By Edith Middleton
One of the endearing beauties about the field of education is how teaching can look and feel different at every school. Most schools are excellent at connecting faculty while some settings promote collaboration in theory but struggle with the conditions necessary for it to blossom. Options and settings that authentically connect and foster collaborative environments can make for happy educators. However, participating in collaborative opportunities can be challenging when one lives on a small island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Maui offers an incredible myriad of professional development, but it can be limiting in scope unless time is sacrificed from the classroom or during breaks to fly to another island for wider networking. More than ever, Covid-19 forced us to isolate ourselves and meet students, family members, strangers, etc. through screens. While the physical world shut down, a new world of global communication unlocked. As an introvert and glass-half-full optimist, I started to see this new era of virtual living as the perfect time to embrace and seek global educator networks.
When the pandemic began a year ago, I started questioning my worth as an educator. On average, for over 10 years now, I spend more time in my classroom than my home. I know teaching is the best fit for me, but the doubts linger — Am I enough? Have I done enough? Could I transfer to a different school or district if I need/want and add value? Philosophy statements from my graduate programs did not bring much comfort. I was not happy where I was even though I saw much success with students. Overall, the lack of collaboration and disconnect from colleagues strained my fondness for the school community. We were all uncomfortable and out of our elements when we were ordered to stay home. As my email inbox flooded with subscriptions, invitations, and virtual collaborative opportunities, I began to sift and star emails that highlighted possible professional learning and connection.
This starring of emails to read at a later time is one of my regular practices, and amongst my growing collection was an old one I referenced wishfully because it contained an application for the Fulbright scholarship. My high school teacher was a scholar, and I had hoped to one day follow in his footsteps. As the world was halting around me, I began to fear perhaps I waited too long. Raising my daughters, I planned to wait until their graduation before I resumed living my own life. Now, the uncertainty of things pushed my shelved plans forward and one afternoon I opened the saved email and started my Fulbright application.
I’m honored to be a Fulbright Teachers for Global Classrooms scholar. I could spend pages and pages talking about what an amazing experience it is to collaborate with educators striving to learn, sharing and celebrating each other and our students. The energy from professional learning such as this is transformative and spills over to every aspect of life. My youngest daughter also began researching opportunities and was selected to collaborate in a cohort of 50 international students. Professionally, I am finding ways to support teachers at my school, rewrite curriculum for global competencies, and dive deeper into flipped classroom models to suit student needs. I collaborate on policies and educational issues locally and statewide, work with students to plan for travel possibilities when these options open again, and continue to seek and share teacher and student opportunities.
It is so easy to get caught up in the everyday bustle of life, too exhausted to think past the now or putting it off for another year. However, this is the time to explore because it is now easier than ever before to collaborate with fellow content educators or another field of curiosity. Virtually speaking, living on a small island in the Pacific Ocean is no longer a challenge because we can experience the collaborative adventure without having to physically travel! Virtual fellowships and professional growth opportunities can come to you in your own living room. It is application and registration season. Commit to the simple act of starting that online form and discover where it will take you.
“In a profession that can feel isolating, teacher fellowships give educators an opportunity to connect and reflect.” Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
“Fellowships are a great way for teachers and educators to expand their professional portfolios and diversify their careers.” ProFellow
“Money is available to help fund teachers’ professional trips.” Edutopia
Edith Middleton teaches English and chairs the English department at King Kekaulike High School. She is a proud Hawaiʻi State Teacher Fellow, Fulbright Teachers for Global Classrooms scholar, and a Pulitzer Center Teacher Fellow.