by Stephen Siperstein, Choate Rosemary Hall
After a prolonged Covid-19 hiatus, the Environmental Literature Institute (ELI) returned in June 2022 to Phillips Exeter Academy in Exeter, NH. Supported by ASLE, Orion Magazine, and Milkweed Press, ELI is a professional development institute for educators of all levels who are interested in incorporating Environmental Humanities pedagogy into their classrooms, programs, or institutions. This summer, twenty-seven educators from around the U.S., Canada, and Turkey and from a wide range of teaching contexts—public, private, middle school, high school, and college—convened for a week of workshops, presentations, and field excursions.
Given the myriad upheavals and losses of the last two and a half years, this fifth-annual ELI aimed to center connection and renewal. With a schedule that made space for both self-care and collaboration, each day featured morning workshops on topics ranging from using puppet-making to teach climate justice to teaching the poetry of grief and joy. Each day also featured an afternoon excursion, such as a paddling trip on the Squamscott River or a visit to a local biodynamic bee farm. Participants had opportunities to explore local ecosystems and consider how to incorporate field-based learning into their own teaching contexts. In addition to Director Jason BreMiller and Assistant Director Stephen Siperstein, the leadership team also included a group of ELI alumni—Christie Beveridge Howell, Charley Mull, Katie Forrestal, and Dr. Susee Witt—who brought to the week their wisdom and expertise from decades of working in secondary education.
ELI was a time for celebrating successes, sharing challenges, and cultivating community, and for exploring together the ways in which environmental learning can be both joyful and meaningful for young people today. Sarah Jaquette Ray joined ELI this summer to give the keynote lecture and guide participants in a series of activities focused on the emotional dimensions of climate education and on how educators can cultivate rest as resistance in the face of unjust and unsustainable systems. Participants were grateful for the emphasis on mindfulness that Sarah brought to the week as well as her practical and philosophical strategies for working with students who are, as she has put it, “coming of age at the end of the world.”
During the Institute’s culminating gathering at the Robinwood Center, a local community space focused on justice-oriented programming, ELI participants shared poetry, songs, and reflections about the week. It was a lively evening filled with the camaraderie that is so important for sustaining the work that we do.
Here are a few participant testimonials about the week:
ELI was a rejuvenating, inspiring experience after some difficult and anxiety-producing times in education due to Covid-19 and so many other factors. My week with the leaders and my co-participants raised my awareness of the beauty of the natural world and the beauty of the work of teaching. I have many ideas from ELI to implement into my classroom right away, and I hope to continue to network with these passionate teachers. I am so very grateful for the gift of ELI. –Shannon Hipp, Marist School, Atlanta, GA
ELI not only offers great practical resources for teaching perspectives on the environment and nature, but also does a wonderful job building a community of educators with similar goals and bringing us into important conversations about the field and about teaching. And it accomplishes all this while weaving in meaningful outdoor experiences on farms and on the river and by simply creating a warm, relaxed space for everyone to learn and talk. –Glenn Cramer, Columbia Preparatory School, New York, NY
I am leaving ELI feeling recharged, inspired, and grateful for the opportunity to connect with fellow educators. I am excited to implement what I have learned in my teaching next year! – Jen Robertson Bowsher High School, Toledo, OH
Participants were excited to receive ASLE memberships, among other benefits of attending ELI, and we are grateful for the continued collaboration and overlap between ELI and ASLE as we build an expansive educational community in the Environmental Humanities. Registration for ELI 2023 will open in late fall. If you’re interested in learning more or want to contribute to this growing community of educators, check out the ELI website or email Jason at [email protected] or Stephen at [email protected].