- Do some prep work. Look at the website for the venue you will visit, paying especially close attention to the parts pertaining to the teacher institute. If you are sent a schedule for the institute, search for the topics or events on the website to satisfy your curiosity.
- Know what you're getting into. Don't be caught unawares. You need to know if something will be difficult for you: excessive walking, physical activities, long periods of lecture or sitting, etc.
- Be proud of your accomplishment. You're one of only a few who were selected to attend the institute, and you had to earn that place with your application. You had the right stuff, and you won yourself a scholarship, including travel expenses in many cases. You have earned bragging rights, but remember to be humble, as well.
- Anticipate your trip. Waiting in line for the latest roller coaster just builds the excitement, while walking right on is less of an accomplishment. Building the excitement by waiting will make the actual trip even better.
- Step out of your comfort zone. That's right: getting out of your comfort zone will make the experience better! You will likely be traveling alone, without family and friends, and you can do things you wouldn't normally do. Embrace that.
- Reach out to others. Speaking of comfort zones, as an introvert myself, mingling with strangers is hard for me. Still, I have found that people fascinate me. I have enjoyed meeting people from around the country, and comparing notes or just talking about ourselves. Sure, there is an element of a blind date, but with the right outlook on life, this too will provide a richer experience.
- Challenge yourself. You may not have thought you would be interested in a particular part of the schedule, but that part may become your favorite thing for the week. Jump in there with an open mind!
- Be able to be alone. As mentioned, you will likely travel alone for this expedition, and that in itself is a challenge. You need to be comfortable in your own skin as you navigate airports, train stations, public transportation, overnight stays, meals on the fly, etc. You may have to spend some layovers between flights. Enjoy the peace and quiet that comes with living inside your mind.
- Take a book to read. Save your phone battery, and enjoy the sights wherever you are. And catch up on some reading - probably a book about the history you will be visiting (en route) or have just experienced (on the return trip).
- Do some shopping. Those of us who have these chances enjoy geeking out in the museum gift shops, fondling the t-shirts, thumbing through some books, and finding the right souvenirs for our kids back home. We also like to imagine how we might use the items in our classrooms. I always ask the PTA to give me a little allowance for such.
- You don't have to be an expert. As the elementary participant, I was a little apprehensive to share a classroom with teachers who know more than I do about the details of history, but I have found this to be a false fear. We're all there to learn, and we're all trying to figure things out together.
- Take notes. This goes without saying, but if something inspires you, you had better record it. There will be so many of such things during your teacher institute, and you will not be able to remember them all.
- Take pictures. We all want to share our experiences. I try to take about a thousand photos with a real camera while I attend an institute. Some are better than others, of course, but some have turned out quite well. These are great for sharing with anyone who will sit through our presentation, but also for our captive audience at school as we teach the things we have learned. Limit your selfies though: you don't have time for those at every stop.
- If allowed to touch stuff, touch stuff. Look for real things that you are allowed to touch or hold. Feel the connection with history when you place you hand on that banister or when you hoist that artifact. Feel the weight and texture of it, and imagine the person from the past who also held it.
- Listen carefully. Some of this is going to be lecture, and you will want to be in the room where it happens. Maintain eye contact with the presenter, take in the audiovisual tools, and avoid daydreaming.
- Share yourself. Don't sell yourself short: you have something to offer to the group, as well. Your experiences and talents are different from theirs. Highlight those strengths when they might add to the momentum of the group.
- Eat something different. You might have some food options that you aren't used to. My suggestions is to try them out. I have found that some of the foods I thought I would hate have ended up providing some of the greatest flavors. Who knew there were brussels sprouts out there that I would end up craving two years later!
- Get ready to be active. It's going to be exhausting, but you can sleep when you get home. Do everything you can while you are there. I figure I may never have a second chance to be in that place, and I don't want to regret missing something.
- Get up early. I am not a morning person, but some of the greatest opportunities may rise with the sun. You can get some great photos in the light of the early morning, and you will enjoy the peaceful spirit of a location when it is just waking up.
- Appreciate where you are. Take a deep breath. Soak it in. Imagine whose footprints you are walking in.
- Stay up late. The evenings give a whole new dimension to a location as well. If allowed to be there after dark, under a canopy of stars, savor the opportunity. Perhaps the general public has gone home, and you'll get to be there, communing with the ghosts of the past (figuratively speaking of course).
- Pace yourself when possible. At the same time, you can only do so much. If you're going to be on your feet for a while, sit down when you get the chance. You dogs will love you for it. And believe it or not, you just can't stay awake for 24/7.
- Communicate with your loved ones. You've left them behind, so don't forget to send them text messages a couple of times during the day and call them daily when you get the chance. I don't want a day to go by without talking to my wife.
- Smile. I know this is an academic excursion, but come on, it's also pretty cool. It is perfectly acceptable to enjoy yourself. Your hosts will appreciate your positive energy, and they want to know that your inclusion has been appreciated.
- Volunteer to do stuff. Anytime someone asks for volunteers to try something on, hold something, or stand in a particular spot, raise your hand! You may just get to do something the rest of the group misses.
- Reflect. My greatest reflections come in the weeks and months after I get back from a teacher institute (like when I create lessons or post articles with photos on my classroom website or on social media), but there is a daily element to reflection, as well. You should converse with your assigned roommate, as well as debrief with a loved one on the phone. You may not be able to stop replaying your experiences in your thoughts as you try to fall asleep, too.
So you've been accepted to attend one of these location-based, history-rich teacher institutes in the near future? You will want to make the most of the week you are there, so I've created this list for your consideration:
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