17 August 2022
At St Margaret’s School for Girls the notion of ‘sustainability’ is not just a fleeting buzz word aimed at fabricating a green-tinted vision of values and promises. It is woven into the fabric of the teaching and learning within the school.
Such is the importance of this issue, that in August 2021 the school appointed Mrs Abby Miller, Head of Biology, to be the dedicated Head of Sustainability. Since then Mrs Miller has been encouraging pupils to lead on projects that engage and act on sustainability issues which affect not only their lives beyond the curriculum, but the global community.
Ms Miller talks about the role of Head of Sustainability, how the school engages with pupils and what steps can be taken to make a positive and sustainable impact in day to day life.
What inspired you to take on this extra responsibility?
The pandemic had brought our teaching into sharp focus in terms of ensuring that our girls were well-prepared for their exams despite the disruption of the past couple of years. We did this very successfully, but I felt that circumstances had prevented us from really stretching and challenging the girls to engage and act on issues which affect their lives beyond the curriculum, and which also impact others globally.
I am head of biology, and even within this amazing subject, fitting deep dives into issues such as climate change has become difficult. Learning for Sustainability encompasses all of these interests: global citizenship, sustainability, outdoor learning, and enshrines these in the UN convention on the Rights of the Child, particularly “Children have the right to an opinion and for it to be listened to and taken seriously”. Their world is becoming increasingly crisis-driven, and I believe that all girls should leave St Margaret’s equipped with the knowledge, skills and values which enable them to become change-makers in society.
What are your goals and aspirations for the future in terms of sustainability within St Margaret’s School for Girls?
My goal is to facilitate our staff to identify and resource opportunities to weave Learning for Sustainability into the curriculum at every level, so that our pupils are developing the knowledge, skills and values they need to become truly global citizens. As a school community, we will learn to look at our own sustainability as individuals, as a community and globally. I would like to make connections with schools internationally to help our girls establish the friendships, self-awareness, empathy and reflection skills needed to understand other perspectives, value diversity and to develop a commitment to change.
What projects has the school taken part in recently?
In May the school celebrated Learning for Sustainability Day through a series of workshops and a special assembly. Girls had the opportunity to engage in participatory learning on issues which affect both them and the planet.
Earlier this year a pupil’s design was chosen as a winner in the Keep Scotland Beautiful One Planet Picnic pocket gardens competition. This competition looked for designs for miniature gardens that use edible plants, plants that attract wildlife, and reuse something which would otherwise be thrown away. We worked to involve as much of the school community as possible in resourcing and growing the garden, to ensure it was ready for its big reveal at the end of May.
How do the pupils contribute towards the school’s sustainability efforts?
All pupils have the opportunity to become involved in any of our initiatives. Every pupil had the opportunity during COP26 to participate in our ‘forest of promises’ where they expressed their own promise to the planet and also a promise which they wished the world leaders to make on their behalf. Our analysis of these promises showed that there was a groundswell of interest in reducing transport emissions, use of plastics, increasing recycling, and working together.
These have been the cornerstone of our activities this year, and have formed the basis of our action plan. All form classes are involved in the upkeep of our new soft plastics recycling drive, and we have collected 3kg of plastics this term alone!
We have held information assemblies about the correct disposal of waste, including e-waste, and fair trade. Following our Learning for Sustainability day, the pupils have expressed their desire to take their learning forward and we are exploring setting up interest groups in response to this such as learning how to up-cycle clothes.
What is the role of the Sustainability Ambassadors and how many are there?
Our Sustainability Teams comprise one representative from each form class. We meet fortnightly to work on issues which have been raised by their classes, or to take forward our action plan which we developed together to raise awareness of sustainability and compliance with recycling. The girls have produced assemblies on COP26, recycling awareness and Fair Trade, and have initiated form quizzes.
What small steps can young people take to lead a more sustainable lifestyle?
The smallest acts make a difference. From recycling wrappers to buying local, to turning off a charger when it is finished; everyone can make a change which will benefit our planet.
Everybody can make a huge impact by thinking about the difference between ‘want and need’ and learning about the effects our decisions have on others.
Sustainability 101, what is your top tip?
We can make a better world if we learn to think about the roots; the roots of issues, the roots of material goods, of our food, water and economy. When we understand these, solutions become possible. So in that sense, my top tip is to learn and educate yourself on the importance of sustainability, and how you can actively create positive change for social justice.