Using leadership development to drive sustainability

Tackling climate change has been embedded into the growth and training of staff at the Learning in Harmony Trust. Gary Wilkie, the Trust’s CEO, discusses how this has been achieved

The issues around climate change and sustainability are ever growing and these concerns have been encapsulated by the recent strategy released by the Department for Education (DfE). At Learning in Harmony Trust (LiHT) we welcome this focus, having been embedding our own strategy to tackling climate change into the growth and training of our ambitious staff.
Our approach to sustainability, as with any other aspect that falls into our collective social responsibility (CSR) as a Trust, has always been about creating a strong foundation that ensures meaningful and lasting change, as opposed to quick fixes. It is about planning for the future we want to ensure now, as every one of our actions as leaders and educators will continue to have an impact on generations to come.
As a part of this, we have ensured that we entrench sustainability into the continual professional development (CPD) of our leadership and staff, making it a gold thread that runs throughout decision making, instead of being an afterthought. By supporting our emerging leaders and coaching them through the lens of making a difference to the environment, it means when they progress to leadership, they will be pushing the sustainability agenda.

Our CSR champions programme

We have already made significant strides in integrating sustainability by making it part of the bedrock of CPD for our early and middle leaders and by designating sustainability champions in each of our schools who take charge of driving the sustainability agenda in their schools. These champions have the opportunity to create and oversee environmental projects and initiatives.
To create a bespoke leadership programme, we have been working with CSR experts A Wider Purpose, to support our champions in making sustainability as a core driver in how they run everyday parts of our school life.
As part of the programme, each champion sets out to reach six milestones across the year – one per half term. These milestones build on different aspects of being a leader while also involving a task to further a sustainability project or initiative that they have helped to feed in to.
These projects tie into a range of different aspects of school life, such as curriculum enhancement or organising a school wide event around supporting the environment. Again, this allows the champions to progress their leadership skills while also putting each school’s commitment to sustainability at the forefront of these decisions.
Splitting the milestones over six sections allows staff to trial and error their ideas, hone their skills as leaders and by milestone six we have seen our aspiring leaders really come in to their own and lead large scale projects. E
 The half term is then broken down into three steps. Initially the CSR champions are invited to a collective meeting to discuss ideas and set out their aims to reach the milestone for this half term. Following this, they take part in a one-to-one coaching session, that allows them to delve deeper into the leadership skills they are developing during this milestone and to ensure they are well supported and are aware of what steps they need to take to achieve. Finally, during step three, which takes place in the run up to the end of the term, they are tasked with implementing these plans.

The programme’s impact

We have seen some really great impact from our CSR champions already, as they continue to lay the foundations for years to come. This has included the introduction of Eco Day, an eco-warriors programme for pupils interested in the environment and embedding sustainability in to curriculum such as with one of our schools revitalising the green learning spaces around the school sites as part of their science lessons.
In some cases, our schools have partnered with local charities to really emphasis their connection with the local community. We want our sustainability strategy to meet the specific needs and communities we serve to ensure health, safety and equality across our schools. With that in mind, we know the teachers and staff at each of our schools are in the best position to understand the interests and needs of their pupils.
At Hartley Primary School, the CSR Champion had identified air pollution as the leading issue he aims to tackle. Over the past year he has worked with the pupils to create ‘low air pollution’ zones and to write to local councillors asking for support in addressing this issue over children’s health. As a result, the school is now working with a local company to support them in furthering this important work that started from the idea of the school’s champion.
So instead of incorporating a whole Trust approach, we have offered our teachers the opportunity to take ownership of the initiatives they are introducing, while also being able to involve our pupils to inspire a sense of collective responsibility and pride over the environment.
For our staff, the programme has given them the core knowledge and skills to take confidence over projects they are interested in. They have been encouraged to use their own individuality and independence to pursue a project they think is best for their school. This has helped to ensure they are inspired by the changes they are making, which we have seen trickle down to pupils and other staff.
Once the year is over, the champions are then encouraged to build on these projects year on year. The next year’s CSR champion will work with the previous to build on the ideas and initiatives they have introduced to ensure that schools are constantly moving forward with the CSR projects instead of starting from square one.
We are also leading the way in embedding this into the next generation of teachers and leaders. Our Early Career Teachers (ECTs) will be visiting the Eden Project to expand their understanding of climate change and to enable them to develop knowledge about the importance of STEM subjects in relation to sustainability.
As a growing Trust with schools in areas of high disadvantage, sustainability and environmental education is crucial to both supporting our pupils in developing an understanding of nature and as a way of prioritising their physical and mental health. By tying a CPD focus into our sustainability strategy we can ensure our aspiring leaders have a foundation-level of knowledge about the importance of the environment, meaning it forms part of their decision making instead of becoming an afterthought.
As we continue to place the success and happiness of all our pupils and staff at the heart of everything that we do, we look forward to seeing this programme continue to grow and blossom, as we create a better future for all our communities.