Shining Light

Leadership in the field of education can be a minefield. Everyone went to school so everyone has some experience of schooling and how schools work or how they should work. With this said, how much of education should be curriculum-based and how much should be mentored and modelled? I had this very discussion with a friend recently who questioned the spending that some public and independent schools are utilising on solar power, on LED lighting and on climate control for classrooms. This month’s article shines the light on this issue.

Argument 1 – Modelling in Action
It is the primary responsibility of teachers to educate students. The curriculum is diverse and complex. Yes, it includes English and Maths and the myriad of other learning areas, however, it also includes cross-curriculum priority sustainability.

The sustainability priority provides the opportunity for students to develop an appreciation of the necessity of acting for a more sustainable future and so addresses the ongoing capacity of planet Earth to maintain all life and meet the needs of the present without compromising the needs of future generations. This is complex.

What can schools do to model this in action? Schools can action this through a reduction in plastics in canteens, reducing paper usage, planting more local trees on the school site, recycling within the school, but it can also be a structural demonstration. This modelling can include classrooms with sustainable designs and technologies. Schools have been moving towards this new mindset over the last few years. My school has replaced all the school lighting with LEDs and are installing an additional 99-kilowatt solar system. This is not a unique idea but it is future-oriented and models environmental sustainability. Students can see action being taken and they see their school is making a difference.

Argument 2 – Climate Controlled Classrooms
Research since the 1950s has determined students perform better in climate controlled classrooms than in classrooms without heating or cooling. A 2017 Harvard University study found that student performance dropped by 0.45% for every degree above 22◦C. This paper also determined that student attendance, and in the long term graduation rates, also improved in schools that had climate controlled classrooms. As educators, we have an imperative to provide a school environment that allows our children to meet their potential, and climate controlled classrooms will support this overall outcome. It is difficult to deny this logic.

These arguments can, however, be seen as contradictory. How can you support the environment and sustainable practices and also be an advocate for climate controlled classrooms?

The answer is, of course, a compromise, but one that is supported by the curriculum outcomes. The addition of LED lighting to offset the expense of traditional lighting will reduce electrical consumption and reduce emissions. This strategy is paired with the addition of a significant solar power system. This technology will offset the addition of more climate controlled classrooms and reduce the school’s future economic burden. The end result is positive educationally, economically and ethically.

Nick Johnstone