About John Davis

John Davis Jr. currently serves as the Creative Writing Program Director for Harrison School for the Arts in Lakeland, Florida. Previously, he has worked in private, charter, and correctional school environments. He holds a Master of Education degree from Florida Southern College and a Master of Fine Arts degree in Creative Writing from University of Tampa. He teaches in the college classroom part-time, and is an award-winning poet. You can follow his literary leanings at http://www.poetjohndavisjr.com/

As I write this, my family and I are preparing for a long voyage overseas. A few months ago, I learned that I had been accepted to the Disquiet International Literary Program in Lisbon, Portugal. This series of workshops with famous writers is held in one of Europe’s most historic and beautiful cities. Perhaps even better, though, the writers who are invited as teachers are world renowned. For  example, Denis Johnson, author of Jesus’ Son and other notable works of fiction, is one of the workshop leaders.

But there’s more. Aside from the learning experience in writing workshops and panels, my family and I will be experiencing a land that has much to offer. Portugal is home to castles, caves, museums, and aquariums, for starters. Then there’s the food. Whether it’s the pastries, the broad selection of fish, or another of the country’s signature dishes, Lisbon has mastered the art of cuisine.

My sons, ages 11 and 8, have been taught American table manners since birth. This trip, for them, will represent a seismic shift in expectations. The knife stays in the right hand while the fork stays on the left, even while eating. The napkin remains on the table. Your hands must be visible at all times. Many of these new rules will allow them to see a side of the globe that is less geographic and more cultural.

I don’t mean to brag. In fact, my purpose in writing this article is not just to share my travel plans; it’s to make a point about education. When we teachers travel, it allows our brains to absorb new and fascinating ways of doing things. The way of life in Portugal is very different from what we enjoy. And it is this kind of international experience that allows educators to begin thinking outside the box.

When we teachers travel, it allows our brains to absorb new and fascinating ways of doing things. Click To Tweet

Yes, I’ll take pleasure in exploring the works of Fernando Pessoa while I’m there. I’ll also enjoy providing my workshop mates with feedback on their writings. I’ll like hearing their opinions of my pieces, as well. However, the real memories will be made during unstructured times. Whether I’m sailing near the caves, taking a train to nearby cities, or feasting at one of the fine restaurants there in Lisbon, I will be engaging a part of my brain that can later thrive in the classroom. The relaxation will be nice, but the education will be even better.

Travel is far better for teachers than prescriptive professional development. Click To Tweet

I would argue that travel is far better for teachers than prescriptive professional development.Granted, we need to know about things like Project-Based Learning or the latest gadget to enter the ed tech field. But to truly get our brains thinking originally, we need to move beyond the beige walls of conferences and seminars. Much like our students, we need to get into settings that challenge us, reward us, and clear our minds of clutter.

Not too many years ago, I worked at a school that began every new academic year with a faculty retreat. The venue for it wasn’t terribly far away. In fact, the hotel we stayed in was only about a one-hour drive from most of the faculty members’ homes. But the time we spent there was unforgettable. We planned together during the day, but we also dined together (this was optional, and so most teachers did it). We walked the beach together, and we even sang a little karaoke together. None of this, aside from the planning sessions, was scripted. It was simply a time for us to meet away from the stuffy crayon-smell of school, and build honest rapport with each other for one weekend.

It wasn’t expensive or foreign travel. But the small distance between central Florida and its coastline can change a person’s point of view immensely. Sure, we had some workshops that were clunkers over the years. Veterans would occasionally roll their eyes at hearing the same welcome back message in different words. But while we were at the beach, our passion for teaching thrived. We fed off one another’s innovations. We built air castles, and sometimes they became reality. All this was possible as a result of travel.

I know as teachers we have limited budgets. This will probably be the only trip my family takes overseas before my sons go off to college, and honestly, if I hadn’t received a partial scholarship, it could have been impossible for us to attend. But for the educator, getting new sights, sounds, smells, and sensations tucked away in our mental vaults is invaluable. We don’t have to go thousands of miles away. The truth is this: No guru-led seminar can replace a genuine cultural encounter — even one that happens to be close to home.

Get out there, teachers. July is here, and summer vacation is yours. Soon, August and its bells and schedules and crazy orientation nights will be upon us. Feed your brain. Feed your soul. Feed your passion.

Feed your brain. Feed your soul. Feed your passion. Click To Tweet

Professional Development

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