The Gunston School and The Country School Host 5th Environmental Leadership Conference for Independent School Leaders

By: Annie Hasselgren
Following a COVID-related hiatus, the Environmental Leadership Conference for Independent School Leaders (ELISL) resumed for its fifth event, led by Gunston’s Head of School John Lewis, and Emily Beck, Head of Upper School at The Country School.

Independent school leaders representing six schools spanning Maryland, Virginia, and D.C. traveled to Smith Island, in the heart of the Chesapeake Bay region, to learn how to spearhead change in our schools and the growing imperative to prioritize environmental teaching and learning. 

Participants heard from the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s (CBF) on the transformative power of environment-based education, and gleaned all they could from Beck's and Lewis’s experience in environmental strategic planning and curriculum initiatives. The three-day conference allowed participants to participate in field sessions led by CBF staff and strategic planning sessions by the course leaders.

The group also delved into the fragile ecosystems that comprise the Chesapeake, explored the Smith Island’s culture and heritage, and developed a sense of place amongst the “island lost in time.” 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.  

Interwoven into these experiences was material from the domains of Environmental Sociology, as well as Systems Thinking and Change Management theories derived from Harvard Business School and MIT’s Sloan School of Management, presented using mind-brain educational practices, offered participants key tools to facilitate change within their schools. 

“Learning the skills of preserving and stewarding the natural environment is essential and Gunston believes that we have an educational and moral responsibility to teach students how to live in a sustainable manner. We’re happy to share our knowledge and skill sets with fellow educators and help the message of environmental stewardship and learning,” said Lewis. 

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