Teacher Workshops: Bringing Conservation to the Classroom

As a teacher, there are few greater joys than summer. What most non-teachers don’t realize is that summer is also chock full of professional developments, trainings, prep, and meetings. One of the best professional developments I’ve been a part of was hosted by the Zoo! The Community Engagement team at the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research facilitates a number of three-day workshops each summer aimed at providing teachers with hands on experience with conservation science, support, and professional networking opportunities.

During the workshop, teachers experience the lab modules offered by Community Engagement team from the learner’s perspective. Afternoons are filled with awesome animal encounters and onsite experiences, as well as time to connect with like-minded educators. When I participated in 2016, I had so much fun!

Not only did I come away with some practical labs and content around which to center my lessons, but I also came away with a diverse network of teachers with whom I still maintain contact. When the opportunity arose to partner with the Community Engagement team to help with the Teacher Workshop this year as part of an Internship for my graduate work in the Advanced Inquiry Program through Miami University and San Diego Zoo Global, I jumped at the chance. We had an amazing group of educators during the week that I participated in the workshop! So much talent, passion, and curiosity represented in that room.

The focus of my graduate work is bridging the gap between conservation and the classroom. Some of my projects include lesson plans, research, and field experience. Being an alum of Teacher Workshop, I knew what amazing resources were provided to teachers. In talking with colleagues and other teachers I know who have participated in professional development, I realized that many struggle to actually implement new lessons in their classrooms.  

I wondered what barriers teachers face in trying new lessons in their classroom, specifically those centered on conservation science. From my own practice as a teacher, finding funding for new materials and experiencing a lack of administrative support are two roadblocks to updating curriculum. Given this insight, I focused my internship on taking a deeper look into the barriers teachers face when trying to apply the modules from the Teacher Workshops in their classroom and how the San Diego Zoo Community Engagement team, teachers that participated in the workshop, and I could provide support to overcome some of these barriers.

I facilitated a seminar on the last day of the workshop aimed to help teachers work through the logistics of implementing one or more of the lesson modules in their classrooms next year. This gave teachers structured time to really think through which module they wanted to try and work through questions and problems that arose as they planned to implement the module.

During discussions, teachers expressed that administrative support and lack of materials were the two biggest concerns they had when thinking about trying one of these labs in their classroom. Some teachers also expressed that they loved the labs, but needed some support in making it a reality in their classroom. The Community Engagement team provides a digital platform on which Teacher Workshop alumni connect, problem solve, and share out their work. I will be continuing to connect with alum through this platform into the fall to provide support and resources that I hope will help them to overcome some of these barriers.

It was such an honor to partner this year with the Community Engagement team as they delivered Teacher Workshops. Not only have I (and my students) benefitted from their work, but I have grown as a teacher and leader through my internship experience. I look forward to continuing to connect with teachers through the fall as we partner together to educate our students, engage them in conservation, and to ultimately end extinction!