Summer may seem oh so very far away but it’s time to starting thinking of attending summer programs! The National Endowment for the Humanities has their Summer Institutes for 2018 up on their website! If you follow the blog, you probably saw that I attended my first summer institute in New York City this past year and absolutely loved every moment of it! So if you are a k-12 teacher in the United States, this post is for you!
#1 You will learn a ton without realizing it
As teachers, we know how short student attention spans are and we are literally trained to be circus ring masters to keep them entertained AND learning. Well, the Interfaith Center did a fab job planning their daily program with a mix of expert speakers, whole-class and small-group discussion, panel discussions, and the oh so fabulous site visits. Each activity will push you to question your understanding of religious life in America and provide opportunities to think of ways of exposing your students to new information.
#2 You will meet the BEST people
While on the program, I met teachers off all subjects, states, religious backgrounds, and experiences. Each person provided an interesting perspective to the discussion on how to incorporate teaching about religion in the school setting. You don’t have to teach religion as a stand alone subject to join this institute. For example, some of the teachers on the program taught high school and middle school English, Church History and Philosophy in Catholic schools, elementary school in a one-room schoolhouse, U.S. and World History, and even one teacher who was retiring to train teachers. No matter what you teach, you should think about it!
Read more: 10 Reasons I love NEH Summer Institutes
#3 You Get to go on Site Visits (aka adult Field Trips)
Not only do you learn about the history and practice of various faiths in America you get to see it in action! This was by far my favorite part (I think it was everyone’s). The Interfaith Center connected us with communities I would have never entered myself. We got to participate in a Voodoo Fete, worship alongside Muslims for the Friday Jumma Service, sing and dance in the Convent Avenue Baptist Church and B’nai Jeshurun Synagogue.
Read more: Religious Worlds of New York Site Visits
#5 You’re in New York City
This really goes without saying but being able to spend a week in New York City was just amazing. The program definitely leaves you enough free time to explore the museums, theater, and general city life. You just can’t beat it for the price you get to stay in the dorms!
Read more: 11 Favorite Things to do in NYC
#6 You Get to Create a Useful Lesson Plan
The last week of the program we got time to work on personal research to create a lesson that incorporated what we learned over the institute in our classrooms. They gave us a ton of freedom to ensure that it would be useful to us and our students. Each person had a completely different project but they all incorporated exposing kids to lived religious traditions. All the lesson plans are also posted on their website with free access to all! Check them out HERE! My project was on the Theotokos in the AP Art History curriculum that incorporated a site visit to a local Greek Orthodox Church.
Read more: Bringing History to Life with Site-Visits
#7 You Get Access to Fantastic Resources
Not only are the panel speakers & lecturers brilliant and incredibly knowledgeable scholars in their field but the program also incorporates other educators with “boots on the ground” experience in incorporating teaching about religion in a school setting. They really help to take all the ambitious goals and make them doable in the classroom.
In addition to the knowledgeable personnel involved in the program, you also get access to Burke Library, one of the largest theological libraries in America and a reading card at Colombia’s library. These resources were helpful in completing my lesson plan (see #6 for more details on that).
Read more: NEH Religious Worlds of New York: Itinerary
#8 Your Own Teaching Gets Invigorated
I walked away from this program so excited to start teaching again! While most Professional Development leaves me feeling overwhelmed, I had the opposite feeling here. I was armed with knowledge, bursting with good ideas, and ready to tackle a new program. There is no better feeling than this when starting a new school and new subjects!
Read more: Teaching World Religions
#9 You Get to Stay Together in the On-Site Dorm
There are a few options for accommodations while on this program but I would highly suggest staying at the dorm (either with a hall bathroom or a personal). It really changed the connections I made with the other teachers attending the institute. Nothing gets you closer than groggily shuffling to the showers together, cooking dinner in the communal kitchen, or just grabbing a 6-pack of beers and hanging out on the couch. I wouldn’t change this experience for all the 5-star hotels in the world.
Read more: Dorm Life @ the Seminary
#10 You Walk Away with an Understanding of Education Policy
One of the most powerful things I walked away with was a deep understanding on political and educational policy when it comes to the First Amendment. One of the most influential speakers on this subject was Charles Haynes, a Vice President at the First Amendment Center in the Newseum Institute in Washington, D.C. (*which has unfortunately since closed). He co-authored books and pamphlets that really helped me to understand how teaching about religion is really imperative in our current global climate and he walked us through scenarios to ensure that we could assist our schools and districts to create an inclusive and appropriate relationship with religious traditions.