The 2018–20 Heinemann Fellows
Standing: Brian J. Melton, Janelle W. Henderson, Nicole Stellon O'Donnell, Marian Dingle, Nina Sudnick, Minjung Pai.
Seated: Irene Castillón, Julie Kwon Jee, Julia E. Torres, David Rockower, Islah Tauheed.
Since 2014 Heinemann has invited educators from across the country to apply to the Heinemann fellows. Through action research, the Heinemann fellows initiative brings together a group of educators with curiosity about teaching and learning.
Our third cohort of fellows, which began in 2018 will conclude their journey in 2020 so we're starting to look ahead as we prepare to invite a new round of applications for our fourth cohort. Applications for the 2020-2022 cohort are due on February 2, 2020.
We're joined today by fellows faculty and Heinemann authors, Ellin Keene and Sonja Cherry-Paul. We started our conversation by asking Sonja, "Why do we do the Heinemann fellowship? What exactly does this two year commitment mean?"
Below is a full transcript of this episode.
Sonja: One of the important reasons why the Heinemann fellows is important work is because it's an opportunity to amplify the voices of educators. I think that's probably the place from where we should begin when we're thinking about the why in terms of this work, right?
Ellin: Yeah, absolutely. And we're very, very excited to be bringing on our fourth cohort. It's sort of unbelievable that this much time has passed and that the work has really grown a lot. And I think when you talk about amplifying educators' voices, that's exactly what we've seen happen, and so it's very, very gratifying.
I think it's also about bringing together people who are longing to collaborate with other educators and have burning questions, problems of practice that they're dealing with in their classrooms, in schools every day and who are just longing to have a collaborative relationship with like others who are also struggling with problems of practice and to then pose these questions and have the space to explore them.
Sonja: And what's interesting is that teachers... I don't know if the world recognizes this, but there can be this feeling of isolationism in the field of teaching, and so coming together with other educators is a way to broaden this circle of professional colleagues and being able to tap into the wisdom of one another and to simply feel like you're not alone in this practice. It's not just you behind your door and your students that you have this-
Sonja: ... collegial community to draw upon. and I think that's really exciting that we've created that.
Ellin: It is. Yeah, it's been fun to watch and each cohort has a different set of characteristics and communities that they create that are entirely their own, which is wonderful. I think the other piece that I'd want to emphasize is that we've talked so much recently in the last few years about inquiry for children and that we want curriculum to spring from children's questions. But this is really about educators questions and why wouldn't we undertake the same kind of inquiry that we know is so valuable for children? So it's an inquiry project in a very real way.
Brett: It's a two year commitment. What is the expectation? What happens in those two years?
Ellin: Everyone agrees to come in and discuss and collaborate around a problem of practice that they have. These are people who are not perfect teachers. There is no such thing. There's no there there. We never become perfect teachers. And there are people who come into acknowledge that there are things that they want to work out and figure out and really dig deeply into. So they develop an action research plan and an implementation plan. They gathered data over that period of time and present their data.
Sonja: Yeah. I think what you see is teachers grappling around a problem of practice, something that they're carrying with them outside of the classroom after 3:00 PM, they're taking this problem home with them, it's weighing on their hearts and in their minds. This is an opportunity to wrestle with that problem, to think about the ways in which they want to re-examine their practice, what practices might need to be deconstructed and reconstructed, and the effort to reach children, to keep children at the center.
And so I think teacher research is so important and it doesn't get valued enough.
Ellin: That's right.
Sonja: The professional work that teachers do. This is an opportunity to really study and to demonstrate the powerful learning that happens when teachers put a spotlight on their own practice and on their own classrooms.
Ellin: Yeah. There are some things that, that we ask people to think about and that is this is not your year perhaps to take on a whole lot of other commitments, this is an intense and focused effort. It's incredibly gratifying, I think, for all of us who are involved, but it requires a lot of attention and focus and it doesn't feel like work because we're gathering data on kids and that's what we love to do anyway.
But I also think it's important to know that people really make it a priority and I really admire and appreciate that. Yeah.
Sonja: Yeah. I think the educators who are fellows are revisionists so they understand that this is a time for you to be trying, thinking, trying again, seeing your work again, seeing the question again and just-
Ellin: Making a lot of mistakes. Yeah.
Sonja: ... wrestling with it. Making a lot of mistakes, going back. So living that revisionist life is something that I think is an important characteristic in the Heinemann fellow.
Ellin: I agree. And we get to do it together. Yes.
Sonja: So when something falls apart, it's just there's this community around you that says, "You know what? It fell apart for me too. Let's revise." It's a culture of revision that we're trying to create, I think.
Brett: I think for some people hearing the term action research can sound daunting. You've both done this work yourselves, you do it all the time. How can you extend an invitation to look past the daunting nature of that phrase?
Sonja: Yeah, I think the practice of being a teacher is action research. It is-
Ellin: Living it.
Sonja: You're living the questions, you are living with the problems, you are being a problem solver on the fly, you are wrestling with a problem sometimes over time before you find a solution or something that gets you closer to a solution.
So I think one way to think about it is not that this is some sort of a intimidating work. It's the work that teachers are doing every day and this becomes an opportunity to show the world the scholarly work of teachers and to be acknowledged for that.
Ellin: And I think the only difference between just the isolation, I guess, of exploring questions that we have on our own and being a Heinemann fellow is the sort of commitment to the group, the commitment to be there for each other, to share the research. It's to codify, it's to... We ask for people to do some writing, some podcasts and to shape it a little bit more formally perhaps then just sort of every day living as a revisionist thinker. And that's done with us. We do it together, we make it a group undertaking, so I think that takes a little of the... I hope that takes a little bit of the intimidation factor. No one has yet had to submit for a peer review journal. That's not what we're after. We're after for outcomes that help other teachers.
Sonja: And part of the practice of being a teacher is to notice patterns, to be thinking about trends, seeing some themes that are in common across classes, across students, and then to sort of allow that to raise questions for you. and then more questions emerge. And I think this is the work of teachers every day, so maybe it seems a little bit more formal by calling it action research, but it really is grounded in what's happening everyday when we put our key in that classroom door and walk in.
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