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Just Being is the Learning

It was teacher education at its finest this week at Bengel Wildlife Center in Bath, where thirteen teachers and eight ABNL staff gathered for the annual teacher training workshop. Each year, new and veteran ABNL teachers come together for an immersive, interactive, and inspiring day of teaching and learning, in which teachers see and explore the materials they get to use in the upcoming school year. Stephanie Knapp, one of ABNL’s ReWired teachers reflected, “Today, I was taken back to Annie’s and why it’s so important. Nature nourishes us in so many ways, especially emotionally. I have a strong connection to this nature center from when I brought my students. I can hear their voices, I see their wonderment, I feel their anticipation for what the day will bring.” Indeed, inspiration was easy to find - both in nature, and in each other.

Photo by: Dave Brigham, 2022

The day began in the yard facing Priggooris Lake, which was alive with wildlife: blue herons, egrets, sandhill cranes, and all kinds of birds could be seen. The sky was clear, and the sun was soft and warm, filtered through the leaves in the gently shifting trees. Everyone said they could have spent the entire day doing First Look.

Journals in hand, teachers stood in a circle as Chelsee Schram, a new member of the leadership team, invited everyone to jot down their observations at ground level, eye level, and sky level. In a discussion that followed, teachers shared what they noticed and what they wondered. First Look, as this is called in ABNL parlance, is centered in the ABNL ethos where curiosity and inquiry are guides. “As a learner," one teacher said, "I just feel happy: not confined by right or wrong answers, nor limited by skills or materials or time. It’s a very free kind of learning that I hope to share with my students. There isn’t always an end point or a conclusion, sometimes just being is the learning.”

After First Look, everyone returned to the main learning space where a marathon of 35-minute demonstrations were led by ReWired teachers. Cathie Wood taught about bees and pollination, Dave Brigham described a unique way for kids to engage with nature by finding letters of the alphabet outside, Stephanie Knapp demonstrated a brand new (and fabulous) lesson called “Be Nice to Spiders”, and Dave Beutel had teachers using hand lenses and loupes. Many reflected on the different levels of learning that took place during these demonstrations - not only the content at hand, but the strategies used to teach it, and a powerful reminder of the experience of being in the learner’s position. Amy Berry, a teacher brand-new to the profession said afterward that, "Today reminds me of what it feels like to be a learner again. Even just one day here for this training has deeply impacted how I plan to instruct my students this year and moving forward.”

Lunch was energized by the higher power of friendship and companionship. It was followed by time for reflection and inspired conversation between teaching teams about how the concepts and activities from the morning could be incorporated not only in the ABNL week, but supported throughout the school year. "So many hands-on, adaptable experiences that I can use!” said Andrea Hartlund, a longtime ABNL teacher and overall wonderful human. "ABNL is a week of making memories while adding to our scientific knowledge. It builds community, ignites smiles, and builds a love of nature. When people see their connectedness to nature, they want to protect it. The impact of this experience is life-altering for all of us as humans and as citizens.” We couldn’t have said it better, Andrea.

After two more lessons from Ruth Pearson and new ReWired teacher Diane Allen, new teachers headed to observation time in the woods and veteran teachers learned about a plethora of other resources available (check out the updated Resources page on the website!). Then, the day ended where it began, outdoors, with a long discussion about the power of nature for kids and the impact of this experience. During this reflection, a teacher offered this powerful summary of the day: "I feel like the few hours that I spent in nature today have made me a better teacher. I have loved all of the content and strategies that were taught, but more importantly, the passion. Every single ReWired person who took part in today’s activities radiated love and passion. I never thought that topics like spiders and animal tracks would be so captivating and exciting. Today I learned the difference a great teacher can make. I hope one day I can be such a kind, confident and bright light to my students like you all were today."

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