Stories from the Field

Evening on the Lake Special Guest: Dr. Jordan Thayer

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NatureBridge is pleased to announce Dr. Jordan Thayer as one of our guest speakers at Evening on the Lake, our signature Pacific Northwest event. The event will be held on October 6, 2023 at the Amazon Meeting Center in downtown Seattle, where we will spend an unforgettable evening highlighting our Olympic National Park programs and celebrating the stewards of today. We hope you can join us!

NatureBridge recognizes the importance and impact of social and emotional learning (SEL) and how immersive, outdoor experiences can prove transformative for young people. That's why we have partnered with Dr. Jordan Thayer, a Seattle-based behavioral health specialist who works with children and young adults. Jordan is currently collaborating with our Olympic campus staff in the development of SEL curriculum and in the training and support of NatureBridge educators, particularly around the challenges of navigating youth mental health and adolescent development trends in a post-pandemic era. SEL, he explained, is the practice of “teaching kids necessary life skills related to knowing, understanding and using their emotions and behaviors for personal and prosocial development.” Additionally, social emotional learning encompasses instruction in “recognizing the empathy and mental flexibility needed to recognize the different emotional experiences and perspectives of others.”

Jordan Thayer has guided us through trainings on group behavior management, trauma informed learning and adult social emotional learning… [H]e has supplemented staff enrichment seminars and seasonal trainings with insight and modules to be better prepared for a range of students in the field.
Cheyenne Palmo, Environmental Science Educator

“Everything that we do as people is social-emotional interactions,” he noted, since every aspect of living in society requires that individuals learn how to interact with other people. However, there is an observed opportunity gap when it comes to mastery of SEL—clinicians and researchers have documented that the more relationships a person has, the better their social emotional skills tend to be. Formal SEL curriculum integrations aim to close that gap, asking the question, “Can we expose all students to opportunities to build these skills systematically rather than leaving it up to chance?”

SEL (social emotional learning) is not different from any other tool that’s been used in education—this is not a new concept.* What is new is trying to do it in a systemic way.
Dr. Jordan Thayer

Within this kind of systemic approach to social emotional learning, NatureBridge programs emphasize “the importance of nature as a facilitator of learning.” It’s a potent pedagogical tenet, the research on which Jordan is grateful to his grad school roommate, Peter Leven, for having provided an introduction. Like all of us at NatureBridge, Jordan understands that nature is a powerful teacher. “School is an artificial thing; it’s not part of normal development. What is natural and healthy for teens—like sleeping in late, taking huge risks and challenging authority—doesn’t necessarily fit in its outdated structures,” he observed.

NatureBridge is a unique approach to learning that kids aren’t getting in schools…and that needs to be celebrated and supported in the ways that it might continue to transform.
Dr. Jordan Thayer

Therefore, Jordan believes NatureBridge “has a really unique opportunity to give kids the chance to try something else” and attempt new things during their short break from the structure and routine of the traditional classroom. That exposure to new things and new perspectives can be the catalyst for growth. Maybe a student’s takeaway from their NatureBridge experience is a meaningful relationship with a staff member or a shift in their interests as they discover new topics that spark their imagination. “The novelty of NatureBridge cannot be discounted,” Jordan concluded, remarking on the enormous potential of outdoor education to foster students’ self-discovery and personal development.

*SEL instruction in the United States dates back to the late 1800s with the McGuffey Readers.

About Dr. Thayer #

Dr. Jordan Thayer is a Licensed Psychologist who works with children and emerging adults (up to age 35) as a behavioral health specialist. He operates a private practice in Seattle, serving clients from varying socio-economic levels, neuro-diverse clients and trans clients. Jordan also acts as a trainer and consultant for several organizations, including NatureBridge. After completing an internship in integrated behavioral health during his doctoral studies at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, Jordan focused his post-doctoral work on systemic issues of well-being in schools and healthcare networks nationwide. 

Upon moving to Seattle two years ago, Jordan was introduced to NatureBridge through a chance encounter with Todd Cota, NatureBridge’s Olympic Board Chair. After visiting the Olympic campus and observing our environmental education programs, Jordan was eager to get involved. We are delighted to host Dr. Thayer as our special guest at Evening on the Lake and grateful for his expertise as a leader and practitioner in the fields of adolescent development and behavioral health. Please join us on October 6 as we honor him, along with several other stewards of today, at Evening on the Lake!

Photo courtesy of Dr. Jordan Thayer

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