After graduating from college, Jordan Zanmiller stumbled into the world of outdoor education in the Pacific Northwest. She created hikes and month-long canoe trips, design ecology curriculum, and manage large staff and student groups. Little did Jordan know that combining the excitement of exploration with experiential education would set her up for a residency program to become a classroom teacher.

About a year ago, Jordan decided it was time for a change. She wanted to take her commitment to education to new heights. She applied and was accepted to the NYU Steinhardt Teacher Residency, and soon found herself moving to San Francisco to launch her journey.

The residency program is an ideal learning ground for Jordan in no small part because she’s a hands-on learner: “I am strongly drawn to this program because of the experiential approach to learning.” She appreciates being able to witness learning taking place in the classroom, rather than simply learning behind a book or in a lecture hall.

It’s paramount for Jordan that she gains a deep understanding of what students need during each step of the learning process. This is fueled by her previous experiential education work and commitment to diversity and equity. “The way you’ll reach each child is if you try to understand their unique circumstances,” noted Jordan.

That’s why it seems almost serendipitous that Jordan is at Visitacion Valley Middle School in the San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD), where both educational justice and project-based learning (PBL) are priorities. The School aims for all children to have access to opportunity and uses PBL because it encourages communication, collaboration, critical thinking, and creativity. This type of instruction is designed to help students prepare for our swiftly changing world. In the School’s words:

No longer should students spend hours doing worksheets, book work, and sitting quietly. Instead, students need to work together to solve real-world problems. Students need to be prepared to use multimedia, technology, and give presentations.

Using PBL is a fantastic way to understand how students learn and to give them a variety of ways to access content. Jordan thrives in this environment, though recognizes that becoming a skilled educator requires a range of abilities: “The necessity for flexibility surprises me endlessly, especially in project-based instruction. You must really understand how each student works – sometimes they are moving super fast, and at other times you need to backtrack and reteach concepts. You must move on a dime.”

This gives Jordan energy. While closely watching students learn, she’s learning alongside her teacher mentor and the NYU faculty who support her each step of the way.

Jordan’s middle school students are also an incredible source of energy: “I have been so inspired by their balance between independence and childhood whims. This program allows me to delve deeper into scientific topics like biology, while also opening the doors to be a supportive figure in the ever-challenging middle school social sphere.”

Jordan found her fit in SFUSD. If you know you want to become an educator, find out why a residency model is right for you by exploring the NYU Steinhardt Teacher Residency.

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