As I was clearing my desk in an effort to display some resemblance of an organized home office, prior to leaving for the Dominican Republic, I landed upon an unopened letter from Western University. It was a generous gift card from Mary Ott and Kathy Hibbert along with a note of appreciation for our work with the Master Teachers Mentor program this past year. The note included the following quote from Simon Sinek.
As happens more often than not, the timing and sentiment of that letter coincided perfectly with our upcoming trip to the Dominican Republic as a part of our work with Teacher Mentors Abroad. This organization has been partnering with DR educators since 2005 and over the past 17 years has supported the work of thousands of DR educators in various districts. This year we celebrated another expansion as our work took us to two new sites ~ La Vega and Consuela.
Historically teams of Canadian educators (most predominantly from Ontario) have partnered with DR mentors ~ individuals who have attended past workshops and taken on leadership roles within their schools/districts and together we have offered 4-day conferences. Although the structure of the workshops has evolved and transformed over the years, the heart of the work has been consistent. We know the power of creating student centered learning environments where augmenting student voice and student choice positively impacts student achievement and hence that criteria has been the heart of our work.
TMA is very committed to supporting and strengthening the pedagogical and facilitation skills our DR mentors and over the past few years, when COVID impacted our ability to travel and provide in-person conferences, we shifted our focus to working more intensely with our DR mentors. Up until March 2020 we had always talked about the power of staying connected between our July conference visits, but never quite found a meaningful virtual way to do so. One of the many positives of the pandemic is that when the conditions are created for you to embrace change, you stop and wonder why it took so long to do so. Hence, between online sessions with our Mentors, the ability for our Program Committee to virtually join the Executive and participate in the strategic planning sessions, and our DR Directors Jose and Juan Pablo visions of expansion, our work this summer was going to look very different and very exciting.
Imperative to our work, is the incomparable passion of our President, Nancy Threan Lorraine, who tirelessly works to ensure that connections are created with the Ministry, private and public organizations so that the foundational pieces are put in place for us to do what we love and what we know is important. Air travel, accommodations, food and on the ground travel are all taken care of for us. I often think what it would look like if an organization from another country connected with our Director and asked if they could come and offer a 4-day conference to 100s of Thames Valley educators. Oh… the questions, the hoops, the red tape that would have to be navigated. With Nancy at the helm and Juan Pablo and Jose on board, we determined that this year, we would be supporting our DR mentors in both Santiago and Santo Domingo, not by co-presenting with them at a conference for their peers, but by intentionally working alongside them as they prepared to facilitate their first conference at new sites. They were going to be our ambassadors as we took our message of student-centered learning to 2 new districts ~ La Vega and Consuela.
No longer did we need to bring large teams of 8-10 Canadian mentors, nor were we packing materials for a 4-day conference for 100s of participants (Oh, the Post-it notes, markers and chart paper that we once packed, hoping to stay under the 50 lb. limit…lol) or lugging hundreds of copies of the Tribes book through the airport, with the anticipation of having to explain their significance to the Customs officers. Instead, we needed to pack our backpacks with the mindset of mentorship.
Our work was going to entail three intense days with our DR Mentors which included co-constructing a day long workshop agenda focusing on four topics (that were meaningful and responsive to our La Vega participants) practicing engaging facilitation strategies, developing effective reflection/feedback techniques, and of course building in time for laughter, not to mention translation.
One of the many aspects of working with our DR educators that I love is how they embrace any opportunity to connect. As the “back to school” rhetoric on social media begins, it’s hard to go a day without a North American educator posting their thoughts about “ice breakers” and the comments are usually less than positive. And yet when working with our DR educators, they truly embrace opportunities to get up, move around, act out a scene, draw a picture or sing a song. So, as we came together on that first day, the room was filled with laughter in tandem with authentic learning. We were creating community, which happened to be one of the workshop topics. Our newest Canadian team member was truly amazed and impressed with how our partners embraced these activities.
The three days flew by and by the end of day three, with minimal time to practice, our DR team was excited, ready, and little nervous. As we modeled the power of reflection based on our three days of work, Dani shared the following sentiments:
Regardless of how the conference went in La Vega, we had met our goal of empowering our DR mentors.
Needless to say, the day in La Vega was a huge success. Our mentors worked in pairs and together they provided workshops to groups of twenty-five, four times in a row. We took the opportunity to debrief after each session and by the end of the day they had embraced the feedback and streamlined their presentations. They received praise and encouragement from their participants, including kind words and reassurance from a former Director of Education who joined a group and took part in all four workshops. The feedback was unanimous ~ the participants were thankful for the appetizer (4 mini sessions) but next year they want the full course ~ a full four-day conference.
It has been almost a month since we traveled to the DR and once again my home office desk is piling up with “must read” novels, Post-it notes with ideas for next year, new unopened letters and remnants of a craft project that I started with my granddaughter. And yet, as I start to tidy it up and pack away my passport, I start to wonder:
~ which educators who attended the day in La Vega were so excited about the workshops that they are wondering how to get involved?
~ now that we have mastered the art of virtual connections with our DR mentors, what will our work look like throughout the fall, winter, and spring in anticipation of summer 2023?
~ what other sites besides La Vega are ready and willing to welcome TMA?
~ how can we evolve and strengthen our mentorship skills?
As the list of wonderings continue to flood my mind, I take a moment and give thanks for the incredible gift of this organization and the countless number of individuals who share this insatiable passion for global education and partnerships.