‘Not for me, for my students’

Kenan Fellows Voices: John Kurzawa

As my year as a 2018-19 Kenan Fellow draws to an end, I cannot help but reflect on what I have learned, what I have done, and what I will continue to do for the rest of my career. After spending three weeks at Livingston & Haven, a Charlotte company that primarily works with hydraulics, automation, and engineering, one may ask how the knowledge and insight I gained might be applicable to a middle-school English Language Arts classroom. At first, I will admit that I wasn’t sure myself.

However, as I began to speak to employees — from the CEO to salespeople, to engineers and workers in assembly — I realized how important communication was at all levels of the organization. Not only was communication essential 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 had to communicate in a succinct, accurate fashion to ensure that no one is hurt. It is crucial 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 make sure that the rest of the class is listening, and taking notes and asking questions. I have worked to boost their confidence and poise in public speaking by asking them present in front of the class. With the exception of a few stragglers, my students are less afraid to speak in front of the class, 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.

At the end of March, I will be chaperoning a field trip to Livingston & Haven with a group of STEM students from Kennedy Middle School. The trip will focus on STEM topics, but I will ask our hosts to share with students how important effective communication is in the workplace as it will be integral to their success no matter what field they enter. For my final fellowship project, I am designing a unit on effective communication in the classroom. Students will be introduced to the importance of oral, written, and remote communication, all of which involve the art of listening. We cannot forget how important it is to teach students to listen

“My head is still swimming with everything I have gleaned from this fellowship. This experience has been invaluable. 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 rest of the world?”

John Kurzawa is a 2018-2019 Kenan Fellow, who teaches English Language Arts at Kennedy Middle School in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools. His fellowship is sponsored by CMS and the Belk Foundation