In 2007, I was fortunate enough to be selected for the Fulbright-Hays Study Abroad program heading to Ghana, West Africa. As one of 12 professional educators selected for the opportunity, I could not have imagined then how much of an impact the nearly 30-day trip would have on my life and on my professional trajectory. Our trip, coordinated by faculty at Towson State University in Maryland, brought us up close and personal with Ghanaian educators, students, and communities. We were able to observe, support, and make recommendations for educational reform to the Ministry of Education for the country.
As an African-American, the trip had the additional significance of living the connection between my ancestral homeland and my life as an American. The ability to learn first-hand about the culture and history of the region while gaining valuable knowledge of new ways to advance academic instruction within a new framework was deeply inspiring.
One brief story I will always remember was visiting a school where students were waiting for the class to begin. The teacher was late as they had to walk great distances and some issues delayed the teacher. I entered the classroom that was the size of my classroom where I routinely had 35 students only to see more than 70 students all sitting attentively and patiently for the teacher to arrive. Seeing students so hungry for learning and committed made me want to foster that same love of learning in my students here at home. When I returned to the US, I had a deeper sense of urgency to meet the needs of all students and support making education here in America more efficient and effective for students.
The mindset shift enabled me to expand my vision from one centered only on my classroom, to then working to build community throughout the school site to ensure all students have hope and a path to success regardless of past education difficulties or challenges. I went to Africa and brought back the lived practice of creating a village that helps ensure success for all students. In 2010, I was named Teacher of the Year, and have continued to advance my career by helping to inspire and motivate students to improved academic success.
Now, in 2021, I am honored to serve as an Assistant Principal at both a High School and a Middle School in the Fremont Unified School District in Northern California. The Fulbright experience opened my eyes to what was possible, and what was missing in my own practice as an educator. I am forever grateful for the opportunity to be a part of a trip that forged lifelong friendships, professional contacts, and empowered me to live out the responsibility to use this great opportunity to help others.
Brian M. Walton – Fulbright to Ghana 2007