Written by Briana Maddox-Miller, James Robinson, Yesenny Fernandez, and Ebony Atwell
Every year, DonorsChoose welcomes a group of fellows: high-achieving recent college graduates from untapped backgrounds who spend a year working across the organization to support our national community of educators and donors.
As our Fellow Yesenny can attest, DonorsChoose projects benefit students both in the classroom and beyond. In 2014, Yesenny’s 11th-grade teacher, Ms. Smith, requested copies of The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros. Like Esperanza, the novel’s main character, Yesenny took on the challenge of navigating a new culture and language when she first arrived in the United States. The ability to see herself reflected in this text not only enhanced Yesenny’s mastery of English, but it reinforced her identity in and outside school.
When amazing educators like Ms. Smith request resources for their students using DonorsChoose, they’re bringing more than supplies into the classroom — they’re introducing new learning opportunities. Teachers do this with a unique understanding of their individual students’ needs, which allows them to personalize instruction. Recent studies like “Crowdfunding the Front Lines: An Empirical Study of Teacher-Driven School Improvement'' show that DonorsChoose projects have a positive effect on student learning because they rely on this teacher frontline wisdom.
After a year working at DonorsChoose, learning the professional skills needed after college, and seeing the creativity that teachers across the country bring to projects, Yesenny and the rest of our fellows wanted to share some key skills that can help teachers prepare students for their long-term career journeys.
Want to help your students be career-ready when they graduate? Read on our fellows’ tips.
Encourage student writing beyond essays
When we first entered the DonorsChoose fellowship program, we took our writing to the next level. Instead of working on essays and research papers in a school setting, we developed skills to communicate through professional emails. The power of a well-crafted email can go a long way when making an ask of a colleague or communicating with a customer! Building students’ broader writing and communication skills serves to prepare them for life in the workforce.
Empower student ownership of goals and planning
Essential to any professional role is the ability to think strategically about how to meet goals. In school, rubrics and syllabi are given for classes and assignments which include expected milestones determined by the teacher. When joining a professional team, those assignments and milestones are self-driven, and we each crafted methodical project plans and documents detailing project deliverables through the course of our professional growth. By opening the door for students to play a role in rubric creation, you could give students a vital experience in self-accountability and responsibility that would serve them in their early careers There is a level of accountability that accompanies being the one to decide the process by which you achieve your goal in a professional setting.
Lean on the wisdom of amazing peer educators
Working at DonorsChoose, it’s impossible not to see how many incredible ideas teachers are dreaming up on a daily basis. Browsing projects from fellow teachers can be a great source of inspiration! Here are a few of our career-readiness faves.
Mrs. Chappell had students create and lead a food bank that provided families with food and home supplies during a time of need. Through this experiential learning opportunity, students were able to hone the valuable skills of operational organization, teamwork, and effective communication to achieve a common goal.
Meanwhile in Minneapolis, Ms. Schmidt-Kost empowered students to recognize the importance of organization and goal setting through her project “Planning for a Bright Future.” These skills are foundational to good project management at any job.
While these are just two projects of countless others, they represent the possibilities teachers bring to their classrooms through career-focused requests on DonorsChoose. When teachers use what they know about their students to bring new learning experiences and resources, teachers (and the community who bring these projects to life) broaden students' opportunities. One project can give students the tools to imagine futures outside of school and build a better foundation for succeeding in the professional world.
Thanks to our 2021 fellows, Briana, James, Yesenny and Ebony, for all your amazing work this year. Best wishes for the next step in your journey!