Hurricane Island’s brand of teacher professional development programs reliably punctuate my work with delight each year. There is something undeniably special about connecting directly with students and sharing the island with them that will never get old… AND I feel my greatest contribution to our programming is providing opportunities for educators to be supported and be challenged, renewed and reinvented. I view this work as an exponential investment in our education systems and our global future and so it was with heartwarming joy and anticipation that I hosted a group of amazing educators for a retreat on Hurricane Island in August.
These educators were part of an effort at least three years in the making to increase teacher capacity to implement impactful, place-based learning in their classrooms and communities with a focus on environmental sustainability. Teachers joined us from Bucksport, Islesboro, North Haven, Vinalhaven, and St. George for a week on Hurricane Island to explore various aspects of place-based learning and how to design their year around these types of educational opportunities. Far from a one-and-done professional development opportunity, this ‘kickoff’ was just the start of Hurricane Island support throughout this school year and beyond. What made it even more special was that the kickoff program was fully funded by a grant from the North American Association for Environmental Education (NAAEE) under their ee360 Initiative, allowing us to provide teachers with stipends for their time in addition to funding the retreat itself.
The Island gave people a place to rest and recharge as we had fabulous meals prepared for us, an expansive outdoor classroom that both engaged people and invited them to pause, and real TIME to be with each other and have meaningful conversations (the beautiful weather didn’t hurt either!). Teachers left Hurricane feeling inspired, renewed, and, most of all, supported. They were supported by their administrators and coworkers to be there (some of them even had their administrators and coworkers present!). The time they invested was compensated. They were welcomed into a community that was excited to have them and made new connections with like minded educators. Their previous work was celebrated and they were bolstered to continue to create and innovate in their classrooms.
So what happens when teachers are supported? I could tell you about the multi-school initiatives to address questions that matter to their communities and their students (like the scallop spat bag project that will be deployed across four of the schools in lower Penobscot Bay this school year)…. but I think it is more impactful to let the teachers tell it in their own words (see below). A closing note of thanks first to all the grantors, administrators, thought partners, donors, colleagues, teachers, and others who have helped and continue to help make this program possible. We all do our best work when we feel valued and supported and your support is what makes it possible for these teachers (and others) to continually evolve their teaching practices and have an exponential impact on their students. Final thanks goes to the teachers themselves - thank you for showing up, being open, and impacting ME so deeply. You inspire me to constantly improve myself and continue to find ways to facilitate the work you do.
It was especially good to work in a team from my school so I am not “an island within an island” - I know someone else will understand where I am coming from and even help to coordinate efforts to bring high-quality, meaningful curriculum to our students.
To bring people together in this focused, common purpose is a powerful affirmation of our goals, both individually and collectively. Deep conversation, new frameworks, new resources, and the making and strengthening of collegial relationships is formative professional development that will provoke thoughtful reflection from here on in my work, and even life, with the sense that I can be successful having this support.
All the discussions and time to process really allowed me to think about my students and how best to reach them. I have always thought that science should be about connecting to, observing, and feeling the natural world. Being able to plan out my year with place-based units/activities will not only make my students better stewards of the earth, but it will allow them to use their critical thinking and observation skills. I am grateful for this experience, and my students are “unknowingly” grateful as well.