Experiential Education: Spread the Word, Deepen the Learning

I just returned from a very invigorating, inspiring and fun work day at St. Clement’s School, an independent school for girls in Toronto, Ontario. I was hired to run a series of staff workshops on Experiential Education: definitions, relevance, and how its pedagogy and practices can be used to strengthen curriculum surrounding both existing trips and “regular” school classrooms.

With faculty members

With faculty members

The day began with a series of technical glitches, which, rather than being stressful, served to underscore a core characteristic of Experiential Education: it’s messy, the unexpected occurs, and out of the chaos comes significant learning. By the time the “formal” part of my time began, we were already laughing like old friends. I love the way this dovetails with my teaching and learning style; the choice Experiential Education offers not just to “make the best of a situation,” but actually to embrace whatever comes and integrate the new event into an evolving plan.

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After a short session with the whole staff, I met with 50 Middle and Upper School teachers. Over the course of three hours, the teachers reviewed and learned anew, played games, shared teaching practices and developed lesson plans. I was able to use what I learned at the ISEEN Teacher Institute to flesh out the philosophical underpinnings and practical applications of Experiential Education. More than anything, the faculty members seemed to appreciate time to be together, talk about teaching and learning, plan and dream about incorporating new ideas into what is already a dynamic and engaged learning community. As a facilitator, I loved watching them jump in and try new activities that took them out of their comfort zones and insisted they have fun while learning together. I am reminded again of the powerful learning that occurs when the whole self is present, when learning demands just the right amount of discomfort, when the borders break down between work and play.

Stairwell art

Stairwell art

My third meeting was with Junior School (that’s elementary, for those not familiar with Canadian educational nomenclature) teachers. As we explored their approach to teaching, I was struck by how much we can learn from early childhood educators. Hands-on learning, field trips, integration of subjects under a theme, and constant attention to values like sharing, empathy and inclusion need to find their way into the upper grades. The teachers are eager to enhance their role as experiential educators, especially through attention to reflection and debriefing activities. They also desire to connect more with Senior School students, and find ways to collaborate across divisions on similar units, themes or lessons.

IMG_8558The primary focus for the day was deepening learning through Experiential Education, and I applaud the move to infuse the school with its core principles and practices. I also urge them to dream even bigger and consider more radical changes. Reading Grant Lichtman’s #EdJourney has shown me that school reform is not only necessary but possible and happening in fascinating ways. I agree with him when he says, “The goal of education has changed from the transfer of knowledge to the inculcation of wisdom born of experience, which will help students to succeed in an increasingly ambiguous future.” Experiential Education teaches us to thrive in the midst of uncertainty, and it was an honor to work with adult learners at St. Clement’s School as they dive deeper into the pool and practice their strokes.