As last week’s record-setting heat wave was building over the mid-Atlantic region, a dedicated group of twelve independent school leaders from Maryland, Virginia, and DC, traveled to Smith Island in the heart of the Chesapeake Bay for a deep dive into leading change in schools and addressing the growing imperative to place environmental teaching and learning at the center of our students’ education.
The fourth iteration of the Environmental Leadership for Independent School Leaders annual conference, led by John Lewis, Headmaster of The Gunston School and Emily Beck, Director of Environmental Programs and the Chesapeake Watershed Semester at The Gunston School, combined CBF’s deep expertise in the transformative power of environment-based education and Gunston’s institutional expertise from its comprehensive environmental strategic planning and curriculum initiatives. Over the three days of each retreat, administrators alternated between field sessions lead by CBF field staff and strategic planning sessions led by John Lewis and Emily Beck. Leaders from Maryland, Virginia, and D.C. schools participated in this year’s cohort: Baltimore Lab School, Calverton School, Glenelg Country School, Harford Day School, Kent School, Burgundy Farm Country Day School, St. James Episcopal School, St. Stephen’s, St. Agnes School, Village School, Georgetown Visitation Preparatory School, and Dunbar High School.
Cooled by the bay breezes, the dedicated group learned about the fragile ecosystems that comprise the Chesapeake, explored the island’s culture and heritage, and developed a sense of place amongst the island lost in time. The conference also included sessions related to Environmental Sociology and Systems Thinking and Change Management theories derived from Harvard Business School and MIT’s Sloan School of Management. These sessions offered participants key tools to facilitate change within their schools.
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. Megan Fink, CBF Maryland & Virginia Student Leadership Coordinator, and Alexis Dickerson, CBF Urban Outreach Educator – DC, provided educators helpful context and connections for students. John Lewis offered excellent sessions on change management with an emphasis on mission-driven change with attention to the triple bottom line. The course concluded with a facilitated design-sprint, led by Emily Beck, that assisted participants in crafting an environmental vision for their school and an action plan to guide the implementation of the vision.