Here, Robyn Zink, Regional Coordinator of Enviroschools Otago, shares a successful means of engaging with principals in her region.
In Otago, we held our first round of principals’ breakfasts in 2019. The aim was (and still is) to get principals more engaged with Enviroschools, find out the enablers and challenges for deepening sustainability practices from the principals and for them to share the ways they support Enviroschools in their schools.
The feedback from principals in 2019 was that they found these meetings really useful and quite a few said it motivated them to find ways to increase the support for Enviroschools / sustainability in their schools.
With the benefit of a few years’ experience, we are starting on another round of principals’ meetings. We do these meetings in geographical clusters and have found it is good to have no more than 10 principals at a meeting to keep the conversation manageable. The facilitator for that area finds out what week / day is likely to work for the principals before I send out the invitation.
Venue choice is important. We have found most cafes too noisy unless there is a separate meeting room. We now pre-order breakfasts that are delivered to the table within 15 minutes of the meeting start time. (Don’t order anything that needs lots of chewing for yourself as you need to be able to keep the conversation going, and that is tricky with a mouthful of granola!)
These meetings are facilitated in a way that focuses conversation on what is currently happening in schools through Enviroschools/sustainability and what enables implementation of effective learning for sustainability. There are opportunities to hear about current challenges and challenges they perceive for the future. Discussions are guided towards a shared understanding of how to collaboratively deepen practice and grow capacity and next steps towards this.
Having a facilitator take notes and circulating a summary of these afterwards (to the whole invited group regardless of attendance) is an important part of communication and honouring the time spent in discussion.
We did our first couple of breakfasts with principals we knew were very supportive of Enviroschools to get a sense of how they worked. This has meant that we now have a better idea of how to facilitate these participatory conversations in a short space of time.
“Thanks for persisting with us and getting me there. I learned a lot and have recommitted to ensuring our kids get the best possible opportunities in Enviro Ed.” – primary school Principal