Chronicles of an Educator

Green School: A Journey of Innovation, Challenges, and Empowerment

5th Feb 2024
In 2010, while captivated by founder John Hardy's Tedx Talk, I first encountered the groundbreaking concept of Green School. Like many, I was instantly inspired and began following their journey from afar. Over the years, this innovative institution has flourished, giving rise to two more eco-conscious campuses—one nestled in the scenic landscapes of New Zealand, and another embracing the vibrant spirit of South Africa. In 2020, the prestigious World Economic Forum recognized Green School Bali as a beacon of educational innovation, labeling it a "School of the Future." Notably, Green School Bali has also garnered acclaim for its pioneering bamboo architecture, earning accolades from various esteemed institutions.

Just last week, I had the privilege of representing my school at the Green Educator 8-day immersion course. This immersive experience provided me with invaluable insights and transformative lessons. Below, I share some of the highlights from this enriching journey:
Revolutionizing Education: Navigating Uncharted Waters with Bold Leadership
Before the inception of Green School Bali, the notion of a wall-less, curriculum-free educational sanctuary seemed as fantastical as finding a unicorn in your backyard. Yet, enterprising visionary John Hardy, known for his prowess in the jewelry business, dared to defy convention and breathe life into this revolutionary concept amidst the lush landscapes of Bali.

A determined John Hardy, circa the early 2000s, traversed the picturesque terrain of Bali in pursuit of the perfect parcel of land to manifest his educational dream. And what a journey it was! To secure the necessary land, he didn't just need to negotiate with one landowner; oh no, he had to charm, cajole, and perhaps even employ a bit of magic to convince a whopping 35 different farmers to lease their land for his ambitious project. It's safe to say that Hardy's persuasive skills were put to the test, navigating a landscape as varied and unpredictable as the Bali traffic.
Moving around Bali on a scooter looking for land
But the challenges didn't end there. Armed with his unyielding determination, Hardy embarked on a quest to rally families who had embraced homeschooling, knocking on doors and gently coaxing them to take a leap of faith and enroll their children in this unconventional educational journey. It was a testament to his unwavering belief in the power of education to transcend boundaries and transform lives.

Reflecting on this tale of tenacity, I couldn't help but draw parallels to my own journey. In a world where conformity often reigns supreme, Hardy's audacity serves as a poignant reminder that true leadership requires the courage to chart uncharted waters and defy the status quo. It's a lesson in embracing discomfort, pushing through obstacles, and daring to dream big, even when the odds seem insurmountable.

As I pondered Hardy's bold endeavors, I couldn't help but ask myself: Am I being bold enough in the pursuits that matter most to me? It's a question that resonates deeply, challenging us to reflect on our own capacity for courage and resilience in the face of adversity. Sometimes, the most extraordinary achievements begin with a single, audacious step.
Synergy in Leadership: Navigating Challenges Through Team Harmony
While Mr. Hardy's bold leadership style proved fruitful, were there any challenges associated with this approach? During a conversation with the head of campus, I posed a question: "If you could go back in time to when Green School was founded, what's one thing you would change?" Her response was both insightful and pragmatic: "Include an educator/administrator in the team." This nugget of wisdom underscores the importance of assembling a well-rounded team with diverse skill sets. While having a visionary leader is undoubtedly crucial for such a ground-breaking project, it's equally essential to surround yourself with individuals who bring complementary skills to the table. After all, why reinvent the wheel when you can collaborate with experts who can help navigate the terrain more smoothly?
Sustainable Ingenuity: Cultivating Inspiration in Every Corner
Other than the remarkable leadership style that propelled Green School's inception, what also left me in awe was the pervasive sense of sustainability ingrained in every aspect of the school. Even before stepping foot inside, students are immersed in a culture deeply rooted in sustainability. The school bus, creatively repurposed into a bio bus fueled by used cooking oil—an idea conceived through students' projects—guides them on their journey. Once on campus, every facet is carefully curated to embody the principles of local, sustainable living. From the award-winning bamboo architecture to the locally sourced, ethically grown food options and innovative compost toilets, each detail highlights a steadfast commitment to environmental stewardship, illustrating the seamless coexistence between humanity and nature.
While the sheer ingenuity of this holistic approach to sustainability left me in awe, it also stirred a nagging question: If these practices are so environmentally beneficial and serve as potent tools for inspiration and education, why aren't they more widely adopted? The answer, it seems, lies in the harsh reality of financial sustainability. Maintaining such initiatives comes with a hefty price tag. The roof requiring replacement every three months, the laborious task of sourcing used cooking oil from hotels and restaurants, and the additional maintenance demands of biofuel-powered engines—all underscore the financial and logistical challenges inherent in sustainable practices. And let's not forget the ongoing efforts required to ensure the ethical sourcing of food and the diligent upkeep of compost toilets.

Amidst these formidable challenges, one might question the rationale behind investing time and resources in such endeavors. Yet, the answer is surprisingly straightforward: It's about fostering an environment of inspiration and education. By immersing students in a sustainable ecosystem from a young age, we sow the seeds of environmental stewardship and innovation. It's a bold investment in the future, betting on the transformative power of education and collective action.

How often do we spend time on processes that are financially and logistically more complex for the benefit of student learning?
Empowering Education: Transformative Teaching at Green School
In addition to the visionary leadership and inspiring environment, the teaching approach at Green School is undeniably unique, resonating with me on several levels. Here are three aspects that particularly stand out:
Quote from Kenny Peavy
1. "Love the world before caring for it" - Kenny

Before instilling a sense of responsibility for the world, Green School prioritizes fostering a genuine love and appreciation for it. This philosophy is embodied through deliberate efforts to immerse students in nature, allowing them to form deep connections with the environment.

2. Problem-Based Teaching

At Green School, education revolves around real-life problems, equipping students with the skills needed to tackle them head-on. Take, for instance, the approach to teaching mean, median, mode, and argumentative writing. Rather than isolating these concepts as standalone subjects, the focus is shifted towards practical applications. For instance, students might engage in a project aimed at joining a local Balinese festival. This endeavor necessitates conducting surveys to gauge community interest, analyzing data using statistical methods, and crafting persuasive arguments to secure permission from the school principal

3. "Leave problems for students to solve."

Green School embraces a hands-off approach to problem-solving, empowering students to take the reins in addressing real-life challenges. For instance, rather than hiring a contractor to address water spillage issues, students are tasked with brainstorming and implementing solutions themselves. This not only fosters a sense of ownership and belonging but also nurtures invaluable problem-solving skills that extend beyond the classroom.
Fostering Community: The Heartbeat of Green School
None of the remarkable achievements at Green School would be possible without the bedrock of a strong and vibrant community. While I've had the privilege of working in a school where parents are welcomed onto the campus, Green School takes community involvement to a whole new level. Enter "The Bridge" – a dedicated workspace within the school compound reserved for parents eager to contribute to the educational ecosystem. Initially, I'll admit, I questioned the significance of this space. Wasn't it just another corner of the campus?

Yet, as days turned into weeks, I bore witness to the magic that unfolded within "The Bridge." Parents seamlessly collaborated, organizing events, sharing ideas, and nurturing a sense of camaraderie that extended far beyond the confines of a traditional school setting. What struck me most profoundly was the sight of students actively engaging with parents on various projects. I had the privilege of meeting three students deeply immersed in ongoing endeavors alongside other parents, and the depth of their dedication left me awestruck.

Take Freddie, for instance, a recent graduate of Green School who chose to forgo the traditional path of university in favor of diving headfirst into entrepreneurial pursuits. Collaborating with three different parents, Freddie is spearheading multiple startup ventures and has even pitched his ideas to renowned venture capitalists, including Sequoia. As he shared his remarkable journey with us, I couldn't help but reflect on my own post-graduation aspirations and marvel at his unwavering determination and poise.

Freddie's story is not an anomaly; it's emblematic of the transformative power of Green School's unique blend of inspiration and problem-based teaching. Witnessing students like Freddie, along with his peers, navigate challenges with calmness, communicate effectively, and approach problem-solving with analytical precision, underscores the profound impact of this educational approach.

In essence, Green School's holistic approach not only equips young minds with the skills they need for the future but also ignites within them a fervent passion to effect positive change in the world around them.
Freddie confidently sharing his journey with the group of green educators
It's not all green at green school
Despite its idyllic reputation, Green School, like any educational institution, grapples with its share of challenges. Kate, entrusted with the task of community engagement, candidly acknowledges this reality. She often reminds parents that Green School isn't a one-size-fits-all solution. The absence of traditional classroom walls, while fostering a dynamic learning environment, can pose challenges for students with specific needs. Those with conditions like ADHD may find themselves grappling with distractions, while individuals who thrive in solitude may struggle to find their footing in this bustling setting. Moreover, not every student who walks through the school gates arrives with an inherent passion for sustainability—a reality that teachers readily acknowledge.

This acknowledgment serves as a poignant reminder of the inherent diversity among learners. Just as each individual is unique, so too are their learning styles and needs. Green School's recognition of this diversity underscores the importance of offering varied educational options to cater to the diverse needs of students. After all, education isn't a one-size-fits-all endeavor; it's about creating an inclusive environment where every learner has the opportunity to thrive and succeed.
Should we emulate Green School Bali?
Observing graduating students who are confident and content, motivated to contribute positively to the world, prompts the question: Should all schools aspire to replicate the Green School model? While it's evident that Green School isn't suitable for every student, there are aspects of its leadership style, environmental design, teaching ethos, and community involvement that can be adapted and adopted elsewhere. In your specific educational context, which elements would you consider incorporating?
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