Queenstown Montessori are a very committed Enviroschool, even before they joined the programme they were dong lots of work in order to create a more sustainable future for their centre and students. The were the first Bronze early childhood centre in the Queenstown Lakes District, and have now become the first Silver early childhood centre in our district too.

So what does it take to move from being a Bronze Enviroschool to being one at the Silver stage? Bronze is very much about starting, getting to grips with the programme and the kaupapa. Investigating what is possible within your own school or centre and taking some small but successful steps in moving towards a more sustainable future. You involve a few key people and start getting the word about being an Enviroschool out there. You will be exploring how the 5 Guiding Principals could look at school and seeing how they will be reflected across all 4 key areas of school life.

I think that there is a real step up from Bronze to Silver; All 5 Guiding Principals are seen across all 4 key areas of school life. The vast majority of your staff, students and parents know that you are an Enviroschool, and are proud to say so. When ever any planning is done, sustainability is always discussed and included. The depth and breath of sustainable practices are increased and it’s really visible when you look around the school or centre. We also need a few more people at the reflection session, most importantly, another Enviroschools facilitator.

Steve Brown, the Enviroschools facilitator for Central Otago, and I were welcomed into school by a group of students with teachers Alex and Jacob. Such a beautiful mihi whakatau! It was so fantastic to see the Maori Perspective being demonstrated right from the very start, and even more encouraging to listen to the Montessori waiata, the words of which really lined up with the Enviroschools kaupapa.

After the gorgeous welcome we all sat down to enjoy some shared kai, to get to know each other a little better and relax into what was going to prove to be a rather hectic morning.

One of the things I’ve really noticed about working with early childhood centres is the amount of record keeping they do. When it comes to reflecting there is no shortage of evidence and reminders about what has happened. One of the things that had been perplexing me though was how to record the evidence in order to easily see it at a silver stage.

I love using the tree diagram, the one where you have five branches, one for each of the guiding principals and then using cut out shapes of leaves to write elements of a project onto the branch to show the spread of the work done across the GPs in a visual fashion. The thing that got me though, was how could I still use this tool and now visually show the 4 key areas as well as depth of practice.

I was discussing this with a crew of facilitators at the national Enviroschools hui and I came up with a brain wave. How about four different coloured leaves in three sizes. 1 colour for each of the 4 key areas and then the different sizes to indicate depth of practice. The large ones were for something deeply embedded, medium for something that has been running for a while but still needs tweaking and possibly extending and then the small ones for actions that have only just started. I still have the feet shape available to write down the next steps to place along the ground underneath the tree. Fingers crossed it’s not too complicated and time consuming and does in fact serve as a visual treat to easily gauge where we are at. If you’d like to use my templates then you can download them here and print them onto coloured paper yourself, but be warned, it’s a mission cutting everything out!

We had a quick discussion about where we have come from, what we found when we reflected at Bronze and also the next steps that we had decided should be taken after that reflection session. Everyone was feeling really comfortable about where we were at and before we knew it, it was time for a tour of the centre.

The transformation of the outdoor space was incredible. Everywhere you look there are edible gardens, used tires are used all over the place, super cool little walkways and play structures have been made out of old timber; reusing old resources from waste streams instead of buying new ones is a big thing at Queenstown Montessori. As we walked through the outdoor space you could just tell that the students felt really at home here, very relaxed and proud of everything that they showed us.

When we reflected at Bronze we pretty much worked within one class room, one of the major next steps was to spread the work done in that classroom into the others. As we walked around the back of the newly converted classroom I could see we were in for a treat. As with the other outdoor space, edible plantings were a big thing, but what was that in the corner? A chicken coop…..One of the students has chickens at home and when they had chicks it didn’t take long for everyone to decide that Bing and Bongs’ new home would be Queenstown Montessori. What an incredible learning resource to have at school. All the students were so comfortable around the chickens, which were allowed to roam totally free in the outdoor space behind the new classroom. All the plantings had been chicken protected….and the students even get to enjoy eating super fresh eggs.

When we had a look around the newly converted classroom it was evident that the sustainable practices seen in the other classroom had been carried over here too. It was so awesome to see how their work has been distributed across the school, Alex has been an incredible leader and inspired all of the staff to take on more sustainable practices and adapt them so that they really work well with their students and classrooms.

When we returned to our base in the senior classroom we decided that we would use the outdoor area as our focus for populating the tree. It would have taken far too long to to look at everything in too much depth. As adults we spoke about the different elements of the project and how they contributed to each of the GPs as well as a discussion about which of the key areas they most supported. It seemed that this new tool was working quite well. The students as always contributed to the discussion about what has happened and at what depth. One of the things I need to develop is a better drawing of the tree and also to remember to number each of the branches, the students at this level can recognise the numbers so it was easy for them to stick the leaves to the appropriate branch.

Time flew by and our tree was looking really colourful and it soon became time to have a read through the Silver paragraph again. Sentence by sentence we read through it and all agreed that we had seen evidence at Queenstown Montessori that they are indeed, without a doubt a Silver enviroschool. Well done to everyone there who has helped them on their journey towards sustainability.