The other day I was participating in a Scholarship Panel with colleagues and stakeholders to determine a scholarship winner. The topics for the grade levels involved were “Becoming an EcoHero” and “Leadership” as they relate to sustainability efforts. I learned from one scholarship finalist about the 17 SDG’s (Sustainable Development Goals) from the UN 2030 agenda.
The scholarship candidate focused on two United Nations SDGs, namely no poverty and zero hunger, to exemplify how her own contributions make her a responsible, global citizen and leader within our school by reducing negative impact on the environment, using reusable bags, carrying own water bottle, and having a donation refrigerator at school. I made internal connections to our school’s mission, which states “collaboratively creating a student-centered, sustainable 21st century learning environment.” After all, my WHY is Impact Through Connections
Then, my brain made a connection to my own Vision as a Principal, no matter where I serve, that all scholars leave us LIFE Ready and Literate. My experiences have led me to embody strong ties to life skills and disciplinary literacy. Many call these skills soft skills or essential skills. Then I recognized that within my learning community, our leaders and teachers have not collectively prioritized or engaged in any deep learning to determine and define interdependability or sustainability within Education, which we know is a complex system. As a system, we need to go back to understand, define, and train one another on what sustainability in Education means.
As I dig deeper, when I think about mobilizing teachers and learners to teach, practice and become more sustainable in their approaches, so our scholars can be knowledgeable about and practice sustainable efforts according to those 17 SBGs in their daily lives, I cannot help but place an even greater emphasis on the LIFE skills we need to be instilling and practicing with our scholars on a daily basis, so they gain confidence to apply such competences to the local and global communities now and when they leave us. Naturally then, as a Principal, I revert back to what I do and can do better as a leader to create the conditions necessary to help teachers and learners aspire toward our school’s vision, which states that each scholar will “experience that learning has lasting value beyond their life at school.” It’s actually not as discouraging as I thought! There are some quick wins any leader can undertake to create such conditions within their learning communities that doesn’t involve a lot of extra work or restructuring efforts.
I always encourage teachers to work with one another to create that interdisciplinary approach for authentic learning to emerge, where learners are purposefully collaborating and engaging in critical thinking to problem solve. I consider the Master Schedule and how I value the PLC (Professional Learning Community) time for embedded professional time during the day. In fact, I don’t know of any other way to move an education system forward without highly effective PLCs. I create space and time for interdisciplinary teachers to work together around the one thing we all share in common, our scholars, and how to make better knowledge-based decisions based on what we see from our scholars.
Then I think about my next step to push and healthfully challenge our teachers, so scholars can continue to develop those leadership voices, problem finding and problem solving abilities, and I arrive back to basics and thinking inside the box. For sustainability efforts to occur, and for learning that has lasting relevance beyond this learning community, I need to empower the teachers who are closest to the work to take some risks. Sometimes this means me ask, “Have you thought about asking another teacher here about their work on X skill to join you so you can work together?” We know teachers are the single most important influencers on learner growth and achievement. This means we need to develop a shared understanding of these SBGs (Sustainable Development Goals) and the Competences needed for our scholars. In this moment, I made the connection between ‘Competences’ and my term of LIFE Skills.
Instead of promoting the silo effect that happens all too often and for too long in Education, especially in Secondary division to persist in 2021-2022, I shall further promote and push the interdisciplinary approach to allow less of ‘doing school’ to more of teachers determining the variables that equate to true, authentic learning. The best examples I come back to is already having that built in time and space together during that interdisciplinary PLC time. I just need to work more with our curriculum coordinator to encourage and empower the cross-standard approach, and getting teachers talking about what their priority standards are for the year, so the unit or chunks of learning are planned together, interdependently. Interdependence is the key in any complex system. That is where the ‘lasting relevance beyond school’ in our Vision can be achieved. This is when learners are empowered and deeply engaged in an inquiry-based approach, where learning is happening across the content areas. It is authentic, process-oriented driven learning. I need to work more directly with my teams and with the teachers I serve on understanding what Sustainability in Education and what it really involves, how we define it, and what it looks like and sounds like in our model learning environment to reach our vision and live our mission, where scholars regularly work in purposeful collaboration teams just as their teachers do.
As leader, if we know that our future generation needs to be equipped with LIFE skills to both find and solve complex problems in our world, then our responsibility lies with creating the conditions necessary for our teachers to understand these competencies so their plans can involve empowering our scholars to purposefully collaborate, inquire, read critically, write critically, think critically and then do something with their learning. For those of us in Dubai, what a better time than now with EXPO 2020 upon us later this year, and with the UAE National Agenda 2021 around Sustainable Environment and Infrastructure.