From Beth Taylor, Education Program Manager of Expedition Yellowstone, and Jessica Haas, Program Manager of Yellowstone Forever Institute, Wyoming.
Our two programs serve the same population in different ways. Before BEETLES, we didn’t collaborate at all and, in fact, were somewhat competitive and territorial with each other. When we learned about BEETLES, we thought we could be more effective if we were more collaborative and thought we could be more efficient with professional learning if we conducted sessions together. We thought we’d be more powerful in unison and that our workshops would be richer with more perspectives in the room. So we applied to the BEETLES Institute as a team, they were intrigued by our plan, and accepted us. Over time, we presented four BEETLES professional learning sessions with our two combined staffs. We presented each one collaboratively, in a tag-team way, taking turns presenting different parts.
It went better than we expected. During the workshops, we integrated our staffs intentionally in terms of where they sat and who they teamed up with for discussions. At the end of each session, we divided them back into separate staffs so they could plan how to integrate what they’d learned into their respective programs.
We think that one of the reasons the collaboration worked so well was that staff were kind of on their best behavior with the other staff present. We think this may have helped us avert possible resistance from staff who might’ve been more vocally opposed if they were just with their own staff. When mixed in with folks from a different program, they couldn’t as easily say that their program was fine as it was. BEETLES worked well as a sort of neutral tool that brought us together. It wasn’t political. No one owned it. It wasn’t one program presenting something to the other, but instead it was both staffs on the same page, learning together something that was new to us all. It was a good way to get our folks in the room and for them to get to know one another and respect one another as educators. It was a great catalyst for our collaboration, and we got “brownie points” from our superintendent for collaborating with one another. It gave us a platform with a common language. We learned that we held similar values. Since then, we have done a couple of team-building retreats together. The competitiveness is gone.
We’ve also had staff who’d been through BEETLES professional learning sessions take on the presenting of sessions to our seasonal staff. We’ve integrated BEETLES approaches into other aspects of our professional learning, too. For example, we have a Snow Science session into which we integrated questioning strategies and I Notice, I Wonder, It Reminds Me Of. Some of our staff have taken it further and done presentations for the Montana Environmental Education Association and the Wyoming Math and Science Teachers Conference. Next year, we plan to do more, including at the Idaho Environmental Education Association (IdEEA). This has empowered our staff and increased our capacity as environmental educators.