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Systems Thinking in Sustainability at Columbia Public School District

On September 22, on a sunny Professional Development day in Columbia, Missouri, USA, 80 middle and high school science teachers gathered to learn more about Compass Education tools and plan how to immediately use them to enhance student sustainability understanding and action in their classrooms. 

Compass Education’s Executive Director Nicole Swedlow, Instructional Designer Gitanjali Paul, and Facilitator Mark Mains were impressed and invigorated by the engagement and commitment embodied by these dedicated educators. The Compass one-day introduction to the two most popular tools – Sustainability Compass and Systems Iceberg was well-received, and participants highly motivated. The 6-hour workshop produced not only amazing content for students, but also tremendous enthusiasm from the participants. While some had attended an earlier virtual workshop and used the tools previously, still nearly half were inspired to sign on for more training or for Compass Education certification

The diverse list of topics on which the teachers used Compass tools included student well-being, environmental degradation, empowering women, student use and misuse of social media, and even teacher burnout. Post workshop feedback reflected both the creativity of participants and the flexibility of the tools themselves. 

After the day of training, Mike Szydlowski, the K-12 Science Coordinator for Columbia Public Schools, took the facilitators to enjoy one of the playgrounds at a local elementary school. The Columbia Public Schools District already demonstrates its commitment to principles of sustainability by its creative use of resources in the construction of these playgrounds. Toys, equipment, and activities included those one would find in most schoolyards and more, but were almost entirely comprised of donated, repurposed, or recycled materials. It was truly an inspiring day of learning and collaboration for organizers, participants, and facilitators alike.

Mark Mains

Mark Mains

After careers as a US Army paratrooper and an actor (among others), Mark has been an education professional for 17 years in Mukilteo, Washington, USA, and most recently in Guatemala City, Guatemala. Along the way, he earned an M.Ed. in elementary education and National Board Certification. He has developed and facilitated training in subjects such asTeacher Evaluation as a Growth Model and The Power of Public Narrative. He is excited to be working with Compass Education to promote Systems Thinking and Sustainability among educators worldwide. To learn more about Mark, go to

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