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SOESD / Learning Matters / Newsletter Archive / April 2006 / Superintendent's Message

Lessons From Challenger

Twenty years ago, I was involved in the NASA Teacher-in-Space program. The 20th anniversary of the Challenger explosion has brought a flurry of emails, news articles and memories. I was one of over 100 teachers who represented their state or overseas school program to be selected for the ride of a lifetime. Christa McAuliffe was chosen as the mission specialist to represent teachers and students from the United States on her educational mission in space.

So, twenty years later I have asked myself what are the key lessons learned from the Challenger experience. The key learnings for me were: being prepared for the future, continually learning and keeping dreams alive.

Prepare for the unexpected.

I never expected, when entering the field of education, that it could lead to a flight on the shuttle. Each of us, adults or students, can prepare for the unexpected. The initial selection process was a writing competition. I probably spent 30 hours on the 10-page written application. Being a competent writer is preparation for the future. Academic competence and leadership opportunities help us prepare for the future. Communication skills (speaking, writing and group processing), knowledge of our world (reading and discussing), thinking skills (math, science and problem solving) and leadership experiences (listening, motivating and interpersonal) prepare the foundation for whatever opportunities lay in the future.

The importance of learning.

Being associated with the NASA Teacher-in-Space program has opened several doors for subsequent experiences. Opportunities allowed me to experience Space Camp, a research position at Oak Ridge National Labs and a fellowship in Washington, DC. I looked for opportunities to learn in exciting venues each year. I applied for many, but if I received one adventure in a year, it was a good year. Educators have many opportunities for professional growth. Educators in Southern Oregon have received Fulbright fellowships to Japan, taught in summer school programs, instructed in teacher preparation programs, traveled aboard ocean research vessels, taken travel study tours, attended Oregon Shakespeare Festival workshops; the list is almost endless. Not only are these opportunities personally enriching, but translate into classroom excitement and inspiration for students.

Keeping the dream alive.

The families of the seven astronauts are keeping the dream alive by starting dozens of Challenger Centers at science museums throughout the nation. The goal of flying a teacher aboard the shuttle was to inspire students about the wonder of space exploration. Twenty years after the Challenger accident, I remember seven dedicated and prepared astronauts who wanted to keep the "Dream Alive."

The Challenger accident was a tragic ending to a heroic mission. But, I have learned that this tragedy should not end the mission of exploring our universe, our dreams and our future.




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