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Not For Me, For My Students: Reflections

As the time is near for us to submit our final Kenan projects, I cannot help but take a few moments to reflect upon what I have learned, what I have done, and what I will continue to do for the rest of my career. While the fellowship year is nearing an end, the lessons learned should (and will) be utilized to help our students succeed in whatever path they choose to take when graduating from high school.

In spending three weeks at Livingston & Haven, a company in Charlotte that primarily works with hydraulics and engineering, one may ask me exactly how the knowledge and insight I gained might be applicable to a middle school ELA classroom. At first, I will admit that I wasn’t all that sure myself. However, as I began to speak to employees, from the CEO to sales, to engineers and workers in assembly, I noticed how important communication at all levels of the organization was to ensure success.

Not only was communication important for the business aspect (in my first day, during my first hour, I sat in on a conference call to Ghana), but also for the safety of employees. On the manufacturing floor, everyone must communicate in a succinct, accurate fashion in order to ensure that no one is hurt. It is important for people to speak and write well, but also, and this is often forgotten…to LISTEN well.

So, how did this apply to my students? Since day one of the 2018-2019 school year,  I have taught my students the importance of confident, articulate speech, as well as the ability to listen to others. If students are giving a group presentation, I am sure that the rest of the class is listening, and sometimes they are required to make notes so they may ask questions at the end. I also have worked to increase their confidence and poise in public speaking. Mainly, talking in front of the class. With the exception of a few stragglers, I have my students less afraid to come to the front to the room to speak, and if they still are hesitant, they are willing to share their concerns with me, and receive some coaching to maybe try again next time.

Also, at the end of March, I will be chaperoning a field trip to Livingston and Haven with a group of STEM students from Kennedy Middle School. While yes, the trip will focus on STEM topics, I will ask our hosts to also let students know of the importance of effective communication in the workplace. It’s important, and will be integral to their (my students’) success no matter what field they enter after school.

My final product will be a three-four day unit for teachers to work with effective communication in the classroom. Students will be introduced to the importance of oral, written, and remote communication while also learning the importance of listening. We cannot forget how important it is to teach students to listen.

My head is still swimming with everything I’ve gleaned from this fellowship, and the inexperience has proven to be invaluable. The STEM world can even hand an English teacher so much to impart upon students. Never let someone tell you that they are incompatible! Our students may one day have an enormous impact in the STEM world, but how great will their work be if they are unable to communicate the results to the world?

Fall Fellowship

This morning, I’m sitting in an amazing workshop on building culture within our classrooms and schools. We want students to learn, and to engage with one another, but unless we take a few moments each day (or maybe each week if we’re discouraged from straying too far from curriculum)- how can we expect students to communicate and collaborate with one another?

When our students feel welcomed and happy to be there, that is when students will be ready to learn and collaborate with one another. They come in each day, and sometimes feel drained by the nonstop- curriculum heavy rigmarole of the school day. Take a moment to get to know your students, and to increase the comfort level in the classroom.

I’ve tried this year to create that more positive culture, and have been pleased by the results. Classroom management is easier, students participate more, test results are better, and smiles are everywhere.

Create positive culture, and results will come naturally.


With the hands-on portion of my fellowship coming to an end last week, I now find myself deep in reflection as to how I can help them to succeed not only in the classroom, but in the outside world.

I have settled on four goals for the upcoming school year, in order to better equip my students for the world, and I cannot wait to get started.

-Communication- Help students to prepare to communicate with others, not only through writing, but also through oral and visual communication. Can my students effectively get a point across with little room for error?

-Increase in Non-Fiction- Can my students effectively read and comprehend a piece of non-fiction while effectively pulling out important information? Also, can my students write an effective email, or quickly read one while gleaming all of the necessary information?

-STEM Night Communications-  Can parents and students be told of the necessity for communication in the STEM world?

-Trade School: College not for All- YES, all students should be encouraged to attend college, but options should be presented for students who are good with their hands! I was able to learn from many individuals working in the trade who are making significant incomes!

All of these will be coming together over the next few weeks and months, so please stay tuned!

STEM & Communication Meet

Today, I had the privilege of riding along with one of our outside sales representatives as we traveled to various accounts in Charlotte to explain our products. Now, I know what you might be thinking, “WOAH! Sales! Soliciting! That’s not STEM-related!” Au contraire!

As we travelled to seven different local businesses, I watched as the representative took the time to explain exactly what the company (Livingston and Haven) could do for them. It wasn’t as much of a sales pitch as it was a proclamation of sorts as to what (STEM related) products and services were offered.

Were it not for patient, succinct, and knowledable communication skills, the products in question would simply be an abstract bunch of machinery and skills with no relation to the company. Of course, there was that one business that showed us the door that should be mentioned here, but not for the reason one might think.

Students, especially in the STEM related fields, are going to come across dead ends and rejection from time to time. What is important is how they react. Besides teaching our students the science aspects of the curriculum, we must remind them as often as possible, that when something (an experiment or an assignment) doesn’t go as planned, it is important to step back, look at what happened, dust oneself off, and try try again.

When our students begin to learn the art of communication and combine it with a dash of good old-fashioned tenacity, there is no telling how far they can go. Let’s make an effort to keep our students smart, and encouraged!

Manufacturing and Innovation

During the past week, I had the opportunity to head across the street to see the manufacturing side of the business where all of the ideas from engineers that are sold to the customers come together. I was able to see the materization from the combination of the work of sales and engineering, and where the importance of high quality communication is paramount.

When looking at the assembly of products, I watched as parts were placed together with frequent communication to ensure accuracy. Is there a problem or a question? Manufacturers would immediately be in touch, usually through email, with the project manager.

Students today must remember that as the STEM world advances, they will frequently need to back up their scientific knowledge with an ability to communicate. With all of the advances being made, how relevant will they be if no one is there to effectively communicate them to the world. Even more important, once a STEM-related business is formed, we will need individuals who can effectively sell, market, and respond to inquiries.

Today, I sit with the solar side of the business, and look forward to sharing some rays of knowledge with you soon.

Step Outside Your Comfort Zone

In the few moments before I shadow a meeting this morning, I stop by the blog to stress the importance of teachers (and students) stepping outside of their “comfort zone” to learn new skills and become better at the craft.

I say this because until today, I had never heard of “mechatronics engineering.” Soon, I’ll be sitting with a project manager as he reviews upcoming work with his team- hopefully getting a little taste of something that I’ve never heard of before.

As teachers, we have our content areas in which we are knowledgeable, and are able to talk confidently to our students. However, it is essential that we are able to expand our minds, and our boundaries, so that we are able to educate our students in a well-rounded fashion.

Here’s to new adventures and learning something we never thought possible.

Learning Never Stops

This morning, I had the opportunity to sit with a product specialist whose knowledge of hydraulics and their schematics was beyond the realm of what I thought to be possible. Sure, he has nearly forty years experience with the company, and has been looking at these devices for longer than I’ve been alive, but it was how he gained the knowledge that is so important, and definitely applicable to my students.

Right off the bat, he told me that he was a student who struggled in school. His attitude was that of many students, past and present, who believe that what they’re learning doesn’t apply to them. “We’ll never need to know this,” they shout, believing that once the test is over, they’ll never see this skill again. This gentleman told me that once he began this job nearly four decades ago, he took it upon himself to learn what he should’ve learned years prior, and because of it, he is in his position today.

Let’s remind our students that learning is important, but that it doesn’t stop after school. The learning taking place in our formative years is preparing us for the learning that will take place each and every day of our lives. In order to be successful in the “real world,” we must continue to learn each and every day. Let us use this to keep our students thirsty for information, even if they think it’s “never going to be needed.” Look outward, look forward.

Taking it Outside the Classroom

Walking into my first day of the Kenan Fellowship’s internship portion, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. I knew that there would be some nerves, a bunch of questions, and a whole lot of learning.

After a discussion with Human Resources in which I learned extensively about the company culture and values, the next step on my schedule was to meet with the CEO of Livingston Haven, Clifton Vann IV. Little did I know I would be walking into a conference call involving Ghana, in which a proposal for adding solar power to the Catholic schools of the country was being discussed. I can not imagine a better way to become fully immersed in the workings of the company, and see the up close and personal ways in which I can take lessons from the STEM business world, and say to my students, “this is why I’m teaching you this.”

I watched as very high level employees of the company communicated flawlessly with other individuals who were based around the globe, and thought quickly while adapting their audience. This is a crucial piece of our ELA curriculum, as students must learn to write persuasively, tweaking their composition to suit the needs of various audiences.

The rest of the day involved a tour of the facility, lunch with the CEO, and meeting with the director of sales, with whom I’ll be spending some time over the next few days. If I learned this much on Day One, imagine what is to come over the next three weeks.


An Amazing Experience

I have just arrived in Charlotte, my mind bubbling over with new knowledge that I cannot wait to implement in my classroom. What makes it even more amazing, is that my internship hasn’t even started yet. Starting next week I will be seeing exactly how the workforce is in need of STEM skills, and how I can take this desire back to my students to better prepare them for a competitive world.

For me to attempt to summarize everything here would be next to impossible, so I want to focus on what I thought to be an integral session from the week. In that session, we talked about branding ourselves as educators. If we have no idea who we are, how can we effectively lead our students to the fountain of knowledge to make them drink?

Let me break down my branding and see how it might play out as an educator. Remember, I’m a “Creative, relevant, reality-connector.”

Creative: My ELA experience in middle school was dry. If I reflect on it, I’m surprised I’ve entered the career. Drills, boring readings, and no chance to be creative. Creativity was shunned, as I remember being forced to write and read a certain way. That’s not to say that I wish to shun standards and let kids have free reign, but whenever an opportunity presents itself to give students the chance to create, I will take it. Students want to take ownership of their learning, and infusing creativity into the curriculum will facilitate that.

Relevant: “This doesn’t matter to me.” “Is this on the test?” “Who cares about commas and plot diagrams?” Sound familiar? In an initial meeting with my mentor at my internship site, we talked in depth about a need for students to be able to compose and comprehend the written word. You might have all the degrees in the world, but if you cannot communicate, or understand communication, you’re already behind the eight ball. Students need to know that there IS a reason we’re reading this, and there IS a reason I’m tough on them when it comes to writing. It’s not to be mean, and it’s not to make them feel inferior. Instead, it’s to prepare them for a competitive world where a misplaced semicolon could be the difference between getting or being passed over for a job.

Reality-Connector: The texts I read in school were often outdated and mundane. I want my students to form personal and world connections with their texts, so that it’s not just an assignment, but instead a gateway to the world. Too often, English Language Arts is seen as a subject that is in its own box, separated from the world at large. I want students to engage with texts that matter, and that also connect to the ever expanding STEM world. Nonfiction texts, and even fiction texts with a foundation in science will help students make those sorely needed connections between their reading and the world.

There is so much to think about after Summer Institute, and I’ll need some time for my brain to stop spinning before I can begin to put it all together, but I look forward to eight weeks from now when my students walk into my classroom, and the myriad befits of the Summer Institute can be shown.

Thank you, Kenan and NCCAT. It was an amazing week.

Learning from Each Other

Sometimes, the best way that we can learn as teachers is from one another. It is important that we remember that yes, we as teachers do have valuable knowledge to share with others.

Today, I listened as my cohort shared ideas of what works (and what doesn’t work) in the classroom to keep students engaged. I shared a bit of my own wisdom of my use of humor in the classroom. Over the years, it has become glaringly obvious that if students have the opportunity to laugh a bit, it opens the door to learning. Other colleagues shared ideas such as “mood meters” and funny dances and movements that keep their students involved and learning.

It is hard to believe that tomorrow, I’ll be packing the car and heading home from the Summer Institute, but the vast amount of knowledge and the connections formed with other teachers will allow it to seem like the party never ended. So lesson learned from today’s post? Network, network, network. The teacher next door to you might be able to give you a single piece of advice that can be immensely helpful. In turn, you might be able to offer advice too, creating a true professional network built upon the giving and taking of information to better each other.