Graduate School of Education

Unique partnership at the Oregon Coast

Partnerships formed

Dr. Jill Bryant, Graduate School of Education professor and former middle school language arts teacher, is passionate about teaching, the ocean, and place-based education.  In the fall of 2011, she was presented with the opportunity to combine these interests with her professional proficiencies in the areas of teacher education and literacy development. 

In Oct. 2011, Willamette University’s Graduate School of Education (GSE) and Dr. Bryant, were invited to partner with Lincoln County School District and Westwind Stewardship Group (WSG), both in Lincoln City, Oregon, and the Oregon Coast Aquarium in Newport, Oregon.  Willamette University’s GSE was contacted to participate in this coalition because of the university’s commitment to sustainability and environmental awareness, and ongoing projects like Zena Farms. (  The aim of the partnership is to develop an interdisciplinary training around ocean literacy for K-12 teachers.   

Together, each partner contributes an important element to the professional development of Lincoln county teachers.  The Oregon Coast Aquarium, “recognized nationally and internationally for its outstanding exhibits and educational programs” ( offers the marine science expertise.  WSG, a 529 acre camp on the Oregon coastline, integrates the natural history perspective in keeping with their mission: to help promote and educate people on matters of conservation, sustainability, place-based learning and connection to the natural world (  Dr. Bryant and her colleagues, Dr. Jennifer Roberts and MAT alumna Larkin Smith (’10, High School Language Arts teacher at McKay High School), supply the literacy component.

Professional Development Begins

In May 2012, 30 Lincoln County K-8 teachers attended a two-day training facilitated by GSE faculty Drs. Bryant and Roberts, and Ms. Smith, along with representatives from the aquarium and WSG. The training was hosted by WSG, and “It was a transformative experience for many teachers” said Dr. Bryant.

From this training, seven teachers agreed to implement the curriculum and strategies they learned at the training into their classrooms this school year (2012-2013).  With financial support from a National Education Association grant managed by Dr. Bryant, ocean literacy classroom supplies, materials, and curricular resources have been provided to the seven teachers and their classrooms.  In addition, the cost of professional development credits for the teachers were covered by the grant. 

Throughout the year, the seven Lincoln County educators have stayed connected with Dr. Bryant, the Oregon Aquarium and WSG by attending virtual and face to face meetings at the aquarium.

Future Opportunities

In September 2013, WSG will host a fall year-end-review retreat.  The three partners are also collaborating on writing another grant to include more teachers, with a special emphasis on bridging the gap between under represented students and English language learners and the natural environment around them.  “I want to help students fall in love and connect with their place.  And I want to help teachers implement and facilitate place-based learning,” said Dr. Bryant.

Former and Current MAT candidates have also benefited from the ocean-literacy partnership.  Lincoln County School District is growing and hiring new teachers; fifty new teachers have been hired recently, among them five WU MAT alums.  During 2011-2012, the GSE hosted two Lincoln County School District Administrators who conducted formal pre-interviews, and spoke with MAT candidates about teaching in Lincoln City.

Thanks to Dr. Bryant and her colleagues’ commitment to the project, Lincoln County teachers are able to experience applicable professional development and help students see their ocean-view backyard as an interactive and ever changing classroom.