, ‘Happiness and Wellbeing: Defining a New Economic Paradigm’.  Bhutan is famous for developing the Gross National Happiness Index, a stunning measure of sustainable development that  takes a holistic approach towards notions of progress and gives equal importance to both economic as well as  non-economic aspects of wellbeing.   In attendance at the full day meeting were,  Her Excellency Ms. Laura Chinchilla, President of the Republic of Costa Rica,  H.E. Ban Ki-moon, Secretary-General of the United Nations, Nobel Prize winner Joseph Stiglitz, our U.S. based friends and colleagues Mathis Wackernagel (The Ecological Footprint), Bob Costanza (Ecological Economist and  Professor and Director of the Institute for Sustainable Solutions (ISS) at Portland State University), Hunter Lovins (Co-Author, Natural Capitalism) and Gifford Pinchot (Bainbridge Graduate Institute), and the list goes on. It was thrilling to see and hear so many important dignitaries talking about the need for alternative indicators to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and about re-thinking what we really want and how to measure what really counts.  The Cloud Institute and other educators for sustainability have been educating young people and educators about that since 1995.

It was an amazing event and I was very proud to be included in the conversation.  I would have loved to see a public figure from the field of PreK-12 Education for Sustainability included in a panel.  It is, however,  not uncommon for the leaders of  professional sectors engaged in the shift toward sustainability (business, economics, government, higher education, architecture and design) to inadvertently leave out the Pre-K-12 Education sector in their deliberations.  It is a commonly held belief that Pre-K-12 education requires a twenty year return on investment period—in other words, that it will take twenty years before the children who are educated for sustainability will grow up and make a difference that can contribute to sustainability.  This, of course, is not true.  It is, in fact, the children and young people who are educated for sustainability that are “making the difference that makes the difference” (Gregory Bateson) right now.  They have everything to gain from the new paradigm and everything to lose in the old one.  They get that more than most. See our Inspiring Kids section for evidence.

Working documents and frameworks from the initiative and from the meeting:

Jaimie's Story

Jaimie's Story
Speaking from my own experience as a K-12 student in the 60’s and 70’s, I can testify to the power of transformative learning in the service of preparing young people to thrive in the 21st Century: I entered the 6th grade at Skiles Junior High School, in Evanston, Illinois in 1968 at the age of 11. My parents sent me to the “experimental program in global education” —called SKIP. I don’t remember what the acronym stood for. I do remember, however, the first days of school and every lesson I learned after that.
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