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  • Writer's pictureChristina Mesk

In-Flight Reflection: Colombia Bound!!!

Updated: Aug 9, 2022

After a two year pause on the fieldwork portion of the Fulbright Teachers for Global Classrooms Fellowship, I am finally on my way to #Colombia!

This fellowship certainly did not go exactly as any of us expected when we began our course work in 2019. Meeting my cohort members today in Atlanta and getting onboard our flight to Bogota was surreal. The time and space between the end of the 2021-2022 school year

and today was filled with planning and preparing for this trip - packing, preparing possible lesson plans, purchasing gifts for the students I meet, paperwork, finding someone to water my plants…

However, all that preparation did not stop me from marveling this morning that the universe was allowing this trip to finally happen and that I was going to be part of it. It truly feels unreal that Fulbright read my application and decided that I should be part of the Fulbright Teachers For Global Classrooms Fellowship. As we waited for our flight to Bogota, one of my cohort members commented that she filled out her application in 2018. The act of filling out that application seems so distant.

Unlike my colleague, I did not fill out my application in 2018. I filled out my application in 2019, about two weeks before it was due. A staff member at Reach The World, an amazing nonprofit that works with my students, had suggested I apply for it and sent me the link. When I read the fellowship description, I was sure I would not be chosen. As most first generation college students, I did not do any traveling while in my undergraduate and graduate programs. I was hyper-focused on earning my degree and learning abroad seemed expensive and unnecessary. Earning a degree and beginning my professional career were all that mattered. As a result, I don’t have a significant amount of travel experience. I also really struggle with foreign language acquisition. I participated in Spanish classes from the time I was 13 until I was 22 with very little success. I was convinced that I would not make a good candidate for this fellowship because of my limited travel experience and limited language abilities. I handed in the application thinking that I most likely wouldn’t be chosen and that would be acceptable. There were probably much more deserving teachers who were truly eligible for this opportunity.

I was looking at myself with a deficit-based mindset instead of a strength-based mindset.

It enrages me when stakeholders within my school community view my students with a deficit-based mindset. If a stakeholder had said my own thoughts to me about my students, I would have stood up for my students and reminded that stakeholder that all students should be viewed for their talents, interests and abilities instead of their weaknesses and disabilities. No progress comes from dwelling on what a student can’t do or the opportunities they have never been given.

We are about one hour into our flight to Bogota and I have to wonder why I did not stand up to MYSELF for MYSELF as I handed in my application.

Why didn’t I focus on the strengths that my unique experience as a special education teacher with a neurological condition would bring to Fulbright Teachers for Global Classrooms? Why didn’t I focus on the wide range of virtual exchanges I had already participated in with my students? Why didn’t I focus on my ability to coach, mentor and lead professional learning communities within my school district? Why didn’t I marvel at the priority SEL, empathy, growth mindset, strength-based education, equity and leadership always have when I build community within my classroom. I put all this on my application. Why is it so much easier for me to promote a strength-based approach for my students than it is for myself? Why is easier instead to marvel that this field experience is finally happening and that I am so lucky to be part of it?

It’s not luck. It’s really hard work that brought me to this experience and it’s really time that I said that aloud.

I am someone who strives to be humble and empathetic, but acknowledging that hard work is not going to make me less humble or empathetic. I think this was an important revelation for me to have on this flight. Particularly because of the research question, I am seeking to answer during this field experience:

How do educators, education leadership and education policy in the US and Colombia ensure equity and accessibility so that all students develop agency and independence?

A) How do varying academic environments define success and how

is this messaged?

B) How much agency do educators, students, families and school

leadership have to impact change in their school community?

If I am to seek the answer to these questions within two different school systems, I have to start with myself. How am I defining success for myself and how am I messaging that to me?

On Friday, one of my school administrators texted me after looking at my trip itinerary, “This is going to be such a rich learning opportunity! I honestly believe this is going to start the next chapter of your life!” She may not be far off the mark considering my first revelation happened midair. I am so excited and grateful that you all get to take this journey with me. I look forward to sharing what I learn about #Colombia, my research question and…myself.

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1 Comment

Jul 19, 2022

You are absolutely wonderful. I can't wait to read more. We are always hardest on ourselves because we defend others. It's easier to see the potential in someone else. You are going to teach us so much. Can't wait be careful.

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