Being a Team Player: Environmental Education

Who did I work with when I managed school gardens and taught after school garden clubs consisting of second through fifth grade students? Did I work alone? No, absolutely not! There was a team of people essential to making the garden clubs work.

My post today was inspired by this photo (see below) from 2014 that popped up on my Facebook feed this morning. It was from our corn unit in November of that year.

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The photo got me thinking about about all the people, over the years, that helped to make this a successful group and time in my life. The photo was taken by a mom that came to all of our meetings that year. She took photos of the kids, me teaching, and of course, her son, who was a fifth grader that year, I believe. It was awesome to have her capture our experiences.

Reviewing the unit further in the recesses of my mind, I owed thanks to another parent who did not have a child in garden club, or even at our school. She was a friend I made when our children were in pre-school together. They were in middle school in 2014. She was also teacher and a farmer’s wife. I wanted the children to count the kernels, notice how they were arranged, and shuck the corn. At the time I was busy writing math questions to incorporate into our garden club lessons. You see, environmental education can easily include multiple subject areas, and my lessons were packed with as many content areas as possible! I contacted this friend and told her what I was up to. She willingly donated more than a bushel of corn cobs (feed corn or fodder) to our group. Again, she had no connections to our group at all, and was not even a teacher in our district. But, she knew the importance of our lessons. She was glad to help.

Another resource I used was the school library. The group would meet at dismissal, once or twice a month in the Library Media Center. When I started the group in the fall of 2004, I needed the permission of the principal, a place to hold our lessons, as well as a place on the school grounds to use for our home base – a garden! I was successful in obtaining all three. This took planning, networking, and coordination. Monthly, I would keep everyone in the loop with emails, our schedule of meetings, topics, hard copies of reminders for students, and more. Occasionally, teachers, the principal, or parents would stay for our meetings. The librarian, a woman who has since become a dear friend, would often stay for the entire meeting each month. She’d help with the kids and lesson as needed.

By the time 2014 rolled around, I had been holding our club meetings for ten years! We now had settled into having a new principal and new teachers, and would soon have a new librarian. Our club had grown to the extent that we needed help at each meeting. I coordinated with the high school’s guidance counselor to have NHS students come to our meeting to help. In return they’d receive service hours. Again, this took coordination, networking, and organization to pull off. It took working with others. It took regular, clear communication! I was not working alone.

This is not to mention the communication that went home to the parent’s of club members. Each month, meeting reminders were sent home with the students. This meant that the classroom teachers had to receive them from me in a timely fashion, so they could send them home to the parents.

I was not working alone! There was a whole team of people I worked with to pull off first one club that lasted 13 years and then another club than ran two years in another district. I didn’t work alone there, either.

I’ve since been accused of not being a team player. It stung when I was told that. But, here’s the thing. I did work with teams of people for many years. But, these teams were informal groups. I was the connection to all of them – parents, volunteers, teachers, librarians, principals, guidance counselors and students. There wasn’t a secretary or administrative meetings, or a boss. I was it, except for the team of all those other players. It was up to me to carry out the idea, include others, and make it successful.

The big difference between that experience and the experience where I was told I was not a team player was that I was valued by all the members of the team of people that made the garden clubs successful. It’s easy to be a team player when others want you on the team and value your input.

In truth, the opposite is true too. Its very difficult to be part of a team when everything you do is questioned and impinged upon by others. For environmental education to be successful and provide experiences as well as information to create an environmentally literate citizenry, the field itself has to be valued. And, then we – the educators that work to ensure individuals – adults as well as children – remain connected to nature, have to be wanted and valued as well.

Shortly after I began thinking about this yesterday, I came across an article from Pace University. It is a research based article that discusses how NOW is the time to be utilizing educators such as myself. It emphasizes how truly important nature rich experiences are for everyone but especially our youth. It is clear that systems and organizations should seek out and value the input and expertise that environmental educators can offer. As I read the article, I felt valued. It reassured me that there is work yet to be done. It is work that can and should be done now, not later.

No, the services that environmental educators provide are not “big money makers” for companies and non-profits. And, how we work might not fit every person’s definition of being a team player. But, feeling one is making a difference and being valued for the work you do is priceless.

There’s always been a team of people behind the work I’ve done.

They know who they are and I am forever grateful for them!

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