Susan Gleason

Wells Road Intermediate School, Granby CT

Attend the English Literacy Conference in Melbourne, Australia, then embark on a literacy tour across the country to experience indigenous culture and folklore, to evolve students' writing skills and increase their cultural literacy.

Where I've Been

  • Cairns, Australia
  • Melbourne, Australia
  • Sydney, Australia

My Fellowship in Images

We are jumping off the boat into the Coral Sea to snorkel in the Great Barrier Reef. I’ve never had such a thrill! This was the opportunity of a lifetime. During our marine biologist guided tour we saw huge fluorescent colored clams and so much more!
We were so lucky to see a play in the iconic Sydney Opera House. What a joy to be able to enjoy one of Ronald Dahl's classics.
Once again we pushed past our comfort zone and took a helicopter tour over the Great Barrier Reef to see just where we were snorkeling the day before.
I’m not sure what was more exhilarating, the helicopter or the sky rail above the Kuranda Rainforest. The views over the canopy and way out into the ocean gave such perspective as to how they meet. The waterfalls were incredible.
We stayed for three nights in a TREEHOUSE in the middle of Kamerunga Rainforest. Let’s just say we shared the space with friends from nature.
After the conference in Melbourne we spent our evenings comparing the street art to the beautiful Aboriginal art in the museums. Melbourne is a city filled with culture.

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?

My fellowship changed me in ways that I never expected. My overall passion for teaching had subsided after ten years. I knew I needed an experience like this to bring some excitement back to the classroom, but I never thought I would be able to interject parts of this trip into so many areas of my teaching day. I never anticipated my recharged battery to illuminate the classroom in the many ways that it already has. This fellowship is bringing a very energized teacher into the classroom.

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

My teaching will become more of a partnership in student learning rather than a teacher run show. At the conference we learned about a success criterion where the students set goals. I will apply the continuum of goal setting where students will move independently from goal to goal. This is very different to setting one goal and expecting students to either master it or move on. This new partnership will also allow for personal investment in student learning and personalize student success.

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

The unexpected outcome began with pushing myself past my comfort zone. Reluctant writers/readers are afraid to take risks. I took so many personal risks and became exhilarated after meeting with success. I also learned about the potential threats to the Great Barrier Reef from marine biologists, met so many characters and heard so many personal stories. I heard Aboriginal Folktales and saw beautiful art. Most of all, I never expected to make so many connections with people along the journey.

Impacting Your Classroom, School and Community

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

My students will learn to push themselves beyond their comfort zone. I will provide a safe environment where students will choose to take risks, by modeling my vulnerability and taking risks with them. Students will set mini goals and meet with success, which will support future risk taking. I will administer far fewer prescribed lessons and allow for students to follow a more creative path with writing. I will also utilize the new resources that I gained access to at the literacy conference.

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

Our school has 6-week Renzulli Cluster where teachers create a class in something the teacher is interested in. By teaching what you love, excitement is contagious. Students then choose the class or section they want to participate in, which fosters student engagement. I will offer Aboriginal Art, Folktale Story Writing, Adventure Club, Fill my Passport, Maps and Research, Bucket List, Spelling Using Base Words, Cultural Literacy Around the World, and as many other ideas grow from this trip.

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

My teammate and I plan to extend our fellowship beyond the classroom by presenting our experience to the entire staff at a faculty meeting. We plan to do this after our upcoming Ambassador meeting, as new representatives of Fund For Teachers. We will also host a travel night, to share family travel experiences by constructing a passport style presentation. This opportunity will be opened to families whether they have traveled or not. Families can use this venue to plan their dream trip.

Inspiring the Future

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

Not only was I able to gather a vast amount of teaching literacy strategies, that I will incorporate into the classroom, but this trip ignited a spark in me to continue to grow as a learner, face obstacles, push past my comfort zone and stop to listen to the stories my students have to tell. By meeting so many people, from so many different backgrounds, I gained a cultural literacy that I am excited to bring into the class. Folktales will come to life as we study the lives of the story teller.

Why do students benefit from this type of teacher learning?

My students are already buzzing with research about Australia. They are calling each other “Mate” and this shows me that my excitement is contagious. We were directed to create a quiet corner and mine includes a serine spot donned with 8x10 photos of Australia.I am now willing to show vulnerability, take risks, and work by their side instead of teaching at them. The students will surely shine as I develop an atmosphere of a safe place to learn and grow. They will benefit from my enthusiasm.

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

Fund for Teachers not only gave me the opportunity to gain international professional development along side teachers from many different countries at the ALEA Literacy Empowering Voices conference, but it changed my perspective on a personal and a professional level. I feel as though I’ve come alive. I am embracing the idea of leaving my comfort zone. I am now excited to learn and grow with students. My own children have seen an enormous change in my overall excitement to travel and take risks.