Shaping the habits of the future

Shaping the habits of the future


I write this article at a time when Australia is in the midst of being ravaged by bushfires that are on a completely unprecedented level. It’s been scary, it’s been heartbreaking, and the losses have been huge. There is an enormous amount of frustration amongst the Australian public (and the world), with people wanting to see far more decisive action being taken on climate change.

At times, it can be so hard to not feel incredibly helpless, particularly when our leaders just don’t seem to be doing anywhere near enough. But change has got to start somewhere, no matter how small those changes might be. And as teachers, we have one of the most important roles to play. Because the example we set in our own classrooms is shaping the very people who will be our next generation of leaders and policy makers.

So - with that in mind, here are just FIVE SMALL CHANGES that could make a BIG DIFFERENCE for our world in 2020 and beyond.



They might be a bit more expensive, but on the plus side, they are likely to last a lot longer rather than cheap plastic which is very prone to breaking! It’s easy to be tempted by pretty looking ideas on Instagram or Pinterest, or by the endless amounts of colourful items that you can find at places like Kmart or Target… and there’s nothing wrong with pretty resources! But try to resist the ones that are essentially just gimmicky plastic items!


I have been guilty in the past of having a prize box full of little bits and pieces I’ve found in $2 shops. But at best, the kids will use these prizes for a short time, and then they will just become more landfill. Create other alternatives for your prizes- one of my favourite sorts of prizes are experience-based one e.g. desk swap, shoes off, free play, technology time, class DJ etc.


All of my students (and I) have re-usable drink bottles, which is a really easy way of reducing our plastic imprint. One of my goals for this year is to also be much better at using my reusable coffee cup- I am guilty of being lazy about always remembering it. But, it’s another way I can set a good example to my students, and significantly reduce the amount of plastic I’m consuming!


At the end of the year, lots of teachers (myself included) like to give their students a little gift. In the past, I’ve been very guilty of giving plastic- based gifts. Last year, I really tried to think more sustainably and long term with the gifts that I gave my students. I created a ‘bee kind’ version of noughts and crosses, using cloth bags from Kmart and pebbles from Bunnings. I also placed succulent clippings in mini terracotta pots from Kmart- not only was it a more sustainable gift, but it was something that my students could hopefully keep and tend to for many years to come!


Some of the materials we use for art and craft activities can be terrible for our planet- particularly things like plastic straws and glitter. Glitter is a micro-plastic that does not bio-degrade and washes into our waterways, causing huge problems for marine life. Substitute paper straws for plastic straws and choose eco-friendly glitter- it’s more expensive but means you can still do all the things that sparkle, but guilt free!



I am working towards finding ways to store my resources without relying on single use plastic like snap lock bags. Sturdy containers and folders, pouches, ring clips, drawstring bags, pencil cases, baskets and mini drawers are just some alternatives!


If you’re having a class party, doing an experiment, creating an artwork or creating a game, choose PAPER cups, plates and cutlery instead of the plastic versions. Wherever possible, use existing cups, plates and cutlery that already exist at your school- even if it means you need to do a bit of washing up!!


This is a big one and it’s an idea that’s really beginning to trend amongst teachers, which I’m so glad about. Too often, laminating everything in sight becomes the default for teachers. I have definitely been very guilty of this too. But what we are doing is taking something that CAN break down (paper) and covering it in something that will not (plastic). That perspective really can help you to stop and think: is the laminating I’m about to do REALLY necessary??

How much you reduce your laminating is a personal choice. I personally do still laminate a few games/activities that are handled by my little kids day in and day out because these activities just do not last the year otherwise. But I have stopped laminating artworks or anything that goes up onto my walls- no one touches these things, so why do they need to be laminated?! Yes, a display might last a few more years if I laminate it. But, in reality, it will continue to last for thousands of years after that as well- long after I’ve stopped needing it! Given how often resources and displays become outdated and need to be replaced, is ‘lasting longer’ really enough of a reason to laminate them?!

There are also some added benefits to not laminating displays:

  1. It makes them easier to read for kids because there is no glare.
  2. It can help to reduce the noise level in your classroom because paper will help absorb noise unlike plastic, which noise will bounce off.
  3. It significantly cuts down on your preparation time because you can just print and display, rather than having to laminate everything as well!

Some other ways to reduce laminating:


These have been an absolute GAME CHANGER in my classroom! Instead of laminating games or activities, just slide them into the wipe mats and they are ready to go! You can get wipe mats from lots of different stores- mine are from Modern Teaching Aids.


Be selective with what resources you download and purchase– there are SO many activities and games out there for teachers to use. But many can involve a LOT of prep and laminating, often for very minimal gain. I recommend purchasing or downloading resources that have multiple uses and are as open-ended as possible, rather than something that will only be used once or twice. Not only will it save you a LOT of prep time, but you won’t be laminating lots of unnecessary things!


Printing on higher GSM paper or cardboard will mean that they are still sturdy, but don't require the need for laminating!


My school encourages students to bring ‘nude food’ recess and lunches. This is otherwise known as a ‘waste-free lunch’, where there are no wrappers or packaging. Lots of lunch boxes these days come with little compartments (bento box style). Alternatively, students can use little containers or beeswax/cotton sandwich wraps or pouches. There are LOTS of options out there! 

You can make it a big deal in your class or school with initiatives like ‘Nudie Tuesdays’ or ‘Waste-free Wednesdays’. It’s also generally a good idea to send home waste-free lunch ideas and alternatives for parents- not only will this support your students in bringing their nude food lunches, but it helps you to partner with families and encourage them to be more sustainably minded as well!
It can also be great to get your canteen on board. My school’s canteen is fantastic- they ask students to bring in keep cups for soup and hot chocolates, they use recyclable packaging, they cook with produce from our school veggie garden, and they work hard to ensure minimal food waste.
We are lucky enough to have volunteers who cook all of our canteen food from scratch, which also reduces the amount of packaging. Your school canteen might not have the capacity to do all of these things, but talk to them about what they CAN do. Encouraging recyclable packaging or re-usable cups is a great place to start!


These days, most classrooms have paper/plastic recycling bins, which is awesome. Ensure that you explicitly teach your kids how to use them properly, and model recycling habits in your classroom. Now that most classrooms are effectively recycling these things, I also encourage you to go a step further and find ways to recycle some or all of the following too:

  1. Soft plastics– in Australia, there are collection points for soft plastics at a lot of Woolworths stores. These soft plastics are recycled by REDcycle and Replas into benches, bollards and other items that can be used in Woolworths stores and carparks.
  2. Glue sticks and markers- in Australia, a company called Terracycle recycles these! Do some research to find if there are any similar initiatives near you! If you’re an Aussie resident, click this link to find a drop off location near you:
  3. Food scraps- collect for compost, chickens if your school has them, or a worm farm.


This is a big one. We live in such a consumerist time where everything is disposable and replaceable. Something has a little dent? Buy a new one. Something isn’t quite what you want? Buy a new one. Something has become outdated by a new trend? Buy a new one. I’m not saying we can’t buy things for ourselves or for our students/classrooms, but it’s just a really good thing to be mindful of, particularly if we have something similar that’s in perfectly good working order already! Find ways to re-use things wherever you can, and resist the temptation to always buy those bright new, shiny things!!
Here’s an example of some old classroom furniture that I was able to breathe new life into with some coats of white paint last year!


It sure is! And as small as many of these changes might seem, imagine the bigger change that we could create if every classroom in Australia (and around the world) committed to just some or all of these five small changes?’

The habits that we create in our students will become the habits of the future. And when you think about it like that, suddenly those changes don’t seem so little or insignificant after all!