Purpose and Reflection

It is June. School is out or almost out for the summer. Educators and students are looking forward to time off to reflect, refresh, and rejuvenate. We have different ways of doing so, but for all of us, it is crucial time away from school that allows us to return in the fall ready for more. Even if we work or attend school in the summer, there is simply an alternate pace to summer, more time outside, a rhythm that invites us to slow down and tune into something besides the busyness of school life.

Last year's ISEEN Summer Institute Crew

Last year’s ISEEN Summer Institute Crew

The first thing I am excited to delve deeply into this summer is the Independent Schools Experiential Education (ISEEN) teacher institute in Santa Fe in mid-June. Educators from various parts of the world will come together to explore what it means to bring experiential pedagogy into classroom practice. Working in small subject-area cohorts, educators will have the chance to share ideas, learn from experienced facilitators, and develop lesson plans that will enhance their classroom practice. All in the stunning Southwest setting. This is the third year of this institute, and if past years are any indication, it will be a wonderful time of conversation, regional exploration, deep dives into classroom practice, and a lot of laughter. I can’t wait!

Our Purpose Logo

Our Purpose Logo

In July I am thrilled to return to Andean Peru, one of my favorite spots on the planet, to spend 10 days with another group of educators from around the globe. This time I will co-facilitate a course on the subject of Purpose — how we discover and deepen our understanding of a significant goal outside of ourselves that motivates us to action. We will use the Sacred Valley of the Inca as our lab to explore our calling, our deepest reason for our vocation: as Frederick Buechner says, “where our greatest joy meets the world’s greatest need.”

As we examine our own sense of purpose, we will create ways to help students find theirs. I am looking forward to being with other courageous educators and my friend and collaborator Ross Wehner of World Leadership School, learning about life in the Andes, cultural and educational practices, and ourselves. I predict this experience will be as profound as the one I had last summer on an educator course in Nepal: I really love seeing the impact of this kind of work!

So, whatever your plans are for the summer, I wish you reflection, relaxation, time with loved ones, and whatever you need to re energize you for another year of learning! Take care of yourself, and enjoy every minute.

Taking an Experiential Leap Forward

Delivering the opening remarks at the 2017 ISEEN Winter Institute

Delivering the opening remarks at the 2017 ISEEN Winter Institute

Last week, I had the distinct pleasure of attending the Independent Schools Experiential Education Network (ISEEN) Winter Institute, hosted by Hawken School in Cleveland, Ohio. It was exhilarating, inspiring, and challenging in all the right ways. (Full disclosure: I am ISEEN’s board chair). The organization has been around for over a decade, and it has never been content with the status quo: this is a group of people who are moving forward, seeking connections between members and also looking outside the independent school bubble to learn from and contribute to progressive education everywhere.

Last year we were in Honolulu and focused our place-based education theme on a variety of  cultural influences, in particular the love for the islands and sea expressed through native Hawaiian lore and practice.

Our warm welcome from the Hawken mascot

Our warm welcome from the Hawken mascot

This year we continued to explore place-based education, but in an urban setting with a particular emphasis on social justice issues. As we learned about some of the innovative initiatives at Hawken School, we got a taste of the student experience as we fanned out into the city to discover its rich history, current challenges, and solutions in action. I participated in the workshop We the People: The Immigrant Experience, examining Cleveland’s rich immigration history past and present by doing original research using census data and the treasure that is the Western Reserve Archive. Another workshop, Experiencing Homelessness, explored the topic by visiting a local shelter, meeting with an advocacy group, and talking to people experiencing homelessness in the community. Another group participated in a workshop called In Pursuit of Justice, examining the justice system through the eyes of a judge, parole hearings in a courtroom, and a conversation with a US Marshall. Other seminars in printmaking, design, and digital fabrication took advantage of the rich visual art landscape in the city, and teams went out to interview residents and wrote narrative nonfiction based on their discoveries. Everything we did could be done in any kind of school, and experiencing it ourselves rather than just hearing about it, gave us such good ideas about where to take it.

Sharing ideas

Sharing ideas

We created the time to reflect on our experience and examine how to integrate more of this kind of learning at our own schools. We took on challenging topics like how to make meaningful connections with public schools in our area and be part of the change that needs to happen in our communities. I am especially excited by the way the institute dovetails into the course for educators I am co-leading this summer in Peru on examining Purpose.

We deepened our connections to one another and celebrated our work together at local restaurants and a renovated hotel that represent the revitalization that is happening in this rust belt city. It was a deeply moving and enjoyable week, and we are all returning home not only reenergized, but recommitted to using the flexibility and privilege that we have in our schools to take a leap forward to better education for all.

The whole ISEEN gang!

The whole ISEEN gang (being goofy!)

Strategic Planning

IMG_8773I am, by nature, not a planner. I like to let life unfold, see what appears, and work with whatever shows up to move me to the next phase. This makes me particularly well suited to experiential education: it’s not that I never plan, it’s more that I do something first and then, upon reflection, create the structure to understand and support the next action. Nevertheless, the importance of strategic planning cannot be underestimated. Organizations that have a clear vision and mission and then take the time to create concrete structures and plans to support their big picture vision are those most likely to get where they want to go. While few would dispute the value of this type of planning, I love the fact that there is no one way to do it. The methods an organization can employ vary by the kind of organization, number of people involved, desired outcomes, and time allotted. Going in with a commitment to mission-driven practices and producing actual measurable results appear to be common denominators to success.

ISEEN Board in Cleveland

ISEEN Board in Cleveland

I recently rejoined the board of the Independent Schools Experiential Education Network (ISEEN). I am thrilled to be back as a member of the group guiding this important and wonderful organization. When I attended my first ISEEN institute eight years ago, the group was called ISAN (Independent Schools Adventure Network) and existed to support outdoor and adventure education practitioners. Over the ten years since, the organization has grown to encompass other forms of experiential education programming (global, service learning, sustainability, student leadership), and added an institute for classroom teachers who wish to have more experiential pedagogy and practice in their classrooms. We have achieved our initial goals and met last weekend on a retreat with the purpose of creating new ones.The process included a review of current programs, including the winter institute for practitioners (this year held in Hawaii, hosted by Punahou and Iolani Schools — and focusing on place-based education), the summer institute for teachers (held in Santa Fe for math, science, and arts educators), and our relatively new membership platform. After reviewing them as a group, we spent time individually and then in triads, outlining new goals, finding commonalities and differences, and finally, coming together to set benchmarks and timeline for the work. It was gratifying, inspiring, and energizing as we move forward into the next five years of growth in the organization.

GEBG Board in Miami

GEBG Board in Miami

Another group on whose board I serve, the Global Education Benchmark Group (GEBG), is going through a similar process but in a slightly different way. We formed a strategic planning committee at a meeting last spring. This group met three times, once in person and twice virtually, to identify five priorities for the organization. Each committee member signed on to develop a couple of goals and create benchmarks and a timeline for reaching those goals. The material was sent to the Executive Director for review, and will appear on the agenda of our November board meeting to be discussed and voted on by the full board. We will outline our strategic plan to the wider membership at our annual conference in April (this year hosted by Isidore Newman School in New Orleans).

Finally, I have been contracted by an independent school to help develop a strategic plan specifically for global education at their school. During a strategic planning process for the whole school, they identified global education as a big part of that plan and they desire a more specific framework for global initiatives. I will spend a day on campus meeting with relevant stakeholders, review their current programs, and facilitate a conversation about the steps they might take to set new goals and the process to achieve those goals.

As I work with organization boards and schools, I realize I would like to undertake a similar process for my business. Where do I want Global Weeks to be in five years? I know my mission has expanded since I started the company 4 years ago: what are my new goals? What partnerships do I want to cultivate to help me create a process, outline strategies and reach new heights? I look forward to exploring this topic further and I invite you to do the same: what does your strategic planning process look like?

If you’re moved to share your strategic planning process with the Global Weeks community, I invite you to comment below.

Experiential Education for Teachers


ISEEN’s Executive Director Jess Barrie and I

Last week, I had one of the most powerful and inspiring experiences of my professional life. For ten years the Independent Schools Experiential Education Network (ISEEN) has been holding January institutes for practitioners in the fields of Outdoor and Adventure, Service Learning, Sustainability, Leadership and Global Education. We share stories, best practices, student transformations, joys, challenges and triumphs in our experiential programs. Over the years, we continue to learn from each other, confident that the work we are doing provides very meaningful experiences for students. We are excited by the changes afoot in education: the move toward innovations such as project-based learning, Maker spaces, and design thinking reinforce what we have been doing for years. We long for more coherence between experiences in the field and experiences in the classroom, where students spend the majority of their time.

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Teaching my Global Education specialty group

For years the ISEEN board has been planning an institute for teachers, to offer them the opportunity to use experiential education “pedagogy and practice” in the classroom. Well, this year, they pulled it off, and it was truly amazing. Forty two teachers, five facilitators and three board members met on the campus of Santa Fe Preparatory School for 4 days of teaching and learning, creating new lessons and new ways to deliver content. Together we reviewed the pedagogical framework described by the Kolb Cycle and then had the opportunity to work out what it looks like in practice. Three discipline-specific groups (English, History and World Languages) each met for two days with a teacher-facilitator who routinely uses experiential education in the classroom. Each participant chose either Global Education or Service Learning to explore during the next two days.


The group on a hike up Sally’s Hill behind the school.

I had the privilege of facilitating the Global Education group, and it was exciting, challenging, exhausting and exhilarating! We began by investigating such questions as “What is global education?” “Why is it important?” “What is the relationship of global to local?” and “What daily classroom practices can I use to develop my students’ perspective of the world?” We discovered through our own experience how grounded students would feel if we use opening and closing activities to frame a class period.  We remembered the importance of physical movement to engage student learning. And laughter. Lots of laughter. By the end of our sessions, each teacher had new classroom practices in their “educator toolbox.” In addition, they returned home with a plan for either a lesson, a unit, a course, or a way to work with their department or school using experiential education. Bonus: we made new friends, ate delicious food, spent time hiking in the hills and walking around the town, and committed to supporting each other during the school year by sharing resources and holding each other accountable.

We all agreed it was one of the most exciting and inspiring professional development opportunities we have experienced. As an advisory board member to ISEEN, I am especially pleased that this institute, long in the making, was so successful. I dream of the day when experiential education pedagogy and practice are routine in all aspects of education, and these four days brought us a few steps closer to that vision.

Experiential Education via ISEEN

This is the Mt. Saint Helens I climbed!

This is the Mt. Saint Helens I climbed!

I had some great teachers in elementary, middle and high school. Some of the fascinating and useful things I learned in class have even stayed with me. And yet, when I think back on my education, most of the transformative moments, those times when I made huge leaps in my learning, happened outside of the classroom. The dude ranch camp in Arizona I received a scholarship to attend; the time we climbed Mt. St. Helens (before it lost its top) and had to abandon our expedition in the middle of the night in a rainstorm; the Japanese exchange students with whom we could only communicate through sign language and by teaching each other children’s songs; the “world without war games” during a project week; my demanding crew coach inspiring our boat to beat the college teams in one regatta: those are the experiences that stand out. I imagine this is true for most of you. Our education system was set up to support the industrial revolution, creating factory workers and “company men.” Now we need to educate for life after the digital revolution, and many systems have not yet caught up. I would like to tell you about one organization whose leadership and members advocate for the integration of what has often been called “extra-curricular” with direct classroom learning.


My “homeroom” group doing an orienteering exercise

A couple of weeks ago, I had the opportunity to participate in one of my favorite experiences each year. I attended the 10th Annual Independent Schools Experiential Education (ISEEN) Institute, this year hosted by Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts. Ten years ago, a small group of independent school employees met to see how they might support each other in the unique challenges they faced as program directors in outdoor education. An organization called the Independent Schools Adventure Network (ISAN) was born and they began holding an annual institute for providers to learn from and support each other. A few years into the organization, I attended one of their annual meetings at Albuquerque Academy. Although I wasn’t working in outdoor education per se, a colleague of mine was sure I would find “my people” in this group. She was right. I have been attending ever since, I served on the board for a number of years, and I come away inspired every year.

10454268_10154277967830693_8413933604781990685_oThis year was no exception. Looking at ISEEN from a ten-year perspective, there is much to be proud of:

  • The organization changed from ISAN to ISEEN to expand the scope from just outdoor and adventure education providers to include global, service learning, sustainability, and student leadership. This year we even had a strand for administrators who are overseeing multiple areas under one experiential umbrella, a trend I find particularly exciting.
  • We grew from just a few practitioners the first year to 130 this year.
  • We have been hosted by a different school every year, giving us all a chance to learn firsthand from the experiential programs at other schools.
  • We have had sessions from some of the top thought leaders in experiential education pedagogy and practice; this year included Dan Garvey, former President of Prescott College, Grant Lichtman of The Learning Pond, David Streight of the Center for Spiritual and Ethical Education and Eric Hudson of the Global Online Academy.
  • We have become a membership organization.
  • We had a number of pre- and post-conference workshops to expand our offerings. I facilitated a workshop this year on integrating curriculum into global travel programs, whether for a specific experience or on a school-wide level. We spent a lively three hours sharing ideas for deepening student learning by connecting direct off-campus experience to classes and other school activities.
  • This summer, we are offering the first annual professional development opportunity for classroom teachers who want to incorporate experiential education pedagogy and practice into their daily teaching.

Although much has changed, much has remained the same. We plan the institute very carefully so we can maintain the intimacy of the early days through small group discussion and time for specialty groups to convene. Many participants feel the need to come every year to connect with colleagues and friends — some of us feel it is our “annual department meeting” — and every year there are new people coming to learn and connect for the first time.  ISEEN is a vibrant organization, working to advance the pedagogy and practice of experiential education as a leading model for student transformation.