How to become a three-star eco-school
Emma Morris is getting more phone calls these days from other international schools. They’ve heard about what is happening at BIS in terms of sustainability and student engagement, and they want to know: How is BIS doing it?
Emma Morris is a teacher at the Bavarian International School and heads the European Eco-Schools project at BIS, the largest global sustainable schools programme. The programme aims to produce generation after generation of sustainably minded, environmentally conscious people by starting in the classroom and expanding to the community with action-based learning.
“It takes just one person to get the ball rolling, to sell the idea, to share the passion and the urgency. A true ambassador,” said Morris.
“This ambassador needs to find a small group of equally-minded people, teachers and students, to take it to the next level. These people must be happy to be on stage and market the idea actively to the community. They have to be the role models for the rest of the school.”
Morris works closely with colleagues Monica Godoy Hidalgo (City Campus), Andi Pichler and Kim Kermath (Haimhausen Campus). The eco schools project is closely linked to the International Baccalaureate (IB) curriculum and its Creativity, Activity, Service programme (CAS).
Morris started working on the topic of sustainability at BIS in 2017. In 2019, BIS was given its first Eco-Schools award and 2021 was the third year in a row that BIS received the recognition.
“Going for accreditations, as well as participating in conferences, gives us structure and benchmarking,” said Ms. Morris. “It’s so important to involve all areas of the school, including facilities management, for example. We need to engage everyone on the journey.”
Emma’s “Top Three” tips for becoming an eco-school
- Be present in the school, bringing the topic to as many forums as possible.
- Create branding for your team and projects and use it consistently.
- Pick three areas to work on and stick with them until you see significant results.
Why BIS has been recognized as a three-star eco-school
- BIS focuses on three areas: Biodiversity, Sustainability and Waste
- BIS has three main student groups: The Eco-Agents in Haimhausen Primary (15 students), The Eco-Club in City Campus (9) and The Green Team (32) in Haimhausen Secondary.
- Additional student groups are: The BIS Renewable Energy Team (5), BIS BLOOMS (6), The Litter Team (49), The Permakulture Team (12), The Worm Team (11), The Coral Gardeners (12)
Connecting environmentalism to the curriculum
An integral part of being an Eco-School is investigating, recognising and celebrating all the ways in which sustainability is studied within the curriculum, such as the United Nations (UN) 17 Sustainable Development Goals.
The BIS curriculum is full of examples where sustainability fits into the curriculum.
“All students of all grade levels study an element of sustainability each year within at least one subject area,” said Morris. “It’s so important to bring the teachers in and to work together. The impact for students is so much stronger.”
“Within the Primary Years Programme (PYP), there are units entitled ‘Essential resources are limited and use of them has consequences’ and ‘Living Things.’ In secondary school, there are schemes of work studied in subjects such as Science, Design, Humanities, and German, to individual research in Grade 10 Personal Projects, the Grade 5 Exhibition, IB Extended Essays, and Service as Action MYP Mentor lessons on the UN Sustainable Development Goals,” said Morris.
The biggest challenges to becoming an eco-school
Even teachers have to do their homework sometimes, as Morris learned when first starting a focus on sustainability at BIS.
“Do the environmental review first,” she said. “This is a questionnaire students use to go around the school and gather data on issues of sustainability. You have to go back to the basics. You need to know exactly where the issues lie before you start.”
She also recommends making connections within the school at the start of the movement. “Don’t assume everyone gets what you’re doing and how they might be involved. You need to attend their meetings, spend time with your colleagues and get senior leaders engaged and on board, ” she said.
Finally, Morris recommends involving the parent community. “Offer the parent community and other teachers an opportunity to be involved. Perhaps you form an Eco Council, for example. You need a forum for people who are not working at the school or attending the school to still be part of the movement and bring in new perspectives.”
“The point, of course, is about much more than running a successful and engaging programme,” said Ms. Morris. “The point is to make the school accountable and sustainable within the natural environment, to not do more harm than good and to inspire the whole community to develop a long-term environmental mind-set.”