Christopher Robert

Roxhill Elementary School, Seattle WA

Explore areas of cultural and artistic importance in urban and rural areas of Tunisia and in central Istanbul, Turkey to gain first-hand experience with the history and cultural norms of different Islamic nations and improve asset-focused instruction by forming a deeper understanding of how Islamic culture shapes the way students interact with the world.

Where I've Been

  • Djerba, Tunisia
  • El Jem, Tunisia
  • Kairouan, Tunisia
  • Ksar Ghilane, Tunisia
  • Sfax, Tunisia
  • Sousse, Tunisia
  • Tunis, Tunisia
  • Istanbul, Turkey

My Fellowship in Images

Five times daily, we heard the call to prayer coming from minarets of nearby mosques; this made the most indelible impression on me during our fellowship. Here, Mike and I are in Tunis hearing calls to prayer from several mosques.
I was unexpectedly filled with a sense of awe hearing the loud and joyful singing of the Tunisian National Anthem before a pop concert we attended. It was also the time in Tunisia where we saw the largest gathering of women.
Love seeing the smiles on our faces in Sousse as the prior evening brought the biggest challenge of the fellowship, but working together, we overcame that challenge!
A train delay led to striking up a conversation and friendship. Opportunities to converse with locals were invaluable.
We visited many mosques throughout Tunisia and in Istanbul during our fellowship. Here I am at Ayasofya Camii (Hagia Sophia Mosque) in Istanbul.
Thankful to my colleague and friend, Mike, for sharing this unforgettable fellowship with me. We learned, reflected, and sweated through it all. Shkran.

Igniting Your Personal and Professional Growth

Describe one or two, specific learning experiences from your fellowship. In words, show us this experience and explain why it was powerful.

Mike and I spent 3+ hours one evening eating, drinking, and reflecting on our fellowship. It was powerful to remember that we were unsuccessful on our first application attempt in 2022, but we persevered, rewrote, resubmitted, and were ultimately accepted as Fellows in 2023. We reflected on all that we had seen and learned at that midpoint of our fellowship. We pondered how our fellowship might affect our students upon our return. And we basked in appreciation of the gift of the fellowship.

What did you learn about yourself? What did you learn professionally?

I learned that I am still a great team player. Mike and I were excellent travel partners during this fellowship, and we appreciated the strengths that each of us brought to the partnership. Professionally, it was great to be thrust in the role of a learner again as a reminder of some of the challenges and roads to success our students are constantly experiencing in the school setting.

What were some unplanned or unexpected experiences or outcomes of your fellowship? Or, how did the fellowship you crafted differ from the actual learning experience?

I had planned to, hopefully, have some good learning during a homestay in Istanbul, but the host was very busy, so I never got the chance to spend much time with him and pick his brain. However, an unexpected train delay led to meeting and talking with Abdelhak, and a potential negative encounter with someone led us to bonding conversations with Aziz & Bayrem; both of these unplanned experiences gave us great insight into the lives, hopes, and fears of young people in Tunisia.

Impacting Your Classroom, School and Community

Outline specific plans you have to implement your fellowship and reach your student goals.

Goals - increases in "Belonging & Relationships" and "Identity & Culturally Responsive Teaching" on student climate surveys. We have created a hallway display with pictures/text from our fellowship; I believe being public about what we did and what we wanted to learn is going to naturally help our Muslim students/families feel seen and valued. I plan to have one of my first lessons for students be one where I share a bit about my fellowship (so students can see that teachers are learners, too).

What is one way you can leverage your fellowship to create one authentic learning experience for students? (e.g. hands-on learning, projects, community engagement)

In the brainstorming stage right now, but one way to engage families/students is to create a community event to celebrate Eid al-Fitr (April 9, 2024) at the end of the month of Ramadan. We will spend time during Ramadan talking about cultural celebrations involving gift giving for all of our students' cultures, teach about Eid al-Fitr as a gift-giving celebration for Muslims, and maybe have a Muslim families-led event to coincide with Eid al-Fitr. Eid Mubarak!

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

Colleagues have followed our fellowship Instagram account and/or seen our hallway display of pix; this has led to questions about our learning, and I've already taught someone something about Islam that I just learned. I imagine these conversations will grow exponentially...especially as many staff are now intrigued with FFT and possibly applying themselves. We plan to have an opportunity to share more at a staff meeting and perhaps a family gathering; we look forward to seeing where this leads.

Inspiring the Future

What change(s) did you make in your classroom or community this year because of your fellowship learning?

I bought more books about Muslims/Islam for the school's library. Mike and I made our learning public by creating a wall display of our fellowship and by doing a presentation for staff and a lesson for students in which we celebrated our Muslim students. During Ramadan, I offered the library as a space-to-go-during-lunch for students who were fasting. Mike and I videotaped students asking them to share their thoughts/knowledge about Ramadan and Eid al-Fitr for a community assembly video.

How did your change(s) impact students?

Firstly, students of other cultures asked, "When are you going to visit my country?!" Muslim students felt emboldened and proud to be "co-teachers" during my read alouds and presentation related to our fellowship (and students of other faiths and cultures felt encouraged to share aspects of their religion/culture). Because Muslim students were so enthusiastic about sharing, Mike and I felt confident asking asking them to participate in our Ramadan/Eid video, and most stepped up with enthusiasm.

In what ways was this opportunity transformative for your teaching?

This opportunity has affirmed that students place great value on being "seen." It made me reflect on how I can incorporate future personal trips with potential student learning. Thus, during a February trip to Mexico City, I thought about lessons/read alouds I could do during Hispanic Heritage Month later this year, and I was deliberate when taking pictures/videos of Tenochtitlan, at the Frida Kahlo Museum, and during a performance of the Ballet Folklórico, all which I'll use in September 2024.