Nurturing is undoubtedly an important word in the environmental world. And as much as the Bay needs it, so do people . . . even principals. Yes, they are powerful, intelligent figures in the community, but when providers like CBF nurture, support, and steward those smart, passionate people into environmental education, worlds collide and "they can change a community," says CBF's Teacher Professional Development Coordinator Cindy Duncan.
Duncan has been leading CBF's three-day Environmental Leadership for Principals course since the program began 11 years ago. A classroom teacher herself for more than 20 years, she has seen the power of working with administrators who go back to their school community after being part of the CBF experience. Through experiential learning, resource investigation, and collegial discussion on a CBF experience, principals learn how to design a school program that utilizes and benefits the school environment. What's more participants are able to gain first-hand experience on the Chesapeake Bay while developing their leadership skills.
But why is a field experience with the Bay such a powerful tool for leadership development? How does looking at natural and social systems for three days on Port Isobel Island translate into positive change in a principal's school? Gerald Lieberman's book, Education and the Environment: Creating Standards-Based Programs in Schools and Districts, is one of the textbooks for the Principals Program. In it, he explains that "student success—job prospects and ability to participate in a civil society and contribute solutions necessary for maintaining a healthy environment—depends on their ability to identify, analyze, and balance the multitude of factors that can affect the environment."
Understanding the value of environmental education allows principals to grow as they personally dive into Bay content, discuss the challenges and successes of cultural change at a school with a mentor principal, and create an action plan to use when they return home. Working with administrators is creating change at the individual school level all the way up to entire systems. And the power of that experience on the water with us only grows stronger as a principal returns to their leadership position armed with increased knowledge, a renewed passion for success, and a network of fellow principals to make change.
Dwayne Young from Centreville Elementary School in Fairfax County came on a principals course 10 years ago, recruited others to join him back at school, and initiated and completed schoolyard restoration projects (see photos). He now has a cadre of passionate teachers and staff within Fairfax County Public Schools—the largest school system in Virginia—who all work on environment-based education. They have created their own program for the entire county called Get2Green that uses the environment to incorporate project-based learning; Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math (STEAM); and inquiry-driven, student-centered learning. Members of the Get2Green team have presented with Cindy Duncan at national conferences about their partnership and incredible results for student success.
The Virginia Beach Public School system has also seen positive and broad change as a result of a single principal's participation. That principal, Dr. Aaron Spence, is now the superintendent for the entire system, which has been partnering with CBF for curriculum alignment and teacher professional learning for the last four years thanks to a NOAA B-WET grant.
From CBF's perspective, the nurturing has just begun. Three days in the field with school administrators is only the start of a relationship that includes constant communication, support when the red tape back at school seems endless, follow-up events for continued networking, and national opportunities to broadly disseminate teacher and student success stories. Stories that would make Lieberman proud.
—Allyson Ladley Gibson