Michelle Griswold

Shelby Elementary School, Shelby AL

Join a teacher expedition of the Galapagos Islands and Quito, Ecuador, bringing artifacts and knowledge back to three Title I schools and enhancing the "Leaving Our Legacy" unit that challenges students to solve real-world problems.

Where I've Been

  • Floreana Island, Ecuador
  • Isabela Island, Ecuador
  • Las Grietas, Ecuador
  • Puerta Ayora , Ecuador
  • Quito, Ecuador
  • Santa Cruz Island, Ecuador

My Fellowship in Images

Successfully balancing an egg on a nail at the equator
Outside the Church and Monastery of San Francisco in Quito where construction began in 1534
Snorkeling in the brackish of water of Las Grietas, a crevice on Santa Cruz Island
On Floreana Island I used the post barrel system established by whalers in the 1700s
Getting ready to kayak and snorkel off the coast of Isabela Island
Hanging out with a tortoise in the Highlands of Floreana

Igniting Personal and Professional Growth

What changed as a result of your fellowship? Why was it vital for you to pursue this particular opportunity/experience? What learning gaps (yours and/or your students’) were/will be filled as a result of your fellowship?

After twenty years in the classroom, teaching had become monotonous and more of a chore than a joy. This fellowship reenergized my spirit and helped me rekindle the passion for the profession I've spent a lifetime pursuing. Visiting the Galapagos Islands was a dream come true and I am grateful for the opportunity to learn first-hand about ecosystems, landforms, and wildlife. This experience has left me more inquisitive about the natural world and how I can protect its beauty and diversity.

How do you see your teaching evolving after your fellowship? Your students’ learning?

It has been a delight to travel and learn about a place I've read about and dreamed of visiting. What an honor it is to stand before students and colleagues to share our journey through personal videos and photographs! The lessons I'm teaching about conservation and culture are powerful because I'm using a personal narrative. Student interest is through the roof because they want to understand my personal connection to the curriculum. I will continue to seek out experiences to enhance learning.

What were some unplanned or unexpected experiences or outcomes of your fellowship?

Reflecting on my fellowship, the most unexpected part of the journey was how truly inspirational the Ecuadorian people were. The locals took such care to prepare delicious meals and make us feel welcome.They worked diligently to make sure our trip was memorable.I was also impressed by the measures taken to protect the environment. Saving the planet seems far-fetched in my everyday life, but the Ecuadorian people have inspired me to examine my own footprint on the world and live more responsibly.

Impacting Your Classroom, School and Community

How will your students learn differently because of your new knowledge or skills?

My students will learn differently because of my excitement and focus outside our classroom walls. Students will combine my experience in the Galapagos with their own experience at the Gulf of Mexico to gain an understanding of our dynamic world and how humans impact it. The focus in my classroom will be on action. The students will work to decide how we can best positively impact our local community, state, nation, and world. We'll leave a legacy that makes Shelby a better place to live.

What specific events, projects or deliverables will your students experience related to your fellowship?

I want my students to find inspiration in the natural world, so I'm leading a 3-day field trip to Gulf Shores, Alabama, in October. Students will work alongside marine biologists to collect and analyze specimens in Little Lagoon, Mobile Bay, and the Gulf of Mexico. Students will see first-hand how human behavior impacts the environment along the coast. After the trip, students will create public service announcements to bring awareness to conservation efforts throughout our state.

How, specifically, will your fellowship extend beyond your classroom? (e.g. families, school-at-large, afterschool groups, surrounding community, colleagues, etc.)

We'll be hosting a school-wide celebration known as Galapagos Day. This will be an all-day event that will focus on Ecuadorian culture, wildlife, conservation, and ecosystems. We will use Galapagos Day as the catalyst for local conservation efforts we plan to spearhead. Those efforts will include a recycling program and a campus clean-up rotation plan that will focus on sustainability. The overall goal will be teaching students that what they do matters and their actions determine their legacy.

Inspiring the Future

Why was this opportunity transformative for your teaching on a macro-level?

The impact this trip will have is just beginning. I like to think of the trip as a stone thrown into a lake. The more I teach and share my experience, the more ripples I create. This experience will transform the culture of our school community first as we leave our legacies on the environment by recycling, cleaning up, and becoming more aware of our impact. But as these students grow and move on they will take that knowledge with them and carry on the work of taking care of our world.

Why do students benefit from this type of teacher learning?

Academic success is one benefit of teacher fellowships that include travel.Student engagement is increased significantly when teachers are excited about what they are teaching.Increased student engagement equals increased student learning! Another benefit is showing students that they are never too old to explore the planet and be adventurous.The majority of my students live in poverty and travel infrequently, so it's important to show them that international travel is accessible and worthwhile.

How would you describe to a friend or grant funder the fundamental ways in which your fellowship changed your personal and/or professional perspective?

No education is more impactful than experience and what an experience it was! I snorkeled with sharks, sea turtles, and marine iguanas. I hiked up an active volcano. I stood still while a 120 year old tortoise walked right past me. I watched the sunset on an island with only 150 inhabitants.I befriended people from Ecuador, Canada, the Netherlands, Mexico, and the UK. While the trip didn't last forever, the impact it made on me will.