Jennifer Burgin isn’t just an explorer herself—she’s also helping to groom the next generation. A National Board-certified teacher and a National Geographic Certified Educator, Jennifer teaches kindergarten at Oakridge Elementary School in Arlington, Virginia. In 2017 after a competitive application process she was selected out of 500 candidates for the Grosvenor Teacher Fellow (GTF) Program. The chosen educators are hosted aboard Lindblad ships—in Alaska, Antarctica, the Arctic, and beyond—and return home with fresh ways to bring geographic awareness into their classrooms.
Through GTF Jennifer was able to fullfill her dream of exploring Galápagos, and after eight days aboard the National Geographic Endeavour II, she came home brimming with ideas for her second graders. That’s when she was thrown for a loop—her school principal asked her to switch over to teaching the kindergarten class. While Jennifer was excited, she realized she’d have to rethink her original lesson plans. How could she share her learnings with this younger age group in a meaningful way? Luckily, inspiration soon struck—in the form of Rocky, a 25-year-old aquatic turtle.
Jennifer’s classroom had the timely opportunity to adopt Rocky, and she watched as the children marveled at him. That’s when she realized he was her gateway. She began a unit on living things, using turtles as the lens. They took field notes on Rocky, imitated turtles, tortoises, and sea turtles with their bodies, and even did a research project at the end to illustrate what they learned and why they cared about these creatures.
Jennifer’s field and classroom experience changed her, and it was the inspiration for her new identity: #EducatorExplorer. Today she works to ensure that using established explorers as role models and guiding learners to seek exploration opportunities is a part of her instructional style.
Why do you explore?
I explore as a role model for young learners. Personally, exploration brings me joy. I love to still be wowed and to make connections from what I’ve lived to what I am experiencing. To tell a young learner that an adult is still learning liberates them from the belief that adults are perfect. We’re all still in the process of growing and developing, and together we can always explore further!
What is your favorite Lindblad destination?
The Galápagos! To visit an unparalleled pristine place filled with wildlife who express ecological naïvete was like stepping into Eden. Now, I see wildlife, oceans, and teaching in a different way, and I am so grateful to be able to share my experiences with my student explorers.
What is the dream exploration you haven’t done…yet?
Visit Asia! Some of my childhood friends in Irving, Texas were from Asian countries like Indonesia, Vietnam, Japan, and China. I loved learning about their culture, languages, and traditional foods. Now I teach children from all over the world, including countries many people could not point out on a map easily! I want to visit Asia to better understand my learners.
Name a female hero(es) and why.
I am honored to be a part of a group of female Grosvenor Teacher Fellows from 2017 who video call once a month. When I touch base with Kavita Gupta, Peg Keiner, Anne Lewis, Wendi Pillars, & Kim Young I am recharged. They are all doing something incredible and diverse in our field of education, and our attributes are strengthened as we collaborate, encourage, and visioncast with one another. They treat me as an equal, a friend, and a visionary. This sisterhood is powerful, and they are my #EducatorExplorer heroes.
What advice would you give the next generation of women explorers?
I would encourage the next generation of women explorers to learn how to ask questions without fear of judgement. Have you ever heard an accomplished female professional start off her question with “I may be wrong but…” or “This may sound stupid but…” What has caused professional women to qualify or warn others about questions before asking them? We’re all in process, all growing, and asking questions should not be a source of shame. It should showcase our intelligence and curiosity because we want to excel and better understand the world around us!
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