Educating for a Sustainable World


Ellie Molyneux ’04

Director of Sustainability and Fourth Grade Teacher
Greenwich Country Day School
Greenwich, CT

Ellie Molyneux’s work as a teacher, administrator, and curriculum developer at schools around the world has left her with a passionate belief in the importance of one often-overlooked subject: sustainability. “It needs to be in the school mission, it needs to be in the policies, it needs to be integrated into all curricula,” she insists. “It needs to be the basis of problem solving and inquiry in schools, because it is the biggest problem that we all have to solve.”

That unabashedly global perspective was forged over a career that has taken Molyneux from the woods of Worthington, Massachusetts, to the wilds of Patagonia (where she worked for a time with North Face founder and conservationist Doug Tompkins), and landed her in school communities as disparate as Greenwich, Connecticut, and Mexico City (where she taught and partnered with the government to bring a sustainability plan to her school). Until this spring, she was living and teaching in Hong Kong, helping create a STEM and innovation-based curriculum for the newly founded Stamford American School (and launching the Hong Kong Polo club, another passion). She is now director of sustainability and a fourth grade teacher at Greenwich Country Day School.

A psychology major at Middlebury College, Molyneux earned her master’s in educational technology from SUNY Buffalo, but her educational perspective was first shaped by her work after college, helping underserved students in the Upward Bound program and Steppingstone Foundation. “That was when I began asking, How can we make sure everybody has equal access?” she says. “And that’s been a question in the back of my mind consistently.”

Another formative experience was her time at Williston. “I had not been exposed to that level of academic curiosity,” she recalls, adding that the school’s supportive culture gave her permission to be curious herself. “What Williston gave me, above all, was intellectual and emotional safety, and a great community to learn in. From there, you can go in any direction you choose.”

The direction Molyneux has chosen is to look clear-eyed at civilization’s future, and she has focused her career on helping prepare the next generation with the skills they are likely to need. Among these, she notes, are fluency in other languages (vital in a global economy), a comfort with interdisciplinary problem solving, and an understanding of emerging technology. “Teachers need to be aware of emerging trends to understand where the world is going, and to help students ‘pack their suitcase’ of skills that will help them be successful,” she says. “Otherwise, we risk educating children for a context that will have already passed.”

At the same time, she says, teachers can’t lose sight of sustainability. “We need to keep it as a goal so that we can work backwards by design to structure learning activities that support that goal. Our world is changing rapidly, and we must adapt our skills, strategies—and schools—to survive.”