Book Review of "Leadership for Green Schools"
Tuesday, April 4, 2017
Posted by: Christina Mimms
Reviewed by Matthew Bruner, principal of lower school at Lee-Scott Academy, Auburn, AL
Forget what you thought about the term “green schools.” This book is about more than a niche program that exists within some select schools to act as a magnet or serve the passions and interests of a leader or governing body. Instead, this book guides all teachers and leaders on ways schools should (and future schools will) operate to responsibly meet the needs of their learners and community.
Dr. Lisa Kensler, associate professor of educational leadership at Auburn University, and Dr. Cynthia Uline, professor emeritus of educational leadership at San Diego State University, have compiled their life’s works into this book. In order to understand the philosophy and the driving principle behind the rapidly evolving sustainability movement, the authors urge us to understand what is means to operate schools as living systems as opposed to the factory model of the past century and a half.
A linear take-make-waste system of industrialism can be paralleled with what has occurred in schools for too long. With this model, we see schools operate as a plug and chug system, where we feed students information and create a product that, by the end of the year, hopefully is ready to move down the assembly line for the next teacher. On the other hand, the living system model looks to equip our children with tools to face the ever-growing environmental, social, and economic challenges we face in the 21st century. In doing so, this model highlights educational best practices, including healthy learning atmospheres and instructional techniques in and out of a traditional classroom. The authors bring to light what it means to have an engaged and healthy school culture where we “stop blaming our students for disengaging. Rather, we realize that children and adults are voracious learners by nature and we design, manage and lead for the conditions that allow this love of learning to flourish” (Kensler & Uline 2016).
Within this book, the authors present fictional characters, Angela and Tom, who are like us all – trying to figure out how sustainability and environmental consciousness fit into the high stakes and high pressure expectations for student growth and standards mastery. At the conclusion of the book, you will feel it can be done – all while adhering to the Professional Standards of Educational Leadership.
Part I examines the DNA of whole-school sustainability. It will force you to know your values and get to the truth of why we do what we do – to help our youngest citizens grow into healthy and productive residents and leaders. Because of environmental concerns, their future looks different than how we grew up. Are we preparing them? If you face challenges and ways to get buy-in from stakeholders, this section will help you navigate these waters.
Part II is about healthy ecosystems for learning. Schools are no longer separate from home and the community. In the traditional factory model, this may have been acceptable. More responsibility has shifted into the schools to lead by example on how to be transformative citizens, ushering in an era of social and environmental change. As we have seen, schools continually interweave with society, promoting holistic health, safety, multiculturalism, and citizenship. The development of green schools and dynamic environments creates an atmosphere where the aforementioned initiatives can emerge organically.
Finally, Part III is about meaningful, purposeful, and engaged learning. It outlines the potential for optimal student learning, taking a research-based approach to identifying how the brain and body optimally operate. It also provides an excellent resource for teachers and administrators to extend their learning in the area of innovative instructional practice. This portion then concludes with further resources for schools interested in networking with other green schools or learning about other resources and programs.
I encourage you to extend your own learning in the transformational book. It is engaging and inspiring, providing hope for students, families, and educational leaders as we strive to build school atmospheres of the future.
At Lee-Scott Academy, we are currently embarking on initiatives to begin the green school process. As we shift into the living systems thinking around our school environment, we have begun the process to build a concrete model via an outdoor classroom to help solidify these concepts for our teachers and students. The classroom will hold a butterfly garden in which we will participate in the Monarch Way Station program, as well as vegetable and flower gardens and exploratory and study areas.
Matthew Bruner is the lower school principal at Lee-Scott Academy in Auburn, AL, and is in the PhD program at Auburn University.