Browsed by
Category: 2015

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
Museo de la Memoria (Santiago, Chile)

Museo de la Memoria (Santiago, Chile)

I had no idea, entering the Museo de la Memoria, that Chile shares September 11th with the US as a day that lives in infamy. On September 11th, 1973 the military coup that would place Chile under dictatorship for 17 years ripped through the nation and resulted in the executions, disappearances, and torture of thousands of Chileans.

The museum is dedicated to telling the story of the coup, dictatorship, human rights violations, and citizen resistance. I went into the museum only knowing that there had been a military dictatorship and that some people said the CIA was involved. I came out with more questions than answers – wondering, thinking, and feeling many different things.

As we entered the museum, we were greeted by life-sized cut outs of individuals who had disappeared, holding up their identification cards.  These cutouts continued throughout the museum. One of my first reactions was surprise at how little I knew about these events. Even Will, who received a Latin American History certificate in college, knew very little about the coup and dictatorship. Both of us moved through the first major room – dedicated to telling the story of the coup – astounded by what happened in Chile. We repeatedly used surprised tones to exclaim to one another “and then they bombed the presidential palace?!?”, “wait – Salvador Allende (the president) shot himself?!?”, and we huddled around the screen that showed his final radio address.

Chile1973

What struck me second was how honest and thorough the museum is in describing the human rights violations and honoring those who suffered. These exhibits are particularly powerful because they do not hold back detail and frequently involve first hand accounts of torture, which also makes them hard to stomach. This is an approach that we’d never see in the US. Here is a beautiful museum dedicated to telling the story of human rights atrocities that were committed by the government. Even our civil rights museums focus on the struggle of the oppressed rather than the wrongs committed by the system. It’s inspiring that Chile wholly owns and mourns these events at the same time.

 

[pullquote align=”full” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]This is an approach that we’d never see in the US. Here is a beautiful museum dedicated to telling the story of human rights atrocities that were committed by the government.[/pullquote]

 

We got kicked out the museum before we were finished – right as we started to learn about the clergy, women’s

groups, and worker’s groups who began to protest and question the mass disappearances. We had been there 90 minutes but hadn’t reached the end by closing time. I left wanting to know the history of Allende’s elected government, more information about who Pinochet (the military dictator) was, and details on who disappeared and why (it’s implied in the exhibits, but I wanted to know more.) We speculated on how involved the US had been in the coup and dictatorship and talked about the destructive cold war anxieties of our government. We talked about how the military dictatorship ended with an election rather than more violence – and why that is not what’s happening after the Arab Spring.

Museo de Memoria is powerful, disturbing, and inspiring. It tells a story that raises so many questions and thoughts about Chile and the greater world. If you are in Santiago, please go. Just get there at least two hours before closing time. You’ll need it.

Note: The featured photo is attributed to Francisco Javier Cornejos here and is under this Creative Commons license with some rights reserved. We used some minor cropping to fit the photo to our site.

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

 

Piedras Rojas (Red Rocks): San Pedro de Atacama Day 2

Piedras Rojas (Red Rocks): San Pedro de Atacama Day 2

The thing about a desert is that it is very hot during the day, and it’s that much colder at night.  At daybreak, we paced the street outside our hostel to keep warm, waiting to be picked up by the tour bus for Piedras Rojas (Red Rocks).  The bus was late, and we ended up watching the sunrise over our street and the volcanos in the distance.

San Pedro de Atacama sunrise

On the way to Piedras Rojas, we stopped for breakfast and to see an old church with multiple cactus wood features.  This wood is made from cactus that had been dried for a year.  The panels are connected with cactus fiber.

San Pedro de Atacama cactus wood travel

When we arrived at Piedras Rojas, the tour guide cautioned us not to let our emotions overwhelm our experience.

San Pedro de Atacama Piedras Rojas Travel

We could see why she warned us.  The red rocks were created from volcanic lava and ash.  The lagoon that had collected was frozen over and looked blue green.

San Pedro de Atacama Piedras Rojas Travel

The mountains in the back ground are either volcanos or piles of volcanic ash.

San Pedro de Atacama Piedras Rojas Travel

We gazed out over the lagoon…

San Pedro de Atacama Piedras Rojas Travel

Will felt so great, he thought he could take off.

San Pedro de Atacama Piedras Rojas Travel

But he settled for a little meditation.

San Pedro de Atacama Piedras Rojas Travel

Next, we headed to one of the highest lakes in the world.  On the way, we saw a family of Vicuna, which are an endangered relative of the llama.

San Pedro de Atacama Vicunas Travel

We had to walk to Lagunas Altiplanicus from the entrance because snow had blocked the road.

San Pedro de Atacama Lagunas Atiplanicas Travel

So Will took advantage of the situation.

San Pedro de Atacama Laguas Altiplanicus Travel

We stopped in a small town for lunch and the bathroom.

San Pedro de Atacama Salt Flats Travel

Then we headed to the Atacama Salt Flats, created (of course) by volcanic ash and the evaporation cycle of these lagoons.  How many flamingos can you find?

San Pedro de Atacama Salt Flats

We got to hold a flamingo egg.

San Pedro de Atacama Salt Flats Travel

And see a number of flamingos.

San Pedro de Atacama Salt Flats 11

We strolled along the salt flat.

San Pedro de Atacama Salt Flats Travel

And enjoyed the close of the day and the ride back to San Pedro.

San Pedro de Atacama Salt Flats

Stayed tuned for more tomorrow!

Check out pics from our other days in San Pedro:

Day 1 Petroglyphs and Rainbow Valley

Day 3 Cathedrals of Salt

Day 4 Valle de la Luna

Elizabeth & Will

Petroglyphs and Rainbow Valley: San Pedro de Atacama Day 1

Petroglyphs and Rainbow Valley: San Pedro de Atacama Day 1

San Pedro has several claims to fame. It’s in the driest desert in the world, adjacent to some of the world’s largest lithium mines, and is populated by incredibly friendly people (lithium in the water?).  It’s also a half-day trip from dozens of volcanic features unlike anything else in the world. These volcanos, including one of the world’s two super volcanos, worked to mold the landscape millions of years ago. Our six days in San Pedro allowed us to see geological formations we didn’t even know existed.

Fully exploring “The Atacama” requires guided tours or renting a car.  We booked four outings with Flamingo Tours and got a package deal.  Our adventure started with a midnight stargazing (no pictures, sorry!)

The next day we were picked up from the hostel at 8am for the Petroglyphs and Rainbow Valley. We started by climbing up to some ancient petroglyphs carved into volcanic rock.  Here we see images of elders in a ceremonial circle.

San Pedro de Atacama Petroglyphs Travel

When the rocks were volcanic ash, the ash moved very quickly and formed air pockets.  Now these old air pockets make the rocks look like Swiss cheese.

San Pedro de Atacama Petroglyphs Travel

Will contributed his artistic talent to the petroglyphs…I mean… Will pointed out these flamingos.

San Pedro de Atacama Petroglyphs Travel

We moved to another area to see even more petroglyphs.  We were instructed to stay on the path.

San Pedro de Atacama Petroglyphs

Which led us to these images of this llama and baby llama…

San Pedro de Atacama Petroglyphs Travel

And this “two headed dragon.” The lack of wind in this area prevents the petroglyphs from eroding away.

San Pedro de Atacama Petroglyphs Travel

Next we headed for Rainbow Valley. We were dropped off at the top of the path, where Will immediately climbed this rock.  Can you find him?

San Pedro de Atacama Rainbow Valley Travel

We made our way toward the rainbow color rock.  Different minerals have caused the rock to turn multicolored.

San Pedro de Atacama Rainbow Valley Travel

Will meditated for a moment.

San Pedro de Atacama Rainbow Valley Travel

And I contemplated the copper in the green rock.

San Pedro de Atacama Rainbow Valley Travel

Rainbow Valley has many views, and many colors.

San Pedro de Atacama Rainbow Valley Travel

We tried to capture as many colors as we could before our day’s adventure ended.

San Pedro de Atacama Rainbow Valley Travel

Check out our other galleries from San Pedro de Atacama:

Day 2 Piedras Rojas and Atacama Salt Flats

Day 3 Cathedrals of Salt

Day 4 Valle de la Luna

Elizabeth & Will

 

Borders and Buses: How We Got from Arequipa to San Pedro de Atacama

Borders and Buses: How We Got from Arequipa to San Pedro de Atacama

We knew we had to stop in San Pedro de Atacama on our way down the west coast of South America. San Pedro sits on one of two super volcanos in the world (the other is Yellowstone), and in the world’s driest desert. As such, the landscape includes breathtaking, varied formations of volcanic rock that can’t be seen anywhere else in the world. The problem is that it is not completely straightforward to get from Arequipa to San Pedro de Atacama. In this post, I will tell you how we did it, and how it went. Hopefully it will serve to both entertain and inform – because San Pedro de Atacama is definitely worth a visit!

Here is the quick overview:

  • Bus from Arequipa to Tacna, Peru
  • Collectivo from Tacna, Peru to Arica, Chile (border crossing)
  • 2 nights in Arica
  • Night bus from Arica, Chile to San Pedro de Atacama (stop in Calama)
  • Arrival in San Pedro de Atacama

Bus from Arequipa, Peru to Tacna, Peru

Try as we might, we could not find a bus schedule for Arequipa to Tacna, Peru. Based on internet research, you would think buses didn’t run between these two cities. Our hostel staff assured us that these buses left on the hour, so we headed to the bus station to find out the schedule.

True enough – Flores had buses leaving every hour for Tacna. We got there early to get on the 6:45am, and they let us hop on the 5:45am because it hadn’t pulled out yet. The bus was incredibly cheap – 20 soles (about $6), and boasted broken seatbelts, filthy seats, and a bathroom I shall not speak of. The ride was 6.5 hours long, including a stop where we all got off and had our bags squeezed by men in uniform. The signs at the checkpoint all said “fruitfly free zone” and pictured a variety of melons. I can only assume that’s what they were squeezing for.

Border Crossing (Tacna, Peru to Arica, Chile)

Once in Tacna, we had two choices: get on a bus crossing the border (which means you wait for everyone on the bus to pass customs) or find a collectivo driver (a shared taxi, usually taking 5 people across the border.) At this point, I was coming down with a pretty bad cold, so I sat with our belongings and popped newly acquired Halls Watermelon while Will went out in pursuit of a collectivo.

About 20 minutes later, Will came back. “Okay, he’s outside. I think you’re sitting in back with two women and a child.” I indeed was not sitting in back with said group, but rather on the bench seat of the Ford sedan between the driver and Will. As we drove the 30 minutes to the border, the four adults passed around a clipboard with paperwork on it. The collectivo driver was very helpful with questions.

Somethings to note:

  • Collectivos post their rates on the windshield. They should not charge you more than that. There are no other fees, so don’t agree to pay any.
  • They take Peruvian Soles or Chilean Pesos.

First, we had to exit Peru, which involved having our passports stamped again. While this was happening, some other collectivo drivers pointed out that there was liquid coming out of the Ford. Our driver became very stressed out, running back and forth between the car and our group.

After exiting, we drove across the parking lot to enter Chile. Customs scanned our bags. At this point, our driver seemed to have either solved the problem with the car or resigned himself to it. Either way, he appeared calmer by the time we were headed for the Arica bus station (about 15 minutes away.)

Border Crossing Chile

Arica

No one really goes to Arica for Arica (except maybe the Tulane girls we met who are studying abroad there.) Arica is this little beach city where people going south from Peru to Chile pass by people going north from Chile to Peru. It is a crossroads of sorts, and if you ask questions of your hostel-mates you can get a glimpse of where you are about to go.

I was pretty sick at this point – so we decided to stay two nights instead of one at the very comfortable Hostel Sunny Days. It was three blocks from the bus station and across the street from a vegetable market and a school.  No bunkbeds, hot showers, a huge kitchen, good company. The perfect place to recover.

Bus from Arica to San Pedro de Atacama

The only way to get from Arica to San Pedro is via night bus. There are no day buses that travel this route. You can buy a ticket from Arica to San Pedro de Atacama, but these tickets are a combination of two tickets: one from Arica to Calama and one from Calama to San Pedro. We were hoping we would not have to switch buses in Calama, but no such luck.

We took Frontera del Norte, but Pullman and Turbus also travel this route, among others. Somethings to note:

  • The attendant will take your passport and will not give it back until you are arriving in Calama. It’s okay. He will give it back. Every passenger has to hand over some form of ID.
  • Don’t count on sleeping through the movie. They started it at 10pm after we were on our way. The sound was blasted throughout the cabin. We got to watch Pound of Flesh, which is a Jean Claude Van Damme movie in which his kidney is stolen the day before he’s supposed to donate it to his niece. He tracks down the thieves to get the kidney back. Luckily(?) they left it on in English with Spanish subtitles.
  • There is a middle of the night security stop (it happened for us at 3:30am) where they make everyone get off the bus, pick up their luggage from the cargo hold, and pass through what is basically a TSA check point. You then have to drag your luggage to another location and wait for the bus to come get you. You bring your luggage back to the cargo hold and get back on the bus. The whole thing takes about an hour.
  • Calama bus stops are notorious for theft. We were warned by Hostel Sunny Days that there are many tricks thieves play in Calama, including dressing as a bus attendant so they can get at your bags. While we were stopped in Calama, waiting for our connecting bus to San Pedro, one of the passengers had his bag stolen from inside the bus. He had left it there to go pick up his larger bag and when he got back it was gone. Always be careful on buses and at bus stations and never leave your things, but be especially careful in Calama.

San Pedro Rainbow Valley 1

Arriving in San Pedro

And finally, we arrived in San Pedro de Atacama. The entire week we were there, I think I saw one taxi. The bus station is not far from most of the hostels, so you can plan to walk. The people of San Pedro are notoriously friendly. We were stopped by no less than three people asking if they could give us directions (and indeed, they were all helpful.)

And then we collapsed. Between the Jean Claude Van Damme, the check point, and Calama, we had about 2 hours of sleep. Luckily the beds at Backpacker’s San Pedro were comfortable! Photo galleries of our amazing six days there coming soon.

Curious what to do when you arrive in San Pedro? Check out pics from our 4 day trips:

Ancient Petroglyphs and Rainbow Valley

Red Rocks and the High Lagoons

Cathedrals of Salt

Valley of the Moon

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

Arequipa: Highlights from Peru’s 2nd Largest City

Arequipa: Highlights from Peru’s 2nd Largest City

We arrived in Arequipa off an overnight bus from Cuzco. The streets were abuzz as people prepared for the weekend long celebration of Arequipa Day, the 475th anniversary of the city. As the afternoon turned into night, comedic dancers drew large crowds in the main square. Pop-up restaurants appeared throughout the streets – long tables where people could get tea and chicken. Parades of varying sizes marched in different directions. We made a loop through the main area, arriving back at our hostel to find a large parade rolling down the street. We went up to the roof and watched the dance troops and bands play from above. Arequipa started our stay with a bang.

In Lima, we got our traveling feet wet. In Cuzco, we explored Peruvian culture and did the tourist thing. In Arequipa, our third, and final stop in Peru, we took it easy and settled into the long term travel life.

roof deck in arequipa misti volcanoe

Arequipa turned out to be the perfect place to slow down, rest up, and get back on budget after Machu Picchu. As the second largest city in Peru, it boasts many traveler desires (markets, restaurants, museums, nightlife) but is also steeped in Peruvian culture. Everything we needed was walkable from our hostel, including the beautiful Plaza des Armas (the main square), and the only taxi we had to take was to and from the bus station.

Where We Stayed El Albergue Espanol

Probably the cheapest hostel in the city, this place only cost us $13 a night for a double room. The roof deck/kitchen had a view of El Misti the Volcano that couldn’t be beat, and we met many other travelers on a budget with stories of their own.

 

How Long We Stayed 8 nights

 

What We Ate Potatoes, veggies, and olives from the local market, Fresh Fruit Juice, Sandwiches from La Lucha (a Peruvian sandwich chain)

 

What We Spent $72/day – which includes the guided   tour to Colca Canyon, and buying a hair dryer

*Without the trip and hair dryer it would have been $61/day

 

Highlights from Arequipa:

Cooking from the Local Market

Arequipa Food

One of the tenets of long term budget travel is that you need to cook for yourself. Between Lima and Cuzco, we had only ventured into sandwich making (peanut butter and jelly) and had not yet tried to cook a full meal.

The enormous local market located three blocks from our hostel was intimidating at first. We went there three times just to look around before buying anything. Will was really excited about the variety of potatoes, so we decided to make some sort of vegetable and potato stirfry with cheese. We also bought a bag of fresh olives (there was a whole olive aisle!) and a bottle of Peruvian wine. You can see most of our items here:

Arequipa Food 01

We spent about 20 soles on the food ($6.10) and 14 soles on the wine ($4.27). It was a delicious feast envied by other hostel guests sharing the kitchen.

 

Juanita, the Ice Maiden*

I’m sure we have all heard about a number of ice people found over the years – usually on a mountain, astonishingly preserved. I always found these stories fascinating, but I never thought I’d get to see an ice person in the (well preserved) flesh!

Juanita, as she is called, was discovered on one of the volcanos near Arequipa in 1995. A neighboring volcano had begun to erupt, melting the ice that encapsulated her. She had been a human sacrifice during the Incan Empire. There are a number of other sacrificed children that have been found on other volcanos and mountains in the area. The museum that holds Juanita is dedicated to explaining as much as we know about how these human sacrifices occurred, as well as the science behind why the bodies were so well preserved. The museum was a double whammy of ancient history and science. Plus you actually get to see Juanita!

 

Colca Canyon

Colca Canyon 10

I won’t go into too much detail because the pictures speak for themselves here. I still can’t believe I accomplished this hike. The walk down was hard on the feet, but not that bad. We hiked down over 6km, zigzagging back and forth so it wasn’t that steep. On the way up we only hiked 4.5km – a much steeper climb. Basically, I almost planted myself on a rock and refused to go on. My legs felt like jello, the altitude was getting to me, and this was all before breakfast. I climbed very slowly – barely faster than the Italian girl with the bum knee who was essentially using her walking sticks as crutches. Three times, we were passed by donkeys. Three times, I had to tell myself I’d regret getting on one of them. We finally made it to the top, and the instant coffee and eggs they served us never tasted so good. I’m glad I pulled myself out of the second deepest canyon in the world, and I’m glad they took us to the hot springs for some healing waters on the way home.

Arequipa is not one of the country’s more talked about cities, but it has been one of my favorites so far. Between seeing the annual celebration and enjoying the slower pace and beautiful weather, Arequipa was the perfect capstone to our time in Peru.

Ciao,

Elizabeth

*Image from www.pic2fly.com