anne denkler

Ann Denkler, PhD, knew that she wanted to be an educator since she was five years old. She’s bringing her lifelong passion for teaching to Franklin — and making the move from Virginia to join us in Jersey City! 

For 18 years, Dr. Denkler taught at the undergraduate level of Shenandoah University as an Associate Professor of History and American Studies. Last year, she taught social studies at Bishop McNamara High School in Maryland. We sat down with her to hear about her lifelong passion for history and innovative curriculum combining technology and social activism.

Please share a bit about your background.

I grew up in Alexandria, VA, always knowing I wanted to be a teacher. I clearly remember conducting make-believe classes with invisible students on my bed! I went through elementary and high school, and later college and graduate school (George Mason University and University of Maryland), keenly observing my teachers. I loved learning, but watching my teachers showed me the true art of teaching and the creation of innovative pedagogies. I also dreamed of teaching internationally, and I was lucky to receive a Fulbright grant to instruct students in both India and Nepal. That experience led me down a path of working with nonprofits in those countries dedicated to empowering girls and young women through education. I continue this work today, and have personally and professionally sought to embrace how much teaching is about empathy, understanding, and love.

A few years ago, while I was teaching history at Shenandoah University in Virginia, a new program in immersive technology was launched and I signed on to participate in tech lab programming right away. Working cooperatively with students and staff, I designed a virtual reality tour of a local historic plantation house that explored the neglected stories of the site’s enslaved African Americans. This project led to my wanting to dig more deeply into the technological possibilities of bringing history to life outside the classroom and how technology can be a tool to fight oppressive mythologies often present in history.

What led you to Franklin?

The exciting integration of technology, the study of history, and the idea that education is about teaching students — and faculty — to be impassioned inventors has led me on the path to Franklin. I really believe students in high school should not have to wait until college to pursue this integrated learning and to discover global connections, which Franklin offers.

Please tell us about your passion for history.

As a girl and young woman, I devoured biographies and autobiographies, and what drew me in so deeply was that these personal histories are amazing stories. We all have stories to tell and I fell in love with how people discuss and decipher their own lives. Also, there are so many individuals all over the world whose stories have never been told. I study and teach history to unearth their pasts to the best of my ability, but also to personally and intellectually push students to make connections to those who lived before us. What did historical actors wish for? What were they worried about? These are such important questions among thousands more. A lot of students come to the study of history with the assumption that they are just going to learn facts. On the first day of class, I tell students that facts are just the beginning of truly understanding what the past has to offer and what they can create in the future from studying the past.

How do you incorporate social justice and activism into your curriculum?

I incorporate social justice and activism into the classroom by designing curricula that focus
on training students to devise solutions to today’s real-world challenges as well as those that came before. I write lesson plans that encourage students to identify the “why” behind cultural injustices and how to design research and writing plans so they can become problem solvers. When we see injustice, we often identify it immediately and are outraged. But simply decrying the injustice is only one step; we need to deconstruct it historically to be able to fight it today. One of my favorite projects is to have students create apps that help to solve a particular injustice in the past. For example, what if the suffragettes had access to apps and cell phones? How would they have used technology to push their cause? Students perform brilliantly with this assignment both individually and in groups, and we have so much fun when they share their ideas.

From your perspective in higher education, how can students be better prepared for college?

Students need to be prepared for academic rigor at the university level by having a strong understanding of the importance of time management and developing organizational and time time-management skills. While working with college students, I have seen their high-level critical thinking and writing skills, which are also essential, of course, but they often lack support systems to help them work efficiently and with self-confidence. 

I am so proud to be a part of Franklin for many reasons, including the School’s Academic Care and Endeavor Programs. These types of structured initiatives are essential for success in whatever a student decides to do during and after high school. 

In addition to being a classroom teacher, you’re a fitness and cycling instructor. Please tell us a bit about that.

When I’m not in the classroom, I’m in the gym. I’m so fortunate to teach group fitness at a cycle studio, where I also receive a workout of my own. Physical fitness and mental health have a reciprocal relationship, and regular activity positively affects academic success. I’ve had students hold yoga poses and even dance in class! 

Like classroom teaching, cycling instruction also requires me to meet the demands and expectations of a diverse range of learners and always come up with new lesson plans. It’s a challenge I embrace. 

What are you most excited about when Franklin opens this fall?

I am really looking forward to being a part of a brand-new school with such an amazing vision,
and I can’t wait to begin working with staff, faculty members, and students in realizing this
vision. So much potential for learning lies at the intersections of liberal arts and technology;
being able to imagine and learn about these possibilities with my students is like a dream
come true for me as a teacher.

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