A teacher inspired by a class trip to learn about the impact of a disastrous oil spill on Gulf Coast marine life discusses the importance of service learning and how her Walden education has helped her become a better educator.

For Joan Miller, a visual arts educator at Mad River Middle School in Ohio, a Jimmy Buffet benefit concert and a “One Love One Ocean” shirt sparked an idea to take her students to the Newport Aquarium in Kentucky. To help raise money for the school trip, Joan contacted businesses near the gulf in Alabama and asked them to donate items her students could sell. To Joan’s surprise, Jimmy Buffet’s sister, Lucy Buffet, offered Joan and 22 of her students an all-expense-paid trip to the gulf in April 2011 to learn about the disastrous oil spill, participate in a cleanup, research ocean creatures, and build a sea-life scene for their “sea school” theme.

Joan Miller

The trip, along with her studies at Walden University, not only reinvigorated Joan’s love of teaching but also renewed her commitment to service. She has translated this excitement into a newfound appreciation for service learning. Joan is using what she has discovered as a student in Walden’s Doctor of Education (EdD) program with a specialization in Teacher Leadership to inspire her students to participate in active learning that strengthens their studies while advancing the greater good.

Recently, Joan shared her thoughts with Spotlight on Walden. She discussed the importance of service learning and how her Walden education has helped her become a better educator.

What is the service learning club that you started at your school, and why did you decide to start it?

I started a club this year for our students called the Green Team at Mad River Local Schools. It’s a branch of Jane Goodall’s Roots and Shoots Foundation. We have three goals every year: to help people, animals, and the environment. One of my courses at Walden introduced me to service learning, and I thought that my school could continue to do it even after my class project was over. I heard so many students saying that they would love to get involved instead of sitting at home on the weekends. This was the perfect opportunity for us to gather together and give back to our community.

Why do you think it is important for your students to participate in service learning, and what impact has it had in your school and your community?

It is extremely important for students to be able to connect what they are learning within the classroom walls with what is happening out in the world. When this relationship between school and the outside world occurs, the learning becomes real and more meaningful to students. Second, giving back to your community gives you a sense of pride; you know that you are making your neighborhood a better place, not just for you but for everyone around you. The impact we have had in the community has been extremely positive. We have had a donation drive for the kids at The Children’s Medical Center of Dayton, and we are planning to participate in a Metroparks cleanup day the weekend of Earth Day. We are also helping a nearby nature center by making reunion boxes for rescued animals to be transported back to their natural environment.

How has your Walden education made an impact on you as an educator?

Through my Walden coursework, I have gained an understanding of how my students learn and process information. I have also acquired strategies to effectively reach my students, and I have new ways to inspire them to create art. Walden has motivated me to think outside of my classroom walls and bring the outside in. I have incorporated technology into my classroom in new ways, and we now have a digital photography unit in our art class. Walden has also inspired me to do more personally. I now have my own website at www.millerszoo.net where people can connect with me and my art. The education that I have received through Walden has completely changed my outlook on life, and I now know that anything is possible for my students and for me.

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