Trailblazers for Whole School Sustainability
Case Studies of Educators in Action
What does it take to prepare students, teachers, and school staff to shape a just and sustainable future? In Trailblazers for Whole School Sustainability, you will meet educators and school leaders who are on the front lines of re-imagining school through the lens of sustainability.
This book features inspiring stories from around the country, from urban and rural schools and districts, that highlight best practices and lessons learned from teachers, administrators, and students as they transformed their school communities for a just and sustainable future. These stories are structured around a practical framework that demonstrates how this work allows schools and districts to work smarter, not harder, by integrating sustainability and systems thinking into leadership; curriculum and instruction; culture and climate; and facilities and operations.
While each school and district’s story in this book is different, the passion that drives each one to embrace sustainability in everything they do, from operations to curriculum, remains the same. Trailblazers for Whole School Sustainability shows what is possible when educators resolve to blaze a trail to re-imagine K-12 education for a just and sustainable future.
Table of Contents
Foreword Why Savvy School Leaders are Adopting Whole School Sustainability Plans – (Spoiler Alert: It is Not Just to Save the Planet)
Section 1: Leadership
1. The Philadelphia Sustainability Story: Drivers for a Large Urban Public School District’s Sustainability Plan
2. Leadership and Autonomy Drive a Sustainable Future at Encinitas Union School District
3. Teaching Our Cities: Place-Based Education in an Urban Environment
4. Food Waste Inspires a Shift to Whole School Sustainability at the School of Environmental Studies
Section 2: Curriculum and Instruction
5. Places, Projects, and Problems, Oh My! An Integrated Approach to Sustainability Curriculum at Prairie Crossing Charter School
Naomi Dietzel Hershiser
6. Planting Seeds for Engaged 21st Century Citizens: Civic Education through Place-Based Education at The Cottonwood School of Civics and Science
7. Student-Centered Assessment Empowers Students as Agents of Positive Change for a Just and Sustainable Future
8. California’s Plumas County Connects Students to Place through Outdoor Core Mountain Kid
Section 3: Culture and Climate
9. Building Resilience through a Trauma-Informed Lens at Codman Academy
10. Adventure and Experiential Learning Take Flight at Evergreen Community Charter School
Susan Mertz, Marin Leroy, and Jo Giordano
11. Fostering Healthy Relationships and Sustainability Mindsets in a Climate of Care
Jay Greenlinger and Brendan Callahan
12. Cultural Change is the Key Ingredient in Building a Sustainable Food System at Austin Independent School District
Darien Clary, Anne Muller, Anneliese Tanner, and Lindsey Bradley
Section 4: Facilities and Operations
13. Discovery Elementary School: A 3D Textbook Comes to Life
Keith David Reeves
14. Waste Not, Want Not: Boulder Valley School District's School Food Project Leads the Way in K-12 Food Waste Reduction
Laura A. Smith
15. Academy for Global Citizenship’s Living Campus Reimagines Public Education
Katherine Elmer-Dewitt and Amanda Hanley
16. From LEED to Leader: Virginia Beach City Public Schools Sets the Bar for Divisionwide Sustainability
Jennifer Seydel is Executive Director of Green Schools National Network and editor of the Green Schools Catalyst Quarterly, the only peer-reviewed journal for the K-12 green schools community. She has been an educator for over 40 years.
Cynthia L. Merse is a freelance writer and editor based in Knoxville, Tennessee. She also serves as assistant editor for the Green Schools Catalyst Quarterly.
Lisa A. W. Kensler is the Emily R. and Gerald S. Leischuck Endowed Professor for Educational Leadership at Auburn University, USA.
David Sobel is Professor Emeritus of Education at Antioch University New England, USA. He consults and speaks widely on child development and place-based education.
"Finally! A book with practical and inspirational stories of K-12 schools in the U.S. that are explicitly and comprehensively working to educate for sustainability. These rich, informative case studies paint a picture of what schools are capable of. If you are still wondering what schools are for, read this book."
Jaimie P. Cloud, Founder and President, The Cloud Institute for Sustainability Education
"Trailblazers for Whole School Sustainability uses examples of successful programs to paint word pictures of the ideas behind whole school sustainability. The authors’ experiences demonstrate how committed individuals can get things done. This extensive collection of case studies will benefit practitioners trying to get programs off the ground. At the same time, they will gain practical insights into how we can all work to embed sustainability into the fabric of our education system."
Gerald A. Lieberman, Ph.D., Director, State Education and Environment Roundtable
"We don’t need to choose between healthy, sustainable schools that enrich their local communities and strong academic performance for students—these goals are mutually reinforcing. This powerful book shares case studies of success, written by educators leading the work. Students care more, work harder, and reach higher levels of learning when their work is challenging, meaningful, and contributes to the world."
Ron Berger, Senior Advisor, EL Education
"More than pandemics and exponential technology, the climate crisis is the defining issue of our time—it will shape the lives and livelihoods of this century. Every school needs a sustainability agenda, for itself and its students. Trailblazers for Whole School Sustainability is a clear call to action and a compelling blueprint for every school to develop a healthy, equitable, and sustainable future."
Tom Vander Ark, CEO, Getting Smart
"Trailblazers for Whole School Sustainability is an essential new book for those of us working to support the scaling of whole school sustainability around the world. The framing of leadership, curriculum and instruction, culture and climate, and facilities and operations enables schools, districts, and counties to find their own starting place. The illuminating case studies, and the lessons learned therein, from rural, suburban, and urban settings demonstrate that any community, in any place, can begin their journey toward a sustainable future for all - today."
Karen Cowe, CEO, Ten Strands
"This book addresses the question, "What does it take to make a vision of green, healthy, and sustainable schools a reality?" The answer provided by the teachers, principals, superintendents, sustainability officers, and other contributors to this collection is, "I will show you how we did it." Whatever school system you work in, whoever your students may be, whatever level of resources you have, and whether your goal is students’ academic achievement, health, happiness, resilience, preparation for the future—or all these benefits together—this book has practical examples of schools’ trial-and-error learning processes and successes to inspire you."
Louise Chawla, Professor Emerita, Program in Environmental Design, University of Colorado Boulder
"In Trailblazers for Whole School Sustainability, readers experience firsthand accounts of the challenges and triumphs educators face as they seek to create healthy, flourishing, sustainable learning communities. Each of the sixteen case studies provides a detailed description of an individual school or school district’s unique journey toward whole school sustainability. You will learn practical and manageable strategies to begin and extend your own school’s transformation, on behalf of your students, your community, and planet Earth."
Cynthia L. Uline, Professor Emeritus of Educational Leadership, San Diego State University, Co-Author of Leadership for Green Schools: Sustainability for Our Children, Our Communities, and Our Planet and A Practical Guide to Leading Green Schools: Partnering with Nature to Create Vibrant, Flourishing, Sustainable Schools
"Trailblazers for Whole School Sustainability show unequivocally that sustainability and imagination can live and breathe in the design of learning experiences. A practical K-12 guide, the book includes riveting case studies from Oregon to Illinois, revealing clear curricular progressions at each grade level. The result of this scaffolding is a whole-school commitment to a contributing and creative culture. Trailblazers for Whole School Sustainability is a must read for future-minded educators seeking to create fresh opportunities for modern learners."
Dr. Heidi Hayes Jacobs, President, Curriculum Designers, Inc.
"Moving a school or school system toward sustainability can be complex and sometimes intimidating, particularly for those who are responsible for navigating the many forces that push and pull on top-level school leaders. But there are many who have charted the course and are ready to share their experiences. This book is both practical and inspiring as it brings forward stories that reveal the journey toward greener schools is a fundamental necessity, as well as deeply rewarding."
Anisa Heming, Director, Center for Green Schools at the U.S.Green Building Council