Over the course of a decade, the following quote has come to shape my philosophy of education:
“Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself.”-John Dewey
Here’s my story:
I got my undergraduate degree in biology and proceeded to work with environmental protection programs for almost four years following graduation. Education wasn’t on my mind at that time. I was dedicated to the world of science and nature.
Working in the field was amazing for so many reasons. I learned more about science in three months in the field, immersed in the content, than I did over the course of my lifetime. It was a powerful learning experience for me.
Several years of working in the field were exhausting, however. It was time to go home. I went back to my hometown in Minnesota. I started a high school teaching program within days of returning home. The program itself was great, but things went downhill when I started my high school student teaching experience.
I was torn. What I was learning in my teaching program was starkly different than what I was observing as a student-teacher. I was learning about inquiry and student-centered learning strategies in school but was finding that my student teaching experience was lecture-based and teacher-centered.
My cooperating teacher and I talked occasionally about how she felt a little stifled and restricted. She wanted innovation but didn’t have the flexibility. There was limited learning beyond the walls of the classroom.
I knew I couldn’t operate that way for the rest of my career. My experience working in the field with wildlife was always at the forefront of my mind when trying to work out my educational philosophy, along with the “student-centered” theory I was learning in teaching school.
I knew as a student myself, that a strictly teacher-centered, lecture-based philosophy would not be effective, especially with 21st-century learners. What the students need, I thought, is to learn how to learn, as I did in the field — how to problem solve, think critically, navigate sources of information, question current lines of thinking, and adjust thinking based on new input and experience.
I decided I needed to check into some things. What other options did I have? A lot of options it turned out. Not only were there a lot of schools and educational organizations doing things differently, but teachers in traditional classrooms were mavericks as well, trying to promote active and involved learning experiences while under the same restrictions as the rest of us.
Those educators that went above and beyond, that were creative and reflective, that tried new educational approaches that were supported by research despite restrictions and obstacles, turned out to be my inspiration and mentors over the course of the next decade.
As I was researching my options, I came across a website for an experiential learning school in St. Paul. I called them up, asked if they were hiring, and started teaching there a few months later. I stayed at that school for almost 10 years.
Of course, it wasn’t perfect all of the time. But I watched the impact that experiential, personalized, student-directed learning had on my students, the same impact experiential learning had on me when I was working in the field.
I have found in the past few years that project-based learning, inquiry, problem-based learning, educational travel, design thinking, STEM, and other forms of experiential learning are appearing on the educational scene.
The dramatic emergence of these experiential learning approaches is because we know from experience and research that they’re effective learning tools. If you hop on a search engine to find educational quotes, none of them will be about the profound greatness of direct instruction.
You can find the full article on why I became an experiential educator on my website.
Experiential Learning Depot