Winter Reflection and Gratitude for the TLC

Robin Chernow
Posted 2019-12-20
Appreciation for the students, teachers, and community members of the Outer Islands Teaching and Learning Collaborative

I love my job. I especially love the 60% of my time that is allocated to supporting and coordinating the Outer Islands Teaching and Learning Collaborative, or TLC, as we affectionately call it. A network of one- and two-room schoolhouses in Maine and Massachusetts, the TLC connects teachers and students, both virtually and in person. Monhegan, Matinicus, Frenchboro, the Cranberry Isles, Isle au Haut, Cliff Island, and Massachusetts’ Cuttyhunk are all home to small island schools. This year, the Cranberries have the largest student population of the TLC, with nine students in their K-8 school. 

Through the virtual and in-person connections, the TLC helps to bridge the gap sometimes created from remoteness and builds a network through which these schools, and their teachers and students, can share resources, ideas, and friendships. The in-person events, such as multi-day field trips and back-to-school teacher retreats, often get most of the attention which makes sense because these events require significant planning and logistics with boats, cars, hotels, and food. Plus, spending time together for several days in person is fun!

This August, we hosted our TLC teachers in Rockland as a way of introducing new and veteran teachers to each other and an opportunity to set priorities for the year. I loved hearing the teachers share favorite “brain breaks” and “movement ideas” for their students, whether singing songs about bananas, pausing for yoga and stretching, or a quick dance. While these “brain breaks” are designed for students, we confirmed that they are also effective for adults!

In September, TLC teachers, students, and families packed camping gear and headed to Islesford for three days as a part of the annual Inter-Island Event. Islands rotate hosting this fall event each year, and kids and adults alike enjoy the time together. We listened to Islesford author Ashley Bryan read us two of his children’s books, we pressed apple cider from apples we picked ourselves, and we enjoyed an evening contra dance. Thank you to the teachers, families, and community members who worked so hard to host and entertain us all.

Ready to camp out for the Inter-Island Event.

Author Ashley Bryan reads to the TLC.

Middle school students press apples for cider.

Later in October, we gathered for our annual TLC fall field trip. Staple events of the TLC, the fall and spring field trips are overnight excursions designed to meet both the academic and social needs of our TLC students. Nearly 30 students and 20 adults from our TLC island communities trekked to the mainland and downeast to Washington County, arriving at the Cobscook Community Learning Center on a rainy Wednesday to start our field trip. The weather kept us inside, but we enjoyed the time to play four square, present academic work, and meet with our book groups. Thursday’s weather was beautiful, and we started the day in Lubec at Quoddy Head State Park, lucky to observe the sunrise at the easternmost point of the United States. During the field trip, we also learned about Passamaquoddy culture and history and visited an archaeological site in Machiasport. We made pottery during ceramics classes, played improv games, went mountain biking, explored and studied lichen, and enjoyed an ice cream party and movie night. Whew! So much fun learning packed into 48 hours.

The youngest TLC students warm up for an improv game during the fall field trip.

Students shared some reflections from the trip:

  • “Next time I want a bigger and longer game of Capture the Flag…When we go to TLC we have enough kids to play this fun game.” – 4th grade student
  • “My favorite activity was mountain biking. I liked mountain biking best because we got to bike all over the trail and even the road! The mountain bike instructor was really nice and taught us how to shift and know when to shift. I had a mountain bike two years ago and I found out that I was using it wrong because I never shifted and you are supposed to when you are on flat or going on a hill. When I was going fast I attempted to avoid a big puddle but it was impossible so I went through it.” – 7th grade student
  • “I learned how to ride a mountain bike (kinda).”
  • “I loved the food, the movie, and riding the bus.”

These in-person components of the TLC are so memorable, though I often find myself sharing stories about the ongoing virtual components of the TLC: from parties to book groups to weekly morning exercises.

My book group takes a moment to be silly!

This past Monday, we had our virtual holiday party. Each school made gifts for another school and mailed them in advance. During the party, we opened our gifts, played virtual charades, shared holiday cheer, and danced to holiday music! I loved seeing Monhegan’s holiday theater costumes, listening to music and poetry performances from Frencboro, and learning about the holiday events on the Cranberries. Of course, charades was a highlight, with snowball fights, tree-decorating, cookie-making, and sledding all included in the lineup.

Our TLC student council meets virtually twice a month, and the students did a great job sharing ideas and planning for our holiday party. We also have a teacher meeting twice a month after school to work on upcoming events, share successes, and problem-solve together.

A screenshot from TLC virtual holiday party – showing our holiday gifts.

Every Wednesday afternoon, I look forward to my TLC book group, and on Thursdays we all meet virtually for 15 minutes to start the day with morning exercises. These virtual experiences help us to connect and to maintain the relationships cultivated in person.

How many jobs involve weekly video calls with participants across the coast—stretching, jumping, balancing, and using our imaginations to have some physical activity to start the day?

Morning yoga with the TLC.

These virtual connections make winter seem shorter and build excitement for our next in person time together: our spring field trip in May! May’s field trip will be extra special in 2020, as we are setting aside one afternoon to celebrate the TLC’s tenth anniversary! The TLC has influenced many over the last 10 years and holds a special place for both current and former members. We are excited for this opportunity to connect and also enjoy some in-person time with TLC founders, alumni, and former teachers.