Resuming after a two-year COVID hiatus, the fifth iteration of the Environmental Leadership Conference for Independent School Leaders (ELISL) was led by Gunston’s Head of School John Lewis, and Emily Beck, Head of Upper School at The Country School. Held annually in July, the conference invited independent school leaders representing six different schools across Maryland, Virginia, and D.C. to travel to Smith Island, in the heart of the Chesapeake Bay region, for a deep dive into leading change in our schools and the growing imperative to place environmental teaching and learning at the center of student education.
Participants enjoyed listening to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s (CBF) deep expertise in the transformative power of environment-based education and Beck and Lewis’s expertise in environmental strategic planning and curriculum initiatives. Over the course of the three-day conference, participants alternated between field sessions led by CBF staff and strategic planning sessions by the course leaders.
Additionally, the group learned about the fragile ecosystems that comprise the Chesapeake, explored the Smith Island’s culture and heritage, and developed a sense of place amongst the “island lost in time.” Participants gained first-hand knowledge and experience with environment-based education, place-based education, and environmental education through setting crab pots, monitoring water quality, scraping for soft shell crabs, and investigating climate change on Maryland’s most vulnerable island.
Interwoven into these experiences was material from the domains of Environmental Sociology, as well as Systems Thinking and Change Management theories derived from Harvard Business School and MIT’s Sloan School of Management, presented using mind-brain educational practices, offered participants key tools to facilitate change within their schools.
“Learning the skills of preserving and stewarding the natural environment is essential and Gunston believes that we have an educational and moral responsibility to teach students how to live in a sustainable manner. We’re happy to share our knowledge and skill sets with fellow educators and help the message of environmental stewardship and learning,” said Lewis.
The Gunston School is a leader in environmental teaching and learning. Its signature student programs include Chesapeake Bay Studies, now in its 29th year, and the Chesapeake Watershed Semester, now in its 4th year, along with many other sustainability initiatives and projects. Visit gunston.org for more information.