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Reflecting on our pilot Teacher Learning Circle Program: Nourishing Teachers with Nature.

Updated: Jul 12, 2023

As an outdoor teacher at a small private school in rural Rhode Island, I often felt like I was in a silo. I was fortunate to have the support of the administration and colleagues at my school to bring education outdoors but didn’t have a connection to other teachers at other schools in Rhode Island who shared the same passion/drive to bring their students outside.

I was thrilled when I saw the new initiative by Thrive Outside to create an opportunity for teachers to gather together, to share our work, and to learn new tips and tools to be successful, over the course of the year during five Saturday sessions.

I loved how the Teacher Learning Circle pulled together all different types of educators, from public, charter, and private school teachers, to home educators/parents. The coordinators Sheila, Shannon, and Missy brought to each of the five sessions not only their shared expertise but also their passion. Listening to other participants share their experiences, struggles, and how they overcame challenges, provided a richness to each session and at the very core, inspiration.

I have many memorable moments and want to share a couple that immediately translated not only to my teaching, but to my own personal development and hopefully to my students’ development.

During the November session, Lisa Maloney, RI Audubon’s Community Education Coordinator and naturalist, brought her expertise at the Powder Mill Ledges Wildlife Refuge. In the myriad of activities she brought, she was sure to bring in all of the senses and reminded us the importance of observation, from the sit-spot to creating a sound map, to the transitional activities like the “Alphabet Walk”. We know as teachers how important it is to bring different ways for students to learn and for multiple ways for students to be able to demonstrate their knowledge, however the activities Lisa brought reminded me that every moment is a learning opportunity, and encouraged me to expand on the ways I have students take in information.

At the fourth session, Janet Johnson from the RI Writing Project (RIWP), brought amazing writing prompts that were encouraged by time spent in nature. Beyond the wonderful activities, she told us some of RIWP’s “ground rules” for sharing that I quickly realized transcended writing alone: as the person sharing, no “pre-gaming”, i.e. no prefacing with apologies or belittling your work, and as the listener, to always say “thank you” first. This simple reminder, stuck with me as a person, as a professional amongst peers, and as a teacher of children. I immediately took this back to my classes, hoping to form a positive habit for students. This was especially helpful to my adolescent students who often feel out of place and apprehensive in their world. I want them to never apologize for taking up space and to always acknowledge the vulnerability and courage it takes for someone else to share.

I walked away from those five Saturdays each time feeling like my cup was refilled and nourished, with excitement and renewed motivation and determination to provide outdoor learning experiences for my students. After each session, I also had a new approach and perspective, in addition to all the practical activities to immediately bring to my students.

The presenters, facilitators, and fellow teacher participants of Thrive Outside’s Teacher Learning Circle provided the inspiration and support we so desperately need as educators, especially on the ever-shifting landscape of meeting the needs of students today and getting outside whenever possible.

Kelly Hanks taught grades first through eighth a subject called Nature Studies at Meadowbrook Waldorf School, outside for 90% of the classes, in all weather, rain and snow, sun and clouds, hot and cold. She will be coordinating and facilitating the 2023-2024 Thrive Outside Teacher Learning Circle sponsored by NuGen Capital. Generous grant funding has also been provided by Bank Newport.

If you are interested in learning more and/or signing up for the 2023-2024 TLC program please contact Kelly at:

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