Teacher Collaboration

Reigniting Your Spark With a Fellowship

If you feel stuck in a rut as an educator, seeking camaraderie with energized peers can help you stay motivated.

June 10, 2024
SolStock / iStock

Most adults know an educator who has been around for multiple generations. That educator was perhaps one of your parents’ high school teachers, and your teacher, and is currently contracted or employed in some educator capacity. Today, the legacy of multigenerational educators is under threat. According to a National Education Association survey, 55 percent of educators are thinking about leaving the profession earlier than they had planned. It’s becoming increasingly difficult for schools to hire and retain educators, as people are feeling burned out.

Benefits of Teacher Fellowships

I think the secret to getting out of feeling drained or stuck is to go into a space full of educators who want more for students and families. It’s important to connect with new and forward-thinking people to increase our capacity and open our eyes to see what is possible. Some have referred to this notion as cohort learning. Being part of a cohort encourages deeper understanding and creates opportunities for growth and inspiration. One example of a cohort that I’ve tried, the fellowship, is a crucial tool for unlocking people’s natural ambition. Ambition and inspiration are needed to facilitate resiliency—a key quality that is needed to fight for our students.

As an educator, I was used to attending mandatory district professional development (PD). The training was often about one of the latest state mandates, a new buzzword, or a hot topic in education. Those PD sessions weren’t enough to keep me going. I didn’t want to quit, but I was starting to feel blah. About two years ago, I was informed about an opportunity to apply for a local Catalyst Fellowship. After I was accepted, I immediately felt that something was different about this learning community. Little did I know that the Catalyst Fellowship would be the doorway to accelerated professional growth and the empowerment that I needed to soar in my career.

Generally, fellowships have you enrolled with other educators who want to grow—no one is mandated to be there. The fellows are like-minded and seek improvement for their students through innovation. Participation in a fellowship can help reduce your feelings of isolation and a belief that you’re stuck with the status quo. You’ll be among other educators who believe that greater things can still happen in education.

You just need an atmosphere that encourages out-of-the-box thinking and leverages your professional abilities. My cohort of innovative educators reignited my spark—we didn’t sit around to vent and affirm because there was work to be done.

The fellowship included a capstone project. We got to choose the project and embed it in our work—as we learned, we also applied our new knowledge. The projects moved our students and schools in a positive direction. My capstone was specifically rooted in the following theory of action: If we integrate post-secondary planning and targeted soft skills into our alternative program so that students can identify their desired next step after high school and have skills to be successful, then they will live purposeful lives.

What to Look for In a Fellowship

Not all fellowships and cohorts are alike. Your goal is to leave the fellowship empowered to push on and create change. Keep the following questions in mind as you consider the type of cohort that would be best for you.

Is there an application process? Seek an experience that has some type of criteria for enrolling. You want to be around others who have been vetted for shared values. Of course, participants will have growth areas, but they should also have a growth mindset.

Is there a two-way commitment? You’ll have a more meaningful experience if the program doesn’t do all of the heavy lifting for you. There must be something that you’re giving or creating. Your input will determine your output.

Is there diversity by design? You’re looking for like-minded people, but not clones. Diversity among the participants will add to the richness of your experience. Even within fellowships that target a specific race, for example, there is diversity among other characteristics of the fellows. You will accelerate professional growth by being challenged by others with different experiences and backgrounds.

Is there an avenue for strong community and connection? You want an experience that is about more than the facilitator and the content because it’s important to connect with your cohort. There should be time to communicate and share with your peers in structured and unstructured settings. The deeper you go in a safe space, the more you will grow.

FINDING the Tools You Need to Support Your Growth 

Meeting new people and engaging in new experiences can be scary. In addition, educators can feel that they lack the time to engage in anything outside of work. But what’s currently on your plate that is not serving you well? What’s the impact of silently quitting and working in isolation until you find the opportunity to make your exit and transition out to a new role?

I believe that the average educator loves what they do and wants to keep doing it. They just need the tools and support to navigate the post-pandemic environment in order to meet students’ educational and social-emotional needs. Fellowships can provide the tools and support. The key is, you will not be alone. You’ll have a cohort of people experiencing a similar journey with you and encouraging you along the way.

Look for a fellowship, a professional cohort, or an affinity group that is right for you. It could be a turning point in your career, and your students are worth these extra steps. Don’t quit—go get inspired.

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