Walden School’s Class of 2016 recently spent six days at Teton Science School in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Teton Science School was founded in 1967 as a non-profit educational organization with the goal of teaching students from all over the United States about natural and cultural history, while exploring the Greater Yellowstone Geo-ecosystem.

Walden students stayed in modern, dormitory-style buildings on the Jackson Campus. Each day, they traveled throughout the Jackson area to hike, ski, and snowshoe in Grand Teton National Park and Bridger-Teton National Forest.

The students had hands-on experiences in field ecology, including animal tracking, wildlife observation, ecological field research, alpine ecology, field journaling and sketching, and leave-no-trace backcountry ethics.

We posed these questions to different students upon their return from the 2016 trip.

When you get to be an adult, what will you remember most vividly about your trip to Teton Science Schools?

“When I am 18 or 21 years old, I think I will remember setting the fire alarm off! We had a humidifier in our dorm room to help with the dry, mountain air. The moisture from the humidifier was supposed to help our coughs so we could sleep. Instead, the moisture set off the fire alarm!”

If you could change one thing about Teton Science School, what would you change?

“If I could change one thing about TSS, it would be better food.”

What is something that made your class trip to Teton Science School special?

“We really got to know people there. Everyone at TSS was really friendly.”

Of all the things you learned on your trip to the Tetons, what do you think will be the most useful when you are an adult?

“I believe the skill learned on the TSS trip that will be most useful is the in-depth mindfulness. At Walden, we touch on this topic, but we don’t exhibit it in depth. In the Tetons, we learned how to be in the moment and appreciate our surroundings. This is a necessary skill for the enjoyment of the trip. Mindfulness is a way that we can actually step back and see/appreciate what we are doing.”

At Walden School, the teachers are also your friends. Were your TSS instructors also good friends? Why do you think so?

“At TSS I only got to spend time with the instructors for six days. So I really didn’t get to know them like I know the Walden teachers, because I have known them for years.”

How would the world be different if animals in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem could talk?

“I think the world would change for the better if GYE animals could talk because then the animals that have something un-explainable about them could explain the anomaly to us. Also, I learned a fact that some animals can live up to 270 years. So they might have seen history.”

If you could have some of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem animal adaptions, which ones would you want and what would you do?

“I think I want eagle eyes to see really far; wolf smell to track; and wings to fly. I think this would make the ultimate predator, other than humans. I would be able to survive the summer but in winter I think I would want an extra coat of feathers or fur to keep warm.”

What was the hardest thing about being a kid at Teton Science School?

“It was really hard watching a lot of the teachers having second servings of dessert and the kids only got one.”

Where is your favorite place in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem?

“Taggart Lake was my favorite place. It was really beautiful and we hiked it on snowshoes. It was a great place to get to know our TSS instructors on our second day.”

If you could travel back in time three years (to Third Grade) and visit your younger self, what advice would you give yourself?

“Bring a lot more layers for the carriage ride at the end of the trip on the Elk Preserve. It was freezing!”

What five words do you think most describe Walden’s 6th Grade trip to the Tetons?

“If I could use five words to describe the trip TSS they would be: fun; cold; beautiful; calming; and awesome. All of us really enjoyed the trip and it was nice to be away from all the stress of applying to middle schools.”

When was a time during your Teton trip that you felt lucky?

“I felt lucky when I found a unicycle. And I felt lucky to have the GPS job while out in the woods.”

If you could make one environmental rule that everyone in the world had to follow, what rule would you make? Why?

“The rule that I would make would be to that you can not leave a trail behind. For example, if you are on a hike and have a granola bar, instead of burying that wrapper, put it in your backpack and throw it away later. Other examples include not destroying habitats.”

Excerpted from Vanderbilt University’s Center for Teaching:

“Mindfulness and contemplation fosters additional ways of knowing that complement the rational methods of traditional liberal arts education.  As Tobin Hart states, “Inviting the contemplative simply includes the natural human capacity for knowing through silence, looking inward, pondering deeply, beholding, witnessing the contents of our consciousness….  These approaches cultivate an inner technology of knowing….”  This cultivation is the aim of contemplative pedagogy, teaching that includes methods “designed to quiet and shift the habitual chatter of the mind to cultivate a capacity for deepened awareness, concentration, and insight.”  Such methods include guided meditation, journals, silence, music, art, poetry, dialogue, and questions.

“In the classroom, these forms of inquiry are not employed as religious practices but as pedagogical techniques for learning through refined attention or mindfulness.  Research confirms that these practices can offset the constant distractions of our multitasking, multimedia culture.  Thus, intentional teaching methods that integrate the ancient practice of mindfulness innovatively meet the particular needs of today’s students.”

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At Walden School, we cultivate a mindful approach to our work and we nurture our students’ capacity for reflective and deliberate awareness, attention, and understanding. This fall, Director of Studies Terra Toscano gave each classroom a copy of Rana DiOrio’s book “What Does It Mean To Be Present?” Teachers and students at all grade levels are reading this book together and opening dialogue about cultivating consciousness. Listening to one’s inner voice, making peaceful transitions between busy activities, and savoring little moments each day are all part of the practice of being present.

Pre-School Director Tina Riddle gives a concrete example of teaching mindfulness in the Pre-K program: “In mindful eating, children use all of their senses to experience their food. Mindfulness teaches them to be aware of their hunger level, helping them to gauge when to begin eating and when to stop eating. It is a healthy approach to eating which allows children to fully enjoy their food.”

Look for centering activities in a Walden classroom and at assembly; observe the silent breathing of a child before s/he begins the next job; read a Walden student’s journal if you are lucky enough to be asked. Walden School believes in the importance of nurturing a child’s natural wonder and we look for ways every day to connect with and focus on the learning that is happening right now with each child.

First Day of School

September 4, 2014

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South Yard playground before school

“Perhaps I should give some account of myself. I would make education a pleasant thing both to the teacher and the scholar. This discipline, which we allow to be the end of life, should not be one thing in the schoolroom, and another in the street. We should seek to be fellow students with the pupil, and should learn of, as well as with him, if we would be most helpful to him.” [Henry David Thoreau to Orestes Brownson, 30 December 1837]

 

School teachers were happy to be back together this fall after a busy summer of professional development conferences, in-services, and workshops. On the First Day of School, returning and new K-6th grade students eagerly gathered early on the Walden playgrounds to greet their teachers on this cool September morning. The Pre-Kindergarten students will begin their school year a few days later on Monday.

 

Walden faculty traveled to summer conferences focused on social-emotional learning, writing and reading workshops, Responsive Classroom, math skills, mindfulness, and many other topics. Walden School believes that teaching students to be academically capable, insightful, and passionate learners requires teachers to pursue their own interests with passion and determination. As teachers model mastery of traditional academic skills, they can better guide students to apply newly acquired skills to a variety of situations in creative and discerning ways. As students discover the interrelatedness of what they are learning, along with their teachers, they are inspired to find deeper answers to their questions.

 

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North Yard as students line up for first day of classes

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Headed into the classrooms

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Parents look on as North Yard teachers begin leading students into classrooms

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K/1 Assistant Teacher Matt Little high-fives one of his students

K/1 Lead Teacher Joe Braxton shares a laugh with Walden parent Dwana Willis

K/1 Lead Teacher Joe Braxton shares a laugh with Walden parent Dwana Willis

 

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First Morning Circle

 

 

mindfulness

November 10, 2011

“When you walk, just walk. Let the walk walk. Let the talk talk. Let the eating eat, the sitting sit, the work work. Let sleep sleep.”

-German monk Muho Noelke,
abbot of Antai-ji, a Buddhist temple in Japan

Mindfulness.  Many definitions of mindfulness are used in contemporary psychology here in the United States.  At Walden School, educator Ann D’Angelo trains faculty in mindfulness techniques that can be applied in the classroom.  Bringing one’s full attention, perhaps with an audio cue, to this moment is one example of intentional mindfulness.  Teaching children to take three deep breaths to center and focus their internal thoughts as they transition from one activity to another is another example.  Paying attention to feelings and thoughts, without judgment or action, is also a standard practice in mindfulness.

Do you ever think about intentional mindfulness?  Promoting peace, compassion and tolerance through inner reflection is a noble goal.  While historically rooted in Buddhist traditions, the concept of meditation to deal with stress is common to many disciplines, religious and secular. Jon Kabat-Zinn codified a collection of adapted techniques in his book Wherever You Go, There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life.

Recently, Perspectives on Psychological Science published a study by Britta Hölzel of Justus Liebig University and Harvard Medical School. The journal article describes beneficial outcomes of mindfulness, including attention regulation, body awareness, emotion regulation, and increased sense of self.

Try a meditative breathing exercise.  Take a moment to just sit still, listen, and be.  Open yourself to new awareness.  Be mindful.

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