I started my summer this year packing my bags to head for Cullowhee, North Carolina, almost the farthest western point of the state! What I knew: I’d get to meet the 24 other educators from across the state, who had also been selected as 2018-19 Kenan Fellows; and that I would have a week packed with valuable professional development and fun! On my 4.5 hour drive though, my mind was full of wonders about what the trip would be like and who I’d connect with!
The Kenan Fellows program gives educators the opportunity to learn for several weeks in the STEM fields we should be preparing our students for, so I had no doubt that everyone I encountered would have a passion for authentic learning experiences that prepare students for the real world. As I prepared for the trip, the words of former Kenan Fellow and friend Janet Pride resonated with me- that I will learn so much during my fellowship year and connect with SO many awesome educators who will impact my journey forever! And those are the words I clung to during that overwhelming first afternoon, loaded with initial information in a room full of new faces. It always takes a little bit of time to get settled into those new situations that throw you out of your comfort zone. However I knew this week would be a key time to meet and connect with other fellows who are in the same intimidating position as myself, each of us tasked with creating an internship classroom application product (many of us working with no other fellows assigned to our specific company), still uncertain of what exactly that product will look like or how to make it happen. Knowing we would only have a couple chances to bond face-to-face during the entire fellowship, I went into the trip wanting to make the most of my time at the Summer Institute week and soak in as many relationships and as much learning as I could!
As I reflect on the Summer Institute experience now, it is evident that the connections I made in that week are what got me through the uncertainties I entered the week with and what will continue to get me through the remaining uncertainty ahead. Collaborating and building relationships with others last week helped relieve my fears and grow me in many ways.
-Collaborative coding: Right off the bat, we were broken into teams for an ice-breaker activity to code a Sphero ball to follow a given path without any measuring device. The word coding always intimidated me, because I didn’t really understand it myself and consequently, was slightly scared to bring it down to the Kindergarten level. This was something I would have been scared to try without working in a team setting. The collaborative nature of the activity not only helped me approach the challenge with confidence, but it also helped me see ways coding could be integrated into the Kindergarten curriculum. Brainstorming time with a team, particularly Lisa Cook, my fellow Kinder teacher Kenan Fellow, was so valuable and inspired me to do more with coding next year!!
-I’m not alone: For my particular internship, I am tasked with the challenge of bringing work with adhesives and material coatings through chemical research to the Kindergarten level (#kindersCAN) . I want to make this a meaningful project that will help our youngest students to learn and create in the ways of STEM careers in need of prepared employees. I have not started the internship aspect of the fellowship, but I am still unsure as to where my project will go. Getting to know the other fellows reminded me that I’m not alone in this uncertainty; there is also opportunity to give feedback to and collaborate with others on projects along the way. I’m so pumped to work closely with my team, Tamara Barabasz, Annah Riedel, Carrie Robledo, and Ashley Luersman, over the course of the year!
-Digital scavenger hunt: I had never used the Goosechase app for a scavenger hunt, much less did I understand how our team would approach and solve all the missions we were tasked with. But working as a team, our different strengths made it possible to attempt it all and have fun while doing it! And it modeled what an educational cross-curricular scavenger hunt could look like in the classroom! It was a day-long endeavor!
–The classroom perspective: Many times, we all mentioned that we could relate to how our students probably feel at times. It’s important for me to take that piece back to my classroom, remembering how clueless or overwhelmed students may feel when presented with a challenging task. And reflecting on how much the collaborative environment positively impacted me in those situations during the week, I want my students to feel that same way about collaborating, even if they’re only 5. You don’t have to do it all alone..we are better together.
–Advice: find your “marigolds”: Closing advice from Kenan Fellows Alumni Network members echoed what I had been reflecting on throughout the week, particularly when Erin Fisher mentioned the importance of finding your “marigolds”- your educator “people” who can be found both inside and outside of your school building. Education can be an isolating profession at times, as it can cause teachers to feel boxed into their classrooms without adult connections that help them grow. Your “marigolds” are the people who support you and your risk-taking and help make your experience as an educator connected, collaborative, and amazing. And I am so grateful to this experience for connecting me with a whole new network of people!
With the challenging year ahead, I know I couldn’t do it without this group of professionals and friends that I’ve gained this past week! The networking aspect of the fellowship, while just one part of it, has already been so valuable in connecting me with amazing people who I will continue to learn from for more than just our fellowship year. So Janet, you were right! In those slightly uncomfortable experiences, it’s the people that make it all feel possible – people to build relationships with, to collaborate with, to relate to, to learn from. People and the relationships they build are similarly the foundation of what a classroom community should be, and what often motivates and drives and success. I look forward to continuing to grow outside my comfort zone, not alone, but alongside my marigolds!