At the SUCCESS Institutes, COA students develop new skills and knowledge they can bring to their future teaching and work, and school teachers affirm and renew their commitment to positive classroom practices while developing new ideas.At the SUCCESS Institutes, COA students develop new skills and knowledge they can bring to their future teaching and work, and school teachers affirm and renew their commitment to positive classroom practices while developing new ideas.

Education students and elementary and middle school teachers from across Maine gather around a circle of rocks and minerals in College of the Atlantic’s Thomas S. Gates, Jr. Community Center on a beautiful Saturday morning. Teacher educators from Critical Explorers have laid out the intriguingly diverse sample, inviting us to look closely and consider the various ways that we might describe their similarities and differences. Five small groups report back on how they have chosen to order their specimens, including methods that describe most readily discernible differences, like color, and those focused on less obvious features, such as least to most useful for sculpting a self-portrait.

A full day of skillful, facilitated weaving brings us from this close observation and analysis of multidimensional artifacts to a reflective discussion on the insights we have gained. By studying the granite quarrying industry in Maine through rock specimens, poems, short stories, news articles, historic photographs, and writings on the economic, political, social, and artistic aspects of the business, we’ve imagined new ways of learning, teaching, and curriculum development using local artifacts.

COA education studies students and Maine teachers closely observe and analyze rocks and other artifacts at the SUCCESS Institute, which leads them to reflective discussions and new perspectives they can bring to their future students.COA education studies students and Maine teachers closely observe and analyze rocks and other artifacts at the SUCCESS Institute, which leads them to reflective discussions and new perspectives they can bring to their future students.

This Saturday institute is the third in a series during which a group of COA undergraduates learn with Maine teachers as part of the Sustainable Coastal Communities, Educators, Students, and Schools (SUCCESS) collaboration between COA and Island Institute. Other days focus on different aspects of education. A Saturday with Primary Source expands on place-based education, while another day’s session with Inward Bound Mindfulness Education highlights the power of meditative attention.

Primary Source engages participants with a wealth of resources to make powerful connections between the local and the global. The goal is to prepare “global” educators and citizens who can leverage place-based education in ways that demonstrate the interconnections necessary to understanding and acting responsibly in the face of global phenomena.  

There are so many ways of doing this. Comparing and contrasting images of atypically high tides leads to considering other data sources available to students focused on climate change such as ArcGIS story maps and human footprint maps. Similarly, we explore human migration with local examples and global data trends across time, and build empathy with diverse perspectives from a variety of news sources and literature from Maine and beyond.

Each of these institutes develops new skills and knowledge that  COA students can bring to their future teaching and work, and school teachers can use to affirm and renew their commitment to certain practices. From Primary Source, participants report coming away with a wealth of resources, including graphs, maps, art, and literature, which will bring more diverse and global perspectives into their classrooms.

“Practicing critical exploration can occur at any level and with minimal resources.” 

“I have a much better understanding of how/why to incorporate global themes into my planning,” one participant writes. Another reports learning “how to relate the global to the local in [her] social studies classroom.” Yet another gains the “importance of facilitating connections for students, connections to other cultures, to other ways of understanding.”

Inward Bound informs participants of the scientific evidence documenting gains in concentration, emotional regulation, attention, executive function, social skills, and care for others as a result of mindfulness work. During their time with Inward Bound, SUCCESS members gain a greater appreciation of the power and utility of mindfulness in education as well as specific practices to hone and potentially introduce to their students. We practice a variety of mindfulness exercises, focusing on emotions, pleasant and unpleasant experiences, working with thoughts, tuning into others, and reflecting on applications of mindfulness in life and our work.

While practicing a variety of mindfulness exercises COA students and Maine teachers taking part in the SUCCESS Institute focus on emotions, pleasant and unpleasant experiences, working with thoughts, tuning into others, and reflecting on applications of mindfulness in life and teaching.While practicing a variety of mindfulness exercises COA students and Maine teachers taking part in the SUCCESS Institute focus on emotions, pleasant and unpleasant experiences, working with thoughts, tuning into others, and reflecting on applications of mindfulness in life and teaching.

“[I have] a much deeper awareness of how to incorporate mindfulness into my own practices and in a classroom environment,” one participant says. Another writes that they gained a “better understanding of why mindfulness matters.” For those who already practice mindfulness, the day reaffirms and energizes their incorporation of this practice into their lives and teaching, as these teachers write: “[I now have] more reason to have my own consistent practice before trying to add any extensive mindfulness practices to the classroom.” “This was an excellent way for me to re-energize and revisit my practices after another taxing school year.”  

Participants in the Critical Explorers’ Institute gain the ability to facilitate this profoundly transformative teaching approach in a variety of settings. As one writes, “practicing critical exploration can occur at any level and with minimal resources.” Others gain “a better understanding of how to facilitate exploration and the importance of freedom in exploration of materials,” and “new resources, more models for facilitation (as well as practice!), and practice in selecting primary resources to deepen an exploration.”

The vast majority of SUCCESS participants make connections with others whom they identify as resources in their current or future work. And that is as it should be. An explicit goal of the SUCCESS collaboration is to “support an intergenerational and developmental network of schools and communities that fosters student, teacher, and leader mentors through multiple entry points (i.e., preK-12 student, education student, student-teacher, teacher, school leader).”

For one COA student, making connections with a resource in the area where she plans to student-teach is of great benefit. Another education student’s favorite part of the Inward Bound day is “hearing perspectives from students who have already done [or] are currently doing student-teaching and how they have applied these methods. [These were] really interesting, and made everything that we learned seem like it can really be used effectively in a classroom.”

One COA student notes after the SUCCESS Institute: “I enjoyed the moments of connection with colleagues and other participants! I found those connections and the ability to process in small groups and individually to be very rewarding.”One COA student notes after the SUCCESS Institute: “I enjoyed the moments of connection with colleagues and other participants! I found those connections and the ability to process in small groups and individually to be very rewarding.”

These collegial interactions are a high point for many, like this one: “I enjoyed the moments of connection with colleagues and other participants! I found those connections and the ability to process in small groups and individually to be very rewarding.” Finally, school teachers share their appreciation of the COA learning environment. One teacher writes how “terrific it was to see the learning community that College of the Atlantic has cultivated and nurtured. Great stuff!”

Great stuff indeed! SUCCESS Institutes open doors and bring together COA students with local and coastal Maine educators to experience and reimagine what learning in place feels, sounds, and looks like. We look forward to a new academic year of visiting schools together, meeting at the Island Teachers Conference, and facilitating school-community connections for kids and those who teach them.

SUCCESS is a collaborative project of College of the Atlantic and Island Institute supported by the Fund for Maine Islands to strengthen student engagement and learning through place-based and experiential education for community and environmental sustainability. For more information about future events, please contact Dr. Bonnie Tai or Yvonne Thomas.