Teachers love to learn, and opportunities for faculty professional development are widely available. For schools, an investment in faculty development pays great dividends because teachers bring their experiences into the classroom on a daily basis. Conferences, online courses, and ongoing training will all deepen a teacher's practice. These opportunities will also affect students by modeling lifelong learning, curiosity, and minds open to challenge. In addition to these options, my school has implemented a very successful program that awards a faculty travel grant each year. Giving a teacher grant money specifically for designated for travel is an excellent way to enhance a teacher's professional development, and to broaden student learning in the classroom.
In the summer of 2015, I travelled to Kenya and Tanzania, Africa, where I had the opportunity to visit schools, participate in professional development with Kenyan teachers, and to model teaching arts integration lessons in Wamunyu, Kenya with the Kenya Connect organization. The trip was made possible by a generous bequest to my school from a former teacher. This trip to Kenya and Tanzania was one of the most profound experiences of my life. The grant that allowed me to travel was given to Montgomery School on behalf of Jane Whittlesey-Bratton, a former kindergarten teacher who had travelled to England when she was teaching at the school in the 1970’s. That experience made a deep impact on her life and in her teaching. When she passed away, her daughters decided to create this permanent grant in her honor to encourage other teachers to travel.
The grant has been awarded to a teacher at my school each year since it was established, and it has allowed our faculty to grow both personally and professionally. So far, in addition to my travels, teachers at my school have studied art in Tuscany, library science at Oxford, pottery techniques in Japan, STEM in the UK, mythology in Greece, and Latin culture in Cuba. The awards have been given to a mix of lower and middle school teachers, including art teachers, science teachers, and a librarian. The variety of recipients alone has enriched the lives of our students.
A Middle School science teacher who traveled to the UK to study STEM wrote about the experience, “The trip was definitely worth it for the wealth and breadth of STEM topics. Visiting with other teachers in the subject that you love is inspiring. It is so great to sit and share ideas and experiences with like minded colleagues.”
A Lower School art teacher shared that her trip to Japan was invigorating to her teaching. “I returned from this trip with my suitcase bursting with pottery and my perspective forever shifted. I will now be teaching from first-hand knowledge. This opportunity put the art I’ve seen for decades into an accurate context and inspired me to expand and develop new art lessons for my students.”
As a result of my own trip to Africa, my sixth grade students have become pen pals with students from one of the schools I visited through a letter-writing program facilitated by Kenya Connect. We also read literature from Africa that is informed by my own experiences. After sharing my own experience, and implementing the pen pal program, other teachers in my school have encouraged their students to read and
fundraise. This year, the second grade students raised money to support a library in Kenya.
I am grateful for this opportunity at my school. However, there are many opportunities for teachers to apply for travel grants. If you are a teacher, you may want to look into one of these programs. If you have the means to create a grant for teachers, this is a powerful way to impact an individual, and through that individual recipient an entire school community. As more faculty from my school travel, our students benefit further, all thanks to a special grant created by a former kindergarten teacher and her family.