"Green Future" at the Trier Waldorf School

By Mario Gilcher, Christoph Hartmann, April 2022

When we met for the first time in the summer of 2020, the drive to do something was great. Under the motto "climate-neutral Waldorf schools now", representatives of parents, teachers and pupils discussed numerous ideas with the initiators of CO2ero on how we can reduce the ecological footprint of the daycare and school community as much as possible. The insulation of the buildings was examined with a critical eye, mobility behaviour (modal split) was discussed, and the aging combined heat and power plant also came up for discussion.

Nothing works any longer without video conferencing (bottom second from left: Mario Gilcher, top second from left: Christoph Hartmann, Picture: I. Binder)

Although all these points are important to reduce the school's greenhouse gas emissions, for many it was not enough. The role of daycare and school as an educational institution should be brought to the fore. Thus, in addition to the working groups on energy, resources, mobility and nutrition, a working group with a focus on education for sustainable development (ESD) was created.

Although many wanted to get started as quickly as possible to implement measures, the first step was the precise formulation of goals. Climate neutrality was the starting point, but ESD is not about the emissions of education, but about education about emissions. Furthermore, we had consciously decided to understand the concept of sustainability to its full extent, i.e. to include not only climate change but also economic, social, political and other environmentally relevant aspects.

The deliberations concluded with the idea "we want to educate in daycare and school with an awareness of our political responsibility to act sustainably" and the core goal "to provide every teacher with the means to teach ESD content to pupils in an age-appropriate way". The name of our group was also generated through systemic consensus building: "Green Future".

Waldorf education has always emphasised sustainability, e.g. by using local production chains and a conscious use of raw materials. Therefore we started on the first inventory. All teachers and early years teachers at the Waldorf school and in daycare were given a questionnaire in which they were asked to describe their basic attitude to the topic of ESD and the corresponding teaching units.

The response rate of over 50 percent and the overwhelming view that ESD is important were encouraging. After all, a total of over 100 teaching units could be documented, albeit distributed differently among age groups and subject areas. Individual hurdles mentioned were: lack of time and knowledge of appropriate methods. However, openness to ESD training was signalled in principle. The already existing ESD elements in everyday teaching have of course provided a very good basis for our work.

After a spring characterised by a lot of social distancing, the time arrived last summer when the Education WG was able to meet with the majority of the teachers for a workshop. The aim was to write more ideas on cards in bullet point form, present them briefly and pin them up on display panels in the right age group. In addition, they were assigned to the dimensions "climate change", "raw materials and nature conservation" and "social justice".

This was particularly important to us because ESD should not be reduced to just a few lessons on renewable energy in upper school. As early as daycare, corresponding ESD content can be taught in an age-appropriate way. Apart from the undoubtedly serious problem of climate change, we want to address quite consciously social problems that are already relevant also for primary school children (discrimination against minorities, racism, sexism, etc.).

We also want to avoid that an increased focus on ESD is synonymous with more expenditure of time for teachers. Fortunately, here too we can also fall back on already established structures in our school community (sponsorships, dishwashing and litter service, work experience, etc.). After explaining the concept in detail, the actual collection of ideas was a sure-fire success. There was lively discussion and with more time we would certainly have needed more display panels. It is clearly easy for most teachers to inspire our children to deal with their environment in a more sustainable way. It was equally striking how easily many of these ideas could be incorporated into the structures already established at the school.

The focus always returned to the school kitchen, which with its concept (98 percent organic ingredients, 71 percent vegan meals) is already acting as a role model for the children and adults. In interaction with the school garden and creative individual initiatives, ESD aspects of local food production can be particularly highlighted. There were also ideas to introduce aspects of ESD to less obvious school subjects such as religion, history or languages.

In the aftermath of the workshop, the main task facing us is what to do with the many ideas. It is, of course, nice that the school kitchen is already performing at a high level. But in order to embed its role model function more firmly, the pupils should be involved in the practical side to an even greater extent and be familiarised with the connections. Of course it is right that there should be vegetable protein-based chop. But the pupils will accept them better and also more readily eat them at home if they can understand that they produce much fewer greenhouse gases than a pork chop.

The formulation and communication the ideas will be crucial so that they are implemented by as many teachers as possible. So the aim is to have an interlinked pool of ideas that everyone can access via the school cloud. Sustainability must not remain a woolly, abstract or pretentious concept, it must be an omnipresent and natural expectation of ourselves.

Another workshop is therefore planned for next spring so that the ESD pilot concept can be officially launched in the 2022/23 school year. At the same time we are undergoing certification as an ESD school at the Rhineland-Palatinate State Institute of Education. We are aware that there will be a lot of convincing to do before then, but "Green Future" is highly motivated to achieve this goal together with the governors, the administration and the student, teacher and parent body.

About the authors: Mario Gilcher is the father of two children at the Waldorf School in Trier and has been working as a lecturer in higher education in the field of statistics and environmental remote sensing since 2014. Christoph Hartmann holds a doctorate in geoecology, has worked as a consultant and lecturer in the field of soil and groundwater protection since 1989 and has taught physics, chemistry and surveying at the Waldorf School in Trier for 10 years.

Contact: c.hartmann(at)waldorfschule-trier.de