With the UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) underway in Glasgow it is only fitting that we as a school reflect on the role we play in educating, delivering and innovating sustainable practices. Media coverage around our climate crisis continues to be amplified and while we look to global leaders to support widespread initiatives, we must understand the integral role each of us plays in creating a more sustainable future.
One of our priorities at Toorak is to consider our impact on the world outside of our gates. Whether this is in encouraging our students to be the thought leaders of tomorrow, considering what we can do for others or exploring how our school can adopt more sustainable practices.
Sustainability is always front of mind as we look to the future of our school. As we near our 150th anniversary, now more than ever, we want to ensure the longevity of our rich history in which sustainability plays an important role. We understand that conversations around sustainability are constantly evolving, we want to focus on creating meaningful change and understand to do this we need to lean into student voice.
We firmly believe climate change is everyone’s issue, though increasingly we are seeing young people champion efforts to decrease climate risk, why?
According to UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore “Climate change is one of the greatest threats facing this generation, with 1 billion children at extremely high risk.”
At Toorak we focus on empowering our students, and when it comes to sustainability; our continued emphasis is on listening to our students, telling stories and role modelling positive behaviours. Ultimately we believe that sustainability isn’t what we do, it’s how we live.
So, how do we embed sustainability in our curriculum?
For our Early Learning Centre sustainable practices are embedded into the daily program of our children. Through inquiry-based learning, our students build strong connections with Port Phillip Bay and often relate practices to how marine life is affected by reading books and exploring daily tasks. They experience incursions and excursions to deepen their understanding of sustainable practices including understanding where things come from, learning about the lifecycle of products and introducing recycling into their classroom.
The children also love to watch our very own vegetables grow in the vegetable planter boxes in our ELC playground. We use our vegetables in cooking experiences and give them to families to use in their cooking at home.
All Wardle House students explore the central idea of ‘students sharing the planet’. During this unit of inquiry students look at the concept of responsibility and making sustainable choices to benefit the land and marine environments, explore predictable and unpredictable weather patterns and examine the issues affecting our use of resources.
Students also participate in Food and Nutrition as a specialist subject that utilises the kitchen garden. In this subject, students learn about growing produce to provide food for healthy eating. During classroom cooking activities we reinforce the concepts of eating in a way that involves sustainable choices like minimising waste and utilising fruit and vegetables that require minimal processing prior to use.
During their inquiry into ‘sharing the planet,’ our Prep students decided on a project they could do at home with their families that would improve the space they share with other living things. Some planted butterfly and bee gardens, some tidied up weeds, some made stop-motion videos promoting recycling and some put up ‘pick up rubbish’ signs at their local park.
Throughout Senior School, students are encouraged to champion initiatives for change, join leadership committees and present their ideas.
Through our bespoke subject, agile learning, students look at the UN development and sustainability goals and they are then tasked with designing and prototyping products with these goals and various sustainability factors in mind. Students also explore the consumer decision-making process to understand why sustainable products and services are attractive to clients and the importance of this when promoting a brand.
In science, students uncover interactions between organisms and renewable energy, including the effects of human activities on different ecosystems. In art, students complete the Andy Goldsworthy environmental art project using only materials that have been sought directly from natural surroundings. In visual communication and design, students study how designers use ethical considerations in their designs. From the use of organic inks to ordering print runs with no excess waste and using local manufacturers to source recycled and/or biodegradable materials. Students then have to implement these sustainable factors into their own design process.
We encourage students to participate in our environmental club, The sustainability group, and to champion new initiatives. Our students conduct bin audits and our boarding house students package and deliver leftover meals to local charity organisations. Our cafe has also stopped providing single-use cups as a result of student feedback.
We streamlined our uniform to ensure its longevity while optimising student choice and our buildings are designed to harness natural resources from rooftop solar panels to below ground water tanks. We want to ensure we are building a school that will thrive in the future.
While we are still learning as educators, we have the opportunity to create a curriculum that reflects the need to live more sustainably.
You always have the power to create change. Remember that no act is too small to make a difference, in fact, small changes that occur on a large scale have the ability to create long lasting changed behaviours that have meaningful impacts.