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Key Issues in Education: Sustainable Development and Education

Sustainable development has been at the forefront of the international

policy agenda since the publication of the Brundtland Report in 1983 (“Our

Common Future, 1987). However, despite the “iconic status” that sustainable

development and environmental education has accumulated over time, there is

still much to be seen and done in terms of enacting an integrated global and

multi-sectoral response that provides the cadence to create substantial impact on

our environmental footprint and global citizenship. Education plays a significant

role in transmitting the values, beliefs and dispositions that re-create a

sustainable future and re-orient our paradigms towards an enduring sense of

agency and stewardship. Schools are in a unique position to empower our

students with the capabilities they need to understand, adapt to and manage an

ever-changing and dynamic world in light of the interconnectedness we share

with life on our planet. Now more than ever, the world is in need of schools that

can lead in transforming societies to move towards a vision of a sustainable


Given the critical role that education plays in molding the values, beliefs and

ideals that shape society and its culture, schools and school leaders are in a

prime and pivotal position to translate the principles of a sustainable future in

both the academic formation and leadership transformation agenda within school

communities to generate new ways of doing, thinking and being that depart from

the paradigms that originally created it.

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The Case for a Sustainable Future

In 1967, Apollo 8 took the famous first photograph of Planet Earth.

Dubbed as “The Blue Marble”, it was mankind’s first opportunity to see the

finiteness of our planet and its atmosphere, without which we would not have

enjoyed, continued existence over generations. The photograph allowed

humanity a glimpse of the boundaries of our existence as we live and co-exist in

one fragile world (ESA, 2005).

The Earth continues to face serious sustainability problems as it slowly

approaches the tipping point of “overshoot and collapse” (Hardman, 2012).

Global warming, deforestation, desertification, population pressures and rapid

depletion of natural resources are among the issues that compound

environmental degradation on a global scale (Senge, Smith, Kruschwitz, Laur,

Schley & Brealey, 2008; Bernardino, 2009; Bago & Velasquez, 1993).

Mankind’s appetite for consumption is also seen to increase the pressure

on earth’s regenerative capacity. The Center for Environment cites a United

Nations Environment Program (UNEP) study that revealed how man now

requires a third more land to supply his or her needs than the planet can supply

(CEE, 2007). Timmer, Buckler and Creech (2008) estimate that by 2030, 1.2B

people in developing countries, or fifteen percent (15%) of the world’s population

will belong to the “global middle class” armed with purchasing power that strains

demand on for water, food and energy. The rise in global affluence in developed

countries, coupled with the insatiable desire for more as fueled by consumerism

and media, has locked consumer societies in a “culture of unbridled mass

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consumption” that has caused countries in the South to go into recession.

Marketing efforts in tri-media stimulate beyond latent needs and instead, create

“artificial needs” that generate a greater demand for production. (Bernardino,

2000; Ross, 2009).

The literature points to the muted understanding of sustainability and

sustainable development as the root of anemic efforts to champion the cause for

an enduring future (Mebratu, 2009; Ross, 2009; Grooms & Reid-Martinez, 2011;

Agyeman & Evans, 2003). Although the working definition of WCED is often cited

and most adapted, several authors find that the malleability and generic

interpretation of this definition has relegated change to mere aesthetic areas of

enterprise rather than deeply rooted transformation in the way we live and

perceive the urgency to salvage the future.

The Environmental Crisis in the Philippine Context

The Philippines is an archipelago inherently blessed with an abundance of

natural resources. However, as the country experiences rapid urbanization and

industrialization, its once rich natural resource base has become overharvested

and plundered as short terms gains derived from exploitation are allowed to

prevail over longer-term benefits of sustainable development.

The continued disregard for our natural resources as seen through man’s

indiscriminate activities has not only resulted in the increased incidence of

natural disasters but also in the loss of biodiversity as well. At present there are

declared protected areas all over the country in the form of sixty-two (62) national

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parks and seven (7) sanctuaries. However, these “only exist in paper” since there

are insufficient funds to conduct and monitor implementation activities. As a

result, informal settlers or “squatters” heavily inhabit and continue to denude

“critically important areas” such as The Bicol National Park in Camarines Sur and

Mt. Apo National Park in Davao. Other protected areas are equally threatened by

illegal logging activities and kaingin farming (“PSDN Conceptual Framework”,


According to the Philippine Sustainable Development Network (“PSDN

Conceptual Framework”, n.d.), the Philippines ranks as the 9th most populous

country in Asia and 14th all over the world. By 2025, this number is expected to

double to 128 million if left unabated. At present, internal migration (rural to

urban areas) has already strained the ability of local governments to provide

basic services in food, healthcare and education.

History and Definition of Sustainable Development

Ecological factors have strongly influenced our history of social,

agricultural and industrial transformations. Dwindling wild resources during the

hunting-gathering stage led to the intensified migratory lifestyle of our ancestors,

in an effort to expand their food sources and reservoirs. As man discovered the

possibilities of agriculture and production, societies where born. Land ownership

and trade drove the exploitation of the natural earth, in exchange for wealth and

power. However, new scarcities in land and energy were created and man, with

his natural ingenuity to address necessity, developed more sophisticated tools

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and methods of production to satisfy increasing demand.

The Industrial Revolution introduced the use of machinery to intensify

material productivity and labor efficiency. Increased production of goods

continually fed the rising demand of the population. Gulati (2006) cites Adam

Smith’s theory that man is “fundamentally motivated by self-interest” which

kindles his unconstrained needs. This primal disposition feeds the lust for profit

maximization and market dominance that drove man to seek every available

resource that can be used to maximize production and consumption in the

cheapest and most expedient ways. As capitalists gravitated to other areas with

an abundance of resources that feeds inputs of production, colonies began.

Industrial transformation, as seen in the hunting-gathering and agricultural

transformations, not only gave rise to new ecological scarcities in natural supply,

but also in the “absorptive capacity of natural sinks” (Mebratu, 1998).

The spiritual perspective is likewise discussed in the literature on

sustainable development. Respect for the environment and the inseparability

between man and his symbiotic relationship with nature may be traced in the

ideologies and practices of ancient civilizations. However, in celebrating the

bounties of nature as blessings from above, man has neglected to consider the

earth’s real ecological limits and the responsibility of stewardship that

accompanies his continued enjoyment of natural resources (Ross, 2004; Mebratu,


The concept of Sustainable Development dates back a long way, but it

was at the UN Conference on the Human Environment at Stockholm in 1972,

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where the international community met for the first time to consider global

environment and development needs together. After the historical Founex Report

published in 1971, the Stockholm Convention sought to gather world States

together to collectively address sustainable development issues (“Our Common

Future”, 1987). In 1983, “a global agenda for change” was the focal point of the

World Commission on Environment and Development’s (WCED) mandate to

unite countries to pursue a common goal towards sustainable development.

More popularly known as the Brundtland Commission it was tasked to respond to

the UN General Assembly’s call to:

1. Propose long term environmental strategies for achieving sustainable

development by the year 2000;

2. Recommend ways concern for the environment may be translated into

greater cooperation among developing countries and between countries at

different stages of economic and social development and lead to the

achievement of common and mutually supportive objectives that take

account of the interrelationships between people, resources, environment

and development

3. Consider ways and means by which the international community can

deal more effectively with environmental concerns

4. Help define shared perceptions of long term environmental issues

and the appropriate efforts needed to deal successfully with the

problems of protecting and enhancing the environment, a long term

agenda for action during the coming decades, and aspirational goals for

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the world community.

In 1992, leaders from both North and South convened in Rio de Janeiro to

come to agreement towards ways by which environmental pillage and

degradation may be put to a halt. The “Earth Summit” resulted to the adoption of

Agenda 21, a blueprint for sustainability in the twenty-first century (Quarrie, cited

in Bernardino, 2000).

Definition of Sustainable Development

To understand sustainability is to trace, not only the development of the

construct, but also the etymology of the term upon which the suitability of its

meaning may be related to the purpose which it upholds. Its origin may be traced

to the Latin term sus tere, which means, “to uphold”. Bernardino (2000) opines

however, that the term carries with it “positive and negative connotations”,

evoking impressions of passivity and a lack of defined stance as to the ends,

which the means serve to achieve.

The widely accepted operational definition is put forth in the Brundtland

Report that states sustainable development as the “development that meets the

needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to

meet their own needs” (“Our Common Future”, 1987). However, over time, this

description has evolved to conform to various definitions, depending on the

purposes such descriptions serve and the emphasis placed on the three (3)

pillars of sustainable development: environment, economy and society.

According to Holmberg (cited in Mebratu, 1998) by 1994, there were more than

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80 different definitions and interpretations fundamentally sharing the core

concept of WCED’s definition. Central to this confusion is an agreement on the

constructs that form the concept of sustainable development. Since

interpretations are formed through the lens of values and worldviews it comes as

little surprise that, absent a unified or shared understanding grounded on

enduring principles across all, different perspectives will shape different

meanings for different people (Bernardino, 2000; Ross, 2004; Riordan, 2004).

Seemingly by default, the economic milieu trumps the two other pillars of

sustainability in translating the definition into actual practice. Weak interpretations

of sustainable development have even relegated environment as “another form

of capital” in a world driven in large measure by the strength of national

economies (Pearce, cited in Ross, 2004).

In defining sustainable development, Philippine Agenda 21 leans toward a

more humanitarian view, as stated in The Philippines Rio+20 Report:

“ [Sustainable Development] is the harmonious integration of a

sound and viable economy, responsible governance, social

cohesion and harmony and ecological integrity to ensure that

development is a life-enhancing process… The ultimate aim of

development is human development now and through future


The State of Sustainable Development Initiatives

Ecological sustainability, as an issue of global interest and scale, has

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undoubtedly gained credence over the last few decades (Agyeman & Evans,

2003; Gulati, 2006; Ross, 2009). The formulation of the Earth Charter is

considered a milestone in the area of Sustainable Development. Following the

fundamental principle that the Earth is the basis of all life, the matter of

governance is framed in the light of overarching principles (Ross, 2009):

1. Respect earth and its diversity

2. Care for community of life with understanding, compassion and love

3. Build democratic societies that are just, participatory, sustainable and


4. Secure earth’s bounty and beauty for present and future generations

While concerns and apprehensions over global environmental degradation

have been escalating increasingly over the years, the enactment of an authentic

and concerted multi-sectoral response towards a sustainable future is yet to be

realized (Bernardino, 2000; Reynolds, 2004; Ross, 2009). Although the

importance of ecological sustainability has gained widespread attention, we lack

considerable evidence that globally, this importance is translated in actual

practice and policy initiatives that puts it at the forefront of national and political

agenda. Solutions to alleviate the effects of unsustainable practice have been

heretofore, short-term, compliance-focused and disaster driven; all which will

create more harm than good to address sustainability issues (Senge et al, 2008;

Ross, 2009; Gulati, 2006; Agyeman & Evans, 2003).

Raworth (2012) offers three (3) long standing reasons for mankind’s failure to

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address sustainability challenges despite the obvious impending crisis on a

global scale:

1. Failure of governments to prioritize the resolution of domestic and

international poverty, giving too little attention to understanding and

respecting the limits of sustainable natural resource use. Instead, interests

of the powerful and the elite have dominated over the interests of the

marginalized and of humanity as a whole;

2. Mainstream economic policies focus solely on economic indictors that fail

to measure man’s effect on social justice and environmental integrity;

3. Failure to act on the commitments set out in the formulation of Agenda 21.

This sluggish response and lack of support has been attributed to the

perceived malleability of sustainable development’s definition, the absence of

defined consequence mechanisms in the implementation of sustainability

measures and the lack of congruence between local values and sustainable

development values (Ross, 2009; Reynolds, 2004; Mahadi, Hadi & Sino, 2011).

The lack of a systemic view and approach to understanding the interrelationship

between “healthy and resilient ecosystems, biodiversity conservation and human

wellbeing” aggravates the issue. Ross (2004) argues that “… to make a

significant impact on the way we live ecological sustainability needs to be more

than a policy objective. Clearly, the law has a crucial role here”. Babiuk,

Falkenberg, Deer, Giesbrecht & Singh (2010) argue that for the most part,

ecology and ecological have been primarily associated with sustainable

development discourse. However, apart from attending to ecological concerns,

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sustainability must also include human ecology – concern for creation and

protection of living conditions “in all its aspects for the current generation and

future generation of humans, although…as many other domains of human living,

the natural environment should have an intrinsic value to humans”.

Perhaps, it is the enormity of this challenge and the root of its cause that have

made it difficult to internalize or concretize with initiatives that create enduring or

longer-term impact on a transnational level. At the core of the sustainability

problem is more than 200 years of deeply entrenched ideologies and dispositions

of materialism and consumption that have been largely unquestioned. The real

challenge of humanity in the advancement of a sustainable future lie within

ourselves: our ways of seeing, thinking and knowing which limit our perspectives

to a scarcity-driven vignette of the world and preclude us from seeing beyond

towards an abundant future for all.

Clearly, education plays a significant role in evolving how we currently think to

one, which embraces a humanistic view and sustainable way of life. Education

for sustainable development is key to facilitating the transformation towards a

“harmonious world” which considers the principles of nature alongside human

well-being and ecological integrity (Scharmer, 2009; Scott, 2009). Schools have

an important role in “modeling an alternative future” consistent with the

imperatives of sustainability, and as echoed in Harris (2008), “are the best places

to raise awareness, generate knowledge and create understanding of

sustainability issues facing generations”.

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Education and Sustainable Development

Education was brought forward to the limelight at the World Conference

on Education for All in 1990. In 2000, UNESCO launched the Education for All

Program with particular responsibility for pursuing the United Nations Priorities in

Education, which led to the so-called Decade for Education on Sustainable

Development from 2005-2015. The goal of the UN Decade “aims to promote

education as a basis for a more sustainable society and to integrate a

consideration of sustainable development into education at all levels, and into all

areas of life including communities, the workplace, and society in general”.

UNESCO’s overall goal for Education for Sustainability (ESD) is to build capacity

to work for sustainable futures; to make people better informed; ethical;

responsible; critical; and willing to take social action, based on an integrated

approach to economic, social and environmental issues.

It can be gleaned from the literature that it is the very processes of human

socio-economic development that have become the antithesis of sustainable

development. As Hargreaves (2007) has argued, “…in their single-minded

pursuit of economic competitiveness and development at any price, one-

dimensional knowledge economies are destroying the planet and eating their

young”. To re-orient deeply entrenched paradigms formed over the years by

materialism and consumerism, a whole generation will need to be engaged to

think and act in ways that meet the scale of the sustainability issues impacting

generations to come. To enact such a transformation will require a balance of

intangible and tangible contributions: a deep sense of “commitment and

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understanding” and a representation or visual of what a sustainable future will

look like. Schools, in this sense have a unique opportunity to bring about this

transformation. In Harris’ (2008) view, “schools are the best place to raise

awareness, generate knowledge and create understanding of the sustainability

issues facing generations”. Timmer, Buckler and Creech (2008) report that there

are more than 1.5B people between the ages of 10 and 25 and this represents

“ the largest generation of young people approaching adulthood in the history of

mankind. Sugahara (2006) citing UNESCO presents that “education for

sustainable development is a lifelong endeavor which challenges individuals,

institutions and societies to view tomorrow as a day that belongs to all of us, or it

will not belong to anyone at all”. Investing in the education of children today with

the skills and know-how to address sustainability issues strengthens the

capability of the human capital for our future.

The purpose of education is to equip students for success in life – in the

workplace, in communities and in their personal lives. The educational

experience builds the capacity to adaptively navigate oneself in a changing and

complex world. Through learning experiences that occur within schools, children

are molded following values, beliefs and moral principles cherished by the wider

community. Sustainability is essentially concerned with sound environment

management that requires a change in thinking and practice. Such change

requires an understanding, commitment and some modeling of an alternative

future. Schools have a key role to play in modeling this alternative future. They

are the best places to raise awareness, generate knowledge and create

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understanding of sustainability issues facing future generations.

Philippine Education and Sustainable Development

In 1987, the Philippine Strategy for Sustainable Development was drafted

bringing to fore, consciousness on two of three levers in sustainability: economic

and environmental. In 1996, a national plan entitled The Philippine Agenda 21: A

National Agenda for Sustainable Development for the 21st Century was adopted

by virtue of Memorandum Order No. 399 with the goal of achieving “economic

growth with adequate protection of the country’s biological resources and its

diversity, vital ecosystem functions, and over-all environmental quality”.

Philippine Agenda 21 is our country’s response to the overarching

framework of sustainability embodied in Agenda 21. This document defines our

national agenda for sustainable development in three key dimensions: Principles

of Unity, Action Agenda and Implementation Strategies. PA 21 recognizes the

role of three core elements in our society which impact our ecological footprint on

the planet:

1) Business – represents the economy and is focused on production of

goods and services for the Filipino people

2) Government – represents polity and concerned with democratic

governance and security of human rights

3) Civil Society – represents culture and concerned with development of

social and spiritual capacities of human beings

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Quoted from Bernardino (2000), Philippine Agenda 21 also explains the role

of education for sustainable development as part of the cultural parameters that

guide all development:

Education for development is geared towards the realization

of the human being as an individual and as an integral member of

a family, community and society as a whole. Besides developing

economic, ecological, political and cultural literacy and

competence, education also promotes human well being, develops

emotional and mental intelligence as well as the moral and

spiritual potentials of the human being. Moreover, education

motivates the human being to place one’s developed capacities in

the service of the Supreme Being, nature, society and sustainable


Environmental education as envisioned by PSSD rests on the principle

that “a well-informed and motivated citizenry could provide the mass base

necessary for the continued protection of the environment”. To this end, the

PSSD seeks to promulgate the understanding of one’s place in the complex web

of ecological relationships, and to develop values consistent with the need to

support environmental protection acting on strong commitment and political will

to deal with the difficult issues and decisions concerning the environment. The

PSSD mandate also involves strengthening the research and knowledge base in

the local environment through the creation of tertiary and graduate level courses

in ecology, environmental science, resource management and resource

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There is little covered in the literature concerning the actual

implementation of education for sustainability in the Basic Education levels in the

Philippine Setting. One case encountered in the course of review was Apu

Palamguwan Center (APC) in Sitiu Bendum, Barangay Busdi, Upper Pulangi in

Malaybalay City in Mindanao. Following a culture-based educational approach,

the school has been recognized by the Department of Education as a formal

cultural school allowing its elementary graduates direct access to the secondary

level. Initially, the Pulangiyen learning program was meant to provide basic

reading, writing and numeracy skills for children while at the same time, create

the interest among adults to further their learning. Today, the Apu Palamguwan

Cultural Education Center offers a basic education program that integrates

community and cultural knowledge of the Pulangiyen people. The background

that follows is largely based on the Apu Palamguwan Cultural Education Center

monograph, “Culture-Based Education in a Community School” (Rufino, 2012).

Education at APC is “rooted in the ancestral domain or gaup” bringing the

rich heritage of the past as the springboard and foundation of learning for the

next generations. “The gaup is where education starts, develops and is

sustained”. The Pulangiyen people are deeply attached to their land and their

environment and aspire to “reassert their cultural identity in society”. For the

Pulangiyeni people, education is an empowering tool to help them affirm their

right to their ancestral domain so they may freely live and thrive according to their

culture and traditions. Language plays a central role in preserving the customs

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and tradition of Pulangiyen community. These customs and traditions have been

passed on from generation to generation and are founded on the “harmonious

relationship with nature and on the belief in the interconnectedness of people and

their environment”. The APC case illustrates the role education plays in

balancing human, cultural and economic well being so that these preserve,

nurture and protect the environment in ways that are consistent with sustainable


In the field of Higher Education, Bernardino (2000) adopted the

hermeneutics process to determine teachers’ understanding of the theory and

practice of education for sustainable development (ESD). The conversations with

teacher participants from two HEI’s in the Southern Philippines formed the basis

of nine (9) key themes on the various elements of education that promote the

understanding and appreciation of sustainable development:

1. ESD starts with the cry to transform education

The respondents echoed the need for a paradigmatic shift as

fundamental in the translation of ESD in actual practice. Traditional

educational systems and

pedagogies need to give way to more innovative approaches that best

meet the needs of an evolving world.

2. ESD is the process of raising citizen’s critical awareness and sensitivity

to environmental and development issues.

Beyond ecological concerns, ESD ought to enlighten one’s

understanding of the different components that are integral to a

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sustainable future. In this manner, the systemic nature of life on the

planet is underscored and deepens the sense of agency and

accountability in the way we interact or relate with our natural


3. ESD is the development of knowledge, abilities, skills, attitudes and

values in the promotion of life and care for the environment.

Humanity is at the center of the sustainable development ethos. The

respect for life and the interrelationship of all living things grounds our

judgment as we seek solutions to the challenges within the three pillars

of sustainability.

4. ESD involves an understanding of the interdependence of all things.

Whether taught as a concept or a process to be done, the construct of

interdependence is critical in ESD. Students are able to appreciate that

all life on our planet are individual parts of a common whole, and it is

through the synergy of the different components that result in the

whole being greater than the sum of its individual parts.

5. ESD involves the teaching of self-reliance and development of self-


Programs that encourage and promote self-reliance rather than

dependency empower students to develop “risk-taking responsibility”

which develops the capacity for sustainable living and survival.

6. ESD is best carried out through a participatory approach.

Participatory student activities simulate real-world skills of negotiating,

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networking and collaborative action – all of which are identified to be

key capabilities in advancing sustainable development efforts. It

encourages leadership “on-the-line” and allows students to validate

their own understanding and biases as these relate to others.

7. Contextual resource materials facilitate the teaching of ESD.

While resources exist on ESD, there is lack of material on the Filipino

setting with which to teach ESD. The same has been identified in an

ADB study as among the limitations of teaching Environmental

Education at the Tertiary Level.

8. A holistic framework best fits an ESD curricular structure.

Authentic integration of sustainability is required, not merely incidental

teaching of ESD. Lack of time was called out as the principal reason

for being unable to implement ESD in educational programs. An ADB

report echoes the same findings.

9. To make it alive and dynamic, ESD should permeate into the school

and the wider community through the community’s outreach programs

ESD assumes greater relevance when sustainability efforts resonate

with community needs and challenges. In this manner, schools and

communities become true laboratories of learning.

10. To teach ESD effectively, teachers need to be empowered.

Empowerment in this sense refers to support and encouragement from

administration of higher management, as well as the competence or

background knowledge needed to master the subject.

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Leadership in Sustainable Development

Levesque (2011) asserts that sustainable development is the “ultimate

leadership challenge” in the world today. To weather the crises present in the

various dimensions of society, the world needs leaders “at every level of our

societies and organizations” who are willing and able to respond to the call of

action to save our fragile planet. In his review of the leadership literature, the

author contrasts the attributes of a leader and leadership in sustainable

development that drive the capacity for change. According to Levesque (2011), a

leader is characterized by individual attributes such as credibility, integrity,

authenticity, capabilities and results. Kouzes and Posner (Levesque, 2011)

assert that leaders are also depicted as forward-looking or visionaries, honest,

inspiring and competent. Goleman (1995) contributes the dimension of emotional

intelligence or personal mastery as a critical leader attribute that provides leaders

with the ability “to learn more about others than brain power alone”.

In their book “The Leadership Challenge”, Kouzes and Posner (2007) assert

that leaders reside in every level of an organization and society. Leadership, in

their view “knows no religious bounds, no ethnic or cultural borders. We find

exemplary leadership everywhere we look”. The dynamic process of leadership

is articulated in five exemplary practices and ten commitments that are common

to great leaders:

1. Model the Way

“Leading means you have to be a good example, and live what you say”.

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An exemplary leader, leads from a clear set of principles and values that

shape how he thinks, acts and makes sense of the world. Character

emanates from an authentic self, unafraid to stand up for what one

believes and to give voice to one’s values to let people know what he

thinks and believes.

2. Inspire A Shared Vision

Exemplary leaders “envision exciting and ennobling possibilities” and

inspire their followers to see the same perspective in vivid ways. They

engage in dialogue and conversation to understand and uncover the

interests, passions and aspirations of people and use symbolic frames to

engage the organization. Leaders are architects of transformation.

3. Challenge the Process

Exemplary leaders are much like explorers. They see the world through

fresh perspectives and are courageous to take on challenges as they

foster a climate of experimentation and risk-taking, encourage good ideas

and conduct autopsies without blame to learn and iterate. “Life is the

leader’s laboratory and exemplary leaders use it to conduct as many

experiments as possible

4. Enable others to Act

“Leaders foster collaboration and build trust”. They create opportunities to

develop leaders at all levels of the organization and ensure sustainable

practice through succession planning. Leaders “strengthen everyone’s

capacity to deliver on the promises they make”.

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5. Encourage the Heart

Exemplary leaders perform “genuine acts of caring” that uplift the people

in their organization. They recognize contributions and celebrate victories

and values.

Inarguably, leadership plays a critical role in ensuring a sustainable future

that is “consistent with deep values of human purpose” (Fullan, cited in Grooms

& Reid-Martinez, 2011). In a study sponsored by the Spencer Foundation in the

area of educational change, the results revealed that among the key forces which

influence change or continuity in the long run are leadership, leadership

sustainability and leadership succession. Hargreaves (2007) contends,

“Sustainable leadership and improvement are more than matters of mere

endurance, of making things last”. In consonance with the environmental

viewpoint, the authors define sustainable leadership as:

Sustainable leadership matters, spreads and lasts. It is a

shared responsibility, that does not deplete human and

financial resources, and that cares for and avoids exerting

negative damage on the surrounding educational and

community environment. Sustainable leadership has an

activist engagement with the forces that affect it, and builds

and educational environment of organizational diversity that

promotes cross-fertilization of good ideas and successful

practices in communities of shared learning and


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In defining leadership for sustainability, it is useful to distinguish this from

sustainable leadership, which is leadership that is durable and lasts over time. In

contrast leadership for sustainability is “intrinsically…one that fosters, nurtures

and supports sustainable development”. In relating this to the definitions posed

by Hargreaves and Fink (2006) as well as Jackson (2007), it is becomes

apparent that effective school leadership, or more specifically effective school

leadership for sustainability possess the same core attributes of effective leaders.

The difference, however, may be found in the leadership activity or

developmental priorities that the leader chooses to undertake. Whelan, Slattery

and Cannon (n.d.) assert that the environment of ambiguity within which leaders

operate, require “an artistry that is unlikely to emerge from the acquisition of a set

of generic competencies. Leaders are more likely to face unfamiliar problems

and unfamiliar contexts and this reality requires use of leadership capabilities.

The thread of distributed leadership cuts across the literature (Tichy, 2002;

Bolman & Deal, 2008; Scharmer, 2009; Levesque, 2011). Indeed, the degree of

ambiguity, uncertainty and complexity that the 21st century brings, may no longer

be addressed with leadership that resides in one person alone. Tichy (2002)

opines, “one of the biggest failings of any institution is the failure to develop

leadership bench strength”. Contrary to what popular belief, leadership is not an

innate set of skills that are reserved for the chosen few. Leadership skill, like any

other skill, can be learned or acquired and strengthened with the right feedback,

coaching and mentoring. It is the leader’s job to “liberate the leader in everyone”

(Kouzes & Posner, 2006).

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To meet with the vision of a sustainable future, the relationship between

leader and follower and the dynamism with which communities converse, come

together and act with cadence needs to be emanate from a higher sense of

purpose. This is the generation where every day heroes can make a difference

(Hardman, 2012; Senge et al. 2008; Timmer, Buckler & Creech, 2008; Gulati,

2006, Harris, 2008). The changing nature of leadership is echoed in Greenleaf’s

theory on servant-leadership described in Smith (2005):

“A new kind of leadership model – a model which puts serving

others as the number one priority. Servant leadership emphasizes

increased service to others; a holistic approach to work; promoting

a sense of community; and the sharing of power in decision


Timmer, Buckler & Creech (2008) contend that there is a leadership vacuum

insofar as being able to address critical issues related to sustainability is

concerned. The sheer complexity of the sustainability challenge begs the

question of capability or desirability of individual leaders to thoughtfully and

thoroughly addresses the issues. The issue of leadership succession comes to

mind as one of the more important actions in a leader’s agenda. Hargreaves and

Goodson (cited in Babiuk et al., 2010) underscore the importance of a

deliberately planned succession scheme, in the context of educational


“One of the most significant events in the life of a school that is

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most likely to bring about a sizeable shift in direction is change in

leadership. Although waves of reform exert the greatest and most

immediate pressures on whole systems, it is changes of leaders and

leadership that most directly and dramatically provoke change in

individual schools.”

Academic leadership is a highly social endeavor. The collaboration and

partnerships needed to get things done foster a sense of community, connection

and shared purpose makes the leader’s role a highly people-centric function

(Bolman and Gallos, 2011; Bolman and Deal, 2008). It is therefore critical that

the leader be able to understand his or her own frames of reference in order to

make sense or meaning out of the organizational chaos that turbulent times may

present. It will no longer be prudent to hold a single worldview that runs the risk

of organizational myopia. Multiple perspectives are in order to truly evolve a

holistic understanding of the organizational system and how this same system

will run the trajectory that leads to business success (Bolman & Deal, 2008). The

ability to move people, and influence them to believe in a future so vividly as if

they were already witnessing it is the power of leadership framing.

Scharmer (2009) asserts, “the crisis of our time isn’t just a crisis of a single

leader, organization, country or conflict. The crisis of our time reveals the dying of

an old social structure and way of thinking, an old way of institutionalizing and

enacting collective social forms”. Thus, the leader’s ability to break away from old

paradigms, to reframe, is a leadership skill corresponds with the circumstances.

However, to develop the capacity to reframe, an individual must first master his

Maria  Patricia  G.  Arias  /  11188863  

own internal blind spots in order to reveal our own set of prejudices and biases

that cloud our understanding of circumstances and what they mean for us.

Scharmer (2009) elaborates that, “the success of an intervention depends on the

interior condition of the intervener…. This suggests that the same person in the

same situation doing the same thing can effect a totally different outcome

depending on the inner place from where that action is coming”.

Sustainable Development in education requires “a healthy balance of

support structure, administrative guidance, social networking and self

organization on the part of the most committed members of a campus community.

As such, actually demonstrates the qualities of a 21st century organization”

(ACUPCC, 2009). As with efforts that entail disruption of entrenched ways, the

path towards sustainable development leadership will stretch the organization to

achieve a meaningful and necessary goal. The sustainable development

educational leader plays a critical role in inspiring the vision, setting the change

agenda and building the coalition to make a sustainable future a compelling

destination for every member of the community. The emergence of leaders at all

levels is key to organizational sustainability – every day heroes who foster the

climate of interdependence connecting each person to a common humanity.

Maria  Patricia  G.  Arias  /  11188863  


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