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.