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Fund for Teachers Journey: Biophilic Building Design

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    Sarah Norris

Carly Connor and Jill Padfield teach at the Franklin School of Innovation in Asheville, NC. They were part of the 2018 cohort of Fund for Teachers Fellows, awarded a grant for transformational self-designed summer professional development. Click here to learn more about Fund for Teachers and EL Education's partnership with this extraordinary organization. 

This fellowship opened my eyes to the intricate and measurable thought process that goes into sustainable design and sustainable practices in schools and cities. Carly Connor, FFT Fellow

What did they set out to do?

Research in New Zealand, Australia and Singapore sites pertaining to biophilic and sustainable design in architecture and in schools to inform a math-driven proposal created by sophomore  students on the construction of a new school building.

Fft Carly And Jill

Carly and Jill in Wellington Harbor

How have your knowledge, skills and capabilities grown?

“Throughout our fellowship, we were both challenged with digging into a project that was predominantly Science-based. As Math and English teachers, we knew this project would propel our students and our community forward toward more project-based, EL focused work, but we were going to have to do a LOT of learning first! Our fellowship gave us the knowledge, the experiences, and the connections that we needed in order to lead a meaningful, collaborative project.”

As a result, in what ways will your instructional practice change?

“Due to the Science focus of the project and the many components that will go into it, our 10th grade team will be forced to collaborate in a way that we haven’t before. This project cannot happen in only one of our classrooms, but if we had focused on only our content during our Fellowship, I don’t know if we would have had the same kind of ownership that we do now. Therefore, this fellowship has helped changed our instructional practice by helping us connect to new content in a meaningful way.”

What is the greatest personal accomplishment of your fellowship?

Carly: “My greatest personal accomplishment developed in the planning stages of our fellowship. We started our proposal with a completely different idea that was English and Math based. However, the thoughtful, probing questions in the application forced us to REALLY think about what we want to collaborate on and what we would need in order to make that happen. The actual fellowship was putting those big ideas into action and realizing that we had made the right choice.”

Jill: “My greatest accomplishment was being able to see sustainability in a completely different light. It now seems like an attainable and important goal, whereas before, it felt like more of a buzzword that we should throw around. This fellowship opened my eyes to the intricate and measurable thought process that goes into sustainable design and sustainable practices in schools and cities. I believe now that I can play an important role in bringing about change in my school.”

How will your experiences positively impact student learning in new ways?

“Before our fellowship, we were doing projects that were interesting, but they always seemed to fall short of truly authentic. In our classes, projects too rarely included a service component or positively affected our community. This fellowship and this project will be the start of helping students to connect their learning to their community in a meaningful and authentic way.”

What are your plans for working collaboratively with colleagues?

“This project will require collaborative work in order for it to be successful. We plan to get the rest of the 10th grade team on board on our first day back by telling them about our trip, our project idea, and getting them to feel as excited as we feel. We are already organizing all of our photos and creating a presentation for the students, but we both feel like we can’t move forward at this point without the rest of our team, since the project will live in all of our classes.”

How do you envision celebrating of your students’ new learning?

“Our project centers around our new school building, and our students will be creating new green-design features to be incorporated into the building, so we imagine a celebration taking place once the building is finished. This may take a few years, but it could then include several grades who were a part of this long-term, collaborative project. Most importantly, this project, and our celebration, will help give any student who works on it more ownership of the new building and their community.”

Are there issues or challenges in your school, community or the greater world about which you and your students might try to make a difference?

“Part of the focus of our fellowship proposal for this project was to positively impact the environment that our students learn in. The best way to do that is to not only make them more accountable for their waste and their habits, but to give them a space to study that is green and healthy and productive. Lack of spaces like these is a huge problem in many of our schools today, and our students are going to be at the forefront of changing this in our state.

I don’t think anyone would have guessed that two high school Math and English teachers would be able to create a meaningful, collaborative project (about Science!). It was not easy, but the opportunity for this fellowship pushed us to think beyond our own classrooms and our own content to what we thought our students and our community really needed.”

This fellowship has taken us from an English- or Math-focused perspective to a student and community perspective, and now the possibilities seem endless!

The Fund for Teachers grant application is available October 1, and proposals are due January 31, 2019. Learn more at