For a first-time Disney visitor, preparing for our recent professional development teacher field trip to Disney World in Orlando was a little like jumping off a diving board and not knowing how far the water was. You trust that it’ll be great, but you’re going in blind and not fully knowing what to expect. Several week prior to the trip, we read The Wisdom of Walt by Jeffrey Barnes, and learned the history of the Disney theme park, the motivation and insight into Walt Disney, and how the themes and attributes of both the park and its founder can translate into the classroom. The book helped prepare me for the Disney experience as much as it could, but experiencing Disney World first-hand was like turning the lights on in a dimly-lit room; the sights, sounds, smells, and vastness of it all was something that I had to experience in order to fully appreciate it.
The professional development teacher field trip was the brainchild of Andover, KS, Instructional Technology Coach, Dyane Smokorowski, who designed the trip to inspire teachers to take the lessons Walt Disney implemented in his parks and apply them in their classrooms to better engage students. There were 41 teachers from across the country that attended, and each day of the trip consisted of some whole-group activities and small-group challenges within the four parks of Disney World. On the first day, we were tasked to discover how Disney World personalizes the experience for each guest. We had to interview and take photos with cast members, park employees, to hear a variety of experiences on what they do to make each guest feel special. We also had to make character videos with Disney characters within the park. I was able to create selfie videos with Minnie Mouse, Donald Duck, and Goofy, in which we wished my students a great start to the school year. Those videos will go a long way in helping build that trust, excitement, and relationships that students need to be successful.
On the second day, we embarked on a scavenger hunt challenge at either Epcot or Animal Kingdom. Our tasks included taking pictures with various items or people, trying different foods, or interviewing various cast members. My small group visited numerous country attractions at Epcot, learning about various cultures and customs. The third day had us spending time at the attraction that we had done some mini research on before the trip, reflecting on how this attraction could be used in some way in our own classroom. The attraction that I researched was “It’s a Small World,” where participants are taken on a boat ride through different parts of the world. It was fascinating to see the automated dolls dressed up in traditional costumes from countries all over the world. We also had the opportunity to learn about the Walkin’ & Rollin’ Costumes, an organization that helps provide children with special needs a custom-built costume wheelchair. Many schools and classes partner with the organization to participate in it as a STEM project.
This professional development experience has impacted me professionally by causing me to pay more attention to how I create an environment of magic in my own classroom. At Disney, I was amazed by how all of the attractions infused sight, sound, smell, and feel. Many of the rides had different scents that went with what was being shown visually, and had sprays of water or gusts of air to add to the experience. What would it look like to incorporate these elements and senses into lessons and projects? I was also struck by how friendly and accommodating the cast members were. Everyone seemed to go above and beyond to help the guests out and make their experience magical. It was a good reminder that the tone we set for our students can go a long way in what they learn and how successful they are in school. We even had various sponsors donate things for our trip, including an anonymous donation of water bottles, t-shirts from The Wright Stuff Chics, Rocketbook minis, backpacks from Buncee, and Dole Whips provided by Brainpop. The Disney trip was a great reminder that if we pay attention to the details and go the extra mile, we can make magic happen for students.