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Old School Innovation

Growth mindset. Future ready. 21st century learning. Changemaker. These are all buzzwords in and around education. I use them a lot myself, having the majority of my work centered around innovative instruction using technology as a resource for authentic learning. But in early August, I had the opportunity to go old school – back to the basics. I was invited to a small school in Puerto Escondido, Oaxaca, Mexico to train their teachers and staff. The most “senior” full-time teacher on this staff has five years teaching experience. In just three years, this school has grown from five teachers to over thirty staff members, and now supports students in grades pK-7. At least half of the teachers in my trainings have never taught before outside of college. I know four of them didn’t even go to college to become teachers, and yet have found themselves called to this mission. So while I am usually working with districts on integrating technology and transforming learning through various blended learning strategies and digital-rich resources, I had to refocus, drawing on those first few years that I was in the classroom. My only technology was an overhead projector – not an interactive whiteboard, and not even an LCD projector and doc camera. No, just the old school overhead projectors with Vis a Vis markers.

In Mexico, was training on Classroom Management, Time Management and Lesson Planning, Effective Assessments, Differentiated Learning, Active Learning Strategies, and Authentic Learning. Most teachers in the United States can count on some form of technology to assist and/or enhance their teaching (at a minimum). It’s so much easier to use data to drive your instruction when you can use handy online formative assessment tools. Differentiation is easier to maintain with fidelity when you have the entire internet and digital devices in the hands of the students. I had to constantly reframe my thinking when putting together this week-long professional development. My “growth mindset” had to learn to grow in new (or old) directions.

I’ll be the first to admit that developing the training was a challenge for me, at times. But I found myself grateful for those years I spent teaching “old school style” with just that projector, a desktop computer, and my class full of eager minds. I had years of resources to discover in my memory, dust off, and add to that helped pull everything together into something that would be beneficial to these young teachers and the students whom they’d be getting “future-ready”.

Most of the teachers I was working with were from the United States. There was a handful from Mexico themselves. Halfway through the week, one of those sweet ladies leaned over to me and said (in way better English than I could replicate in Spanish), “You are helping me so much. I watch you and think I want to be like you.” I can’t even begin to explain how that comment filled my heart. My hope and goal is to serve the educators I work with well, but I don’t always know if what I’m providing is meeting their needs. These teachers gave up an entire week of their summer vacation for training right before school started.

The morning consisted of my workshops and the afternoon of school policies, and language acquisition lessons as this is an English-immersion school. Many of the teachers had only lived in Mexico for a week when I arrived. They were going through culture shock, new job shock, and information overload. And yet, not a single one complained. They all showed up early so they had time to share coffee and sweet bread with each other. They hugged me each morning and seemed genuinely happy to be there again. Did I mention that the school was not air conditioned? And that it was August? In Mexico? Get what I’m saying here? They don’t have access to many of the “comforts” we take for granted in American schools, and yet I was received with more gratitude and welcome than often occurs in the U.S. No one complained about working during non-contractual hours. No one asked why lunch wasn’t provided. No one walked in early, looked at their phones during the training, or got sidetracked talking to their colleagues. No one made excuses as to why they couldn’t use certain instructional practices I was teaching because they didn’t have enough resources. These were teachers who embraced creativity and critical thinking in ways that would support their students. Their aim at this school is to reach each student’s heart first, and their mind second. That’s the best kind of teaching I can think of. That’s the kind of innovation I want to see in classrooms everywhere. It should always be about the kids. These educators truly are changemakers, preparing their 21st century students using old school innovation.

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By the way, this school is totally donor-supported. If you are interested in learning more about El Mantiel and Global Education Ministries, check out their website, or find them on Facebook