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The definition of the Expeditionary Learning (EL) philosophy is ‘Learning by Doing’ and it places a strong focus on student personal responsibility.

The EL Vision
When students and teachers are engaged in work that is challenging, adventurous and meaningful, learning and achievement flourish.

The EL Mission
To create classrooms where teachers can fulfill their highest aspirations, and students achieve more than they think possible, becoming active contributors to building a better world.

The EL Approach
Our approach is grounded in respect for teachers and school leaders as creative agents in their classrooms. We build their capacity to ignite each student’s motivation, persistence and compassion to propel growth and success in school, college, career and life. Our definition of student success combines academic achievement, character and high quality work. We believe that academic success is built on strong character qualities of collaboration, perseverance, responsibility and compassion, and that character is shaped through engaging and challenging academic work.

Explorer Academy elementary school in West Virginia adopted the EL model several years ago and it has completely changed the culture and learning outcomes of the school. Explorer Academy has quite a bit of social-economic disparity among its students but as Ryan McKenzie the principal explains:

“Through the EL model students are provided with an on-par learning environment both physically and with our curriculum that gives them the chance to become something more than they thought they could be. We provide them with the tools to deal with their trauma and adversity. We give them a fighting chance.”

The school also explains that one of the greatest reasons for their success is in the collaboration and common vision of the educators and their energy and momentum over time. Together they have provided their students with meaningful opportunities to learn more about context rich topics and are supported and encouraged to ask questions, collaborate, research, interact with experts, problem solve, and conduct field experiences. This approach has served to enhance knowledge and skills in meaningful, authentic ways.

A major implementation piece at Explorer Academy that’s responsible for developing this positive school culture, and allows students to build positive connections with their peers and with their teachers – is the idea that they are all ‘crew’, not passengers.

So what exactly does it mean to be Crew?
Crew is a ritual, a coming together, and the creation of a close-knit student community. An integral part of the EL Education model, each school in our network brings students together in a consistent and supportive group. Crew is a place where character education, adventure, and team building are intentional, assuring success for all students. It’s a structure that fosters a sense of belonging within students, and a place where they can be their best selves while lifting up their peers to achieve more than they think possible. Crew provides each student a one-to-one relationship with an adult advisor (Crew leader) at school, as well as a consistent and ongoing small-scale peer community. Crew meetings are frequently used for team building exercises and for group discussions on topical issues. These exercises and discussions help establish Crew identity and a positive school culture.” – EL Education

Another success piece at Explorer Academy was introducing student-led conferences where students take ownership of their physical work and keep a portfolio of it going through K-5. Then their transition from Grade 5 into middle school is celebrated, and has been transformed, by the implementation of ‘Passages’. This is where students give a 20 min presentation to a panel of educators, community members and their family, allowing students to really own their self-achievement. It’s also a wonderful validation of the success of the EL process.

Schools implementing the EL model are consistently outperforming district averages on state and mandated tests. In many of the EL schools, students’ test scores exceed district averages by substantial margins, with particular success among black and Latino students.

The EL model fosters more than just academic engagement and achievement. Beyond developing critical thinking, problem-solving, and collaboration skills, students in EL schools are supported in the growth of their ‘character’ and how to increase their leadership through civic engagement and social and environmental service. How to best measure character in schools has remained a complex question. EL Education addresses this critical topic in a new white paper, “Measuring Character,” that details their journey developing tools for improvement and impact in social, emotional, and academic learning. The result of EL Education’s work is a set of measurement tools that include both self-report measures and school leader walkthrough tools. These tools give educators and school leaders opportunities to examine, celebrate, and support the growth of student character.

“Once a student sees that they’re capable of excellence, that student is never quite the same.” –  Ron Berger, EL Leader

Natural Pod had the pleasure of working with Explorer Academy to create learning environments that connect to their curriculum, their values and their EL model.