Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Best Place to Work

For at least twenty years I have subscribed to Outside magazine.  Even though most of my reading has moved to digital platform, I still get Outside's monthly publication mailed to the house.  For me, there is still something special about receiving a few publications in the mail- sort of like a weekly or monthly bonus gift.  Among my favorite Outside issues is the "50 Best Jobs" report.  Each year Outside puts out an issue that details the best places to work. 

Outside highlights the work environment for the companies and businesses that make the list.  Outside provides for each nominee a review of perks employees have access to.  Because of the nature of the magazine a majority of these perks have to do with outdoor activities such as hiking, biking, skiing and paddling.  Additionally, several companies on the list have on site gyms or will pay for gym membership fees or in some cases, paid sabbaticals are offered.

For the first time since I can remember a school district made the list.  This year, Outside divided the lit into three categories based on the number of employees.  Seeley Lake Elementary School District  in Seeley Lake, Montana was listed in the "Small Companies" section.  What follows is the description of Seeley Lake School District:

Digs: Typical school- except for the stashes of nordic skis and mountain bikes. 

Culture: "We see education as something that happens in places not confined by four walls," says superintendent Chris Stout.  Before and after classes, Seeley teachers bike or cross-country ski on the groomed trails that surround the school and help run the Adventure Club, a program that takes kids biking, hiking, skiing, and fishing.  Staff also participate in community building projects like the Blackfoot Challenge, which promotes outdoor education in the Blackfoot River Watershed.

Sweet Perk: Financial aid for everything from a master's in science to ski-instructor certification.

As someone who likes the outdoors, particularly skiing, the work environment in Seeley Lake is more than appealing.  Beyond the outdoor adventure perks, I like the idea presented by Chris Stout.  Even from this brief snippet you get the sense that students and teachers are engaged in authentic hands-on learning experiences.  No matter whether your playground is the Blackfoot River or an urban landscape, classroom stakeholders need to take advantage of what is offered in each community.  We have taken this approach at the school where I work.  We have promoted walking tours of the local community and also have constructed several tours of New York City neighborhoods.  Each day we are running "field trips" with the purpose of inspiring students through authentic interactions.

While students have prospered from these journeys outside of the classroom, more needs to be done for teachers.  In Seeley Lake, extracurricular activities are shaped by the interests and passions of the staff have been developed.  I'm sure valuable units of study and or lessons have been born from a bike ride or cross-country ski trip.  

After reading the best places to work article I thought about how many teachers feel that there school is worthy or making such a list.  How many schools offer perks similar to Seeley Lake  or other companies on the list such as Cliff Bar (six-month sabbatical offered every six years, $500 stipend for buying a commuter bike)?  Do we think and do enough about the school environment to make it a place that would warrant consideration fora best of list? I'm sure there are other districts and or schools that offer noteworthy perks.  It would be interesting to compile a list of these places as a way fro more districts to start reshaping their environments into places that inspire and foster the creative and innovative teaching.