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From park ranger to green teacher


Eleanor Walker, teacher at Victoria Park Primary School in Bristol ignites the passion in her pupils and her colleagues on all things eco.

Actually winning the Green Ambassador award was amazing! It was fantastic for some of my green team to come along to support me, to meet other ‘green’ schools and to celebrate all their hard work; I wouldn’t have been in a position to win the award without their enthusiasm to inspire me over the last few years – they really are a force for good.

Winner of the Green Ambassador Teacher of the Year Award 2016, Eleanor Walker. © Richard Stonehouse / WWF-UKWinner of the Green Ambassador Teacher of the Year Award 2016, Eleanor Walker. © Richard Stonehouse / WWF-UK

Before I became a teacher I was a park ranger where I did lots of conservation work and environmental education. I had always hoped I could fuse the two careers somehow and this award is proof that I was able to fulfil my dream. I was really proud to be nominated for the Green Ambassador (GA) Teacher Award. It was quite surreal to be nominated out of so many other teachers. Sustainability is not always a high priority in the school curriculum so I was really excited that WWF were recognizing and championing all the great ‘green’ work going on in schools.

Through my work with Bristol European Green Capital 2015, I was able to see firsthand how much work was going on in local schools to raise awareness of issues affecting the planet.  It’s great that WWF are giving schools a platform to shout about all their work and encourage other schools to do the same through their GA programme and the Awards scheme.

The last few years at Victoria Park Primary have been a bit of a green whirlwind! We did a lot of work with the education team at Bristol European Green Capital 2015 including making a virtual fieldtrip film of a visit to a textile recycling factory. We were part of the Green Capital poster campaign and closing ceremony and also achieved our Eco Schools Green Flag award in 2016.

We have an amazing and inspirational green team at school which is made up of around twenty very enthusiastic Green Ambassadors. They chair their own meetings and are forever coming up with new ideas to raise the profile of sustainability in school. They are great classroom champions encouraging recycling and switching off lights and appliances and raising awareness of current affairs in the environmental sector. They have become a dab hand at writing and delivering topical assemblies in a very short time.

We make the most of national campaigns such as The Pod’s Waste Week  and Switch Off Fortnight, Earth Hour, Earth Day  and the Wildlife Trust’s 30 Days Wild as they are well resourced and easy to set up across the whole school.

Our school building is on a concrete triangle near the centre of Bristol so we try to encourage all year groups to be creative and get out as much as possible to the local park and nature reserves. We have a ‘Community Day’ every year where year groups go out to undertake community projects such as litter picking, tree planting at the local city farm and planting beds with Incredible Edible .

Victoria Park Green Ambassadors connecting with nature © Richard Stonehouse / WWF-UKVictoria Park Green Ambassadors connecting with nature © Richard Stonehouse / WWF-UK

We also work with our school caretaker to try and ‘green up’ the school grounds – the green team recently wrote to local landscape companies and had a donation of topsoil which meant we could apply for a Woodland Trust hedge pack to improve the playground for both children and wildlife.

The green team run a Shoe Swap every Friday after school where people can swap a pair of shoes they have grown out of or buy a pre-loved pair for £1.

Our most recent focus has been more ‘behind the scenes’ to truly embed sustainability through taking part in the Ashden Less CO2 programme, carrying out energy audits and improvements, making recycling systems more effective, exploring food waste in school and introducing ideas for our Philosophy for Children and Values work that people can use across the school.

We are also currently working with Bristol Pound, our local currency, to develop some curriculum resources to teach children the environmental and social values of a local currency.

We have been working hard to embed sustainability across our school curriculum without generating extra workload for staff. For example, tagging a Fairtrade lesson onto our Y4 chocolate topic, working with local charities like Avon Wildlife Trust to make an animation on the life cycle of eels as part of a topic on water; and using resources from locally based website: sustainablelearning.com to link with different subjects without having to reinvent the wheel.

Our school values tie in really well with sustainability so we can talk to children about kindness, responsibility, gratitude and respect towards the environment through daily life in school.

We have a school allotment and three year groups take part in our Forest School which takes place every week at our local park. One of our Teaching Assistant in each of Reception and Year one takes the children up in groups to explore the natural world in the local park. Our Reception class gets involved with the incubation and hatching process of chicks in the spring and we have whole school assemblies from FarmLink and other local trusts and charities.

Frankie the Frog, Victoria Park Primary School © Victoria Park Primary School / WWF-UKFrankie the Frog, Victoria Park Primary School © Victoria Park Primary School / WWF-UK

We do a lot of Philosophy for Children in school which gives us the opportunity to discuss environmental issues. We also try to link it across the curriculum. For example, this year we had a Philosophy for Children and Maths day so Year 3 looked at the book ‘If the World Were a Village’ for maths and then spent the afternoon discussing equity and fairness.

I have always been passionate about the environment and am fortunate that Eco Schools is my curriculum responsibility so I can request non-contact time, which is an hour or two out of class so I can catch up. I work part time so it is hard to fit it in between everyday teaching. I meet the green team every fortnight after school where we develop ideas and work through our Action Plan.

I am part of a local Eco Schools network run by Sustainable Learning which meets regularly and provides brilliant support, quick win ideas, lesson plans, Eco Schools resources and details of local experts – which saves me a lot of time.

I have a very supportive ‘Eco Mum’ in school, Teaching Assistant’s and Eco Warriors in my class who help with tasks. Older children run their own monitoring, for example, we have Frankie Frog who is awarded to the ‘most eco class’ of the week in assembly. It can be very busy at times but it is really important to me to give children a well-rounded view of the world and to help them understand what they can do themselves to protect our planet and pass the message on to our wider community. It is also important that they can use their passions at such an early age to see the effects of their actions in our school community and hopefully amplify this as they move on to secondary school.

I am really lucky to work in an amazing school where I am fully supported by the head teacher and where the staff are so enthusiastic. I’m always open to trying new things and discussing new topics with the children to help them understand the world around them and see how they can make a difference.

Why not enter your dedicated green teacher for WWF’s Green Ambassador Teacher Award 2017,  supported by the players of the People’s Postcode Lottery. Entries close 5pm Monday 8 May 2017.

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