Creating Connections Beyond the Classroom

Creating Connections Beyond the Classroom; Regional Environmental Educators Convene to Share Best Practices on Social-Emotional Learning

By Margaret Boeger

When students visit us for a field trip to explore the frogs, flowers, and fields of Pepperwood they come to us with varying degrees of experience. Some are expert hikers, having gone on many expeditions with their families and friends.  Some have frequented local playgrounds and parks growing up. Some have never had their shoes get muddy exploring the wonders of nature. As environmental educators, it’s our job to not only meet our visitors where they are in their life experiences, but to ensure that their Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs are met (comfort and safety). With so many traumatic wildfires in the past two years, Sonoma county residents – including children – are experiencing new and different emotions both in the classroom, at home, and on field trips. To be effective, educators need to foster a learning environment for their students that meets these social and emotional needs while also delivering their instructional content.

Fortunately, there are trained experts in a specialty called Social-Emotional Learning (SEL), and thanks to a grant from the Community Foundation of Sonoma County, Pepperwood was able to convene these experts for two full days of professional development around this subject matter. Whether it’s a lesson in the classroom, a hike on a field trip, or simply a day-to-day activity, the SEL strategy employs teaching to the whole child. This sets the tone for a successful interaction, no matter the context of the learning experience. By framing the day in what is referred to as “restorative practices,” educators from around the county learned how to connect with children before delivering content to ensure that their students are able to have a full learning experience.

This seminar was organized by the Sonoma Environmental Education Collaborative (SEEC), and was attended by 33 environmental educators from over ten local non-profit organizations throughout the County. Both days were packed with information about the best practices for connecting with our local children while creating safe and nurturing environments for them to learn about science and the natural world through Restorative Practices, mindfulness, and SEL techniques. We were thrilled to partner with local experts to provide this important training to our community, including: Shari Garn, a former school teacher and Restorative Practices facilitator; Brulene Zanutto, an expert from the Sonoma County Office of Education; and  Kori Donley, the Education Director from Westminster Woods.

Pepperwood is the fiscal sponsor for these professional development trainings for the SEEC participants, and we are grateful for the support of our donors and community to deliver these trainings every year.


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