Academic instructional coach Ashleigh Glickley wrote this post.
How can the attitudes of an Explorer Mindset lead to teacher leadership within a school? As my colleagues and I returned last fall and set out to cultivate an Explorer Mindset among students, I was determined to apply the Explorer Mindset to our work as educators too.
Explorers are curious, responsible, and empowered, and these were the exact traits our teachers needed as we walked into a new era of teaching—the first full year of in-person instruction since the pandemic began. So, I invited teachers at our K-5 Spanish immersion school in Louisville, Kentucky, to participate in a once-a-month after-school meeting to dig into this idea. The response was exciting, with 14 of our 30 teachers attending. These gatherings were the start of something special: a professional learning community centered on fostering the Explorer Mindset within ourselves.
Each attitude guided our meetings or grew organically as a result of our time together.
To be curious, we must feel safe sharing what we don’t know and what we wonder. Research tells us that cultivating community within our classrooms leads to more student risk-taking and, in turn, more creativity and collaboration among students. We strive to develop culturally responsive classrooms that allow us to see our students for who they are and incorporate their diverse backgrounds and ideas into our daily practice. However, we often undervalue similar experiences focused on community-building among teachers.
Our explorer group worked together without the limitations of a packed agenda and shared the good and bad things going on in our school and in our lives. The work happened amid the laughs and good food we shared. We could breathe and be present for one another, which led us to be curious about how to build better lessons for our students, infuse more project-based learning into our school, and ensure our students felt free to be themselves.
We work at a Spanish immersion school with a mission to develop globally and culturally competent citizens, so being responsible for our diverse community of learners is always on our minds. Our explorer group encouraged us to share celebrations and concerns we had for students who had recently moved to our school from another country. Without administrators present, and with a growing sense of trust and community, teachers were vulnerable and asked questions about how best to support students who were learning English as a second language.
Then we began to collaborate with partners that worked in the Latinx community. To support this collaboration, our annual Lemonade Day project resulted in donations to local community organizations and student-designed projects in Spanish.
Since our group grew together over the course of the last school year, National Geographic updated the key attitudes of the Explorer Mindset to include empathetic: able to care about human and natural systems and their own and others’ perspectives, and consider and acknowledge differences across social, cultural, and environmental perspectives.
One of the most important goals of our group was to increase student engagement in school. We saw students and teachers alike light up when they were able to participate in project-based learning, and we wanted to increase these opportunities. However, we knew planning projects and activities took a lot of preparation and would often be derailed when we tried to do so during the school day. We needed uninterrupted time to brainstorm and plan together, which could happen only after school in a relaxed setting, so we created that space for the group.
As a result of our teacher meetings, we started a student-led news broadcast, planned a collaboration with National Geographic Explorer Dr. Jennifer Adler on ocean conservation, and worked with humanitarian aid organizations on a project for third graders concerning water scarcity. To top it off, we organized a culminating Earth Day celebration that involved a school beautification project and used book sale.
As we look back on the progress we made as a group last year, we reflect on the friendships we have developed and we dream big for the future of our school. Our work to learn and grow as exploration-minded teacher leaders has only just begun.
Curious about the Explorer Mindset? Enroll in this free, 50-minute course to be introduced to National Geographic’s interdisciplinary, inquiry-based approach to education, which seeks to foster the mindset of a National Geographic Explorer in each student.
Ashleigh Glickley is a National Board Certified Teacher with 15 years of experience teaching in dual-language programs. She is passionate about equitable teaching practices that result in long-term learning for all students. She is a Prichard Committee Fellow and is part of the National Faculty of PBLWorks.
Featured image: teachers at Hawthorne Elementary School in Louisville, Kentucky, lead students to become curious, responsible, and empowered (Ashleigh Glickley)