Living and Learning in the Forest: The IslandWood Professional Learning Community

< Back
Author: 
Julia Glassy

On the South end of Bainbridge Island, just northeast of Blakely Harbor is a “School in the Woods” called IslandWood. I live in graduate housing in a forest clearing just north of the main campus which consists of eight duplex-styled, dorm-like cabins, each side with a loft and a shared small bathroom. These are no ordinary cabins, and they are not what one would imagine when talking about graduate housing. I reside in one of these quaint, comfortable, and environmentally modern cabins. There is also a common building in the grad area called the Grad Commons with a kitchen, laundry, dining area, and living room, making this place feel a little more like home for the school year. This living arrangement is an essential piece of our professional learning community, or PLC.

deer in meadowWhat exactly does it mean to live, learn, and grow in a PLC? It means there is always someone around to ask questions, rant to, or just hang out with. It also means there is not too much personal space other than your room. I experience a sense of security and warmth knowing there are people around, but I can always retreat to my room if I need time to myself. At IslandWood I do not just live among other people; I share this space with other small to large creatures from banana slugs to black tailed deer. These incredible neighbors pass by and say a quick hello or linger for a while because this is their space too. I can go outside for a short stroll or longer adventure hike and find countless little community members just around the corner.newt

A supportive environment does not happen by accident. It takes thoughtful communication and collaboration. At the beginning of the year, we as a whole graduate PLC came up with three statements to include in our community charter, or agreement, something every IslandWood graduate class does. Each statement reflects a theme and incorporates the contributions of every member of the community. This was quite the process, but I think all thirteen of us agree that we want to build up our community and support differing opinions and unique ideas. These statements refer to our teaching experience, as well as our experience working alongside one another as educators.

The first statement that we come up with is “Consider all students when it comes to working with a community that prioritizes learning experiences at the center of our work.” The second statement is “Choose to vocalize and listen with understanding of the influence of backgrounds, identities, strengths, and points of growth.” The third and final statement is, “Use flexibility, collaboration and creativity to meet the needs of the collective learning community.”

Charlie's Bog and Tree HouseWe use these statements as a framework for our communication and inclusion in everything we do as graduate students, but primarily we use it during the teaching week. We use it when we are teaching the students in the School Overnight Program, which requires that we navigate and share the IslandWood campus with the other instructors teaching that week. Fittingly, we ask our students in the School Overnight Program to also write a community charter containing a collection of standards for group discussion, sharing in pairs, and team building games.

Grad school is physically and emotionally a rollercoaster, so these are the beings I cry with, laugh with, and whose company I enjoy. I have been exhausted and excited, and I have persevered through challenging teaching moments, all the while cooperating with and working alongside twelve other grads and seven staff instructors. Even though I experience up and down and all-around moments, I would not want any other group of animals, humans, and plants to be with for ten months than the ones I have by my side.

 

Julia Glassy is a graduate student in IslandWood's Education for Environment and Community program. Interested in learning more about the program? Click here