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Making green thinking stick

"GREEN" thinking in education is trendy, much like the old-school Ray-Ban frames that Tom Cruise first made famous again in the 1983 action-comedy "Risky Business." Prevailing ways of thinking come and go, but unlike fashion trends, if certain approaches to living and schooling do not stand the test of time, the consequences will be greater than an abandoned wardrobe. Looking for ways of making educational "green" thinking stick requires a commitment to action that transcends management and permeates every segment of a school's system.

At the core of any "green" initiative must be a guiding environmental ethos. The substance for a pan-organizational mission statement is best engendered through a distributive approach - let the staff, parents and students come up with it. Hold a competition, form a committee or have a parent "Green Tea Party" to get the process going.

Schools can use one, or even better, many approaches to formulating a slogan, but the key is letting it come from the bottom up, as this is the most sure-fire way of achieving the whole school buy-in critical for sustainability.

Once an organization adopts a "green" ethos or slogan, they might begin by actively promoting it both internally and externally. Wallpapering and press releases are only the start. Whole-school environmental weeks are superb when it comes to articulating ideas and creating initial enthusiasm.

Lasting results, however, require schools to tap further into the experiences and resources of the entire community. Giving "green" issues repeated attention in staff and parent committee meetings is encouraged. Putting, and then keeping the "green" theme on the student council agenda is another approach.

Requiring each class participate in at least one "Green Project" yearly - like the upkeep of a school garden - or starting up an extracurricular club are two more options. The reality is there is a myriad of possibilities. Creativity and gumption are the only limiting factors.

Setting aside transparent budget lines for "green" construction projects (e.g. painting roofs white, enclosing school corridors, implementing master electrical switch systems, etc.) is the next step to building a "green" school with staying power. Automatic-flush toilets, separate bins for trash and recyclable goods and installing energy-saving bulbs are further examples of development projects that could be undertaken. Building campus "green" spaces where trees and flowers are planted and school constituents can relax and reflect on the importance of nature might be a great way forward for the urban school.

Implementing and overseeing day-to-day "green" initiatives such as the purchasing of recycled paper (for printing and the loo), agreeing to reducing energy on-site through sensible policies, creating an ongoing campus recycling program and embedding these projects and policies into school documentation could also foster long-term results.

Forging an ongoing partnership with an environmental organization like Jane Goodall's Roots & Shoots, which features a website loaded with testimony on the impact of environmental learning, as well as ideas for schools who want to act locally and think globally, is a definite hit. Networking with other schools who are like-minded and reading up on current themes in environmental education are additional uptakes that pay huge dividends.

Meanwhile, there is always the option of performing a play or staging an entire concert with a "green" theme. Remember though, these initiatives, like inviting guest speakers to school, can become one-off tokens of the "green" trend if not repeated.

Many leading curriculums also feature built-in environmental through-lines. The International Baccalaureate's middle year's curriculum, the MYP, for example, counts "Environment" as one of its areas of interaction that must weave through courses in all subjects, and should be evidenced in students' Personal Projects, which are completed at the end of the program's fifth year.

The good news is that schools need not implement the MYP to benefit from this type of thinking. They need only to learn from it, thinking beyond day-to-day "green" lip service and aspiring for holistic "green" planning. Indeed, the highest order of commitment is exemplified by the school that has articulated long-range "green" goals in their strategic plan and has effectively communicated this vision to all segments of their community.

The hard truth is that in the absence of long-range planning and community involvement, "green" thinking could easily go they way of last year's fashion. That would be risky business indeed.


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