Friday, October 9 , 2015, 5:59 pm | Fair 91º

Experiential Educators from Around the World Gather in Santa Barbara for ISEEN Institute

Independent school educators from around the world gathered at Santa Barbara Middle School to learn and share best practices in the field of experiential education.
Independent school educators from around the world gathered at Santa Barbara Middle School to learn and share best practices in the field of experiential education.  (Santa Barbara Middle School photo)

By Jim Brady for Santa Barbara Middle School |

Educators from around the world gathered in Santa Barbara for the Eighth Annual Independent Schools Experiential Education Network (ISEEN) Institute, hosted by Santa Barbara Middle School and Midland School.

ISEEN is an international learning laboratory through which independent school experiential educators and administrators can share program challenges and successes, learn from model programs, and explore the developing role of experiential practices within the independent schools’ educational communities.

“The ISEEN Institute is the best professional development you will ever find for experiential education, period,” said participant Brian Robinson of Royal Saint George’s College in Toronto, Canada. “When this group of educators gets together, every roundtable, every discussion and every presentation is worth the price of admission.”

The keynote speaker, Dominic Randolph, head of school at the Riverdale School in New York City, spoke about changing the culture of an independent school through a commitment to character, an openness to failure, and the GRIT factor. Other speakers included Brian McWilliams, head of SBMS, and Will Graham, head of Midland School, both of whom addressed, “Experiential Education Integration from the Inside Out.”

Experiential education encompasses a host of different initiatives in schools, including outdoor/adventure education, sustainability initiatives, global education and travel, service learning and leadership development. Along with these initiatives, techniques for using the principles of experiential education to enhance learning in the academic classroom, for which SBMS and Midland School are known for, were also discussed.

The conference week occurred in Santa Barbara at its “wintertime best,” which made collaborative team-building and outdoor activities quite desirable. Events such as hikes and farmwork on the Midland campus in the Santa Ynez Valley, a coastal bike ride led by Jim Brady and the SBMS student Bike Monkey leaders, and a sunrise ocean swim at Leadbetter Beach with the SBMS students were enjoyed by the out-of-town participants.

“It was an absolutely fantastic week in Santa Barbara for the Eighth Annual ISEEN Institute,” said Jessie Barrie, Ph.D., from the Albuquerque Academy in New Mexico. “Thanks to all of our attendees and to Santa Barbara Middle School and Midland School for their incredible energy, passion and excitement around experiential education.”

Santa Barbara Middle School Teen Press students Grace Crozier and Drake Rabin captured highlights from the three-day conference. These student reporters fittingly represented a classic example of authentic, experiential learning. Click here to view the ISEEN wrap-up and the student interviews.

— Jim Brady is the assistant head of school for Santa Barbara Middle School.

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