Seven Lessons I Learned in Italy which Will Make Me a Better Teacher!
Written by: Ashley Johnson
Recently, I got the chance to go on a trip to Italy with a group of educators and students thanks to the STARTedUP Foundation. This was my first time traveling abroad and being away from my family for so long. I was both nervous and excited about this adventure. I feel super lucky to have had this opportunity because it opened my eyes to so many things I wouldn’t have learned if I stayed in my little bubble back home. Here are seven amazing lessons I learned in Italy which I know will make me a better teacher!
ONE: Curiosity, Humility, Loyalty
The Dallara Group hosted us for the week, and let me tell you, they’ve got their company running like a well-oiled vehicle (pun intended). You might not have heard of them, and that’s how they want it. They operate under three values; curiosity, humility, and loyalty. They work with big names in the car industry like Ferrari and Lamborghini. But what’s impressive is they focus on doing the best for their customers without bragging about it (even though they totally could). On the trip, we even got to meet Mr. Dallara himself. Despite his grand achievements, he’s the most down-to-earth person I’ve ever met. Fans of all ages adore him, and he takes time for each and every one of them.
How will I apply this to my teaching? Well, as teachers, we all have those moments when we feel like our efforts go unnoticed and underappreciated. It’s easy to get stuck in a rut. But these three values really put things into perspective. Stay curious in finding new ways to prepare our youth for their future. Keep humility at the forefront. Teaching isn’t about seeking glory; it’s about building up our youth. And finally, loyalty to the students. They’re the reason I’m here and why I do what I do. That will be my guiding light.
TWO: “Not the best IN the world, but the best FOR the world.”
One of the most beautiful tours we experienced was at the Davines Group. They specialize in creating hair and skin care products in a natural and eco-friendly way. Their approach involves experimenting with plants from their own garden to develop their formulas. Whether it be using locally sourced plants or opting for recycled and natural plastics in their containers, their motto is, “Not to be the best company IN the world, bout the best company FOR the world.”
This statement truly inspired me, and perfectly fits within the teaching practice. I sometimes compare myself to other teachers, and think, “Look what they are doing! How can I do that? How can I be better?” But the fact is, we all have different students with different needs. What works for one, may not work for another. So my focus should be on, “Not being the best teacher in the world, but the best teacher FOR MY STUDENTS!”
THREE: Quality over Quantity
Ever found yourself in a room surrounded by cars worth over $12 million? It’s an incredible feeling, let me tell you. We had the opportunity to tour the Pagani car manufacturing plant, and it was crazy cool. Pagani, if you didn’t know, makes those multi-million dollar cars, but here’s the kicker: they only produce around 50 cars each year. They are all about providing the absolute best quality. Everything in a Pagani car, right down to the tiniest bolt and washer, proudly sports the Pagani logo. And if you want to buy one, get ready for a four-year waiting list. Pagani firmly believes in “Quality over Quantity!”
This concept of “quality over quantity” really got me thinking about some of the assignments we give to our students. Ever catch yourself handing out a worksheet just to keep them busy for 30 minutes? I know I have. But does that worksheet really offer them a meaningful learning experience or knowledge, or is it just “busy work?” I want to shift my focus to creating assignments, projects, and experiences that truly enrich my students’ lives and stick with them beyond the classroom. It’s about quality of learning, not just filling up the gradebook with a weekly quota.
FOUR: Learn by Doing
The Innovation Farm is an amazing hands-on facility that allows high school students in Italy to learn the skills needed for a career in manufacturing (especially in the automotive industry). We had a blast touring their different labs that allowed the students to “learn by doing.” Students are using CNC machines to create molds for parts, experimenting with carbon fiber to get the best results, and unleashing their creativity using 3D printers. The focus here is not just on lecturing students; they are actively guided through the learning process.
Seeing this approach has inspired me to bring more of the “learn by doing” model into my classroom. I want to encourage students to make mistakes and find solutions independently. Is this scary? YES, for both students and the teacher, but it will lead to a deeper understanding and the lesson will truly stick. Empowering students to take charge of their own learning journey will be incredibly rewarding for the students and me!
FIVE: Have Patience
Cheese and Meat! It was a treat to tour the Fratelli Galloni facility, where they produce prosciutto, and the Bertinelli facility, where they make parmigiano-reggiano. Both places were absolutely amazing, with meat and cheese worth more than everything I own put together. And you know what was so fascinating? The key to their exceptional quality is time. The longer the meat and cheese age, the more incredible their flavors become. It takes up to five years for both facilities to create these remarkable products.
In our fast-paced society, we often expect immediate results. But visiting these places made me realize that achieving high-quality products, results, and even nurturing our students takes time. As teachers, we need to practice patience because not all students will learn, mature, and progress at the same pace. If I invest my time, show patience, and allow my students to grow and develop like aging cheese, the eventual results will truly be worthwhile!
One of the highlights of my trip was when we met the students from the University of Parma’s racing team. These students were incredible! The passion they had for their work was infectious. They put in endless hours designing, building, and testing their race car for competitions. What’s amazing is they don’t get paid for this and earn very little college credit for it. Many of the students have to extend their time in college by another year in order to be a part of this team. They invest so much time and energy because they genuinely love what they are doing!
Do you love what you are doing? When was the last time you sat down and asked yourself that question? Teaching is a profession that demands love and passion, because it doesn’t just affect us; it impacts the students we interact with every day. Our genuine love for what we teach can transfer to our students in an incredible and positive way. On the flip side, if we lack enthusiasm, that can rub off on them as well. It is so important to consider the kind of energy we are passing on to our students. Loving what we do can make a world of difference!
SEVEN: Surround yourself with great people!
The people on this trip were simply amazing – bursting with energy and a genuine desire for knowledge. We had a mix of representatives from the STARTedUP Foundation, students, and educators from different parts of the state. Each and every person brought a breath of fresh air to the group, but I must say, spending time with the other educators was an absolute joy. Krissy, Sarah, Dan, and Jose are all exceptional teachers and humans. Collaborating with them was inspiring, and we fed off each other’s passion. The trip left us all fired up and ready to take on the new school year with enthusiasm.
I learned a valuable lesson: Surrounding yourself with people that inspire you is the key to becoming the best version of yourself. It’s crucial to steer clear of those that are simply counting down the days until retirement. They can drain the spark right out of you. So, let’s seek out those who ignite our spirit and keep the fire burning bright!
I always tell my students, “You grow the most when you are uncomfortable.” This trip was a chance for me to “walk the walk” I have been preaching for so long. Five years ago I would have never traveled to a foreign country with a group of people I barely knew. But, this was one of the best experiences I have ever had. Put yourself in uncomfortable situations and grow as a teacher and a person!