• Ontario geography teacher

    Ontario teacher Terri Munn encourages her students to be eco-conscious. (Photo courtesy Terri Munn)

Terri Munn is passionate about sustainable living and climate change mitigation. She has become the go-to resource for learning about environmental issues at Bruce Peninsula District School in Lion’s Head, Ont., where she teaches Grade 7 and 8 history, Grade 2 music and Gade 3 art. She has helped her school become a certified Ontario EcoSchool — a rigorous program with four levels of certification recognizing environmental learning and actions. Munn is also a learning resource teacher and helps develop programming in classrooms, working with kids in small groups and providing consultation to other teachers.

On reaching for the top with the Ontario EcoSchools program

We’ve been doing it for five years now and this year we’re going for our platinum status. Within the program, you have to have an eco-team doing schoolwide waste audits, energy audits, and appliance audits several times throughout the year. You have to have a school greening program, show evidence that teachers are teaching from an ecological and sustainable point of view, and you have to have specialized projects. We’ve kind of skyrocketed through the program. Once you’re hooked in, the kids care so much about it. They will now come in and say, “I saw cross-contamination at the school cafeteria compost bin — we’d better do something about it!”

On what students are taking away from the EcoSchool experience

They become the police of the program. For example, the Grade 1/2 class is responsible for composting and each day that class goes to every classroom and picks up the compost buckets and empties them. It teaches them responsible eco-citizenship. If they learn that in Grade 1, they carry that all the way through their education. The little kids actually come to talk to the big kids and say, “We had to get our hands dirty because you guys threw plastic in the composter.” So it’s not coming from the adults top-down but bottom-up, which is magical. The ownership is on the students. It’s really great because it then filters into home life and they change their parents.

On pioneering teaching practices on climate change issues

In the past year, the UN announced a pilot project where they wanted schools to come up with best practices on how to teach climate change and how to respond to it. Twenty-five countries were selected and within Canada 10 schools were selected, and our school was one. We took on a project called Simply Living Simply. It’s a 10-month challenge, and we developed a webpage and logo. Each class was assigned a month with a theme and they would do research on that topic. On the website they would list challenges that they wanted the school and community to take on. Then they had a separate page where they listed links and resources to learn about that topic.

The very first month was spent trying to more deeply understand the science of climate change. We did sorting activities, where we had cards that might say “fidget spinner” or “carrots at a local market,” and the kids had to sort whether these things mitigated climate change or made it worse. Big discussions would follow from simple topics because a kid might say, “What do fidget spinners have to do with climate change?” It’s a way to teach kids about the reality of climate change in a way that doesn't feel hopeless. 

On encouraging other teachers to take on similar projects

If you get a big idea and bring it to your staff, you need a couple of people who are willing to put in the legwork upfront with a lot of enthusiasm. At our school we want to have a high standard of dealing with the world in a way that’s relevant. In the summer, we sat down and hashed out ideas so that in September we could be up and running. We also make sure that our admin is aware that this takes planning and time and that it should be built in.

Because every teacher has to research this, they take on a much deeper understanding and it changes your life. One of the biggest things it does for me personally is that it gives me hope. It can get very dark thinking about climate change. But then we work with these students and we see that they’re more than prepared to make changes. It gives me hope that if we educate children from a young enough age that they can do things differently.