Sometimes you just have to get far enough away, and far enough removed from your usual context, to really appreciate what you've left behind. I'm certainly a fair distance away from Prairie Creek right now and my experience working with the teachers of Lumbini Academy in Yangon, Myanmar was a striking experience in so many ways. The weather has been startlingly different, yet, with the polar vortex in mind, I've been advised by folks back home not to bring up that topic!
By Myanmar government and monastic school standards, I suspect that Lumbini Academy would be considered well-resourced. The parents of children pay a modest fee for their children's attendance at the school. Still, in my visits to the classrooms it was clear that the facilities and equipment were very simple. In one fifth grade classroom I stopped in, the children struggled to track down a map with which I could show them where Minnesota was. Eventually one of the children found a tiny globe which just about served our purpose.
Most classrooms were fairly traditional with children seated in rows. There was a special education services area at one end of the building, but nothing like the very well resourced spaces that support children with disabilities at Prairie Creek. I saw no sign of a team of paraprofessionals, or service providers, available to meet children's needs. The art room, music room and library were also sparsely furnished compared to our excellent specialist spaces at Prairie Creek.
I reflected a lot on the incredible building and grounds we have at Prairie Creek while in Myanmar. Where we have the Field of Dreams soccer field, the Lumbini children play their football (note correct terminology is used in Myanmar) on a patch of concrete next to where the buses are parked. Still, it is just as much fun playing with the Lumbini kids as it is kicking it around with our children at recess! As I taught my workshops, I was almost embarrassed to share the riches of experience that our children enjoy and the incredible community support we receive.
Despite these differences, as my time with the Lumbini teachers progressed I also became increasingly aware of school characteristics that both Lumbini and Prairie Creek were rich in. The quality of faculty and staff, and the relationships they create with children in a dynamic learning environment are most important in both contexts. The staff in both schools work extremely hard. I've been trying to keep up with teachers emails, blogs and newsletters while I have been gone. It's hard! Stepping away, I'm now astonished at just how much goes on in our small school in just two weeks. I've missed culminating events galore, not to mention what was by all reports a terrific Special Persons' day. All of this takes a teacher's dedication to the children -- that I also witnessed at Lumbini. My last workshop finished an hour early so that a group of teachers had some extra time to get ready to leave for a three day field trip with children. At the end of a long day of teaching, they were cheerfully preparing yet another wonderful experience for the children.
Likewise, the Lumbini teachers shared a complete commitment to professional development with the Prairie Creek staff. My workshops were from 3pm - 5pm, each session after a day of teaching for the faculty. While I've been gone, I've noticed more just how often the Prairie Creek faculty share links and resources about educational ideas and topics. The same curiosity and passion to stay alert to new ideas was clearly part of the Lumbini faculty mindset. Part of my challenge each day was to respond to and prepare sessions based off the teachers interests. Before presenting, I would hustle through my resources to plan sessions that met teacher questions: Can you show us what a narrative looks like? Habits of Mind - tell us more about that. Can we see an examples of teachers' blogs and newsletters? Culminating events...can you show us some examples?
It was great fun to work with such an enthusiastic team of educators. Their enthusiasm for progressive education ideas was
energizing and, at times, quite touching. During one of the tea breaks (a most excellent mid-session staple of the Lumbini workshop) one of the teachers told me, in her broken English, that..."if John Dewey could hear about your progressive education school he would be crying." I was made to feel so welcome. At the last workshop, the teachers gifted me a traditional longyi. Naturally, I wore it to teach in, and we all practiced the habit of finding humor.
I will leave full of admiration for the Myanmar people that I met, and a profound hope that an ongoing connection can be forged with their school. At the same time, I'm looking forward to returning, with a deepened appreciation, to my Prairie Creek community in the new year. Happy holidays to all of you.