Looking back at the teacher I was a year ago, it’s easy to see that I’ve grown a lot. I was a very passionate teacher before I was a Kenan Fellow, but I certainly lacked the knowledge, focus, and reach I now possess.
Knowledge is one obvious thing I’ve gained as a Kenan Fellow. In the summer institute, I got my feet wet with planning PBL units. I learned about the gold standard for this method of teaching so that students are challenged to think critically in an authentic way while also acquiring content knowledge effectively. This knowledge was pivotal for me as I developed my curriculum unit for CMS. Thinking of important teaching strategies and concepts I picked up directly from this program, I could mention dozens more. I’m so thankful for the depth of knowledge I’ve gained through the program.
Focus is another factor I’ve gained as a Kenan Fellow. As a teacher, I’ve always loved a challenge. I have taken on technology instruction like coding, hands on learning through gardening, personalized learning, and more. This is both a blessing and a curse. While it does keep me up to date with the latest trends and research based practices in education, it can also be hard to identify the focus of my instructional practice. Through my internship and training, I’ve identified a true focus for my instruction that encapsulates my various endeavors: 21st century preparation. I’ll pull from my experience in the Kenan Fellows Program for decades to come as I work to prepare my students for their challenging career paths in this changing world.
Reach is something I’ve gained as a Kenan Fellow. Last year, I was at a stable point in my teaching career. I had developed strong strategies for impacting the lives of my students in a positive way. However, this was a very limited reach for my impact as a teacher. I was definitely having a positive influence on the students in my classroom, but I felt a need to do more. My scope of influence has grown, and I feel that it will only continue to get wider and wider. My school now looks to me as a leader in the PBL initiative. The district has access to my science unit, and it will hopefully be used by teachers district-wide. I’m also much more aware of opportunities and careers in education that could be in my future as I continue to look for ways to benefit as many students as possible.
This opportunity has helped me grow and change in so many positive ways, and the three I mentioned really only describe the tip of the iceberg. I’m going to steal this last sentence to thank everyone in the organization who made this possible, because it has certainly been a milestone in my development as a teacher.
Can you look back on a time of your life that feels like it was so long ago and at the same time like it just happened yesterday? Maybe it was launching a new career or meeting a new friend for the first time. One of those moments for me was embarking upon the Kenan Fellows journey. Applying, acceptance, and my internship all seem like a long time ago and also like only the blink of an eye has passed. Life keeps on moving quickly, and during the course of a school year there is a necessary shift in priorities. I haven’t always had the time to reflect about this pivotal experience, but in this chilly month of January, I’m now taking a moment to look back and see just how far I’ve come.
One area I’ve seen high growth in has been in my collaborative activities. My interactions with peers and administrators have been more focused and meaningful due to the work I’ve accomplished in the institutes and with my cohort. I’ve learned so much about collaborating with a group effectively, and most of what I’ve learned has been through the lens of self-knowledge. We were provided with our Myers-Briggs personality analysis at the Summer Institute, and it was an eye-opening look at what my strengths and weaknesses are when it comes to working with others (Shout out to my ENFJs!). I also learned so much about myself in high pressure situations. As part of the CMS cohort, we were not only making our own projects, but also making sure that all of our projects fit together as a cohesive package for the district. Naturally, we all navigated several conversations about a vision and direction for our projects, and this experience gave me more confidence and poise when approaching similar collaborative projects back at school.
Beyond my more introspective changes, I can also celebrate seeing my sphere of collaborators growing larger and larger. In my years of teaching so far, my reach has slowly expanded. My first years in the classroom, my goal was to influence my students. Mastering classroom management and instruction was my concern. For the next couple of years, my influence expanded as I began taking on leadership roles in the school community. Since then, I didn’t quite know what the next step could be. Now I know. Through the Kenan Fellows program, I now have a larger view of the world of education. I have a network of role models and teacher leaders that I can turn to for support, ideas, and expertise. I have impacted 21st century learning in my district through my integrated unit. I’m so excited to see a side of education I didn’t even know was possible.
Although at times it feels like I’ve been doing the work of a Kenan Fellow for a long time, I’m really just at the beginning of this journey. I’m filled with excitement at the work that lies ahead – this year and beyond.
The end of September is a fantastic moment for reflection in the school year. With about a month under my belt, routines and procedures are in place. I know my students pretty well. Now it’s time to reflect on the efficacy of the instructional practices I’ve been using.
In the past, I’ve used traditional units of study. If I were teaching about the moon, you could expect teacher directed lessons throughout the whole unit. Students would learn, and they would be assessed at the end. That would be it. Pretty simple, eh?
Instead, I am now setting the stage for each unit by framing it from the first day as part of a larger idea. For our first unit, Nutrition and Exercise, I had a nutritionist that works with the Carolina Panthers come into the classroom and give my students a challenge. She did this at the very launch of the unit! She told them that the Carolina Panthers are trying to start a flag football league for 4th graders. My students were tasked by this professional dietitian to create their own nutrition and exercise plans for kids their own age. Are the panthers really recruiting the 4th grade students in my class to help them develop their youth football program? I couldn’t tell you. A magician never reveals his secrets. The point is that now when my students come to my class, they aren’t learning disparate chunks of information that I hope will coalesce into a full understanding of the subject. They are learning with a purpose. They are learning about nutrition and exercise so that they can immediately apply that knowledge towards completing an important project.
I wish I could say that my first PBL has students ready for a silicon valley conference room. The reality is that we are only a month in. Some students have adapted to the 21st century focused PBL learning beautifully, and they worked so hard to get their projects finished. Some students are struggling with the personal responsibility inherent in applying their learning to a large project. They might let one aspect of the project fall to the wayside or miss a deadline or two. One major win I’ve noticed is that all of my students seem more excited about learning. Teaching students about nutrition has historically been a rather dry topic, but with the rationale of working for the Carolina Panthers in place from the start, they were much more excited to get learning. PBL is definitely a choice I’m sticking with. My students will certainly rise to the new challenges, and giving them the excitement of being a part of something beyond the classroom is something I can’t wait to continue.
Many friends, family members, and coworkers have asked me to explain the Kenan Fellows Program to them. I usually explain that as teachers, we typically teach lessons based on standards given to us from above. We cross our fingers, hoping that we are preparing our students for a successful future. We don’t really have a realistic view of what we are actually preparing our students for, and that’s a problem. This program is the bridge that fills that knowledge divide. I now know what I am preparing my students for, and that has made everything change for me.
I have learned that careers these days, no matter what, require certain skills from the employee. Members of the workforce need to be adept at communicating with others, organizing themselves, and thinking through problems critically and independently. From a front-lines warehouse worker to a big-picture board room executive, these soft skills are a requirement. My takeaway is that I don’t need to imagine that I am preparing my students for a specific job or career path. I am preparing my students to be such savvy thinkers and members of society that they could be ready for anything…and that’s a good realization, because the workforce is a moving target.
Even less than a decade ago, I taught in elementary schools where the directive was to push students towards college. It was brainwashing with the best intentions. My students knew that they would graduate college in the year 2023 because we had that posted on the walls. Our groups in class shared names with major universities. I bought into the fact that college was the ring I wanted my students to catch. Things have changed recently. We now realize that there are amazing jobs out there that don’t require a 4-year degree. Without those people, our industries would shut down. Currently, I feel like the target is moving again. Industry is becoming more automated. Workers need to be more technologically aware. Teachers need to adapt as well. I plan to stay in touch with industry professionals so that I am sure that my instruction reflects reality. Let’s try to stay ahead of the game as much as possible so that we are preparing our students for the world of tomorrow.
One of the most productive summers of my entire life is quickly coming to an end, and this is marked by the fact that my internship is complete. I have to admit…I got a little emotional saying farewell to my mentor. I was entirely invested in the process from start to finish.
When I think about my time with Hyde Park Partners, I keep coming back to my time with American Engineering Group in an area they call “Genesis.” It’s basically an incubation chamber for engineering innovation. A group of interns and engineers spend their time improving upon designs in this giant warehouse, and they use a process called “Innovation Engineering.” I could instantly draw parallels between the work they do and the work I want my students to do in my classroom. I want my students to vet their ideas with true critical thought. I want my students to fail fast, fail cheap, improve, and try again. All of this is done in the Genesis area of Hyde Park Partners, and I can’t wait to tell my students that the work they are doing is truly preparing them for the world outside.
There were certain areas that I couldn’t instantly draw that same instant parallel, and that was a challenge for me at first. How could I bring the principals of industrial hydraulic motion to a 4th grade class? Then, I had an epiphany. I don’t literally have to teach students about hydraulics. I can look beyond that obvious front to the deep level of success skills that are needed for people to be successful in the field. Rather than bringing hydraulic science back to my class, I’m focusing on the skills of collaboration, problem solving, abstract thinking, and more! What previously looked like a stretch now fits seamlessly into my plans for PBL rollout.
All said and done, I think my biggest lightbulb of the whole experience is just how excited all of the employees of the company were to be a part of something. I always wanted 100% of my students to be THAT excited about school. I think PBL is the lever that can take me closer to that stage than ever before. I can’t expect them to be enthused by dull traditional lesson structures. If I can distill the energy of being a part of a project that MATTERS and also teach them core content at the same time, I’ll be achieving my vision this year.
Although I am a little sad that I’m done with my internship, I am so empowered to start the next step of my journey – polishing my project and rolling it out in the context of my 4th grade science classes this year. To infinity and beyond!
Most of my friends have the habit of giving me some ribbing during the summer. They are stuck at work while I get to spend about 2 months on my own – getting things done around the house and planning for the upcoming year. I assure them that they are just jealous and that teachers need this time to plan and reset for the next year. Imagine their surprise when I told them about my fellowship! I have a job to do this summers, and a big part of that job is to craft a product – a unit of study that bundles my field experience and the traditional standards together into a cohesive final project. My friends don’t get to make fun of me this summer; major work is going down.
Designing this PBL unit is exercising muscles I didn’t know I had. I’ve done plenty of lesson and unit planning in the past, but this time I am armed with much more knowledge of true PBL inquiry. I’ve really enjoyed the challenge of creating a unit that focuses not only on content but also on success skill development. Since this is a 3 week unit, I’ve found it challenging to envision what each day in class will look like. I have a clear vision of the launch of the unit, with a fantastically open-ended guiding question and challenge. I have a clear vision of the end of the unit, with a final product that necessitates sharp teamwork and problem-solving skills. What I have struggled with a bit is planning the progression of the unit. How many lectures should I give? When should students be working on their group artifact, and when should students be applying their knowledge on their own? I brought these questions up with my cohort at our last meeting, and I received very useful guidance from them.
I’ve been very heartened by many successes I’ve found along the way. The one thing that made me feel the most successful was sitting down and brainstorming an idea for the project. Instead of thinking of just one great project, I listed the science standards for my grade, and I thought of some very interesting projects for each of them. Although I am focusing on just one idea for my Kenan Fellows product, I still have those other ideas written down, and I can’t wait until I have the time to have not only one deep PBL unit, but one for each standard. This process has really planted the seed for further curriculum development. One other success that I found came as I was planning the unit itself. I needed to find a way to launch this unit, and I contacted someone that is actually in the field of acoustic room design, which is the topic of my PBL unit. They said that they would be more than happy to come out and talk to my classes about acoustics. I don’t know if I would have had the confidence to make that phone call without my time in the field with professionals. That might sound silly, but now I know just how willing people are to volunteer their own energy to help students learn. That’s a a great thing to know, and I’m sure I can make so many new contacts around the city to help with my units.
Although this is a new adventure for me, I am so confident that it will be a huge success. Mistakes will be made along the way, and just as I remind my students…mistakes can be some of the best learning experiences.
27 educators, a week in the beautiful mountain town of Cullowhee, and PD sessions packed with cutting edge ed topics – how could I not walk away from the summer institute feeling like my life has changed for the better?
In my opinion, the most powerful factor that sets this apart from other PD opportunities is the residential aspect. I knew that I would be learning a whole lot during the day, but what surprised me was the networking and sharing of ideas that happened at dinner, on the patio, and in the lounges. This was made possible by the simple fact that we were staying together for the week. Obviously we didn’t always have our teacher hats on (things got really intense during those card games!), but there were countless conversations that helped me grow as an educator in this unconventional setting. I teach 4th grade, and informal conversations with middle and high school teachers gave me a fascinating glance at the “bigger picture” of what I do in the classroom. Resources were shared, business cards were exchanged, and partnerships were formed. I now have a network of outstanding teachers who can strengthen me with advice and perspective.
The daily sessions guided by the amazing folks of the steering committee were top notch as well. I am invigorated by what I learned about PBL. I am already writing projects for the units I will implement later. PBL veteran Carrie Horton facilitated two sessions I attended on the topic, and I also attended the edcamp session around this teaching method. To put it into 3 simple words: I feel prepared.
My mind is absolutely reeling from the massive upload of information I received this week, and it’s hard to imagine my time as a Kenan fellow has just begun. Keep checking in with me to find out how my work is progressing. Thanks for reading!
There is so much to gain throughout my journey as a Kenan Fellow. I am thinking about how this opportunity can change my own classroom, my school, and my district as a whole! I think that is what excites me the most – being able to make a bigger splash…a bigger impact on the world. I hope that the projects we create in CMS will be used by many teachers so that more students can benefit from the work we’re doing. With that intention at the forefront, I know that this is going to be a pivotal experience in my career.