I find tremendous meaning in traveling. When teachers are able to explore the world during the summer they create shared experiences with students, a “first-person” account of the curriculum, and a strengthening of school professional learning communities.
I appreciate opportunities that take me out of my comfort zone. College studies abroad to Spain, science research camps, and living in a hostel broadens my perspective. So, when I came across an April 1927 article, “The Advantages of Foreign Travel and Study to the Modern Language Teacher,” ninety years later I identified with its audience. Although I’m not a modern language teacher, I’m an educator who believes that today’s travel can become tomorrow’s lesson.
Reason #1: Creating shared experiences with my students:
In New York City we frequently share our space: on the buses or trains, living quarters, classrooms, schools, as well as non-tangible resources such as our talents. As I wrote in an earlier post, making connections with students is imperative to building school community. If I want to effectively demonstrate an understanding of my kids’ learning styles and attitudes toward learning, as well as their abilities, I can’t wait until parent-teacher conferences, when students’ surveys are distributed, or displeased parents show up. When my students from Ghana or Yemen see me in attire that is not American, they speak up, engage me in conversation about their lives prior to moving to America, or their experiences when they travel to their respective lands. Aroa told me, “Ms. Thomas, I like when you wear clothing from other places.” Francois mentions that I should have worn the matching skirt to my Krio top. My kids notice.
Reason#2: Becoming a “Living Relic” — First-person accounts of the curriculum:
I imagined teaching The Diary of Anne Frank if I travel to Amsterdam this summer. What if my Spring Break vacation never ceased and I continued to convert temperatures from Celsius into Fahrenheit or miles into kilometers? According to USA Today’s article, “Educational Benefits of Travel,” traveling abroad can provide a way for teachers to engage directly with a culture. Such experiences lead people to better connect with others. This empowers me to really bring the curriculum to life for my kids. First person accounts help to provide a perspective.
Reason #3:Strengthening my school’s Professional Learning Community (PLC):
According to Education World’s article “ Best Practices for Professional Learning Communities,”
The focus of PLCs is ongoing “job-embedded learning,” rather than one-shot professional development sessions facilitated by outsiders, who have little accountability regarding whether staff learning is successfully applied. In addition, PLCs emphasize teacher leadership, along with their active involvement and deep commitment to school improvement efforts. PLCs therefore benefit teachers just as much as they do students.
I have sought out opportunities during my PLC’s to share my reasons about altering a lesson to include my travel experience abroad. For example, the novel A Long Walk to Water, which I taught to my seventh-graders, describes Nya’s reliance on water in Sudan as she walks eight hours a day to and from a pond. I showed the class pictures of my time prepping for trainings in Sierra Leone, West Africa. I not only required my kids to show that they could explain the most important events of the story, but also added in those photographs to encourage more thoughtful responses. Some pictures showed a water well and others were water purification tablets I used to clean water. My kids made tangible connections with Nya’s experience through my display of photographs.
I leave each educator with a charge: travel not just for relaxation, but to promote teacher sustainability. Our days are long and our summers are valuable. We are often placed in shared spaces to collaborate with our colleagues. Thus, take the time to travel to unknown places in order to return to school and forge genuine connections with your students. Become a “living relic” and push yourself to look beyond the suggested extension activities from your school’s curriculum. Become confident in knowing that your travels abroad are the “extension activities” you possess. Allow your experiences to drive the teachable moments embedded in those travels. And then, of course, continue to have a profound affect on the school as a whole. Attempt to not engage in conversations about lesson changes with your colleagues in isolation. Rather, find time during Professional Learning Communities to explain how lessons were modified to meet students’ needs as a result of insight gained through your travels. Know that I and other educators are cheering for you!