Leadership for Sustainability

Saving the planet one school at a time

By: David Dixon


Or purchase digital products from our partners:


ISBN : 9781781354018

Pages : 272 pages

Size: 222 x 182mm

Format: Paperback

Published: March 2022

Written by David Dixon, Leadership for Sustainability: Saving the planet one school at a time is a stirring and informative greenprint to help school leaders play their part in making their schools more environmentally friendly and better places to learn for all.

Mobilised by the rousing words and protests of Greta Thunberg, young people all over the globe are calling for more action to combat climate change and better protect their futures. Yet they cannot do this alone. They are reliant on people in positions of power to set the necessary changes in motion – and these people include their own school leaders operating within their own local communities.

This book is a rallying cry for all schools to unleash their potential to deliver a brighter future for both their pupils and society at large.

David Dixon draws on both his doctoral research and his 20 years’ experience as a head teacher to set out how school leaders can embed eco-friendly practices in the day-to-day running of their schools that will also contribute to overall school improvement, including that recognised by inspectors.

David weaves his guidance around the ‘five Cs of sustainability’ – captaincy, curriculum, campus, community and connections – to position sustainability as a natural vehicle for developing a type of fully integrated learning ecology and culture for the benefit of all.

The book provides a detailed analysis of where we are now in terms of environmental impact, and lays out a road map to help schools move towards more effective eco-friendly provision. It shares practical examples of sustainability in schools and how these contribute to school improvement in the wider, more conventional sense too. Furthermore, each chapter concludes with a series of suggested strategies to encourage further thought and discussions among school stakeholders.

Suitable for school leaders, teachers and teacher trainers – in both primary and secondary settings – and for any professionals who work in schools on environmental education or improvement projects. 

Picture for author David Dixon

David Dixon

Dr David Dixon was a full-time primary teacher for 15 years before becoming a head teacher for the following two decades. In that time, he promoted the twin causes of environmental education and sustainability, which formed the central ethos of his schools. David is now a freelance education consultant, specialising in curriculum and leadership and helping individual schools to link sustainability with school improvement more generally.




  1. It is clear that students are concerned about a future, their future, in a world of altered climate and constrained resources. Survey after survey tells us this and yet we move glacially, if at all, towards solutions that might give them confidence. As educators, our priority is to make the abstract, distant and global into something that is real, now and local. If we are making learning visible, we need to make sustainability visible. 

    This is what David Dixon has done in writing Leadership for Sustainability

    He has given schools a way forward – a method of taking control at a local level and delivering, for students and their community, a practical way of making a difference. He also realises that the best protagonists are created in primary schools. (I’ve seen first-hand how effective smaller environmentalists can be!) Yes, we need systemic change, but we also need to get everyone on board to support such measures. The best way is to start at home – and this book is an excellent place to begin that journey.

  2. This thought-provoking book is both timely and relevant to addressing issues related to sustainability in schools and global issues linked to COP26. Dixon uses the five Cs of sustainability – captaincy, curriculum, campus, community and connections – as chapter headings to underpin the understanding of why sustainability is important, which I found useful, along with the recommendations for leaders at the end of each chapter. 

    Although this book is primarily geared towards primary settings, there are definite links to secondary schools and extracurricular eco-councils too. In particular, Dixon ensures that the definition of sustainability is unpicked and misconceptions addressed, along with clear links to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, and highlights the importance of sustainability as a core geography concept. The book’s appendices also present a wide range of policies and strategies which could be implemented in schools to raise awareness of sustainability.  

  3. Rooted in experience and encouragement of what can be achieved, Leadership for Sustainability provides school leaders with an inspiring ‘greenprint’ for embedding sustainability throughout school communities. Every school should have access to this book to support their vital role at the centre of education for sustainability, so that every young person is equipped for a healthier, happier and fairer future.

  4. In Leadership for Sustainability David Dixon provides inspiration and practical advice on how to embed sustainability, based on significant evidence and authority of experience working across multiple schools. But he argues there is a moral ‘captaincy’ required to take the initiative in the face of wider system and external pressure, echoed by Lord Knight in the foreword. 

    Leadership for Sustainability is not a neutral book. At each turn, Dixon’s personal values and purpose shine through his words, and he is unafraid to challenge the status quo and big names. He elegantly describes what it really means to be a leader with sustainability as one of your values, as much as the operational process by which you might accomplish the aim of moving your school estate to net zero. The provocations and reflections in each chapter help to frame the discussions, and form the starting point for your own journey towards leadership for sustainability, if you have courage enough to grasp them. This is a provocative and challenging book for traditional leadership models.

    Dixon looks at the key ideas that shape thinking about sustainability, with well-recognised theories made accessible to all, and builds on his doctoral study of successful Eco-Schools leaders to explore methods, policies and language approaches, and ways to embed the existing knowledge and Sustainable Development Goals structures into schools effectively. 

    He also examines the ways that curriculum can be used to educate and inform pupils, and the wide range of ideas that can be integrated into a school environment. As a geographer, I found familiar and reassuring the intent of learning beyond the classroom, and the integration of place and space into environmental education, but Dixon’s ideas go beyond the traditionally academic and into the moral and character education of the child too. Eco-Schools and forest school practitioners alike will recognise a lot of his principles and embedded ideas, and welcome the support for their aims, but Dixon draws on his wide experience to offer lots of routes and options. A great example is the systematic analysis of the need for training, expertise and even the Royal Horticultural Society as part of a ‘grow your own’ case study example! Dixon also turns his attention to the campus, and the structural work that can be done to bring sustainability into the built environment. Here, Dixon’s sense of personal example and captaincy is perhaps at its strongest and most provocative, and his determination and pursuit of marginal gains shines through. Finally, in Chapter 5, the wider sense of community integration is explored, with a thoughtful review of the historical development of the role of schools as community centres over time. 

    This book, then, is as much a challenge and call to action for leaders to use their powers and make their own decisions for social and climate justice, as it is a practical and realistic framework of working with real pupils in real schools.

  5. Leadership for Sustainability develops the reader’s understanding of green issues and sustainability and sites them within the context of school leadership, learning, emotional intelligence, curriculum innovation and school improvement. The focus on transformational leadership and linking the local to the global, supported by grounded examples from the author’s own practice and that of others, makes possible the planning and actions needed in order to implement a whole-school sustainability agenda that is more than just a tokenistic gesture. The book offers concrete ideas to develop a school culture in which the sustainability agenda is supported by, and supports, a learning culture focused on equity and inclusion.

    The radical changes needed to create a greener school are embedded in examples of deliberate and explicit acts of transformation that link together school staff, students, families and the community as equal partners. As David says, ‘sustainability is literally life, the universe and everything’ – and fortunately for school leaders he offers a clear contextual exploration of the issues and a road map that will allow each school to plan its own journey while seeing itself as part of the global challenge to save the planet one school at a time. 

Write your own review


Similar Books