Passing the baton

Thursday morning, 7:00 am

My internet cut off last night and I wasn’t able to post my blog entry. Here it is–enjoy.

Wednesday, 10:15 pm

Today marks the day when I finished my overt teaching for the tutoring program. From now on, I will be a support, but no longer the main teacher. I was awash in different emotions today: gratitude for the connection we have built with the students, excitement about the program ahead, sadness at the thought of leaving, and heartache at the realization that these bright, capable students would be extremely unlikely to even start high school without our program. How can this be?

Friends, this is one of those things that I don’t think you can truly understand without having experienced it. I know that for me, the realization is different now that I’m here. Of course I believed that these girls were just as capable as my students at home before I came here. Of course I understood that they just needed a few tools to help them move forward.

Yet somehow, I think my vision was still blinded by my own image of a rural village in Cameroon— kids who work in the fields and live in houses with dirt floors, kids who don’t have access to libraries and books, kids who had already failed the entrance test for high school and might well fail again.

Is it possible that when we in the United States think of “developing countries,” we make the grave mistake of thinking that peoples minds aren’t fully developed?

Jacqueline pointed this out to me as I was noticing how incredibly quick and bright the girls in our program are. She told me the story of having been in a class at the University of Maryland where she was listening to people talking about “developing countries”—and she spoke up to say that her mind, and the minds of those around her, were very well developed, thank you very much!

Again, of course I knew this!

Yet, without this experience of learning and exchange with these girls, and with all of the people I have met here, I couldn’t really know this at the deepest level of my being. I couldn’t know how often I’d find that the less educated folk here are actually highly aware of power dynamics, of people’s intentions, and of the importance of education. I couldn’t really know at the deepest level of my being how much we truly are one. Ironically, we have often had the experience that the educated elites here are less able to connect with our program, less able to understand its importance.

The mothers in the village, and the girls in our program? They get it. And now, maybe I get it, too.

***

We started our program today with free voluntary reading—Lydie spread out the books I’d brought in my suitcase, and the girls were allowed to pick up a book and start reading. The reaction was both quiet and joyful. This is how the program will start each day throughout the year—the kids will arrive in the classroom (the same classroom where we’ve been meeting this whole week), and they will pick up a book and read.

Then, after exchanging the now-iconic “Bonjour/comment ça va?/quoi de neuf?” questions and answers, we jumped into the question for journaling which, this time, was: “What do you do well and also really enjoy doing?”

After the ten minutes of journaling, each student found a partner and shared the story of what she’d written, and I asked a few to share with the whole group what they’d said. Then we turned back to the All Kinds of Minds constructs—the LEARNING SOUP sheet from yesterday. I asked them to go ahead and read the rest of the constructs together, to ask questions for clarification as needed, and then to try to figure out what might be a strength that they have.

I was really impressed with the ability of these students to engage in abstract thinking. Here we had a series of highly abstract concepts, and they were fully engaged and ready to ask questions about anything they did not understand.

The teachers circulated through the class to answer questions as needed. Finally, when everyone had found their way to the end and had had a chance to have a discussion, I asked them to put the sheet away (knowing that these are concepts the teachers will be returning to with them throughout the year), to put the chairs back into the circle, and to take a five-minute break.

Thus ended my over teaching time. After the break, Patric took over the explain the literary circles. I helped write on the white board, but he was in charge. The girls separated out into three circles, each with her own role, and we circulated to help where needed. Tomorrow, we will finish the literary circle experience and then jump into math. On Friday, we will introduce Bryce Hedstrom’s Special Person concept for English. And then, the program will be fully launched.

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It feels good to be stretched

Tuesday, August 23 10:00 pm

Today’s lesson plan (9 am – 11 am)

  1. Greetings: Comment ça va? Quoi de neuf? (around the circle)
  2. InterPlay: Warm-up and Walk-Stop-Run
  3. Journal (10 minutes): Raconte un moment d’apprentissage où tu te sentais très bien, que ce soit à l’école, à la maison, ou aux champs. Donne beaucoup de détails.
    1. Qui était là?
    2. étais-tu?
    3. Qui était là?
    4. Comment est-ce que c’était?
  4. With a partner: Tell each other your story (tell, don’t read it)
  5. Groupes de 4: Each partnership joins another partnership
    1. One partnership is A, one is B
    2. In each partnership, one person is #1, the other is #2 
    3. Determine what your letter/number is (A1, A2, B1, B2)
      1. B2’s: tell the others the story of your partner (partner corrects if there is a mistake) 
      2. Continue with A1, A2, and B1
      3. Teachers circulate during discussion
  6. Whole-group discussion (popcorn if possible): Quelles étaient les émotions dans ces moments d’apprentissage? … d’autres détails sur les situations — qui était là, etc.?
    1. Write down notes on white board
  7. Pense maintenant à un moment où tu as le CONTRAIRE de cette expérience — un moment  d’échec. (Prends des notes dans ton journal si tu veux.) You won’t have to share the actual experience, just the emotions.
  8. Whole-group discussion: Quelles étaient les émotions dans ces moments d’échec?
    1. Write notes on white board and contrast with the other—positive—experiences.
    2. What’s different?
  9. Introduction to LEARNING SOUP
    1. Quick explanation of the purpose and the fact that the soup is for EVERYONE. (Who? Everyone!!… Is it for you? for you? for you?)
    2. Read first construct to yourself and when finished, put hand on head
      1. Write down notes on white board
    3. Read second construct, then put finger on your nose
      1. notes on board
    4. Read third construct, then put your right hand on your left ear when finished
      1. notes on board
  10. Take a moment to write down in your journal who might be someone in your life who represents strength in each of these three constructs (can be yourself)
  11. Stand up and repeat after me: Je suis intelligente! Je suis capable! Je peux réussir!
    1. Then give yourself a hug to say thank you. Change which arm is on top—thank you again. Then thank you around the circle.
  12. At door: Shake my hand and tell me something that you either liked today, or which you found interesting.

Photos of the day

Diving in!

Monday, August 22 8:50 pm

Today was the teachers’ back-to-school day at Barrie School (the school where I taught French for the past seven years and was World Language department chair for the past six). A year ago, I would never have imagined that on this back-to-school day I would be leading InterPlay for a group of sixteen Cameroonian girls in Bankondji rather than attending and leading meetings in Silver Spring, Maryland. As much as I had already sensed that 2015-2016 would be my last year at Barrie, I would never, in my wildest dreams, have imagined that this is what I’d be doing today. Which shows that our imagination is no match for the reality of what can be created with faith and trust and a willingness to act.

There really aren’t words that can convey what we are experiencing here: the collaboration, the inspiration, the joy, the simplicity, the grandeur, the rightness.

The girls today were just wonderful. At the beginning of our time together, they sat quietly and formally on chairs, sitting up straight, and not saying a word.

IMG_5158
Before we started…

 

 At the end, when I asked them each to shake my hand at the door and to tell me something that they had liked in what we did together today, they almost all said: “At the beginning, I was shy, but by the end I felt so much better” or “When I got here, I was so tired, but now I feel full of energy.” As I regularly say when I use the heart-centered and highly effective methodologies I have come to trust — whether InterPlay or TPRS— “this shit works!” And with the team we have, this tutoring program is going to work. Each of the teachers expressed optimism, enthusiasm, gratitude, and very specific noticings regarding the different students in the group. I was struck by the deep care each of them has for the students, and I too feel a deep sense of optimism about the success of this program this year.

I loved being with the girls today. Once we got started, I could see all the same personalities I always see in a middle school or early high school group: some were very out there, others very reserved; some were careful to support others, others didn’t want to be paired up with anyone who wasn’t in their friend group; some spoke so softly you could hardly hear them, others laughed so loudly you had to ask them to stop. I could have been at Barrie. And, once we starting moving and “babbling” and doing hand dances and telling stories, we were all in it together.

 

Our curriculum this whole week mirrors what we did last week in the teacher training: today was “Le cercle de communauté;” tomorrow and Wednesday will be “Le cercle d’apprentissage,” where we’ll use the All Kinds of Minds constructs as conveyed in the Learning Soup document (an easier-to-understand version of the learning framework) to guide the students to analyze their own learning strengths and weaknesses; and Thursday and Friday we will do the “Cercles de tutorat,” where we’ll introduce literature circles (both French and English) and then math circles. Each day, starting tomorrow, just as we did in the training last week, the students will journal for ten minutes—we gave them the notebooks today. They’ll be allowed to journal in images or in words—it will be their choice. A new element that we will introduce this week is free voluntary reading with the books I brought with me—in French and English.

Tonight we went out to find a copy machine so that we could photocopy the Learning Soup. It took some doing! The first cyber-spot we went to had no ink left. Finally, we managed to print out a new copy of the Learning Soup on A4 paper and then make the copies. Luckily, we were able to put the document onto a flash drive; several people came in to the second place we went to print things out from the internet and were told that the internet was down in the whole town, and had been down for five hours already. Hearing that, we were grateful, too, to have our plug-in USB internet sticks, which work as long as the cell phone network is working.

*****

As far as my own life is concerned, I have a clear understanding that I have been called to this work, and even that what I’m doing now may be the Call of my life, the work I have been given to do. Everything I have experienced up until now has led me to this point. The seven years at Barrie were training for this…and this is the very beginning of what is going to now be my life. I have long wanted to find a way to bring together my love of teaching with my interest in living abroad in a French-speaking country. I’ve thought of applying to be a teacher in one of the international schools once both of our children have finished high school, but I’ve always had the concern that I’d be living in a wealthy bubble, separated from the people. Aumazo (my spell check keeps trying to change “Aumazo” to “Amaze”…) offers a true integration, an opportunity to offer the best of what I have to offer professionally, and also to offer the best of what I have to offer personally. 

Yesterday, when we were at the school site, I had the clear sense that we were in the hand of God. The air there is extraordinary, the beauty exceptional. It’s a thin place. Today I specifically noticed—when we returned to the site with our whole team after our morning’s work—that as we came to the crest of the hill, there was a different energy, an opening, a peace, a joy. The breeze picks up as you arrive there—because it’s the crest of the hill (or really, the mountain). Seeing our team walk around the school site today, it was clear to me that we are the founding members of this very real institution which is being founded in deep love —and community— and compassion —and creativity —and integration. Thanks be to God. 

A magical day in Bankondji

The photo above shows the view from the Aumazo school site. Such incredible beauty!

Sunday, August 21 9:44 pm

I woke up today not feeling very good—I was at that tired and cranky point in a trip where you just want to go home and want everything to feel normal again. I’m grateful to have traveled enough in my life to know that the homesickness always strikes, and that I usually struggle right before the halfway point. I shed my first real tears this morning about the fact that my Beatrice will be gone when I get home—and also that I’m going to miss the family orientation at her college. I found a quiet space and cried and centered myself in centering prayer, and then I walked the hill to my room and did about 45 minutes of yoga. After that, I was ready for the day, and it was a truly magical one.

We drove to Bankondji and parked the car at Jacqueline’s brother’s house so that we could walk  from there to the Aumazo school site. The weather was gorgeous today until the very end of our time in Bankondji, allowing us to spend several hours hiking—which is just what I’ve been wanting, and I had had no idea how incredibly gorgeous the area around Bankondji is. It is truly magical—mountains all around, an incredible variety of vegetation, from banana, avocado, orange, and guava trees to macabo, bean, and cassava plants (and of course much, much more), an absolutely stunning waterfall (you can see a picture of it on the Aumazo Facebook page), and a sense of deep, sweet peace.

I was really excited to come to the sign marking the beginning of the road which was completed last January thanks in great part to the money my AP students and I raised at our 2015 gala fundraiser at Barrie.

The road is just wonderful. You step from the almost pure clay road that leads to it, and suddenly you’re on a wide road that’s not at all slippery, with beautiful stone drainage ditches along the sides. It’s a pleasure to walk on. And by taking that road, we found our way to the Aumazo school site. I had goose bumps as we approached the actual site of the school—this place that I have been thinking about for the past three year—because I suddenly could see what it will be like with the majestic, healing natural beauty all around. A modern school in the midst of the stunning beauty of this area—a beautiful integration of the best of both worlds. I could hear in the wind the voices that will be calling to each other before and after school, and the voices were young, joyful, confident, and right at home. It was a true spiritual experience. 

Friends, this is not just a school. It’s a retreat center, a place of meditation and inspiration. Walking into the building that Jacqueline has built, I was struck by its simple beauty. When we get back to the States, Jacqueline has a meeting with representatives of an architecture firm who are interested in donating their services to design and build the school, and they would also raise the money needed for the construction. Jacqueline has invited me to attend the meeting, and I will go so that I can help convey the beauty of the spot, and also so that, as an educator, I can have a voice in how the spaces are designed.

After we visited the school site, we continued our hike, and found our way to Jacqueline’s father’s house, where she was born, and the smaller house of her mother, just up a small hill, where Jacqueline and her mother lived. After spending some time there and hearing stories about the spaces we were visiting, we made our way back to her brother’s house, very tired and hungry. As we prepared to eat, neighbors came to join us, and we ended up encircled in the warmth and good humor of community, eating, drinking, and laughing together.

Our last act of the day in Bankondji, as the rain finally began to fall, was to drop off supplies for the week ahead: the white board/ easel I’ve been using, a box filled with notebooks for the students’ class journals, a suitcase filled with books that I brought from the US. We left them in the rectory, and then walked through the rain to take a look at the school building where we will be working this week. There are three or four classrooms in the building, one of which is the one Lydie teaches in throughout the year.

Tomorrow is the big day when we begin work with the students. Day one will be a day for community building, just as it was for our first day of the teacher training, so we will be doing InterPlay. I am eager to experience who these young women are. In just one week Patric, Durand, Thierry, and Lydie have become for me dear people whom I can’t imagine not knowing. Soon, the same will be true with this group of girls. Finally, Aumazo is becoming truly real.

Zoma: a blockyard with a purpose

[I just changed the title per Jacqueline’s request. Since the bricks are actually interlocking blocks, and this is what sets Zoma apart from other brickyards, she asked me to change the word “brickyard” to “blockyard.”]

Sunday August 21 7:45 am

I tried to post this last night, but at midnight my internet cuts off, and it seems that I can’t get back on for about twenty minutes. At least that’s the way it was the night before. Last night, I was tired and I gave up ten minutes in and went to sleep. The way many people get internet here–and this is the case for me– is that you have a USB stick that provides you internet through the cell phone network. You get a certain amount of data per day, and it resets at midnight. I think I should be able to get back on at 12:01 am, but that doesn’t seem to be the case in actuality. 

The picture of me above was taken in front of the little mini house that Olivier put up to advertise the Zoma blockyard on the main road. As you’ll read below, we walked over to the blockyard yesterday.

August 20 10:43 pm

Happy Saturday to all!

Today I woke up… and I didn’t have a class to go teach! What a joy! As much as I have loved giving the trainings each morning, I loved having the freedom to lie in bed for a while and know that I didn’t have to have a clear plan for the day.

I wasn’t sure what the day would bring. Of course, this has been true every day I’ve been here, but without a class to teach in the morning, it was even more so. After I did my morning yoga, Jacqueline and I talked and agreed that we would walk to the Zoma brickyard after breakfast, since it looked like we were going to have a dry morning.

I want to tell you about this brickyard, in case you don’t already know about it. Zoma is a truly brilliant element to the Aumazo project, and one thing that differentiates Aumazo from any other project of its case—particularly a project that has, as yet, received no grants at all. (Can you believe the incredible work that’s happening on a project begun by one woman in her kitchen eleven years ago, and which has received no actual funding yet?) Jacqueline realized as she was starting to build the school that 1) the best building materials she could use for her school would be bricks built out of the clay that’s everywhere around; 2) there is a brick-making machine made in South Africa that makes interlocking blocks (that don’t need mortar) out of the clay; and 3) if she could get a construction business going based on a blockyard, she would have a way to pay the teachers and make sure the school was self-sustaining well after any grant moneys were to run out.

For the past three years, Olivier has run the blockyard and the construction company with the help of a few capable people here. The houses they build are just beautiful. The bricks are gorgeous. You can see in the pictures below the contrast between what Zoma is building and the other structures around.

You can visit zomabuild.com to learn more about what they’re doing. I’ve known about Zoma since I first heard Jacqueline speak, and I was bowled over to be able to actually be there today. 

Sunday, 7:30 am – a few extra words

We had a full day yesterday beyond what we did at the brickyard which included a visit in the evening to Jacqueline’s friends Patrick and Eveline. Patrick is the Sous-Préfet of Banja, a neighboring village where the Père Sylvestre was formerly the parish priest. Patrick and Eveline are fabulous people who received us in their home with great warmth. They are both anglophone (though they both speak French as well), and we spent the evening speaking English with them and their children. Eveline is a chemistry teacher over at the Collège Saint-Paul and also an administrator at a government school. She is working toward becoming a principal, but she says she will never leave the classroom because teaching is so important to her. In fact, the reason she teaches over at Saint-Paul is because at her school, chemistry isn’t offered beyond the more basic levels, and it’s important to her to be able to teach higher levels in her field, and keep her knowledge fresh, than to have the time off she would otherwise have. We hope that she will be able to participate in our next round of training–maybe next summer.

This morning (Sunday) we plan to go to Bankondji to case the joint, get set up a bit for tomorrow morning, and also walk to the school site. We had been hoping to go yesterday after our brickyard visit, but it started to rain, and it never really cleared up. This is the rainy season after all, so we have big, torrential rainstorms almost every day, but then we also have periods in the day when it’s dry and lovely.

 

Last day of training – Students will be with us on Monday

IMG_4878Cows grazing in the courtyard of the Collège Bilingue Saint Paul on Thursday

August 19 11:14 pm

Today was a big day for me because today’s the day my 17-year-old daughter Beatrice left for college on the other side of the country. I wasn’t at home to see her off, and I have been thinking about her all day. There’s now an eight-hour time difference between us.

Today during our last day of training, I gave an open-ended journal prompt to start our time together: rather than asking everyone to write about something specific, I asked them to write about something they found interesting, whether it was from the training this week or from their own life. I wrote about Beatrice’s departure and what she is going to be doing this coming week for orientation.

After the ten minutes of journaling, we shared in small groups of two or three, and then after another ten minutes, we gathered as a group. Once we were in the full group I asked each person to report on what they had heard from someone else. Most of the participants had written about something they had really found enriching about the training. People were particularly struck by the wisdom of working in the literature circles, which we did yesterday, and what a difference it makes when each student has a specific role to play in a group, so that each students is able to contribute. One person also mentioned how different, and exciting, it is to have the students be in a situation where they are clearly not just empty vessels waiting to be filled with the teacher’s knowledge—that, instead, they are running the discussion and finding out that they have things to contribute.

One person had, like me, written about something in his life that had nothing to do with the training. His partner told us that he’d always loved soccer but had never been able to play it with anyone because he didn’t have a ball, and the other kids wouldn’t let him play with them. Finally, when he was about 13, he got a job and earned some money, and with that money he purchased a ball. Then he was able to play every day, and friends appeared to play with him (because when you have a ball, you have friends). Since that time, he has continued to play soccer, and if he hasn’t played soccer on Sunday morning his week isn’t complete. I loved getting to have this little window into his life as a child and into one of his passions as an adult.

When we got to my partner, Olivier, he reported that I had written about how my daughter was leaving for college today—and then he surprised me by reading between the lines of what I had written. He said that he sensed that I was really sad not to be present for this very important moment in my child’s life. And he talked about how it was important for everyone to recognize how much I am sacrificing to be here with them—not that I don’t want to be here, but rather, that I want so much to be here with them that I’m giving up something very important in my personal life. He said that this really represents how much the project means to me. I was deeply touched because I myself hadn’t even realized that I was feeling that sadness—I was “merely” writing about Beatrice because I knew that she was getting on a plane this morning, and I was thinking about her. But tears came to my eyes as he spoke, and I realized that he was absolutely right. It is a sacrifice. And it’s also something I’m at ease about doing, because being able to be here, doing this work, is such an honor and a privilege.

I am deeply fortunate to have the deep and enthusiastic support of my family, even though it means that I’m not with them right now. Beatrice surprised me with a beautiful gift the other day. She said she is reading every word that I write here in the blog, and that I’m doing “such incredible work and I am so happy you are doing it.”

What greater blessing could I be given?

******

For those who’d like to know how we spent our last training day, here are a few more details:

After this discussion, we did about 15 minutes of InterPlay – a full warm-up and a walk-stop-run, this time with music. These folks just love InterPlay, and we have such fun with each other. I’m eager to experience our two hours with the students on Monday when we will be doing InterPlay together—and these six people will form a core group that is already familiar with several of the basic forms.

After our InterPlay interlude (InterLude?), we sat down to read about math circles. Yesterday after our training session I’d asked Durand, the math teacher, to take a look at the directions for math circles to see what they looked like, and to also bring a few math problems with him that we could use as a practical exercise. I realized that I was not the right person to really be in charge of math circles, especially as I noticed that I felt nervous and slightly confused as I thought about them… clear evidence of my affective filter going up! (Affective filter=emotional filter that makes it easier or harder to learn… high affective filter means your anxiety is in the way and can’t think as well… low affective filter means you’re fully comfortable and able to bring your full brain to the learning.) I was pleased and relieved when I checked in with him today and he said that the math circles really made sense to him, as a math teacher.

After everyone read the description of the math circles, which I’d gotten from Kate McCormick’s website (http://www.mathcircles.net/what-are-math-circles.html) and then translated, we talked about what had been striking to us as we read—and then we enumerated the different roles, which represent different steps in the mathematical solving process: Detective, Illustrator, Calculator, Editor, and finally Summarizer. I then passed the leadership on to Durand for the most part, and he gave us a problem to solve, and then we walked through the different steps using the roles. What was fascinating was how we completely threw ourselves into the task, and how passionate people became about how to do the math correctly! At one point, Jacqueline was very strongly telling Thierry that he wasn’t going about the problem correctly (Thierry was playing the role of Calculator), because he hadn’t first written the full operation before starting to solve it. When we realized that Jacqueline’s wanting to do things in a very particular order comes from her strength in temporal sequential ordering (in the All Kinds of Minds framework), we had to laugh, and Durand and I both guided the group to allow Thierry to follow through with his process.

It was highly enriching to, as a group, attempt to solve an actual math problem using the methodology. We were really surprised and pleased by how much we felt like actual students, and also by how much we learned about what the teacher needs to have in mind as s/he first trains students in these roles— for example, that each person needs to have the freedom to play out the role without being interrupted by someone else.

We actually stayed an extra half hour because the group wanted to have the full experience of solving the math problem before engaging in our final announcements and reflection. In our closing circle, I asked everyone to share a word or short phrase to say what was alive in them. Words shared included: “Enriching” – “More and more interesting” – and “Joyful.”

On Monday we start our work with students. We are all thrilled to do so. And, as I told the group, I couldn’t be more optimistic about our success knowing who the teachers are. What a team we have become. What a spectacular group of people.

In the flow

Today was a day of ease and grace. I awoke to the water running properly, and things continued to flow smoothly from there. I was dreading being back in the classroom at the school, but because the space was now familiar–and especially because we had created good energy in that space yesterday–it was comfortable and pleasant to be there, despite the physical issues that I had been so struck by yesterday. And since I managed not to have to use the bathroom during the entire morning, it was a true success!

Our training consisted today in reflecting on students through the All Kinds of Minds framework to begin with, and then moving on to Literature Circles as one of the tools we are going to use in the tutoring program. It was incredibly satisfying to see how smoothly we were able to transition from the more abstract to the more concrete, and how fun and engaging it was to practice working in literature circles ourselves, using books that Jacqueline and I brought with us to create a small library for the tutoring program. Today is the day that I could really begin to see what the actual program is going to look like–and I could see that it is going to be really successful. It’s a powerful experience to watch what you’ve planned take shape, and I am really impressed that I was able to plan this training week so very well. It wasn’t something I’d ever done before, yet each day has unfolded with just the right rhythm, and each step has been the natural next step to take.

I spent the afternoon and evening just hanging out here at the mission with Jacqueline and Olivier, writing emails and taking care of business on the computer. This evening I was able to download onto my computer all the pictures Jacqueline has taken since I’ve been here, and now I’m attempting to upload some of the most striking ones to this blog. C’est un travail d’amour –a work of love… and more painstaking than I think it should be. Between the holes I have in tech knowledge and the internet not being as fast as I would like on the one hand, and my bleary eyes from looking at the computer for too long on the other, I’m having quite a bit of trouble.

I’m going to leave the blog here for today and attempt to upload a few more pictures for your viewing pleasure. There are more to come.