A Revolution

DSC02889 On our final evening in the DR, we came  together as a team of Ontario educators, DR  educators, the Director, the Superintendent of  their district and our host family ~ Pastor  Lopez and his family (his daughter and son-  in-law were two of our interpreters for the conference) to debrief about the conference and begin planning for next year. And although my trip was intertwined with many heart-breaking moments, it wasn’t until Louisa (their Superintendent) and Pastor Lopez shared their gratitude for our work that I actually felt the tears roll down my cheeks.

Pastor Lopez is a man who was asked to come to Hainamosa to build a church within this poverty stricken village and his response was to build a school first and then the church would follow. This is a man of action, a man who demonstrates his conviction in all that he does. It’s difficult for me to articulate how blessed I felt to be in his presence as he interacted with the people of his village, with the heads of government, with his family and with us ~ his Canadian family!  He was the guy who, when the speaker system wasn’t working for the closing ceremony, drove to his church disassembled his speaker system and brought it to the location of the conference. He would bring snacks and water to us as we presented and he stayed awake all night, to ensure our safety and the safety of his family while we stayed in his home ~ A man of action, not only words!  As we walked through the village one evening, droves of people came out of their shacks to embrace him. He delved into deep conversation about education with the Director and had the political finesse to carry on a conversation with Government representatives. When we presented our hosts with a thank you gift, he was thrilled with his Blue Jays cap and wore it that evening and into the next day.  He was still wearing as he waved to us as we crossed the security gates at the airport


Louisa, the Superintendent of District 10  spoke from the heart as she recognized and  thanked her DR educators for their  contribution. Louisa had her own daughters  take part in the conference (registration table,  break time etc) because she wanted them to  be a part of her world and see the hard work that is involved. She too knows that education is the answer to poverty in her country.  As she thanked us, she cried with gratitude for the partnership that has been developed and for our work in helping to build capacity within an education system that is so poorly represented with ongoing educator learning ~ something that we take for granted and something that some of our educators complain about having to attend.

Following our meal together, theDR teaching partners showered us with handmade gifts of flowers, jewellery and beautifully written cards.  By this point, mine were not the only tears flowing!

The last words came from Pastor Lopez and it wasn’t until that very moment that I truly realized the power in our trip and the work of TMA.   He shared that we are now part of a revolution.  Our work is indeed a revolution; a revolution without bloodshed.  But it does come at a cost. It came at a financial cost for us to travel, at a cost to our families who needed to survive without us, at a cost to us in terms of giving up personal comfort for a week and at a cost to us in that we placed ourselves in a community with the potential for violence.  He thanked us for our passion ~ a passion for not only education in our own country, but for a passion that recognizes the need to reach out to other countries.

downloadHe spoke about education as the tree of life and that our work is like the seeds from that tree.  We have shared our knowledge and planted seeds which will now grow in the hearts and minds of our DR educators, who will pass it on to others educators and their students.   We may not know the effects of those seeds, but we know that we have planted them!

And I can attest to the fact that we have planted those seeds in fertile ground. From the participation, to the discussion to the thought-provoking questions, our DR counterparts are more than willing, ready and able to lead the charge in their education revolution!

One doesn’t have to travel to another country to experience the need to revolutionize education.  What are you prepared to do, in your own backyard, in your own school community?

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From Nothing Comes So Much!!

DSC02999 I will be honest in that I had no idea as to  what to expect in terms of educator  proficiency in the Dominican. I knew that  resources were scarce and that anything that  we brought and used needed to be easily  accessible and technology-free ~ a very different approach to my usual world of educator presentations. But it became apparent from our first meeting with our DR teaching partners that even though they had little they had an incredible talent for still ensuring a high level of creativity and professionalism.  At the plenary, two educators were invited to share what they had created and used as a result of last year’s TMA conference.  Their charts were enhanced with intricate hand-cut borders and handmade paper flowers.  The materials were made out of everyday objects which we wouldn’t think twice about discarding. One teacher shared a spinner that she had created for her kindergarten class which was made using two old CDs and a marble ~ ingenious!!!  The lack of purchased materials in no way prohibited these educators from creating thought-provoking and intellectually stimulating activities for their students.


Handwritten scraps of paper were generously shared and there was never a complaint about “not enough copies” or “quality” of the product.  There was such gratitude and the materials became secondary to the deep discussions about pedagogy.

There was also such incredible pride in anything which might be displayed.  One of the activities that I shared was the Visual Tea Party ~ an activity to create groups and to have students use their observation and then inference skills.  We used it as a prediction strategy before delving into a newspaper article. The educators were asked to brainstorm what they saw and then what the object might be. No matter how many times we shared the instruction, “just write whatever you see, neatness doesn’t count”, our DR friends took great pride in taking turns and neatly (in beautiful, straight-lined penmanship) writing their responses.  It was very interesting to compare the results of this activity with the results that we gathered when the Literacy team facilitated the same activity during our Journeys into Literacy sessions this past year.

On the final day of the workshop, as we were tidying up, materials that we no longer needed and were headed for the garbage, became treasures for these educators to share with their students.

I learned many lessons while in the DR, and one of the sobering lessons was how much I have taken for granted in terms of what is needed to impact teacher practice.  The bells and whistles of the presentation need to be secondary to the dialogue.


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From Plunging to Pedagogy

teamPlace 9 female educators on a plane, headed  for the Dominican Republic to lead a  conference, for a week of complete  togetherness and watch what happens…..

Other than an initial meeting in January and  a brief planning session in March, I had no concept of what a week in the DR with 8 other strangers would entail, nor had I had a chance to get to know any of my travel companions. We had been well prepped with packing lists, an agenda for our stay and my teaching partner was a returning teacher, so I had peppered her with a variety of questions.  But like most life altering experiences, until you live it, you have no idea what is in store.

I’m not sure that you could have selected a more diverse team of educators ~ we ranged in age, marital status, years of teaching, family status, socio-economic status, ethnic backgrounds, job descriptions and above all else personalities. Each one of us had a unique reason for being on this trip and the more time we spent together, the more time we spent sharing our backstories and the journeys that brought us together.  I was in awe at the openness in which conversations occurred about children, parents and partners.  For relative strangers, some deep rooted emotions were brought to the surface in a relatively short time of being together.

To say that we were in close quarters, is an understatement and we very quickly became comfortable with sharing cramped spaces on a van, close mattresses in our large bedrooms, meals in various locations and of course a bathroom.  6 of us were in one room, sharing one bathroom and we didn’t have one issue ~ we all became adept at unclogging our toilet (due to very limited water) and the open door policy was quickly initiated.

But for all of our differences, we shared a passion for our work. Not only the work that we were doing in the DR, but our work at home. I loved hearing about how other boards deal with various scenarios and spent many hours listening to the stories of the other administrators as they shared the work that they are doing in their schools and the various levels of support from senior administration. They shared hiring practices, resource allocation, policies and procedures.  We talked for hours about supporting new teachers, supporting LTOs, pedagogical practices and supporting the needs of our students with special needs. For our younger team members, it was interesting listening to their perspective, not only on teaching, but about being young women who are so dedicated to such a cause.

At one point in our week, we had the opportunity to visit Nancy’s sister, Lucy!  As I’ve shared earlier, Nancy is the founder of TMA and her life story is one that needs to be made into a movie.  But her sister, Lucy, started the first preschool in Santa Domingo and to hear her challenges and successes, reminded me of our own Rose Walton, who also has such intense passion for early childhood learning.  I can just imagine the two of them sitting together sharing their philosophies and implementation strategies.

It became apparent that the strength in our team was indeed our diversity and how we managed to use that diversity to our advantage.

When choosing members of teams, do you purposefully look to create a diverse team?

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