No Teacher Left Inside: Using the Environment as a Context for Interdisciplinary Learning
By. Skylar Primm, High Marq Environmental Charter School
As a teacher, I take my summers off from the classroom. However, my fellow teachers—and their families—know that in the summer we are not “off” from anything but our daily commutes. I like to use my summers to read books, catch up on housework, participate in professional development, travel, plan for the coming year, and—oh yeah—rest and relax. In short, there is a lot to pack into ten to twelve weeks, and my time is at a premium. What seemed like an infinite expanse of possibility from my vantage point in early May reveals itself to be a narrow path by mid-June, walled off by commitments large and small, personal and professional.
Yet this July, I will be spending a week away from home at Conserve School in Land O’ Lakes, Wisconsin, attending the 2016 No Teacher Left Inside Summer Institute, just like I have for five of the last six summers. Why do I keep coming back, year after year, following the Institute around the state from Eau Claire to Baraboo and on to the Northwoods, in spite of my aforementioned commitments? I could list scores of reasons, but they all come down to these three: Relevance, Relationships, and Reflection.
I have attended plenty of conferences and workshops where half the sessions were irrelevant to me and the other half were all scheduled for overlapping times. No Teacher Left Inside is not one of those conferences. The content you will learn and the skills you will practice are based on teacher needs and interests, and the facilitators go out of their way to offer voice and choice for the participants. If you are unable to find something relevant to your classroom each day, you are not looking hard enough. As a result, I always leave the Institute with actionable plans for the new year, covering topics as diverse as nature journaling, citizen science, and dutch oven cooking. And if you need to take some time to plan and collaborate with your staff? Go for it!
The relationships I have developed over four days and nights of shared learning, outdoor explorations, and meals at past No Teacher Left Inside Institutes are unlike anything I have experienced since geology trips to the backcountry in graduate school. At No Teacher Left Inside, I have discovered lasting friendships and deepened professional partnerships, and each year I look forward to seeing a mix of new faces and returning friends. It also serves as a miniature staff retreat for our school, giving us a chance to strengthen bonds and strategize for the next year. By the end of the week, we are all sorry to have to say goodbye to our new colleagues.
All of this learning and networking would be meaningless without time for reflection. If we want our students to become reflective learners, we must strive to be reflective teachers, but it is always a challenge to find the time in our hectic schedules. Up at Conserve School, your pace can—and will—slow down. Take a walk in the woods, or borrow a bike if you are feeling more adventurous. Relax in the school gardens or do some morning yoga. (Rest assured that plenty of mosquito nets and a cornucopia of bug spray are free for you to use, should they be necessary.) I always find that my best reflection happens outside of the classroom, and nothing compares to journaling in nature!
The relationships, relevance, and reflection I experience each summer at No Teacher Left Inside reinvigorate me and allow me to return to school in the fall as the confident, enthusiastic teacher my students deserve. Is that outcome not worth taking a week away from your summer to-do list? It will still be there when you get home, and you will be better prepared to deal with it.
For more information or to register visit: www.WisconsinGreenSchoolsNetwork.org.
Skylar L. Primm is an advisor and co-lead teacher at High Marq Environmental Charter School in Montello, Wisconsin.