Seeing Sustainability All Around as Principal for a Day

On Thursday, October 27th, our Sustainable Classrooms manager, Christina Langone, had the honor of being “Principal for a Day” at Whites Creek High School. This delightful annual tradition comes to us through PENCIL, the Nashville nonprofit that connects community partners to Metro Nashville Public Schools (MNPS) to create meaningful and long-lasting impact within our schools. Each year, community members are placed within various MNPS schools throughout the city to see a small sliver of the day in the life of our principals. Christina shadowed Dr. Mells, a thoughtful, consistent, and transparent leader of a community of rising Cobras. Learn more about her experience below!

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Technically, this trip was not to teach Whites Creek HS about sustainability, though they do have an Alternative Energy Pathway and an AP Environmental Class. This was about seeing how a whole school ebbed and flowed throughout the day. Seeing this would allow me to be a better partner to schools in the future. What I saw showed me they already know a thing or two about bringing their students to think sustainably in every interaction they have with the school. Sustainable education is heavily dependent on the 4Cs of 21st Century Learning–collaboration, communication, creativity, critical thinking–and those were on full display during my visit. 

Dr. Brian J. Mells
Dr. Brian J. Mells

The first thing that stuck out during introductions was the emphasis on collaboration. Dr. Mells did not have a leadership team, but rather a collaborative team full of folks touching each part of the school. This collaboration is clearly working as they have just received a history-making level 5 distinction of academic achievement for the 2021-22 school year. They understand the sustainable principle that cultivating and honoring different perspectives in decision-making allows for lasting change at both the individual and system level. 

My first task of the day was the morning announcements. After asking Dr. Mells how to pronounce Euclidean I was off and running sharing the word of the day: origin. I couldn’t help but reflect on the fact that the origin of my sustainability career started in my very own high school in an elective Environmental Science class that I took on a whim. So much can change in a student’s life by opening their eyes to a new way of seeing the world. After my walk down memory lane, we started to walk through the quiet yet lively hallways and into the classrooms. 

“What word are you having trouble remembering?” This was a question I heard posed to a group trying to learn the difference between lipids and proteins. The basic assumption being that there are always going to be words that give us a bit of trouble, and there is an expectation to express that to find support. In another class the students had two chances on a quiz. One to test their knowledge, the second to put into action the feedback received after the first attempt. In finally another class, I saw technology being put to use to expand the critical thinking of the students by collectively dissecting on an animated white board a powerful piece from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. centered on justice. In each and every class I saw students leading in their education. I saw mistakes being celebrated as chances for deeper understanding. I saw educators doing what they do best under the right circumstances–they were supporting their students to become the critical thought leaders we need today, tomorrow, and in the future. 

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After spending some time in the classrooms we chatted with and encouraged the students during transition. Soon enough I was seated in front of a group of Student Ambassadors hearing what they loved about Whites Creek High School. “The community!” “The teachers!” “The variety!” “The support!” Those sentiments rang through as echoes from the group of educators I also had the chance to speak with. The support the students feel, and that the educators are able to provide, comes directly from the support they are provided with by Dr. Mells. I heard from every person I spoke with that they feel they have a voice, that they have a clear role with clear expectations, and that they have a shared vision for the school community. This clarity allowed for flexibility, fun, and creativity from both the faculty and students alike. Laughter was not hard to come by at Whites Creek. 


As I spoke with the team, the word “holistic” was used many times, and “whole student” wasn’t too far behind. This was not a school simply getting their students through high school, this was a school knowing and supporting their students through life. To me, the key to this was open communication. Everyone talked to each other. Everyone knew who was having a bad day, who needed a little extra support. 

With unsustainable practices and climate change already impacting our communities, it is imperative that our schools give our students the chance to grow into leaders who will transform the world in a way that gives each of them a chance to thrive. We need new systems, new ideas, and new energy to sustain the work ahead. Due to their emphasis on collaboration, critical thinking, creativity, and communication I feel in very capable hands of the many Cobras I met during my time as principal. 

Interested in learning how to bring a sustainable lens to your classroom? Let’s connect! Please email christina@urbangreenlab or visit our website to learn more about our professional development trainings.

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