I have just returned from a great conference of educators held in beautiful Victoria BC, hosted by St. Michael’s University School. ISEEN is the Independent Schools Experiential Educator’s Network. Founded 13 years ago with about 10 people, it has grown substantially – there were over 150 participants this past week! I state that if only to underscore the importance or, rise of interest in, and emerging understandings of experiential education.
You would be interested in the work of ISEEN if:
* Your school has an experiential education program
* You are looking for a network of educators to learn with and from about experiential education
* You are looking to ground your experiential education practices in critical theory, pedagogy and in a larger landscape of what other independent schools are doing.
Experiential Education can be captured in 8 core concepts:
* It is cyclical in nature
* Involves alternative roles for students
* Involves alternative roles for teachers
* Strives to engage the whole student
* Grounded in authentic experiences
* Strives to connect to the traditional classroom
* Provides alternative pathways for assessment
* Shifts the balance between content and process
What stood out to me at this conference was seeing schools practicing an array of these concepts and sharing in common frustrations. For example, The Hotchkiss School has an incredible Farm Program that is directed by Charles Noyes – a board member for ISEEN. He shared many common challenges that I too am experiencing.
I raise this to show that while Ex-Ed has increased in its uptake in the conversation around educational shifts in pedagogy and assessment, there is still a long way to go. But what this conference made me think about is:
If we know that Ex-Ed is, and how it can be successful, then why do we still share these common challenges?
I think that the answer lies in what experiential education is, in and of itself. Ex-Ed is about the learning journey. This journey has not destination, no final recipe or playbook for excellent Ex-Ed – it is a journey that schools undertake, and like students themselves, each school is unique, has different interests (priorities), passions (strat plan), ability (resources – financial and human) and drives (enrolment).
One thing that Jessie Barrie, Ex. Director of ISEEN, mentioned was that recognizing and sharing that these similar processes are part of Ex-Ed is a way to build bridges between the Ex-Ed and the traditional classroom. These bridges are key to spreading the understanding of, and uptake of Ex-Ed within the classroom. Unlike these similar processes, the Kolb cycle can be entered at any phase, which makes it very accessible.
While at ISEEN, I was exploring different definitions and iterations of what Ex-Ed looks like at different schools. It was so great to share resourcs, challenges and opportunities. Many conversations reminded me of this great video – where I was heavily undervaluing my experience and ideas given the esteemed company I was in. Many had been in Ex-Ed for decades, and I am in my 2nd year.
But one of the best speakers was Andy Rodford – Acting Head of SMUS when he greeted ISEEN with “I have a confession to make: “Hello, my name is Andy, and I am an experiential educator.” He went on to explain how he defined himself as one – it wasn’t complicated, it wasn’t complex, it was honest and open and accessible. So I spent some time sharing my ideas with others, listening to the ideas of others, and trying to integrate it through a filter of my own school’s experiences, needs and drivers.
One of the best resources that I’ve come across is from LEEDS BECKET: http://skillsforlearning.leedsbeckett.ac.uk/preview/content/models/index.shtml
Check it out. Because my name is Garth Nichols, and I am an Experiential Educator – and (spoiler alert!) you are too!