graduate students in outdoor classroom

Stretching Into New Spaces – Professional Development at TSS is Carving a New Educational Landscape

Teton Science Schools has a long history of supporting educators through professional development at many levels. From a year-long graduate program that mentors aspiring educators in the theories and practices of place-based education to consulting with entire school districts on strategies for adopting a place-based framework, the impact has been significant in both depth and breadth. This year, as the ground of the educational landscape shifted beneath our feet, the Professional Development and Consulting team reinvented their offerings in response to the pandemic, with powerful results.

graduate students in outdoor classroom

The first major pivot was transforming the 5th annual Place-Based Education Symposium into a virtual event. This traditionally regional experience was made available to a global audience and the walls of a meeting room expanded to include more than 300 participants. The surprising levels of success and connection in this event shed much-needed light on the benefits of rapid adaptation to new constraints during a spring that demanded a staggering amount of change from students and educators everywhere.

Next, the team worked to expand their collection of online resources and shift workshops and courses normally delivered in-person to a digital format. Recorded webinars are now available to support educators navigating transitions to distance learning and to cultivate a child’s sense of belonging in the natural world. Following through on a commitment to hands-on learning, even virtual workshops covering topics like inquiry-based snow science and how to use watercolor as a teaching tool feature shipments of supporting materials to each participant. Another important outcome of the year was continuing to grapple with the far-reaching impacts of systemic racism. “We have been exploring our own identities and privilege as well as adapting our teaching and curriculum to include more inclusive, equitable, and culturally responsive practices. We are committed to a more just, vibrant, and sustainable future,” said Leslie Cook, Senior Director of Educator Development.

students exploring edible plants in greenhouse

And finally, the team supported schools through challenging transitions by doing what they do best – casting a vision for how educators can move learning beyond the walls of the classroom. As the Laurel School in Shaker Heights, Ohio looked toward transitioning their 3rd through 5th-grade classes outdoors in response to the pandemic, the Professional Learning team worked with educators over the summer to maximize the opportunities provided by their outdoor classroom. As Shannon Lukz, a teacher at Laurel School, shared, “It allowed us to feel positive and hopeful and excited about a year that a lot of educators were dreading.”

two girls wearing masks observing pine tree
“The world is always changing, and we can give our students the tools to be more adaptive and even appreciate this. And right now, that is more important than ever.” – Toni Boush, Place-Based Education Workshop participant and Principal at Hailey Elementary in Hailey, ID
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