History teacher Tyler MIller is not a morning person, but he was so committed to getting the most out of his Wilderness Education summer professional development course in the Adirondacks, that he got up at 4:30 AM to canoe on a lake to watch the sunrise and stayed up late in a meadow to see the stars.
The NYSAIS-sponsored workshop, "Bringing the Outside In," brought together teachers for four days of “professional development and outdoor activity designed to help teachers build student leadership in the classroom,” using the National Outdoor Leadership (NOLS) Skills philosophy. The teachers hiked and summitted two of the 46 High Peaks of the Adirondacks, using the outdoor experience “to learn lessons about goal setting, group problem-solving, and conflict negotiation and resolution, among other skills.”
Miller teaches Upper School history courses including one on Immigration [Migration in the Modern World] and another on Native Americans [Indigenous Histories of the Americas]. Last spring, he led a Navajo Nation trip for Poly students and would like to incorporate that experience in the classroom, as well.
In June, Miller, an avid hiker, joined seven other teachers for the course at Heart Lake in Lake Placid. They summitted three mountains, canoed, cooked over campfires, and slept in lean-tos. They discussed strategic ways to use outdoor/wilderness education in meaningful pedagogies. The workshop, which was led by teachers from Packer, also considered the meaning of wilderness and its importance to the soul and body.
Later in the summer, Miller participated in a two-week workshop, "Common Grounds," sponsored by the National Endowment for the Humanities. The workshop explored contrasting landscapes of the urban, focusing on Manhattan, and the wilderness, using Raquette Lake in the Adirondacks, during the Gilded Age and Progressive Era.
Miller spent the first week at the Gotham Center for New York City History at CUNY reading about the built environment of New York City in the 1800s until 1910. The participants visited the Tenement Museum in Lower Manhattan, and Miller is excited to incorporate this experience into the course he teaches on immigration.
During the second week, the participants learned how the Adirondacks “became an escape from work life.” Miller, a native of Michigan, said he was very impressed to learn how New York State has conserved its wilderness. "The Adirondacks is the largest preserved park area in the country with 6 million acres. Because of Article XIV of the New York Constitution,” he explained, "the land can only be privatized through a constitutional convention."
From New York City, it is a 4 ½ hour drive to Raquette Lake, the largest natural lake in the Adirondacks. When Miller and the other teachers took a seaplane tour of the lake, he was amazed to see the entire horizon in all directions was green.
“Even though we live in a time when there is ideological attention to infinite growth," Miller said, “we also live with finite resources.” Miller has already talked with Director of Sustainability Brian Filiatraut and Director of Service Learning Elijah Sivin about using an interdisciplinary approach to incorporate what he learned with Poly's sustainability and service initiatives.
Near the end of his Grade 10 history class, Miller teaches the Anthropocene, “the period during which human activity has been the dominant influence on climate and the environment,” and students consider the environmental impact. In his electives on Native Americans, students will also consider an “indigenous view of wilderness.”
Miller said the workshops allowed him to recharge and reconnect with nature. “Cities are more alike than different,” he said. But “wild places offer me clarity and time to listen to an inner voice.” The two experiences brought to mind for Miller a principle of the Lakota Nation, “An ethical life is a life lived with seven generations in mind.”