Relive the learning from the 2019 EL Education National Conference.
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Fund for Teachers Journey: Changemakers, Then and Now

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    Sarah Norris

Christina Caceres and Meaghan McKinnon teach at Harvey Elementary School in Kenosha, WI. 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. 

What did you set out to do?

Visit civil and human rights museums and meet with grassroots organizers in Atlanta and Washington DC to explore historical changemakers and connect this learning with the federal government’s structure to identify how individuals can make a difference in order to cultivate a change mindset among students.

How have your knowledge, skills and capabilities grown?

As a result of this fellowship, we have strengthened our background knowledge on both the Civil Rights Movement and human rights challenges. Each day of our fellowship brought us to the stories of diverse peoples looking to create a change in their situations. While we have always shared a text-based understanding of these experiences, hearing first-hand accounts of struggles, perseverance, and successes have fostered a stronger sense of empathy that we can now share with our students.

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

Instructional practices will change from teaching about heroes to becoming part of their stories. Being able to experience nearly first-hand the injustices people faced, we walked away empowered to create our own legacies. While this fellowship has afforded us the opportunity to bring more engaging material resources into our classrooms, we also left inspired to find more people who can share their stories. The value of a personal connection has never been as clear as it is now.

Instructional practices will change from teaching about heroes to becoming part of their stories.

What is the greatest personal accomplishment of your fellowship?

Our greatest personal accomplishment of this fellowship was stepping out of our comfort zone and immersing ourselves in the cities we visited. Despite not having left the country, we entered environments that were new to us and embraced our own growth mindset as we toured the cities by foot and by public transportation. We tapped into our trait of discovery instead of playing it safe by taking familiar forms of transportation.

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

Students’ viewpoints will shift from being passive observers to active participants in creating change. They will be able to hear first-hand accounts of the process of change from unsung heroes, hopefully creating enthusiasm for making a difference. We hope that this increased empathy will make our students more conscientious of the injustices happening around them, and we hope they take steps towards creating change and developing a lasting legacy for themselves.

Fft Caceres

Listening to first-hand accounts of Freedom Riders as they shared their stories.

What are your plans for working collaboratively with colleagues?

We plan to work collaboratively with our colleagues by inviting them into our classrooms and modeling how to work with students on incorporating relevant service-learning with existing curriculum. Our hopes are that educators in our school will become more comfortable connecting existing case studies to relevant community involvement. This will be evident by the number of case study/expedition products that incorporate an authentic community-based service-learning component.

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

Our students will think deeply to become change makers who solve challenges present in their community, nation, and world we live in. Students will both showcase a historical understanding of their rights, as well as present their own issues, resolutions, and connections to community members during our Celebration of Learning. Our dream is to foster our students’ character to become effective learners, ethical people, and contributors to a better world.

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?

Unfortunately, there are still challenges in our community that need to be addressed. Our hope is to cast light on those issues by introducing experts to our students, through stories we bring back from this fellowship and through community members already making a difference. We hope to empower students to have agency and be active community members as they move beyond elementary school.

This fellowship helped us embrace multiple perspectives. It reminded us to look at things from all angles, acknowledging that each challenge, issue, or topic has a personal story that needs to be shared. We often take for granted the need to make personal connections to utilize learning beyond the classroom. As we left each museum empowered because of the experiences we shared, we realized our students need similar experiences to foster empathy and leave them inspired to become agents of change.

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