An Introduction to the GreenPrint’s Leadership System

There’s no such thing as a healthy, equitable, and sustainable school without effective, visionary leadership. Effective, visionary leadership is a key ingredient for change, especially when it comes to whole-school/whole-district transformation. Whole-school/whole-district transformation is a multi-year, collaborative effort. Success and ongoing commitment to this work requires consistent, focused, and visionary leaders who are up to the challenge of planning for and guiding incremental changes across their entire school or district. That’s why GSNN decided to put leadership front and center as the first impact system in its update to the GreenPrint for healthy, equitable, and sustainable schools.

The Leadership System encompasses five core practices that are essential in laying the foundation for healthy, equitable, and sustainable schools. This article provides an overview of these practices and shares a few examples of them in action at California’s Oak Park Unified School District.

Visionary Leadership is Shared Across the School Community

Core Practices 1 and 2 under the GreenPrint’s Leadership System set the foundation for a school community that is healthy, equitable, and sustainable – practicing visionary leadership and using shared leadership structures.

Visionary leadership starts, not surprisingly, with a vision. Visionary leaders look to their core values and beliefs and the school community to co-create a vision that reflects an ethos of sustainability and a commitment to health and equity. This vision informs the co-creation of a strategic plan that centers healthy, equity, and sustainability in every goal and priority identified, from budgets and staffing to policies and programs. Decision-making and implementation are shared across all stakeholders in the school community – from administrators to students – and leaders actively seek out diverse perspectives from within and outside the school to deepen their thinking and guide decisions. Leadership and interdisciplinary teams are established to support and carry out actions identified in the strategic plan and track progress made toward achieving the plan’s goals.

Oak Park Unified School District launched its green schools work with a sustainability leadership summit facilitated by Green Schools National Network. The summit provided a forum for district leaders, administrators, and educators to come together and develop a strategic plan that would guide their adoption of healthy, equitable, and sustainable practices. Participating in the summit was key to Oak Park’s success, says Director of Curriculum and Instruction Jay Greenlinger. “It set the stage for forming our identity as a green school where all our leaders were at the table for two days, aligning all our initiatives to make one coherent picture. We set measurable goals that we continue to work toward to achieve our mission of educating creative and compassionate global citizens.”

The summit was the kick off for the work that followed, including the creation of decision-making, communication, and progress-tracking structures that empowered every Oak Park staff member to support the plan and do their part to implement it. “It’s a truism, but it’s true,” says Greenlinger. “What gets measured, gets done. If it’s a superintendent’s goal, it becomes my goal. And if it’s my goal, then it becomes the principal’s goal which becomes the teacher’s goal. We’re all pulling together and looking at the same indicators.”

Visionary Leadership Cultivates Community and an Inclusive School Culture

Core Practices 3-5 focus on cultivating community, partnerships, and communication systems in ways that are supportive of the school’s commitment to health, equity, and sustainability.

Visionary leaders recognize that promoting an inclusive culture that invites all members of the school community, above all its students, to feel welcomed, safe, respected, and valued is foundational to a healthy, equitable, and sustainable school. Just as important is engaging families and members of the community-at-large as key players in initiatives and programs that contribute to a positive school culture and support the strategic plan’s goals. Leaders proactively create practices and traditions that honor the rich diversity of the student body, disrupt structures of systemic racism, and attend to the physical, mental, and social-emotional health of students. They seek input and involvement from families and community members to bring these practices and traditions to fruition, and have systems in place to communicate successes and address concerns that arise in the implementation of programs and initiatives.

Oak Park demonstrated its commitment to these core practices when the district rolled out its gender diversity lessons in fall 2019. District leaders heard from parents that their non-binary-identifying students were being bullied at school. In addition, teachers and school staff felt ill-prepared to help these students navigate the challenges they were facing. Their solution was to create age-appropriate gender diversity lessons that could be integrated into monthly social-emotional lessons that are delivered to elementary school students. The lessons’ roll-out was met with positive and negative feedback from parents and community members. While many praised the lessons, others were apprehensive, even angry, about teaching these lessons to young children. District leaders engaged with concerned parents and created a webpage with information about the lessons to increase transparency and educate the school community about the program and why it matters. While they weren’t able to win over everyone, they made their intentions and motivations clear and stuck by the belief that they were doing the right thing for their students.

Visionary leadership doesn’t happen by accident. It requires intention and collaboration at every step along the path to realizing a healthy, equitable, and sustainable school. The results are worth the effort: an engaged and motivated school community dedicated to uplifting health, equity, and sustainability in everything they do.

You can play a role in making your school a healthy, equitable, and sustainable school