Connections: Linking Talented Educators
Connections: Linking Talented Educators

January 1, 2009

A World of Possibilites

A World of Possibilites

Too often "professional development" conjures up images of excruciating in-service days, irrelevant administrative agendas, and time irrevocably lost to the void commonly known as "I would so much rather have been with my students."

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My professional development experience in the summer of 2006, however, was an unforgettable experience that included rain forests and lava tubes, crocodiles and the Great Barrier Reef, and tea with an ambassador.

From June 14 through July 15, 2006, I was one of a handful of educators selected to travel to Australia for a Fulbright-Hays Bilateral Seminar. It was there that I discovered a world of professional development opportunities I never knew existed.

Senator J. William Fulbright established the Fulbright Commission in 1946 to enhance cross-cultural understanding through international study. Approximately 250,000 participants from 140 countries—including many Milken Educators—have participated in the Fulbright Scholar program, the Fulbright Teacher Exchange, and the Fulbright-Hays Bilateral Seminars.

Applications for the seminars are posted in September and due in October. The U.S. Department of Education oversees the selection process and candidates are notified in April. Travel takes place for four to six weeks beginning in June or July. At the close of the seminar, teachers submit a curriculum project to be posted online and taught in classrooms in both the United States and the host country.

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Clockwise from top left: Rock art at Kakadu National Park; Ayer's Rock in Uluru; Sydney Opera House

My adventure began with a three-day orientation in Hilo, Hawaii. My fellow participants and I explored rain forests and lava tubes while learning how Hawaii's environment was formed. We also examined human impact on the land, culture and identity of the state. The chance to gradually adjust to changing time zones also served to acquaint us with one another and our hosts, the Australian-American Fulbright Commission.

After our three days in Hawaii, we flew to our main destination: Sydney, Australia. As we got off the plane it began to occur to us that this was going to be a trip like no other. Sixteen teachers from 12 states comprised the group, studying "Australia: An Ancient, Delicate and Unique Environment." The month that we spent together changed our perspectives and our lives.

quoteOur itinerary included ten study sites. We saw urban areas such as Canberra, Darwin, Melbourne and Sydney. We visited aboriginal sites and national parks such as Uluru and Kakadu. And we explored the tropics in the coastal city of Cairns. Our focus throughout was the Australian environment and issues of sustainability. It was inherently experiential education. Everything we saw, discussed, examined and studied was not only very well-planned but also tailored to the needs of our individual curricular projects.

One of the two most striking aspects of the program was the high quality and relevance of our studies. We did not just discuss the merits and necessity of environmental education—we toured environmental education centers while they were in session and talked with both staff and students about their curriculum and activities. And when studying the desert and the Australian Outback, we traveled to Uluru and spent three days exploring the "red center" of Australia, understanding its meaning and sanctity to the aboriginal people who live there.

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Ayer's Rock in Uluru


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And then there were the animals. It's one thing to see photos of the teeming marine life throughout the Great Barrier Reef, but it's something else to be able to snorkel on the reef and see the magnificent fish and coral firsthand. And watching saltwater crocodiles on Animal Planet just can't compare to seeing them over the side of your tour boat on the Yellow River in Kakadu National Park.

Also compelling was the professional respect that greeted us everywhere we went. We felt like dignitaries when we visited the American Embassy in Canberra and had tea with the U.S. Ambassador. Several times we met with members of the Fulbright Association, members of Parliament, local public officials and environmental leaders. At every turn we were honored as teachers. It was very much the same spirit that permeates the atmosphere at the annual Milken Family Foundation National Education Conference, where everyone makes you realize that that the work we do is important and vital to our future. Opportunities to remind ourselves of this are priceless no matter where they occur, and the international camaraderie enriched the entire experience.

I can honestly say my summer in Australia was life-changing. Through the program I have made connections and friends that I will never forget. I came home more committed to the cause of environmentalism and truly understand what it means to have a global perspective. The work we did was meaningful and rewarding, and I know our curriculum projects will enrich our students on a local level, broaden their knowledge and foster an appreciation of Australia's place in the world.

It is crucial to our craft that we seek out opportunities to rejuvenate ourselves. As educators, we owe it to our students to bring the widest variety of experience and perspective possible. There is literally a world of possibilities for educational exploration out there. What better conduit than the classroom teacher to bring it home to our kids?

For more information, contact Amy Woods at woods922@hotmail.com.

 

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