"If we want a sustainable future, we have to educate for a sustainable future," says Jaimie Cloud, founder of the Cloud Institute for Sustainability Education. And if you are a parent who wants your child to attend a school that educates for sustainability, you may have to help your school make the transition to this kind of curriculum and instructional practice by encouraging them to become an early adopter/leader.
Standards Are New & Evolving
The U.S Department of Education defines a green school using three pillars: Reduced Environmental Impact and Costs, Improved Health and Wellness, and Effective Environmental and Sustainability Education.
The U.S. Department of Education and The U.S. Green Building Council’s Center for Green Schools have had much success with the first two pillars, and have now turned their focus in a more concerted way to the third. Jaimie Cloud is working with them, the Journal of Sustainability Education, and a group of experts to assess the data and existing curricula. In the spring of 2016, they plan to publish a new set of benchmarks (developed by expert consensus) that define the field of education for sustainability.
Cloud suggests beginning the conversation with school administrators and educators by asking if they have adopted any standards for education for sustainability yet. If they say no, it is an opportunity to explain the concept and express your desire to have sustainability principles be part of every aspect of your child's learning experience. (Why educate for an unsustainable future albeit unintentionally?) If they say yes, you can express your interest in knowing what the standards are and how the school is implementing them.
Assessing a School's Curriculum
Many schools, though not all, document and map their curriculum, sometimes using specialized software. Effective curriculum should be well-mapped in this way, Cloud says, "so we have a shared understanding of what students are supposed to know, what they should be able to do at what grade level, and how it all connects, so that we can have a holistic view of what students are learning."
You can ask to view your school's curriculum and inquire about the expected outcomes, standards, assessments, and performance criteria used by the school to help you determine the quality of the program.
Cloud says a curriculum that is well-documented and mapped in a school and district is important so that it can be continually improved and innovated, and will live on as the students and teachers come and go.
“The lifespan of an innovative program in this country is seven years, before the school looks like it did beforehand,” she says.
Mapping and documenting curriculum can sustain innovation, help make sure everyone is working from the same framework, and transmit the curriculum and the developing school culture so that it can be thoughtfully and intentionally preserved and transformed over time.
Does Everyone Have What They Need?
For a program to be successful, teachers and administrators will need to have support. As a parent, you can help by offering to volunteer, become a member of the school board or green team, learn with your children at home, or lend your expertise. You can stay informed about the best practices and emerging news in the field, ensure teachers get the professional development they require, and monitor that the program stays flexible enough to keep up with a quickly changing world.
“Most schools”, Cloud says, “are not going to be early adopters/leaders. Most will prefer to wait until the data is in and there is a clear pathway for implementing and assessing the curriculum. But, parents have a lot of influence, and leadership is required. If you ask for what you want (and what the world needs) in a loving and supportive way, and then do what you can to contribute to making it happen, schools will be able to do what's right for the kids. That is what they want to do. They just may need your help to make the shift.”
© 2016 Omega Institute for Holistic Studies