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Some Thoughts for Our First-Timers

Updated: Oct 21, 2022

I was at Harris last week to capture some of the Day One excitement and I was struck by what a big deal it is for our teachers in general, but new teachers in particular, to be taking this on. It takes a special kind of teacher and person to even entertain the idea of taking students on a 5-day study trip, let alone attend to all the details that go into planning and getting there, while teaching your classes day in and day out! The teachers who are doing this for the first time don't benefit from the perspective that a Year 2+ teacher might have -- the familiarity with the nature center, the flow of the week, and the zoomed out perspective that it's all good. New teachers put a lot of faith in us, and their students, and themselves, and are worthy of so much praise.

For all those out there who are doing this for the first time -- of which we have 17 this year! -- hats off to you. We know your trip will be enriching and memorable; but below are a few tips to make it downright pleasant (imagine!).

Teachers do a ton of good work just to get their students to the nature center on Day 1! Photo (c) Ron Johnson

1. What you're doing is a big deal. It took a ton of work just to get those kids off the bus at the nature center on Monday morning. Give yourself a lot of credit for going through the training program, collecting permission slips and locating chaperones, writing and revising lesson plans with naturalists and reWireds, and all the millions of little details that get you to Day 1. You deserve to enjoy yourself. But of course we know...

Follow your instincts when (not if) the unexpected happens.

2. The unexpected always happens. Especially on Day 1. Maybe the bus is 10, 15, 30 minutes late. Maybe somebody forgot their backpack or supplies. Maybe a chaperone got sick, or you got a little lost in the woods. As a teacher, you have what it takes to flex and respond to the needs of the moment. You probably do it 100 times a day in the classroom; this is no different except that at ABNL, you have a team with you -- your teaching partner, the naturalists, all of us here at ABNL, and we are all working with you to make this week a success.

Practicing activities like First Look and Observation Time with your class in advance will pay dividends during your week.

3. Practice the activities you'll be doing at ABNL, from anywhere. Notably, First Look and Observation Time. Take your students out to a spot on the playground to get into a circle, observe ground level/eye level/sky level and participate in discussion effectively. And for observation time, begin with smaller, more structured chunks of time to practice sitting quietly and observing. As you build up to the hourlong experience it will be during your ABNL week, you and your class will learn so much -- about how to sit and be present for that period of time, how to deal with weather elements, and so much more. And finally,

Get a sense of your nature center. Once you get there, the ideas will come.

4. Walk the trails at the nature center you'll be attending. After a recent trip to Lincoln Brick Park, Chelsee (and her little munchkin) and I walked the trails, just chatting and enjoying the fall morning. At one point, we found ourselves on a deer path (oops!). At another, we were hand-over-hand helping each other down and then up an embankment that was a little too steep. It was a bonding experience, but we were glad we didn't have 26 5th graders in tow. If you find yourself in an iffy situation, of course it'll be fine. But as your students' fearless leader, you'll have the confidence you need if you get to know the park and get a sense of the place first. If nothing else, it's a lovely way to spend a couple hours of your weekend.

It can feel a little vulnerable taking your students on this trip for the first time. As a teacher, you may be used to being the one in the room with all the answers, and a clear idea of how to get it "right". But as a first time teacher to ABNL, you give your students a great gift of sharing the first time experience together. Do the things you advise them to do when they're trying something new -- stay curious, ask for help, do your best, and have fun.

Do you have advice or tips for a first-time ABNL teacher? Comment below!

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The first time for a teacher to do ABNL is so much novelty--the newness of teaching outdoors, the wonder of seeing students in a different light, and the on the spot changes that might be needed (like yesterday's big wind in the afternoon)--all of these things are the joys and excitement of teaching and learning at Annie's BIG Nature Lesson. If you are a new ABNL teacher, please know that the entire ABNL team is ready to join you, so reach out with your questions and we will be there--to walk the trails with you, sharing ideas and resources!


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