Crane Country Day School Established 1928

Unexpected Classrooms

Sara Gillis

I have always loved spending time outside. Growing up, this looked like summers spent hiking and camping in Vermont and years spent playing outdoor sports no matter the season (Hello, winters in upstate New York!). I had never heard of “experiential education.” For me, school and learning took place inside a classroom, and play was outside.  

Before my time at Crane, I had the opportunity to work with a unique organization called The Island School, located on an indoor/outdoor campus in The Bahamas. The Island School helped shape my vision of what experiential education looks like and what a classroom can be. It gave me a new idea of what schools could offer and how different learning styles can be accommodated in exciting and innovative ways. 

Early on at The Island School, a group of new teachers was asked to describe what we thought a classroom looked like. I drew a picture that had rows of student desks, chalkboards on the walls, and a teacher in the front of the room. Many others had drawn very similar pictures. We were then asked to describe what people do in a classroom. We came up with the following: learn, listen to the teacher, read, discover, discuss ideas, write, and maybe even play. 

This list was written on a whiteboard, and we then brainstormed other places where we might do some of these same activities. We thought of a sports field, field trip, book club, camping trip, dorm room, and family vacations.   

We were then asked the question: If a classroom is defined by what you do within it, then can’t any of these places be classrooms? 

By broadening my mindset of what a classroom could look like, I realized that any room or space could be a classroom and that there were teachable, learnable, moments happening all the time. We just need to take advantage of these opportunities.

While I have gotten to teach and learn in many unique classrooms - inside a cave, on a boat, SCUBA diving on a coral reef, knee-deep in a mangrove forest - there are infinitely more opportunities in our everyday lives. We can find them around the dinner table, while on a hike, during halftime of a soccer game, at a club meeting, or in the kitchen. Finding the joy of learning, independent of the type of classroom, is a priceless skill. It gives you an opportunity to experience real-life projects and problem solving, connect with the world around you, and inspire lifelong learning.

Sara Gillis
Teaching Fellow

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2020-21-GillisSara-Joy
Sara Gillis

I have always loved spending time outside. Growing up, this looked like summers spent hiking and camping in Vermont and years spent playing outdoor sports no matter the season (Hello, winters in upstate New York!). I had never heard of “experiential education.” For me, school and learning took place inside a classroom, and play was outside.  

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