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: Compass Charter School

Photo Credit: CCS Website

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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.

Teachable Moment: Green Ribbon Schools

This year, for the first time, I served as a NJ reviewer for the U.S. Department of Education's Green Ribbon School Awards.  It was thrilling.  I never really understood the value of points and awards as incentives to engage folks and improve practice. I am a believer now. In this program, a Green School is defined as having three pillars of excellence:  Pillar ONE: Reduced Environmental Impact and Costs; Pillar TWO: Improved Health and Wellness, and Pillar THREE: Effective Environmental and Sustainability Education. The criteria for Pillars ONE and TWO are comprehensive, and here in NJ, we are working on Pillar THREE to make it as robust as the first two.  

The most interesting part of the process for me was the discourse between the reviewers about the subjectivity of the rubric. The rubric is a tool that guides the committee in reviewing the applications and is modified as the program evolves and grows. This year, we struggled with questions like, “What should we do if a school or district is trying hard and wants to reduce its energy use but has intervening circumstances, such as building a new building, finally getting air-conditioning, or dealing with particularly cold or hot weather the prior year? Could we give them points if they didn't actually reduce energy, even if we know for a fact that they are really, really trying? After much discussion, we had to conclude that evidence is evidence—no matter how hard you try.

It was a tough call. This is where the “different way of thinking” embedded in Education for Sustainability comes in.  If a district wants to reduce energy AND build new buildings AND get air-conditioning, they should be able to do just that.  But first, they need to change their mindset. 

Once they:

  • involve the children and young people
  • calculate the budget of energy, time, bio capacity and money that they have to work with
  • learn to tap the power of limits 
  • make small changes for the greatest effect
  • eliminate waste 
  • set a goal of 80% reduction in CO2 emissions and then track their progress toward that goal
  • think differently about how they are going to solve more than one problem at a time and minimize the creation of new problems 

Then they can have it all—albeit not necessarily all at the same time.

Change the mindset, change the world.

 

- Jaimie Cloud, Founder, The Cloud Institute for Sustainability Education

Attend the 2016 Green Schools Conference & Expo (GSCE) to learn, collaborate and celebrate!

Attend the 2016 Green Schools Conference & Expo (GSCE) to learn, collaborate and celebrate!

GSCE brings together green schools thought leaders and champions to advance the shared mission of green schools for all within this generation.

Green Schools Conference & Expo

March 31-April 1, 2016

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

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Highlights of the conference include outstanding education sessions and renowned speakers, unmatched networking opportunities, pre-conference tours and workshops, an expo offering innovative products and technologies, and a student summit to educate, empower and inspire our next generation of leaders.