Inspired Education: Connecting to the Teacher Hive Mind

Editor’s Note: In the following post, fifth grade social studies teacher Angelo Parodi discusses his involvement with the Ford’s Theatre National Oratory Fellows program and how it has influenced his teaching. Teachers interested in becoming National Oratory Fellows for the 2016-2017 school year should complete the online application by August 15, 2016.

Teaching can be kind of isolated much of the time, despite being in a building filled with adults and children. It can feel as if you’ve woven a cocoon around yourself. Sometimes we get so caught up in the daily upkeep (grading, answering emails, writing recommendations, grading and more grading) that we forget the wonderful and amazing thing that is our calling to be teachers. Sometimes we forget to inspire ourselves.

Teachers attend a workshop at Ford's Theatre.

I had long dreamed of being part of a group of like-minded educators who could help inform one another, teach one another and share with one another our passions and beliefs, knowing that we were safe with each other. I found this group as a Fellow in the Ford’s Theatre National Oratory program.

Being among this group of eighteen teachers, whether in person at the fall retreat, or via our virtual monthly Fieldtrip Zoom check-in meetings, was a source of constant inspiration. I would listen to the more veteran Fellows speak about their oratory-infused lesson plans, and I stepped away from those meetings so fired up that the idea of going to bed on time (these were school nights, after all) seemed impossible. There was a headiness, an excitement for all that was possible.

As Fellows we are charged with incorporating oratory into our classroom curriculum. To do this, we are paired by Ford’s Theatre with a Teaching Artist, who made regular visits to my class, and coached me on public speaking techniques. Being the new person in the group, I often felt unsure about my direction and priorities. The idea of eventually ending up with students on the stage of the Ford’s Theatre made me both excited and overwhelmed. Could I craft lesson plans that challenged them? Could I myself learn through this process? And finally, would my students’ speeches be Ford’s Theatre-worthy?

Oratory students perform on the Ford's Theatre historic stage. Photo by Gary Erskine.

And so, I turned to the other Fellows during our monthly meetings for guidance. I realized most of them are still in awe of Ford’s and what it represents, despite having had students perform speeches there for five years! The Fellows helped me stay focused, and we swapped lesson plans, primary source materials and web resources. We traded jokes about our missteps, reveled in our classroom successes, and shared our passion for historical speeches and literature. This time, the headiness was not just in listening, but being able to share, as well.

And this headiness is crucial! We cannot inspire our students without inspiring ourselves. Being able to confer with like-minded educators reminded me how stimulating to the imagination it is to work creatively with another person.

So what can you do to achieve this life-altering quorum? Apply to be a Ford’s Oratory Teaching Fellow, of course, but you can also find educators in your building, in your district, in your state. There are many free web platforms for live group chats.

Seek each other out. Share your successes. Analyze your disappointments. Inspire each other.

Angelo Parodi is a fifth grade social studies teacher at John Eaton Elementary School in Washington, D.C. He has a BA in Theatre/Arts from West Chester University and an MA in Elementary Education from American University. He has been a teacher since 2006. Prior to teaching, Parodi was a stay-at-home dad while he worked as the music buyer at Politics and Prose Booksellers, an administrator at New York University, a company manager for a theater company in New York City and an editor the ITAR/TASS news agency in Moscow. He received the Jackie and Rachel Robinson Teacher of the Year Award in 2013.