Middle School teacher Kelsea Turner receives prestigious Fulbright Award

Spartanburg Day School Middle School Teacher Kelsea Turner has been offered a Fulbright Distinguished Awards in Teaching Semester Research Program grant by the U.S. Department of State and the J. William Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board. She is one of approximately 25 U.S. citizens who will travel abroad through the program in 2019-20. 

The Fulbright Program is the flagship international educational exchange program sponsored by the U.S. government and is designed to build relations between the people of the United States and the people of other countries that are needed to solve global challenges. Grant recipients are selected based on academic and professional achievement, as well as demonstrated leadership potential. 

Through the program, Turner will spend six months in Finland, investigating the comprehensive approaches that Finnish educators use to cultivate adolescent initiative and purpose. Turner hopes to spend time in Finnish schools observing, interviewing teachers and students, and making connections to contribute to the already significant body of research about Finland’s educational successes.

“I have long been inspired by Finnish approaches to education and the phenomenal student outcomes they produce,” Turner said. “One of the fundamental values of Finland's education system is confidence in each individual's potential for meaningful impact, and I want to understand the role that teachers play in cultivating that. I am honored to have the opportunity to spend time in schools examining these practices firsthand. I look forward to returning to my own dynamic learning community with a fresh perspective and transferable strategies that will equip all students to thrive.”

Turner has been a teacher at SDS since 2007, teaching Middle School history and implementing the 20time program, which allows students to focus 20 percent of class time each week on a project they are passionate about and that makes a positive impact on the community. Four years ago, she renovated her classroom space, in collaboration with her students and her division head, to reflect Finnish schools, creating an innovative student-centered environment conducive to collaborative learning, quiet work and thought, and reflecting a sense of trust in and respect for students and their needs. 

 “Kelsea Turner is innovative and approaches teaching as a craft,” said Spartanburg Day School’s Head of Middle School Farrar Richardson. “Her receiving this distinguished Fulbright award is indicative of her commitment to teaching excellence. It is by no means a culmination of her growth but another important piece of her ongoing evolution as an educator.”

Turner believes in continuous professional growth and lifelong learning. Her past professional development experiences include Gilder Lehrman summer fellowships at Stanford and Columbia Universities, an educator course in Nepal to learn more about global and experiential education, and opportunities with the World Leadership School, both through a virtual teaching institute and on an educator seminar in the Peruvian Andes. Last summer, she participated in the Project Zero Classroom Institute at Harvard University.

In her Fulbright proposal, Turner wrote this: “I believe in J. William Fulbright’s notion that ‘…others may see something we have failed to see or see it more clearly.’ Stepping outside of the American educational paradigm and into Finland, a shining example to educators around the world for its deep national commitment to its educational values, would offer a powerful vantage point.”

Since its inception in 1946, the Fulbright Program has provided more than 380,000 students, scholars, teachers, artists, professionals and scientists the opportunity to study, teach, conduct research, exchange ideas and contribute to finding solutions to shared international concerns. The Distinguished Awards in Teaching Semester Research program provides U.S. K-12 educators like Turner the opportunity to travel to one of 12 countries for three to six months of independent study and professional development, during which they learn and share educational practices with their peers, to better prepare students for successful and responsible participation in the global economy.