Browsed by
Author: Will Minton

Creating a Collaborative School Culture (Part 2)

Creating a Collaborative School Culture (Part 2)

“Lesson study is the way change has been able to come to elementary,” explained Shannon Watt. “We plan our lessons as a team. And we’ve done it, so if it doesn’t work it’s the team’s responsibility, not just one teacher. Lesson Study is what’s enabled us to open our minds, make mind shifts, to leave the traditional.”

As she spoke, Ms. Watt began to pull books on Lesson Study from the shelves in her office and slide them towards me over the desk. Lesson Study is a Japanese methodology where teachers plan and analyze their lessons together.

“And the best thing is that lesson study makes them open their classrooms, so now we have middle school teachers who go to see elementary teachers. Which is great because now they feel empowered. Observers come, and they are impressed and then they adapt what they see for older students. There’s more sharing ideas.”

But Lesson Study is a difficult system to get going in a school. In the West, teachers are famously attached to their autonomy. In a system that makes them feel embattled on all fronts, it’s often all they have to cling to. Even in a more affluent school like Southern Cross, teachers often invest a tremendous amount of personal pride in their particular way of doing things. Getting teachers to plan and evaluate lessons together, to get them innovating, is often a tremendous challenge. The “Team Time” in my first school back in 2006 often devolved into a round robin airing of grievances. Many of the teachers I’ve worked with over the past few years have shared similar experiences.

Lesson Study - International education

When Shannon Watt first introduced Lesson Study, she knew that she had to be delicate. She first started with a team she thought would be more amenable. Only after they shared how much they liked it, did she encourage the more skeptical teachers to try it out. There were problems at first. It’s only now, in the third year, that she feels Lesson Study is working as it truly should. All of the teachers are engaged and invested. They see how Lesson Study helps them. The issues with group work, which resulted in the slow but enthusiastic adoption of Kagan strategies, were originally surfaced in Lesson Study meetings.

Spending a day with Ms. Watt at Southern Cross, and talking with her teachers, was extremely illuminating. She seems to have created the kind of professional culture that many schools in the States aspire to with a kind of wistful idealism, an unstated recognition that the barriers are actually too great.*

More and more, people are beginning to realize that teaching needs to be a more collaborative profession. Just the night before, I was at a talk with a Chilean Education Professor who discussed how teachers’ tendency to view their classrooms as independent fiefdoms was one of the major barriers to reform. More collaborative faculties not only give people more opportunities to collaborate and share ideas. It also helps with morale.

[pullquote align=”full” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]
Ms. Watt’s approach to leadership is much more thoughtful. It’s characterized by a patient perseverance that is far too rare in most schools.[/pullquote]

In the last post, I mentioned that the Harvard Business Review has found that having opportunities for professional growth and feeling trusted by one’s supervisor are two of the most important factors for job satisfaction. A third factor highly important factor is having close collaborative relationships with one’s colleagues.

The importance of collaboration is something many schools in the U.S. seem to know without understanding how to make it a reality. Too often the strategy is to block off time on a calendar without any context or guidance. Ms. Watt’s approach to leadership is much more thoughtful. It’s characterized by a patient perseverance that is far too rare in most schools. And it’s an approach that’s created results.

As an 18 year veteran teacher I met at Southern Cross told me, “I’ve worked at a lot of schools. And what I’ve learned is that the role of the instructional coordinator is really very important.”

– Will

*There is a very real barrier in many U.S. schools though. Mainly the amount of time teachers are expected to be with students. At Southern Cross, the teachers told me they spent 27.5 hours a week with students. In many U.S. elementary schools that number is closer to 34 hours. Those extra 6 hours a week for things like Lesson Study can make a big difference.

Creating a Collaborative School Culture (Part 1)

Creating a Collaborative School Culture (Part 1)

The teachers Shannon Watt works with talk about her in tones of grateful reverence. If you’ve spent much time in teachers’ lounges, you may appreciate how unusual this tone of voice is. Especially when the topic of conversation is school administration.

“She trusts us. She gives us freedom,” began one, 18-year veteran, teacher.

“But its freedom with responsibility,” added another.

“Exactly.”

We got to this point after I asked them why they think the culture at Southern Cross (one of the best private schools in Chile) is so strong. First, they spoke about the strong relationships between students and teachers. They said teachers aren’t seen as a ‘big authority,’ and that it’s important to help students understand that behavior corrections are meant to help them become better people. But they quickly switched to talking about their own development.

“And the teachers here are always studying.”

“It’s tough, but nice. Like Kagan… It was difficult at first but now I love it.”

By ‘Kagan’ the teacher meant a set of cooperative learning strategies that are quickly gaining popularity in the United Sates as well.

“Cooperative learning started because the teachers wanted it,” explained Shannon Watt. “They saw that kids didn’t know how to work in groups. They made group work and it didn’t work. The kids had to learn how to work in groups.” Ms. Watt is also a trainer for Singapore math and, interestingly, it was a teacher from Singapore who recommended Kagan. So Ms. Watt bought the book, travelled to the States for training and then returned to try the strategies out with her own class.

“So, I tried it. The first weeks I thought, ‘this is terrible, this book was phony.’ Everything was ‘Ahhh!’ I didn’t know if it was going to work. And then the third week kids started engaging and it went well. I saw them working. And then I invited other teachers to come see my classes. They liked what they saw and that was the way we put it in.”

Shannon Watt
Shannon Watt

I think there’s a lot to learn about effective administration from this account.

  1. The teachers identified group work as a priority. The reform wasn’t coming down from out of the blue.
  2. Shannon did exhaustive preparation on her own and then piloted the strategies in her own classroom. In this way, she was in a position to truly empathize with the challenges her teachers faced later.
  3. She stuck with it for three weeks before it started to work. For me, this emphasizes the unwavering expectations she holds her students to. I’ve seen many teachers from working-class schools attempt and then abandon Kagan strategies after a few days. They say the initial disaster is proof that these strategies won’t work in ‘their environment’ or for ‘their students.’ It’s worth noting that a veteran teacher at a prestigious school encountered the same difficulties, she just reacted to them differently.
  4. Before pulling teachers into trainings, she invited them to her room and allowed a ‘buzz’ to build around the techniques. When the training finally started it was something they were eager to learn.

It’s not hard to see why her teachers love working with her.

The Harvard Business Review has done a number of studies about why people do or don’t like their jobs. Two of the most powerful factors for job satisfaction they’ve found are:

  1. Feeling trusted by your supervisor.
  2. Opportunities to develop professionally in a meaningful way.

Too often in the United States administrators limit their communications with teachers to discussing evaluations and obligations. This approach fairly quickly chips away at the trust most teachers initially feel toward their administration. And it’s a cliché by now for teachers to be bombarded by new waves of ‘teacher proof’ classroom strategies every few years; strategies devised without their input, and without any concern for the specific dynamics of their classroom. Teachers end up feeling that the school or district doesn’t understand them and doesn’t care to. The idea the district ‘trusts’ them is often almost laughable.

Ms. Watt’s approach to leadership is clearly different. Her teachers love working with her because they feel trusted. And the way their development is set up makes them excited to grow in their craft. It’s amazing the differences happy teachers make.

But before Shannon Watt helped her teachers create a collaborative environment for her students, she first had to work on creating a collaborative culture amongst her teachers. Shannon is quick to point out that the above story never would have happened if it hadn’t been for Lesson Study. For more on that story, check out tomorrow’s post.

  • Will
Valle de la Luna: San Pedro de Atacama Day 4

Valle de la Luna: San Pedro de Atacama Day 4

The Valle de la Luna (or Valley of the Moon) is San Pedro’s most famous attraction. The valley gets its name because of its terrain, which is said to be the closest thing to a lunar landscape on the planet. It’s also fairly close to town so, instead of a tour, we opted to rent bikes and get there on our own.

Bike to Valle de la luna san pedro de atacama

The ride was about 15km with ups and downs and nice scenery.

Biking to valle de la luna san pedro de atacama

The Valle de la Luna is part of a mountain range made almost entirely of salt. The first feature you see when you arrive are the salt caves.

valle de la luna salt caves san pedro de atacama

Looking close, you can see the salt crystals more clearly.

valle de la luna salt caves san pedro de atacama

At parts, you need to contort to get through. And other parts (no pics) are completely dark.

salt caves in San pedro de atacama valle de la luna

When you emerge from the caves, you find a unique landscape. That white stuff is salt, not snow.

valley of the moon san pedro de atacama

Some parts inside the valley are too steep to bike.

biking to valle de la luna san pedro de atacama

Some places you see sand.

valley of the moon san pedro de atacama

Other parts are powdered with salt.

valley of the moon san pedro de atacama

And some parts just seem to say, “Peace, man.”

valley of the moon san pedro de atacama

To prepare for sunset, we climbed to the top of the great dune,

san pedro de atacama valley of the moon great dune

and ate the avocado sandwiches we brought for dinner.

great dune in valle de la luna san pedro de atacama

The view from up there was pretty great.

valle de la luna san pedro de atacama

Eventually the sun began to set.

valley of the moon san pedro de atacama

And we soaked it in.

sunset at valle de la luna san pedro de atacama

sunset valley of the moon san pedro de atacama

But the thing about biking and staying til after sunset, is that the ride back is completely dark.

biking back fro valley of the moon san pedro de atacama

The ride was both cool and nerve racking. Cool because we were alone in this wild place and the stars were bright and clear enough to see the milky way. Nerve racking because, well, it was pitch dark in a crazy place and we were miles away from town.

Eventually we watched the moon rise over the Andes and that brought enough light to see. We returned 2 hours later than we said and much more exhausted than we anticipated, but the evening was a perfect finish to our week in San Pedro de Atacama.

This day was a clear highlight of our trip so far.

Will & Elizabeth

Cathedrals of Salt – San Pedro de Atacama Day 3

Cathedrals of Salt – San Pedro de Atacama Day 3

On our third day in San Pedro de Atacama, we headed toward the Cathedrals of Salt. The journey took us into the Andes, across the world’s largest extinct volcano crater, past a number of volcanic rock features, and around several high altitude lagoons.

But first we had to drive toward the mountains. All of the peaks in the distance here are volcanoes.

San Pedro de Atacama Andes

We stopped to eat a breakfast of bread and cheese on the side of the road.

San Pedro de Atacama Andes breakfast

Eventually we passed by the volcanoes we had seen on the horizon.

San Pedro de Atacama volcano travel

We stopped at a lagoon.

San PEdro de Atacama lagoon

Where we played,

San Pedr de Atacama lagoon

and danced on the ice.

San Pedro de Atacama lagoon

Later we approached rocks made of volcanic ash that have been eroded into surprising formations.

San Pedro de Atacama monks

Can you make me out lounging in the shade of this one?

San Pedro de Atacama monks

Here it is a bit closer up.

San Pedro de Atacama monks

We were encouraged to use the shade and crannies of these rocks as our Pachamama (mother earth) toilet.

San Pedro de Atacama pachmama

Next we drove into the largest extinct crated in the world. Everything until the mountains is a crater and there’s as much space on the other side. The specs of black are pieces of obsidian that have been resting there for millions of years. (we were encouraged to take some home and we obliged)

San Pedro de Atacama volcano crater obsidian

Nearby we found the ‘White Monks.” The two distinct lines that run across these rocks, mark the 3 different eruptions that created them.

San Pedro de Atacama white monks

It’s cool to wander around them.

San Pedro de Atacama white monks

San Pedro de Atacama white monks

Eventually we arrived at the Cathedrals of Salt.

San Pedro de Atacama catedrales de sal

It’s a great place to stroll.

San Pedro de Atacama catedrales de sal

Or meditate.

San Pedro de Atacama catedrales de sal travel

Eventually we ended up at this lagoon.

San Pedro de Atacama lagoon

Where we watched vicuna. (an endangered species)

San Pedro de Atacama Vicuna

Our guide was the one who popularized this tour a few years ago. He told legends about the family relationships between the volcanoes. All in all it was a surprising and incredible day.

San Pedro de Atacama catedrales de sal travel

Check out our other San Pedro de Atacama Galleries:

Day 1 Petroglyphs and Rainbow Valley

Day 2 Piedras Rojas and Atacama Salt Flats

Day 4 Valle de la Luna

Will & Elizabeth

 

Mindsets, Expectations, and Classroom Culture

Mindsets, Expectations, and Classroom Culture

I arrived at Liceo Domingo Santa Maria unannounced and was greeted with a sort of excited confusion. After explaining myself to several administrators around the enormous Pre-K–12 campus, I ended up in a high school English classroom. The room was noisy. Most of the 30+ students chatted casually with unmarked worksheets in front of them. Occasionally the teacher would step out from behind his desk, pace impatiently, and then speak over the chatter to remind the students that this work was important, and they should be taking it seriously.

I spent most of my time talking with a group of boys by the windows who were wearing straight brimmed baseball caps. They asked me about music and said that they liked American rap music, especially Wiz Khalifa. When I said I was more interested in Chilean music, they smiled and made me a list of bands to listen to. I asked them if students at the school were always like ‘this’ and gestured to the chatter around us. They laughed and explained that students pay more attention in classes that they like but that no one likes English. I turned the conversation to their blank worksheets (they were supposed to be describing pictures of people’s faces) and I discovered that they all had several pages worth of English vocabulary copied into their notebooks. I realized, at some point, this class must have been quietly and diligently copying these notes from the board. Having students silently copy notes is a favorite management strategy of teachers in working-class schools. It brings order, but unfortunately, not much thinking.

International Education School Facilities

Liceo Domingo Santa Maria is a large school with nice facilities

Around the room, a handful of students seemed torn between the noise around them and the confusion of their worksheets. They ended up staring blankly forward, pillars of stoicism in a loudly social scene.

When class ended I walked up to the teacher, Javier, who was obviously embarrassed by his class. The first thing he said to me was, “These kids, you wouldn’t believe the problems they deal with at home. Drugs, violence, hunger…”

International Education enrollment sign

An advertisement for the school’s special program for students with speech problems

Javier got me a sandwich and a coffee from the school cafeteria, and we talked for the better part of an hour. He’s a 10-year veteran teacher and he explained that he enjoys it because it makes him be creative and keeps him sharp. When I asked about obstacles, he mentioned the focus on standardized tests and the amount of time it takes to design lessons, “There’s no time to create activities and so you have to do it at home and then you spend this time working at home but the students don’t care. Neither the students nor the bosses care about the teacher’s well-being. It’s run like a business. It’s all about results.”

Javier told me that the test scores in Arica are the lowest in the country and hypothesized that part of the reason could be that a large percentage of the population has been exposed to unhealthy levels of lead. He lamented how frustrating it is when students don’t pay attention and again connected it to their home lives, which he described as ‘heart-breaking.’

Education - Teacher with paperwork

Javier working on paperwork. Paperwork is so onerous, the school offers bonuses for having it completed.

During our conversation three things became very clear to me:

1) Javier works very hard over long hours,

2) He is emotionally invested in his students, and

3) He is not a very effective teacher.

And this is an important point to realize about education: many ineffective teachers’ work and care just as much as effective teachers. A teachers’ effectiveness is less a function of how much they work or care and more a function of what they believe their students are capable of achieving. Javier expressed what in the U.S. we would call a ‘deficit-based mindset.’ For him, the barriers his students face outside of school predicts a negative attitude toward school. The difficulties in their lives eclipse any more ambitious vision of what they could be capable of. As Lisa Delpit (amongst others) has pointed out, this kind of mindset is attractive because it frees the teacher of responsibility for their students’ learning.

Of course, the stresses Javier faces are severely exacerbated by the fact that he has more work to do than hours to do it in. Remember, Chile and the U.S. require teachers to spend more time in front of students than any other country in the world. And at least in the U.S. we have computers to help with paperwork.

After our conversation, I walked around the campus glancing into windows. I saw a wide variety of student engagement. A room of nearly 40 students was transfixed on a teacher who paced and smiled while tossing an apple into the air. Another class quietly copied notes from a PowerPoint.

Students in math class - international education

Students in math class

I ended up in a math classroom. There was no lesson, students were to get straight to work on their packet. I stepped into a familiar role, floating and trying to help students with math. But, while my Spanish is good, I often had difficulty decoding what the questions were looking for. After a short spurt of effort, I would give up and suggest we work on a problem that was more pure algebra. It gave me an experiential glimpse into what it’s like to struggle with text heavy problems.

In this class, students were more attentive to their worksheets, but there was still a lot of confusion, and they worked very slowly. After about 20 minutes, I realized I should be going.

One of my guiding principles for this trip is to avoid comparison: to let each place be what it is. But I can’t shake the similarities between Liceo Domingo Santa Maria and many large working-class schools I’ve been to in the United States. In the absence of a strong school culture, teachers end up creating unique cultures within the walls of their classrooms. The quality of these cultures nearly always a product of the disparate expectations they have of their students. The result is a wide, wide difference in how students behave and engage each hour of their day.

It’s interesting… I didn’t know what to expect from schools in Latin America. Still, I guess I assumed that there would be some clear difference in quality compared to working-class schools in the United States. But so far, that’s not what I’m finding at all.

Will

Respect for Teachers in Peru: A Familiar Struggle

Respect for Teachers in Peru: A Familiar Struggle

Milagros is much loved by her students. When we passed through the gate of her school a pair of them ran up and embraced her on either side, pressing their cheeks against each of her hips. In class the students are anxious to show her what they’ve done. During our conversation later in the day, children came to hug her and offer her parts of their lunch. Her school is far away from the more developed center of Arequipa, Peru and while the surrounding area doesn’t resemble the archetypical images of poverty in the developing world, it’s clear that there isn’t much money here. Milagros transferred to this school to have the opportunity to teach 2nd grade because, “Many of the children don’t know how to read or write. And that is something very important to me.”

I asked Milagros what surprised her the most when she started teaching last year, “The teachers, because they don’t have any passion. But I think I understand maybe why, because they always have trouble with money and time, and the government doesn’t respect their jobs. But many of the teachers get so angry with the students.”

International education school classroom in Peru

Milagros reminding her class to raise their hands to speak

A couple weeks earlier I spoke with a pair of young German women who had just finished a year of teaching in Peru. I asked them what they thought the biggest problems with education in Peru were and they were quick to answer, “The problem is the teachers.” They described classrooms where the teacher would simply sit in the back of the room and read PowerPoint slides. “The students aren’t motivated but I wouldn’t be motivated either… And who would want to be a teacher when you get paid around 350 Euros a month?”

The other German explained how her co-teacher at a private school had to share a house with five other teachers, and then the more animated one spoke up again, “I think a lot of it is how…” she had trouble finding the words, “In Germany, if you say that you’re a teacher, it’s like,” her face lit up, “‘Oh, you’re a teacher!’ but in Peru if you say you’re a teacher,” her face turned sour, “It’s like ‘Oh… You’re a teacher.’”

In a taxi in Cuzco, I asked the driver what he thought about public education in Peru, “The main problem is that there isn’t very good instruction. The teachers don’t have a good education and they don’t know how to teach.” He then spoke with pride about his son who had recently graduated and was now studying biology. But he was certainly not impressed with his son’s teachers.

School in Peru International Education

Milagros’ school and the volcano that looks over it

Even Milagros’ principal was critical, “The teachers here,” she said with some hesitation, “keep to themselves. They are not always trying to get better and sometimes they lose patience when they get older. But this is something we have to work on.” Talking with Senora Mamani was interesting because her demeanor reminded me so much of the sharp and dedicated administrators I know in the Unites States. People who are trying to do as much as they can with limited resources. But Senora Mamani’s resources are even more limited than her U.S. counterparts, since she is the only administrator at the school.

And this may be the single most startling fact I’ve learned about education in Peru. Jose Revilla told me that while there are about 60,000 schools in Peru there are only 48,000 people in administrative positions other than principals. When you consider that many wealthier schools have many administrators the situation looks even more dire for schools like Milagros’.

How can you expect teachers to get better if there is no one to coach and support them?

“Ojala que vengan. We don’t have personnel here. We don’t even have anyone to clean,” said Senora Mamani when I asked about other administrators. She then offered the same resigned but committed smile-shrug I’ve seen so often in administrators in rural Louisiana.

International Education Principal in Peru

The School Principal, Senora Angelica Guispe Mamani

An article in El Comercio (a major Peruvian paper) quotes education experts saying that the main reason most people become teachers is because more selective fields are out of their reach. They’re looking for an occupation that’s easy to get into.

Senora Mamani cited a lack of parental support for their children’s academics as the primary obstacle to education, but when I asked why parents aren’t supportive it turned out that this too was connected to the prestige of teachers, “I think it’s because they don’t respect the teachers. They think that teaching is a simple activity when, in reality, it’s completely the opposite. It’s the most difficult.”

/international Education - Students at recess Peru

Elizabeth with students at recess

Teachers are the foundation of a country’s education system. In the United States, public policy focused on merit pay, and the transformation of tests from tools for student assessment to weapons for teacher evaluation, has triggered a backlash to this kind of ‘blame the teacher’ talk. But the reality is that the U.S. suffers from many of these same problems (though to a lesser degree). And with this in mind, I think it’s interesting that none of the people I talked to in Peru spoke of a need to fire or punish bad teachers. People only spoke of the need to provide more support, more training, and more resources for teachers.

It’s true that teachers can’t be the only agents of change in turning education around, but we shouldn’t forget that they are by far the single most important force in the lives of students and that the spectrum of teaching is very, very wide indeed. Unfortunately, policies in many U.S. states have served to poison this conversation and have scared many accomplished people away from, or out of the profession. I wonder how different the dialogue in the U.S. would be if policies focused on how to help teachers develop instead of how to rank them according to their students’ scores on multiple choice tests? As Jonathan Kozol once said, in a less than eloquent metaphor, about students and testing: “You don’t fatten the sheep by weighing them.”

It seems that in Peru people know what to do but they don’t have the resources. In the U.S. we have the resources, but we don’t seem to know what to do with them.

Will

Hiking Colca Canyon Photo Gallery

Hiking Colca Canyon Photo Gallery

After almost a week in Arequipa, we decided to take a two day hiking trip into Colca Canyon. We booked the hike through our hostel and were picked up at 3am by a small bus. The first stop was Cruz del Condors- a look out point known for glimpses of Andean condors, the largest flying birds in the world.

Condor in Colca Canyon

Here’s a pic with human beings for scale:

Condor flying in Colca Canyon Peru

During the stretches when we couldn’t see condors, we admired the cactus flowers.

Colca Canyon Cactus FlowerNext we arrived at the trail head at the top of the canyon, and looked down to The Oasis where we’d sleep that night.

Colca Canyon Oasis

We paused to enjoy the breeze.

Hiking Colca Canyon

And admire the giant cacti.

Colca Canyon Cactus

Some stretches were long and not that steep.

Colca Canyon 3

We paused to rest.

Colca Canyon 5

And admired how far we had climbed down. Over 3,300 ft. by the end of it.

Colca Canyon

Eventually we reached the river at the bottom.

Colca Canyon 7

Some locals prepared us lunch.  Alpaca stirfry.

Lunch in Colca Canyon

And we relaxed.

Relaxing in Colca Canyon

But we still had several miles to hike to the oasis and we were getting tired.

Colca Canyon hike

Still, when we looked back to admire the valley behind us we saw that it was beautiful.

Colca Canyon Oasis (2)

Our guide paused to explain about the culture of people in the canyon and how different plants were used as natural remedies since there’s no hospital around. We knew we were approaching civilization when we started seeing ads.

Colca Canyon Hotel sign

After almost 7 hours of hiking we finally reached the charming streets of The Oasis.

Colca Canyon Oasis

We drank some beer and had a nice dinner. We started hiking back up at 5AM the next morning (sorry no pictures).  We were given the option to take a mule up instead, but we declined.

On the way back we stopped in small towns with markets and cool colonial churches.

Colonial Church in Colca PeruWe also stopped for views of the pre-Incan terraces that are carved into the mountains.

Colca Pre-Incan Terraces

The terraces stretch for miles and miles and truly cause you to marvel at how rich the civilization which created them must have been.

pre-Incan terraces in Colca Canyon

The final stop was at over 16,000 ft. above sea level where we could see the peaks of several volcanoes. But here’s a pic with the rest of our hiking group. Four Spaniards and a woman from Macao.

Colca Volcanoe point

Depending who you ask, Colca is either the deepest or second deepest canyon in the world, though we didn’t hike into the deepest part.

The hike was tough, but all in all, it was one of our favorite parts of the trip so far.

If you’re in southern Peru, you should definitely check it out.  You can always take the mule back up.

Will & Elizabeth

Being Sick On The Road

Being Sick On The Road

The day after Machu Picchu, I woke up to an unholy alliance between my sinuses and bowels. I hadn’t had a decent night’s sleep in days. My body ached, I couldn’t breathe, and my trips to the bathroom left me demoralized and anxious. Liz reminded me that we had to check out of the hostel at 10:30. That night we had a ten hour bus ride. I cringed at the thought of just sitting up in bed. A stream of questions added a self-inflicted insult to injury: “What am I doing here? Why did I think this trip would be fun? Can I handle over nine more months of this?”

In the months and years leading up to this trip Elizabeth and I would often try to measure our excitement by reminding ourselves that it wasn’t going to be comfortable. We mentally prepared for long bus rides and resigned ourselves to the fact that we’d get sick, probably more than once. Actually being sick is different story, but at least we came prepared.

And this is probably the biggest lesson we knew, but have now internalized. If you’re going to do extended travel outside of the developed world: Bring Medicine. Here is a list of the meds we brought and have already used in our first three weeks.

  • Azithromycin (diarrhea anti-biotic)
  • Cipro (diarrhea; I’m allergic to arithromycin)
  • Loperamide Hydrochloride (anti-diarrheal)
  • Rehydration salts (rehydrate after diarrhea)
  • Zantac (acid in the stomach)
  • Pepto-Bismal (all things stomach)
  • Claritin-D (allergies and congestion)
  • Zicam (cold symptom relief and prevention)
  • Emergen-C (cold prevention)
  • Purel (obvious cold prevention must)
  • Advil (aches and pains)
  • Kleenex (we’ve gone through a ton of these)

Sick in Cusco

I eventually rolled out of bed and re-packed my bag. Liz wasn’t feeling great either. She had sharp pains in her stomach and felt generally weak. We spent the next eight hours camped out on the couch in the lobby waiting for our bus. We watched the hostel move, the dogs come and go. At one point, the man at the front desk tucked me in with a blanket (pictured above). And at least we weren’t spending any money.

By the time we arrived in Arequipa, Elizabeth’s stomach had cleared up. Mine would take a few more days. I worried I might have had some sort of superbug but it turned out Elizabeth had misread the dosage frequency on the Cipro. (For more on the importance of quickly forgiving your spouse for innocent oversights see our previous post). We took things easy for a few days in Arequipa like we planned, and I appreciated the fact that there are worse places to recuperate.

roof deck in arequipa misti volcanoe

It’s been over a week now since I was writhed in bed doubting the whole idea of this trip. Things have changed. We’re now on a bus heading toward the Chilean border. In 48 hours, we’ll be in San Pedro de Atacama, surrounded by deserts, volcanoes, and the best stargazing in the world. A couple days ago, we hiked to the bottom of the deepest canyon in the world and then back up again. My sinuses haven’t cleared up and I’m on a daily Claritin habit, but life is good. We went to the pharmacy in Arequipa to restock on our meds and again, we feel prepared. There are no more doubts. I feel on top of the world.

  • Will

Colca Canyon

Machu Picchu Photo Gallery

Machu Picchu Photo Gallery

We got in line for the day’s first set of busses at 4:30 AM, to make sure we were some of the first people let into Machu Picchu. The air was cool, and clouds clung to the nearly empty ruins around us.

Machu Picchu in fog

DSC_0615

We climbed a not often climbed set of stairs.

DSC_0578

And started to explore the architecture.

Temple of the Condor Machu Picchu

DSC_0623

We got friendly with the local llamas,

Llamas in Machu Picchu

and started to wonder: what’s cooler, Machu Picchu or the surrounding mountains?

DSC_0629

Elizabeth was quick to point out that the Incas thought of them as one and the same.

Machu Picchu alone fog

We looked around and congratulated ourselves again on arriving before the crowds. It really is pretty cool to be here alone.

DSC_0613

DSC_0619

After a little over an hour of exploring the ruins, we decided to take advantage of the second part of the tickets we purchased and climb The Mountain! The Mountain is advertised as a trail, but it’s really more of a 2,000+ ft. staircase.

DSC_0643

At first, the views below us were clouded in, well, clouds… But soon Machu Picchu began to appear.

DSC_0651

Machu Picchu from above

Machu Picchu from above

After a few thousand more steps and many breaks, we reached the top.

La Montana Machu Picchu the Mountain

And we saw that it was good.

DSC_0664

DSC_0649

Eventually, we had to head back down… Parts were treacherously narrow.

Machu Picchu mountain

And parts went through charming patches of rainforest.

DSC_0680

But the views were more clear now, and we paused to take them in. La Montana Machu Picchu view from above

DSC_0681

Machu Picchu from above

When we returned to the bottom we were exhausted.

DSC_0692

We looked back and up look at The Mountain and felt a swell of pride. See that tiny little flag up there? That’s where we were.

Machu Picchu Mountain la montana

But now it was time to leave. On our way out, we took one final photo.

DSC_0712

It was only 1:00PM but we had had quite a day. We were tired, on top of the world, and still hours away from realizing that germs already inside us were about to take advantage of our exhaustion in the most unappealing ways. But more on that next week.

Cheers,

Will & Elizabeth

A Day with Ensena Peru

A Day with Ensena Peru

The Pamer school in Lima isn’t like most schools in Peru, but its classrooms would fit in at almost any charter school in the United States. Each classroom has the school’s vision and mission posted on a board. The most effective teacher we saw made use of call and response attention getters, “Yo-Yo,” she says, “Hey, Hey” responds the class. When it was time to focus, she called them to a learning posture similar to SLANT or SPARK but with the interesting addition of smiles. “I’m going to call on the student with the biggest smile,” she said. And there they sat, a class of just under 30 students, all sitting up straight, with beautifully authentic smiles on their faces.

As we drove to the school, Jose Revilla, the Executive Director of Ensena Peru, apologized for not being able to take us to a public school – they were on vacation. He explained that Pamer is a middle-income school that focuses almost entirely on preparing students for college entrance exams. He lamented that this narrow focus confined teachers to focusing mostly on the memorization of facts and rules, at the expense of more general education competencies. It was a frustration that was echoed by the teachers we talked with.

“What stood out to me the most is how confining the school is. The students don’t have time to express themselves or explain what they think*,” said Fiorella a first year upper elementary teacher with Ensena Peru. She compared the school to her own education where her exams were more like interviews, and she had many more opportunities to develop skills that are more important in life. When I asked what skills she thought were most important she answered, “The ability to argue and explain their thinking. The ability to work in teams.”

DSC_0474

Diana, another teacher explained, “It’s like all they are used to is to say, A, B, C, or D. When you ask them to explain ‘why’ it’s like ‘what do you mean why?’ Even working in pairs is unusual. They are only used to teachers telling them what to do.” Diana has had some success pushing students to explain themselves more, but it’s been a lonely battle and still in the context of explaining answers on multiple choice tests. Liz, a former lawyer turned fourth grade teacher, was disappointed the students didn’t have more opportunities for arts and music since the tests focused mostly on math and grammar. Even the most effective teacher we saw, Fernanda (not an Ensena Peru teacher) was still engaging students at a fairly low level of thinking – preparing them to answer basic questions about grammar.

Talking with these teachers, it was also surprising how similar their presence and demeanor was to the Teach For America teachers we’ve worked with the past few years. They are tired, frustrated, and deeply committed to being a positive force in the lives of the children they work with. As Liz put it, “I love the work that I do. When you help someone, you gain more than them. It’s a world that’s yours, and I’m so happy in my class.”

DSC_0463

From left to right; Jose, Will, Fiorella, Diana, Liz, Elizabeth

In fact, happiness was the prevailing emotion in the school. There was a palpable sense of joy amongst the students, and I don’t think it was just because we were visiting. Students laughed, supported each other, and smiled. Always with the smiles. Remember, Peru has some of the happiest students in the world. As Jose explained, public school teachers may not know their content very well, and the country may not have very high academic standards, but the teachers are very committed to building students self-worth and often believe that caring for their students is more important than the content they have to teach. Indeed, PISA’s international survey of teachers shows that Peruvian teachers prioritize developing a student’s personality more than teachers in almost every other country.

Jose went on to explain that, maybe that would be Peru’s saving grace. “Because,” he explained, “When you look at the most successful people in the world, they are not the people who know the most. They’re the people who are able to work well with others.”

Our day at Pamer has been one of the major highlights of the trip so far, and we hope to visit a few more schools before we cross the Chilean border.

Questions and comments are always welcome.

Cheers,

Will

A special thanks to Miluska and Jose for arranging this visit. It was awesome.

*A note on language. Some of the interviews in this post were in English and some were in Spanish. Where I felt uncomfortable doing a verbatim translation I paraphrased the main ideas of what was said.