This summer, every Friday is “Fellow Friday” — an opportunity to introduce you to the caliber and creativity of our grant recipients. Generally speaking, the learning our grant recipients pursue falls into recognizable categories: Music Education, American History, Indigenous Studies, English Language Learners, Gender Studies, Astronomy, Holocaust Studies, Global Citizenship, Health & Well-Being, Math Education, World Cultures, Geography, etc. But we couldn’t classify Cynthia Renshaw’s learning — she’s the only person researching Vikings this year!
The unique nature of Cynthia’s grant reflects one of the most distinctive aspects of our organization, which is the freedom and respect we give teachers to design an experiential learning endeavor that they deem most relevant to their classrooms and careers. How do Vikings fit into that equation? Read on…
I believe my students will be inspired by the fact that in the wide-ranging seafaring wandering of the Vikings, who travelled by boat as far as North America in the west and Central Asia in the east from about 700 C.E. to 1100, they were being in essence, bands of immigrants. I believe that learning about their Nine Noble Virtues and the Viking social rules of mutual respect will inspire our COVID battered population to cohere. Economic blight, violence, racism, bullying, food insecurity and mental illness continue to create barriers for cultural acceptance in our population. Ornate and meaningful creation, community building through government, currency and trade, a reverence for craftsmanship and commitment to enriching the community with unifying symbols are powerful lessons to be learned from the Viking Age.
I chose Scandinavia due to the popularity of cultural references such as Loki, Thor and Oden and after a student survey confirmed a lack of cultural awareness. The natural beauty and rich artistic contributions of the Viking Age will provide compelling material for lesson plans and discussions. Instead of having a cartoon-like association with this majestic culture, I wish to bring to life the factual wonders of Viking longships and what they brought to the world; examples of superb craftsmanship in Viking engineering and ornamentation as well as the stunning natural wonders of the physical landscape. As we explore together, even though we are all coming from different cultural perspectives, we will find our mutual connections and appreciations of Viking culture actually are not that different after all.
I’m seeking to model the courage of a Viking too: as I travel long and far with unknown companions and chance encounters in a rapidly changing COVID environment. In a world of uncertainly and fear, learning about how a teacher goes about deeply exploring, researching and risk-taking during a cultural immersion is a model of planning, investment and reward. Sadly, positive modeling of an unfamiliar country, state or even neighborhood experience is rare for most of our students, yet they yearn and dream of it. On this professionally designed and guided small group tour over land, sea and air, I will access comprehensive historical resources and travel on the geographic path of the Vikings for 14 amazing days. Thinking with the eyes of a student, and modeling research like an archeologist, I will bring this amazing culture to life back in the classroom using artifacts and personal documentation.
“Now more than ever, it is imperative that we invest in the most important component of any classroom — the teacher,” said Karen Eckhoff, Executive Director of FFT. “Educators are facing countless challenges every day, and Fund for Teachers is dedicated to further diversifying the ways that we can support them. Our grants represent trust in teachers’ professionalism, creativity, and vision, offering flexibility to meet the unique needs of each classroom, with the students remaining the ultimate beneficiaries as they continue to grow and learn in today’s ever-changing world.”
We look forward to introducing you to more 2022 FFT Fellows next Friday!