The decision to implement a school development process for sustainability and ESD should be taken with the broadest possible participation. It is advisable to present the proposal to the decisive committee at an early stage and to discuss it together. However, this should be carefully prepared and presented convincingly. If the impetus comes from the school management, it must first deal with it itself and inform itself. Where possible, attempts should be made to hold discussions with principals or representatives of schools that have already successfully completed the process.
The support of the school authorities will be needed at many points throughout this process and must, therefore, be involved from the outset.
Finally, an official and publicly communicated start is needed to set the process in motion. The kick-off should take place as an inspiring plenary event with the participation of all relevant interest groups. The principal is in charge to convey the goals of the endeavor and to point out the value that will be created for the school and the community.
The next step is to take stock of where the school stands. Future steps and practical measures can be decided once the position of the school is known.
It is not necessary to plan everything from the beginning. Because the procedure is designed to be participatory, it is important to leave time and space for pivots and alterations to the plan as those involved add to the culture and direction.
At Stage III: Profile, it is advisable to carry out the assessment after or simultaneously with the decision to implement a program. This ensures that evaluation can be carried out with regard to the required criteria.
5.2.1. Management Processes
Participation is a central principle of ESD (see [4
]). Consequently, the process of sustainable school development must also be participatory. This includes
democratic decision-making as far as possible within the legal framework. In order to maintain the motivation of the participants in the long term, it is essential to present the framework within which groups can actually make decisions transparently and honestly;
a collaborative distribution of tasks;
the broadest possible involvement of all relevant groups of participants;
cooperation of all actors.
For the school management, this means being able to show restraint, to hand over responsibilities, to create scope for initiative and participation, and to value commitment. Leadership for sustainability, as mentioned already, means leading with people rather than leading people [50
] (p. 92).
The integration of sustainability and ESD is a long-term and sometimes laborious process that demands staying-power from all those involved [26
]. A central task of the school management is to support motivation and commitment. Central elements of motivating leadership characteristics are attentiveness, appreciation, and positive feedback. This is a fundamental attitude that may also require managers to “work on themselves.”
] has shown that although the communication of crisis scenarios can increase sensitivity to environmental problems, it can also cause fears and defense mechanisms that only bring about behavioral changes to a limited degree. The motivation for lasting reform efforts is supported by focusing on one’s own activity (“We are doing something”), on positive results, and on opportunities for actually making a change [15
Information and communication are the central prerequisites for participation [5
]. Without them, there is no participation. It is therefore essential to proactively inform all relevant groups and organizations (see below: Stakeholders) involved in the process about the project. This involves the dissemination of information by the school management and the steering group or ESD group. It is essential that channels of communication are as broad and varied as possible for the flow of information and feedback to be effective.
Comprehensive communication at the start is a matter of course, but it must also take place in all other steps. This can be done through regular status reports, progress reports, and planned activities in the form of conferences, circulars, etc. The overall project requires a well-thought-out communication strategy and professional communication procedures [58
Every development or change process requires defined goals that set the direction [41
]. When defining goals, the overall project must be kept in mind and a balance must be struck among various interests. Exaggerations in one area often lead to undesirable side effects in others.
Where possible, targets should be further specified by key data. This is obviously possible for all projects aimed at saving energy or resources (e.g., 30% reduction of energy consumption by year). Especially in fields where progress cannot be identified easily, concrete and measurable goals should be formulated as far as possible; methods for how to evaluate progress should be considered and decided on.
However, the entire project should also be designed with a certain openness. The objectives set the direction to be taken, but can often only take on a more concrete form over the course of the process. For example, new partners may be included with new ideas requiring a course correction. It is also possible to implement the practical measures from various stages in a different order than prescribed in the chart and instead use them as a kind of construction kit. For example, measures to re-design the school grounds (Stage II) can also be carried out as a project in Stage I.
Steering groups play an important role in the school development processes and are often the central body for their coordination and management [59
]. If a school already has a steering group, it should be included in the process. If not, one should be established.
Consideration should be given here as to whether the already existing steering group should also take on full responsibility for sustainability or whether there should be a separate ESD team [15
] (p. 193ff.). Project teams (see below) can also be set up for individual projects or specific sectors (curriculum development, finance management, etc.). The structure should be appropriate to the size of the school and not overly-complex. Open and regular communication between the respective teams is crucial for success. Whether as a school steering group or as an ESD team, the committee should always be composed of members from different groups and, if possible, external members [15
Opportunities to discuss content and exchange ideas are always needed for the entire school, management team, steering group, and project teams. Conferences and meetings provide such opportunities. Principals can support and facilitate effective meetings with professional preparation, e.g., agenda communicated beforehand, and friendly, but consequent moderation. Clear goals and a concentrated and yet relaxed atmosphere will help the group to come to results [46
In its mission statement, the school members formulate the jointly developed and supported principles and orientation of a school [41
] (p. 330). If a school decides to focus more on ESD and sustainability, this must be expressed in the mission statement. The school should, therefore, revise the mission statement to include sustainability in its orientation over the course of the development process.
The situation is similar to the school program. This is a comprehensive work program in the sense of a pedagogically oriented and future-directed development plan, including goals, practical measures and, if possible, ideas for evaluation and further training [41
] (p. 321). The school program is the central document in which the project must be fully represented. In order for them to become binding principles, sustainability and ESD must be anchored in both the mission statement and the school program.
Grundmann nominates in her study mission statements and school programs as among the most important instruments of school development for ESD [15
] (p. 160). Therefore, it is crucial that they are actually developed in a participatory process in which all members of the school are involved [15
] (p. 162). The mission statement and the school program can only become effective if the daily work of the school is based on them and is monitored frequently with regard to the agreed principles [15
] (p. 163).
Some changes to be addressed within the framework of the school development process for sustainability are relatively straightforward and simple tasks that only require a decision to be implemented. Many tasks, however, are extensive and require long-term staying power (such as the development or revision of the school). These tasks can be handled by project teams that can devote themselves to the task over a longer period of time [60
]. As mentioned above for the steering group, the broadest possible participation of various stakeholders should always be the goal.
Project groups should connect to the goals of the whole process, define measurable objectives for their respective projects, and consider measures on how to evaluate the success of the project.
Funding must be made available for the entire process and for many individual measures. Even if several measures help to save costs in the long term, investments are often necessary. An important element of project planning is the budgeting of practical measures. It is also absolutely essential to involve the school authorities at an early stage and convince them of the need to support the project. For some measures, funds can also be raised from external sponsors, e.g., foundations or companies. There are also models in which half the savings in running costs (in particular, energy costs) achieved by the measures taken are made available to the school (fifty-fifty projects; www.fifty-fifty.eu
). In this way, the school and school authorities both benefit from the intervention [61
Networking with external actors, such as other schools and external non-educational partners, is an important factor for success in school development for sustainability [15
]. By opening up the school to outsiders and cooperating with them, important insights can be gained and support organized in many of the fields of action listed here.
Prospective partners in the process can be
federal and state institutions, ESD networks and multipliers, e.g., through participation in further training, consultation, and support for the school development process;
environmental education centers, museums, companies, (local) companies with a focus on sustainability, associations that can be used as extra-mural learning environments;
universities, students, other external professionals, other schools that can take over some of the teachings or can participate in internal training courses or evaluations;
(international) partner schools, global school networks, which can offer exchange, information, inspiration, or advice.
Schools, school principals, and teachers are under increasing pressure and an increasing workload. The pursuit and implementation of sustainability goals can fail because they are often not perceived as immediately urgent tasks by school staff. The pressures and numerous urgent tasks that occur in the everyday environment of a school are in direct competition with ESD. Therefore, ESD and sustainability implementation are often given a lower priority and are continuously postponed. In order to create favorable conditions for sustainability in schools, an important starting point is to first reduce the workload elsewhere. This should be communicated at an early stage and tackled resolutely. Possible guiding questions for this are
How can we create the space and time to provide resources for the new goal of sustainability?
Which internal procedures, processes, and conditions create stress? How can we simplify them and make them more efficient? Which ones can we do without completely?
What external conditions do we perceive as stress factors? What can we do to reduce these factors or to deal with them more effectively?
Fredmund Malik has described this task as “systematic waste removal.” He understands this as a scheduled review of procedures, processes, documents, and habits that are really needed [62
] (p. 365ff.).
However, the education authorities—the local authorities and the Ministry of Education—also have a special responsibility here. When schools are overrun with ever new requirements, there is little time left for long-term projects such as school development for sustainability.
5.2.2. Core Process: Teaching
Students’ learning is the central focus of a school. The whole process of school development for more sustainability is therefore essentially aimed at redesigning the teaching and learning processes [15
]. These aspects are already comprehensively considered in publications on ESD, which is why we will limit ourselves here to just a few thoughts.
Since ESD is a comprehensive approach, integration is possible in all subjects and not only in the classical ESD-related subjects of biology and geography. ESD learning processes are characterized by interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary approaches, systemic approaches, differentiated learning, and pupil participation [4
]. ESD, therefore, does not always require additional teaching time but is a different and new way of looking at already well-known subject areas.
For example, in Germany, a competence-oriented proposal was drawn up for all subjects in the Orientation Framework for the Learning Area of Global Development [63
]. Various online portals offer searchable databases of teaching materials (e.g., Education for Sustainable Development Toolkit, www.esdtoolkit.org
; Learning for a Sustainable Future, www.lsf-lst.ca
; Sustainable Development Goals—Resources for Educators, en.unesco.org/themes/education/sdgs/material; Smithsonian Science for Global Goals, ssec.si.edu/global-goals).
What framework conditions are needed to be able to implement learning arrangements such as those mentioned above?
How can these framework conditions be created?
How can teachers be supported in applying ESD principles and using appropriate forms of teaching?
Which subject areas are particularly suitable for promoting ESD competences?
Which teaching principles (action-oriented, interdisciplinary, etc.), which learning locations (extracurricular learning locations such as museums, natural areas), and which methods (project work, explorations and research, discussions, workshops, etc.) should be employed in teaching?
The GAP (see above) aims at “transforming learning and training environments,” this means to collectively redesign teaching and learning within the school under the focus of sustainability and connected issues.
5.2.3. Support Processes
If a school makes sustainability a central component of its strategy and orientation, then it is essential to implement an orientation and a corresponding strategy for personnel employment and development. The implementation of sustainability and ESD in everyday school life largely depends on the staff (above all the school management and the teachers) supporting the mission and possessing the necessary competences.
Distribution of Tasks and Personnel Deployment
Setting up a functional office for a coordinator for ESD or sustainability officer. The jobholder should be a member of the Extended Executive Board of the school, if possible. Teachers taking over this responsibility should be released from a part of their teaching duties; if this is not possible, are there other forms or measures of compensation? This function should be included in the job and task description.
Including tasks related to sustainability in the job descriptions of other occupational groups (e.g., technical services: implementation of energy-saving measures).
Selection of Personnel
If teaching positions are advertised on the open market, include ESD competences in the job advertisement.
Where teachers are assigned to a school by the school inspectorate, include school supervisors in the overall project and ask them to consider the issue when assigning staff.
Personnel Evaluation and Remuneration
Making teachers and other staff aware of external training opportunities, encouraging participation, or supporting relevant initiatives (training for ESD multipliers, etc.).
Organizing internal school training with external instructors or internal ESD multipliers.
If necessary, also considering and supporting longer-term measures (multi-part courses, compact studies, etc.).
Financing more expensive measures through sponsoring.
Requiring participation of the school principal in suitable further training measures. This can also additionally promote the willingness of teachers to undergo further training.
Personnel development is not only aimed at individuals but also includes measures involving the entire team:
Organization of study meetings/educational workshops on the subject of ESD;
Organization of teacher/student seminars: a group of teachers and trainees jointly develops and tests ESD modules;
Organization of peer observation, team-teaching, or joint planning of teaching units and sequences;
Establishment and use of appropriate forms and practical measures of knowledge management, e.g., a joint virtual hard drive for sharing documents, teaching plans and materials; mapping of existing materials;
In addition to these direct measures, it is the responsibility of the school management to promote and maintain a climate of cohesion and mutual support in the school. This relates to communication and interaction in general. Here, the principal acts as an important model through their own communication behavior and shapes the organizational culture of the school [27
]. It is also a matter of developing organizational structures that facilitate communication and exchange, e.g., organizing times and places where teamwork is possible. Initiative and commitment flourish where there are freedom, trust, and support.
In all the measures mentioned above, the principal plays a decisive role, be it as initiator or supporter, but also simply by paying attention to the relevant tasks and responsibilities and to the people who have taken over responsibility for them. The principal plays a particularly important role in personnel management [46
]. In direct communication with teachers and all other employees, school leaders can repeatedly include the topic of sustainability on the agenda for school conferences, set an example with their own actions and decisions, and motivate others by their own commitment—even become an inspiration.
A school affects its environment in a variety of ways. If energy-saving measures are discussed in class, but the school itself is wasteful with energy or other resources, this undermines credibility. In line with the Whole School Approach [42
], aspects of sustainability must therefore also be considered in the design and management of the school building. A school that is exemplary in this sense acts not only as a role model for the pupils and their parents, but can also spread its influence to the community.
Many of the following measures can and should also be linked to teaching projects. When making decisions, it makes sense to involve the pupils in a participatory way. Furthermore, in many of the interventions mentioned here, the school authorities and, if necessary, the architects must be involved in a suitable manner.
Can the building be made more sustainable through energy-saving measures (e.g., thermal insulation, etc.), sustainable energy technologies (e.g., installing solar panels), or other resource-saving measures (e.g., a rainwater collection system)?
Are there opportunities for façade- or roof-greening?
How can the school grounds be redesigned (e.g., the creation of a school garden, the creation of biotopes such as ponds or orchards, or green, near-natural playgrounds)?
Offering sustainable catering for pupils and teachers,
Purchasing sustainable food (e.g., Fairtrade, products from organic farming, regional and seasonal products).
Use of Resources
Measures for the economical use of water (e.g., toilet flushing),
Waste separation and use of recycling systems,
Purchase of ecologically and socially sustainable consumables (e.g., recycled products) and long-lasting products.
Is the school easily accessible by public transport? Can the situation be improved if necessary?
Can the school support the formation of carpools, e.g., at parents’ evenings and public events and/or by supporting carpool apps?
5.2.4. Stakeholder Engagement
Various groups within and outside the school have interests in the school. The responsible leadership approach [51
] as well as the New St. Gallen Management Model [33
], emphasize the need to consider different types of stakeholders inside and outside the school. For the project to succeed, it is essential to involve these groups in the participatory process and to inform them of all ongoing and planned activities. An information strategy is recommended in which times and information channels (e.g., information letters, e-mail newsletters, homepages, social media) for the individual groups are defined.
The pupils are the focus of the school. ESD aims at Gestaltungskompetenz or shaping competence [6
]. It is therefore essential to comprehensively involve them in the process of the sustainable design of their school and to allow them to share and participate in formulating decisions. This concerns teaching, where, for example, the choice of project topics can be decided jointly. In sustainable pupils’ companies, young people learn successful management in an ecologically and socially responsible manner and acquire a wide range of skills that are important for solving problems relevant to the future. Pupils should also be represented and able to participate in committees such as the steering group and the ESD team. The key question for this joint effort is: “How do we want to make our school sustainable and future-oriented?” Pupils can often contribute to innovative and exceptional ideas. They also learn in the process what it takes to implement formative ideas in a democratic society. It is important to start with small, promising applications to avoid the loss of momentum that sometimes sets in during larger projects.
It is also essential for pupils’ parents to be involved in the participatory process. Possible measures [64
] (p. 10) include:
Informing them about contents/projects and their objectives (e.g., at a parents’ evening, in letters to parents, presentations);
Justifying and explaining to them the use of certain teaching/learning methods;
Opening up opportunities for them to contribute their own suggestions or contributions to the planning of projects or the search for experts (e.g., in the design/redesign of the school grounds);
Inviting parents to events at the school;
Discussing individual, far-reaching measures with parents and making joint decisions (e.g., on the introduction of fair and ecologically produced school clothing);
Involving parents in advising pupils’ companies;
Organizing joint sustainable celebrations;
Making school trips CO2-neutral (choice of destinations and means of transport, offsetting their carbon footprint).
The early involvement and close cooperation with the school authorities and school inspectorates are essential [15
]. Many decisions regarding school construction, financial management, or the school grounds can only be made together with the school authorities.
In smaller towns and municipalities, the mayor may be won over as a patron of the process and may give the event additional importance and attention on special occasions, for example, at the kick-off event. Local authorities, such as nature conservation authorities, the authorities responsible for the water and energy supply, or waste and sewage disposal authorities can advise and support.
Disseminating information on the overall process through press reports and public events,
Addressing local sustainability issues,
Inviting the general public to events.
As with any planned process, school development for ESD also requires a procedure for monitoring success. Ongoing tasks must be checked to see whether the objectives have been achieved and if further action is required. Monitoring must also take place as a final step in which the overall project is evaluated.
Celebrating the progress and success is important for maintaining the overall atmosphere and motivation levels within the school (i.e., “We are proud to share…”). Therefore, celebrations should be held not only at the end of projects but also for intermediate results. Especially after the exertion of great effort, it is useful to take a breather before embarking on the next venture. Celebrations can also be combined with public events at which (preliminary) results are presented.
The steps and action fields presented so far concern Stage II, some of which also are mentioned in Stages I and III. In the following, the action fields from Stages I and III that have not yet been mentioned are explained. These are referred to as stage-specific steps and are shown in white in Figure 1