secondary education

What factors lead to a healthy, sustainable culture where students, teachers, parents, staff, and administration can flourish and learn?

In this video Antioch University New England alumnus Alex Shevrin talks about how “when we open ourselves up to true, intentional relationships with our students, we make space for them to grow. Through intentional choices, we can empower ourselves and our students to achieve more than any of us thought was possible.”

Shevrin presented “”Unconditional Positive Regard” at MTA ED Talks: Big Ideas About Education on August 4, 2014, in Williamstown, Mass. She is a teacher/leader at a small, independent, therapeutic, alternative high school in Vermont. Shevrin blogs at You can find her on Twitter, @shevtech.

Bob Gliner’s film, Schools That Change Communities, is about schools as they should be. In this pedagogical age of “time on task,” “direct instruction” and a short-sighted emphasis on “Drill, Baby, Drill,” Bob shows that school improvement can be healthy, engaging and lead to significant community involvement and improvement.Most often when I watch educational videos, I get choked up with anger about the wrong-headedness of the No Child Left Behind educational philosophy. Watching this film, I got choked up because Bob shows schools that manage a combination of academic rigor, community purpose and heart that is right on the money.
Check out the Schools That Change Communities trailer below.
David Sobel

Rethinking Schools and the Zinn Education Project are partnering with an exciting project: This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate. You can get involved by participating in the K-12 teachers  This Changes Everything Writing Retreat. Here’s a sample from their website announcement:

thischangeseverything_collageImagining solutions to the climate crisis involves imagining solutions to a host of other social problems, from economic inequality to public health to job creation to indigenous rights—even to the quality of the food we eat. As the This Changes Everything team writes: “Climate change is more than an issue, it’s a message, one that is telling us that many of our culture’s most cherished ideas about our place in the world—from the quest for endless economic growth to the assumption of Western supremacy to the limitless capacity of humans to dominate nature—are no longer viable.” Rethinking Schools editorializes: “Confronting the climate emergency … demands that young people exercise their utopian imaginations to consider alternatives of all kinds.”


From our friends at the U.S Green Building Council!Screen Shot 2014-05-14 at 12.38.35 PM

Screen Shot 2014-08-13 at 4.08.41 PMWe all have a passion for education. Where we learn matters. The Center for Green Schools at the U.S Green Building Council is inviting communities from around the world to take action on school campuses for the Third Annual Green Apple Day of Service in fall 2014. On the Day of Service, students, teachers, and community members are encouraged to plan a school-wide sustainability project utilizing local volunteers to create a positive environmental change.


In the first two years, over 3,000 Green Apple Day of Service events took place in more than 41 countries.Projects included planting school gardens, collaborating on clean-ups, or hosting e-waste recycling drives. Schools also create custom projects that cater to their community’s specific needs. Learn about more project ideas that will happen in schools around the world.

Screen Shot 2014-08-13 at 4.09.16 PM Green Apple Day of Service creates awareness around the importance of green schools and propels a movement emphasizing sustainable lifestyles for youth and generations to come. Schools are invited to register green projects, and read more about this transformative campaign at

Screen Shot 2014-05-14 at 12.38.35 PMThe US Green Building Council (USGBC), the folks who inspire beautifully sustainable buildings with their LEED certification program, have done it again!

This time with the help of Antioch’s David Sobel, Sue Gentile, and Paul Bocko they’ve entered into the Educating for Sustainability movement in a big way.

USGBC Center for Green Schools brought together stakeholders from academic, corporate, and nonprofit sectors to envision a future where schools support thriving, healthy, and regenerative communities. Then they created a timeline that gets us there by 2040.

It’s all in the National Action Plan for Educating for Sustainability. Screen Shot 2014-05-14 at 12.22.00 PMGet the Executive Summary and read the full text at

USGBC already demonstrated its ability to have an impact on the entire building construction industry, and all the related fields connected to and nested within it, such as architecture, energy, waste, and transportation.

The National Action Plan for EfS takes a similarly ecological approach examining the curriculum, assessment, teacher preparation, professional development, and leadership necessary to drive change in the complex system of American education.

Screen Shot 2014-05-14 at 1.07.11 PMWe are not alone. Australia published its first National Action Plan for Educating for Sustainability in 2000 and updated it in 2009 setting out a framework for local, regional and national action. Australia’s plan envisions reorienting educational systems, fostering sustainability in business, and harnessing the burgeoning community spirit to collaborate for sustainability.

This is all very encouraging, as the UN Decade of Education for Sustainable Development (2005-2014) draws to close, organizations like the USGBC Center for Green Schools are taking the baton.


Just as there is a flow of seasons in the natural worlds there is a flow to our school year. seasons_of_tree_picturesSummer is a time of renewal when there are opportunities that nurture us personally and professionally, connects us to the greater network of educators, and resets our commitment to sustainability. So get out there and connect with other EFS teachers this summer!

Here’s a sampling of opportunities:

~ Antioch University New England summer graduate courses, Keene, NH: Sustainable School Leadership and Real World Sustainability (July 8-19).

~ Community Works Institutes on Service Learning, Los Angeles, CA (July 29-Aug 2) and Shelburne, VT  (July 15-19).

~ Sustainable Schools Collaborative, Sustainable Schools – Sustainable Solutions Conference, West Linn, OR (June 24-25).

~ Children’s Environmental Literacy Foundation, Summer Institute: Educating for Sustainability K-12 Educators, Purchase, NY (July 15-17).

~ Center for Ecoliteracy, Becoming Ecoliterate: A New Integration of Emotional, Social, and Ecological Intellignece, San Anslemo, CA (June 24).

~ Sustainable Schools Project, Summer Institute on Education for Sustainability, Shelburne Farms, VT (July 31-Aug 2).

And a shout out to Green the Next Gen, the EcoLiteracy Curriculum division of the San Francisco Unified School District. Check out their website and see how a public school district networks with local partners to provide Educating for Sustainability professional development for their teachers!

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Schools must strive to develop systems that serve the needs of all students.

Join us for a conference day highlighting Holistic Special Education.

Wednesday, May 22, Antioch University New England, Keene, NH

Featuring keynote speaker Kim John Payne, Director of the Center for Social Sustainability.

Followed by workshops and a panel discussion with leaders and practitioners in the field.

Topics will include:

  • the changing landscape of special education
  • what we know–mining our cognitive capital
  • benefits and challenges of collaborative models
  • transformative teaching and leading–from ablesim to inclusion
  • creating holistic and healthy classrooms–holding space for diversity

See the complete schedule here.

To Register: visit our website at: or call Peg Smeltz: 603.283.2301


It’s not easy making the transition from California springtime to New England mud season. I recently traveled from Los Angeles to Napa, visiting schools, meeting with teachers, and talking up Educating for Sustainability (EFS). I am pleased to report that EFS is alive and well in many California locales.

The Environmental Charter High School in Los Angeles integrates sustainability into every facet of their facility and curriculum they can manage, including repurposing a concrete patio into a green  space and using the detritus to build an outdoor amphitheater.ECHS

Place-based learning is at the core of a middle school project in Santa Cruz where students designed and installed mosaics depicting local flora and fauna on a bridge over the local watershed and at Washington Elementary in Santa Barbara where students’ ceramic tiles create a backdrop for the school garden.


Fifth and sixth graders at Pacific Elementary School in Davenport work in teams to prepare locally making_lasagnesourced food for the school’s daily lunch program.

SFUSD gardenSchool gardens are ubiquitous in California. From the Open Alternative School in Santa Barbara to the urban green spaces in San Francisco, schools are integrating gardens into the curriculum.  With the help of organizations like Education Outside a first grade class pulls up garden plants to learn about drawing science diagrams, third graders harvest kale to crisp and snack on, and afterschool programs explore life cycles by tending native plantings.

OAS gardenSystemic change is evident through the work of organizations like the Center for Ecoliteracy and the commitment of the San Francisco Unified School District to Greening the Next Generation and creating an administrative position for… Ecoliteracy Content Specialist!

Check out these innovative EFS schools and organizations through the links at the top of this blog page.

by Ron LaBrusciano

This is an amazing story.  It speaks to the value of resourcefulness that is missing in the American education of children.  You may have heard the story of Caine Monroy’s Arcade on National Public Radio or been one of more than a million people who have watched Nirvan Mullick’s short film on YouTube. Here it is:

Somehow this child has either escaped technology and video games or leads a life that balances  play and learning of other kinds.  No fancy technology, no expensive arts materials, no programmed learning or instruction evident here – just an inquisitive child, an understanding adult, permission to play and create, and lots of boxes and throwaways.

Caine Monroy teaches us that we must sustain creativity and the joy of learning for its own sake. When we lose the opportunity to play with ideas and freely create we lose the essence of what makes us human. As Educators For Sustainability we must face the fact that curiosity and wonder can not be designed but must be fostered and allowed the space to flourish.

by Rachel Brett

What does Harry Potter have to do with EFS? A lot, especially if you’re trying to teach kids about sustainability. As any Harry Potter fan knows, one of the most important lessons that Harry learns during his quest to fight evil is that he can’t do it alone. Although Harry may be the star of the books, he needs the help of his two best friends, Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger, to ultimately triumph. Focusing only on Harry means that you’re looking at just one piece of a much bigger puzzle.

So what lessons can we take from Harry Potter? Well, when many people hear the word “sustainability,” their mind goes immediately to the environment. For many, sustainability means being “eco-friendly.”  The environment may well be the Harry Potter of sustainability, but it’s not enough. Instead, EFS must integrate the 3 E’s into how we define and understand sustainability. The 3 E’s are environment, economy and equity, and all three are essential and interconnected elements of EFS. J.K. Rowling builds this theme of interconnectedness into her books both explicitly and implicitly and makes it clear how vital it is for the heroes’ success. For example, Dumbledore repeatedly emphasizes to Harry and others how interdependent life is: what seems inconsequential or unrelated often has vast implications when the big picture is revealed. This concept is woven into the very fabric of the novels, as well. As the story unfolds, it becomes clear that each small and seemingly insignificant action and event has consequences and reverberations on a much grander scale.

When we teach about sustainability, we need to teach people to look at it from multiple perspectives. Environmental health, social justice, and economic stability shouldn’t be at odds with one another—they are all critical components of the big picture of sustainability. If the problems we face are interdependent, then the solutions must also be integrated. As environmental justice advocates like Van Jones and Majora Carter emphasize, even the greenest idea in the world won’t solve our problems if it’s so expensive only the wealthy can access it. After all, it was the boy from under the stairwell, a muggle-born girl, and the son of a mid-level bureaucrat who together brought peace and justice to the wizarding world, not the elite, affluent Malfoy family. In addition, by embracing a vision that was diverse yet cohesive—not fragmented or divisive—Harry found unexpected allies in house elves and Centaurs. Adopting a similar scope through the 3 E’s, then, will not just ensure that our solutions are more holistic—it will also help unite people in constructing a society that is sustainable and equitable for all.

The students I work with understand this. I’ve heard fifth graders wax poetic about how a new technology isn’t sustainable unless it’s fair to all; how our ability to make change often depends on money but our ability to make money depends on the resources in our earth; how each of these concepts are just individual—but interlinking—pieces of that big puzzle. I’ve heard the same students discuss their favorite Harry Potter characters, and although some revere Harry while others may have “I love Ron Weasley” t-shirts in their closets, they all recognize that each character is only one part of the story. There is a lot more to Harry Potter that creates a complete, complex world encompassing the struggles of ordinary people trying to get by in an unfair world. Only by looking at the bigger picture can we understand that world; only by bringing together all the pieces can Harry and his friends save that world. These lessons apply to us as well: only by integrating the 3 E’s and the many pieces of our own big picture will we ultimately achieve our purpose of creating a more sustainable society ourselves.

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