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Leadership for Green Schools: Sustainability for Our Children, Our Communities, and Our Planet – This is a wonderfully rich book that uncovers the many facets of what it means to be a green school, and the leadership tools needed to embrace whole school sustainability. The Natural Pod team can’t recommend it enough. It takes a very close look at where we’ve been, where we are, and a vision of what’s possible in education when it comes to whole school sustainability and the leadership actions needed to get us there.

Leadership for Green Schools; Sustainability for Our Children, Our Communities, and Our Planet, offers a compelling case for why green schools and whole school sustainability is in the best interest of the children (and educators) who attend, both for realizing their current learning potential and for protecting their future quality of life. It also provides aspiring and practicing leaders with the tools they need to facilitate the design, leadership, and management of greener, more sustainable schools. Framed by theory and research, this text draws from the fields of sustainability science, built learning environment, and educational leadership to explain what green schools look like, what role school buildings play in advancing sustainable organizational and instructional practices, and why school leaders are “greening” their leadership. Sustainability can often seem like an unreachable, utopian set of goals, but this important resource uses illustrative examples of successful schools and leaders to show how establishing and managing green schools aligns with the work they are already doing to restore engaged learning within their schools and communities. Leadership for Green Schools is a unique and important resource to help leaders reduce the environmental impact of school buildings and immerse students in purposeful, meaningful learning for a sustainable, just future.

The book is broken down into three key areas, each section then takes a deeper dive into its subject matter:

Part 1 – The DNA of Whole School Sustainability

In the Best Interests of Children – This chapter examines future trends in terms of needs facing the 21st century. It shows that the purpose of school is to help meet these needs, both through present management practices and through educating the students to understand and respond intelligently to these needs. School leaders who lead with a primary focus on test scores and other narrow measures of achievement may be missing an opportunity to truly engage students and teachers in meaningful, purposeful learning.

Design Principles for Whole School Sustainability – This chapter presents a principle-based model for designing, leading, and managing green schools. It provides an overview of the model and an in-depth examination of the core principles. Green schools are education’s contribution to the sustainability movement. The chapter emphasizes the indistinct nature of the four categories of schools: machine bureaucracy, democratic administration, green bureaucracy, and green school. It explores a set of ecological and democratic principles as a nested set of principles. The ecological principles are foundational; they govern healthy life systems. Democratic principles extend from ecological principles to govern healthy social systems. Diversity within social systems includes a vast array of differences.

Greening Your School’s Vision – This chapter discusses the ethics and foundational principles for green schools through descriptive examples of schools where these principles are vibrantly practiced. These exemplar schools model the potential of transformative visions for learning and they present a palate of possibilities for sparking imagination and collective conversations about how schools might better meet the learning needs of 21st-century students.

Part 2 – Healthy Ecosystems for Learning

Place, Community, and Partnerships – This chapter enlists upcoming generations in the creation and preservation of convivial places – places where human diversity and species diversity can coexist, where future generations of children can find good reason to feel attached. Key concepts in the literature on people-place relationships include a sense of place, defined as the experiential process created by the setting itself in combination with what a person brings to it.

Green School Buildings as Dynamic Learning Environments – This chapter discusses the primary role schools play in children’s development as learners and, in particular, the role the building plays in supporting students’ learning and well-being. It considers the uphill climb many school leaders face as they attempt to ensure their students and communities have access to high-quality, dynamic learning environments. The chapter explores a compelling case for why the provision of such high-quality, sustainable school facilities is in the best interest of the children who attend, both for realizing their current learning potential and for protecting their future quality of life.

Part 3 – Meaningful, Purposeful, Engaged Learning

For the Love of Learning – This chapter looks at human learning as a vital ecosystem service, building on understanding of schools as living systems – not factories. It explores the potential for green schools that maximize student learning while at the same time cultivating stronger, healthier local communities and reducing the school’s ecological footprint. In short, green schools have the capacity to contribute substantially to the world’s most pressing challenges by both addressing those challenges through their present day practice and maximizing student learning for a lifetime love of learning. Theoretically, green schools are grounded in a living systems model of organization and schooling. Facilitating student well-being is central to green school leadership. Vibrant learning is humanity’s most valuable ecosystem service. Ecosystem restoration projects require a deep understanding of the pristine, natural system. Green school leaders that ground their practice in ecological and democratic principles cultivate the conditions in which students’ well-being is high and they engage more deeply in meaningful learning.

Innovative Teaching in Green Schools – This chapter examines how teachers in green schools learn and model the sustainability-related behaviors, dispositions, and habits of mind they seek to develop in their students. It considers how teachers might acquire deep knowledge of principles and constructs underlying education for sustainability and whole school approaches to its delivery. The chapter also examines how sustainability-focused concepts provide teachers opportunities to engage all their students in mastering rigorous and integrated academic content, and how teachers, themselves, develop like habits of mind and practice in order to do so. It explores how green school principals develop and sustain professional communities among teachers at their schools, providing opportunities for teachers to reflect deeply and critically on their own teaching practice. The chapter focuses on how teachers learn about the design intentions of their green facilities so they might better model green operations and maintenance routines and leverage all the features of their green, three-dimensional textbook.

Green School Networks, Recognition Programs, and Resources – This conclusion presents some closing thoughts on the concepts covered in the preceding chapters of the book. The book introduces whole school sustainability to emerging and practicing school leaders still new to the idea of green schools, as well as stretch already practicing green school leaders to see even more opportunities for transformation. Green schools are a rapidly growing global phenomenon. Green schools provide a high leverage strategy for addressing many 21st-century challenges, from student engagement and performance to climate change and community resilience.


The Authors:

Lisa A. W. Kensler is the Emily R. and Gerald S. Leischuck Endowed Professor of Educational Leadership, in the College of Education at Auburn University. Her original training in ecology continues to fuel her love of systems thinking and the challenges located at the intersection of human and nature’s systems, particularly as they appear in PK-12 schooling. She has engaged in learning and teaching about systems thinking and sustainability for nearly thirty years. Lisa’s research over the past decade has focused on green schools and the leadership and learning required for transforming schools into more socially just, ecologically healthy, and economically viable communities that engage intentionally with the global sustainability movement. She has published peer-reviewed articles and book chapters related to democratic community, systems thinking, trust, teacher leadership, and whole school sustainability. In 2017, she and Cynthia Uline co-authored, Leadership for Green Schools: Sustainability for Our Children, Our Communities, and Our Planet. Their second book, A Practical Guide to Leading Green Schools: Partnering with Nature to Create Vibrant, Flourishing, Sustainable Schools, was published in May 2021. In 2018, the University Council for Educational Administration (UCEA) recognized Lisa as one of its “Hidden Figures – behind the scenes giants in the field whose work cannot be ignored.”

Cynthia L. Uline is Professor Emeritus of Educational Leadership at San Diego State University and former Director of SDSU’s National Center for the 21st Century Schoolhouse. Cynthia has also served as a classroom teacher, teacher leader, state education agency administrator, and educational consultant working with school districts, community groups, city governments, state agencies, and governors’ offices, always seeking to facilitate meaningful partnerships on behalf of students and their families. For the past 25 years, Cynthia has studied the ways built learning environments support students’ learning, as well as the roles leaders, teachers, and community members play in creating learner-centered school facilities. Over the past decade, her research has explored green schools as healthy, vibrant, equitable, and environmentally responsible places for learning. She has published peer reviewed journal articles and book chapters related to leadership for learning, leadership preparation, whole school sustainability and the improvement of social and physical learning environments. In 2017, she and Lisa Kensler co-authored Leadership for Green Schools: Sustainability for Our Children, Our Communities, and Our Planet, published by Routledge/Taylor and Francis Group. She is also a co-author of Leadership in America’s Best Urban Schools and Teaching Practices from America’s Best Urban Schools, 1st and 2nd Editions.