As part of CIRCE’s quest to open up richer possibilities for education, we have found ourselves engaged with quite a few efforts to develop place-based, nature-based, land-based schools, and to help teachers develop capacities they need to teach effectively in such schools. Every year brings more such initiatives. This set of pages seeks to provide some practical guidance to the issues you’ll encounter, if you are willing to reimagine schools and invite nature back into the centre of learning and teaching.

To be clear, we are not thinking of projects in school-wide recycling, or a lunchtime scraps composting program, or even a schoolyard garden. These are all great initiatives to bring a bit more eco-consciousness to schools, but we have in mind a much more far-reaching transformation of education. Perhaps you’ve been inspired by stories of students who have spent most of their school days learning outdoors and connected to place. Or perhaps you have a kid who went to a Forest School—you saw your child thrive while learning in forests and meadows, and now that they are going into grade school, the idea of confining them to a classroom makes your heart sink. Or maybe you’re a parent/caregiver, teacher, administrator or student who thinks that if we are actually going to address the environmental crisis and likely other issues of global injustice, green-tinkering is not enough and education must change quite dramatically. If so, these pages are for you.

Our aim is to outline the things you need to think about when starting an eco-school, as well as the range of approaches you might use to do so. We draw on our experiences with ecological education and on questions we have been asked over the years by those bringing place- and nature-based education to their communities. To be clear, this kind of education cannot be simply put in a can and rolled out identically in Winnipeg or Warsaw, Boston or Bangkok.  For that reason, we don’t offer a cookie-cutter or franchise approach to setting up an eco-school—each school will need to reflect local possibilities and priorities. We hope these pages will provide food for thought; we also welcome feedback and stories of your experiences, struggles and sucesses.

Every eco-school is an ongoing project, a work in progress that needs to be rooted in and responsive to the realities, needs and uniqueness of your community, local expertise and local ecosystems. We know you are likely to face circumstances and opportunities that we cannot foresee. We know that if you find ways to work together to respond to various curveballs, your project will be much more likely to succeed in the long term. If you stick with it, leavening the whole project with humility, good will, and much spontaneous celebrating, you will see the rewards in the minds and bodies of your children, the flowering of mutual support and shared endeavour in your community, and the mutual flourishing of people and land alike.

Building Relationships

– Building relationship to land

– Building relationship to local First Nations/Indigenous communities

– Building relationships to neighbours and to the broader community

– Building relationships to other schools

– Building relationships within the school community: Governance and responsibility

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Visioning – Initial and Ongoing

– The spectrum of eco-schools

– Public or private?

– Vision, mission and values

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Doing School Outdoors – Key Practices

– Locations and buildings

– Weather

– Supplies and other practicalities

– Safety and risk management

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Finding and Supporting Teachers

– What kind of teachers does an eco-school need?

– The professional development of eco-teachers

– Supporting your eco-teachers

– The eco-school principal/administrator

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Shaping the Curriculum

– Teaching with nature and place

– Shaping/changing the culture of the outdoors

– Learning and teaching in a multi-age community

– The challenge of curriculum integration

– Questions of technology, from low to high

– Aligning assessment with values and purposes

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