It is 9:45 a.m. on the 4th of July. The room is on the verge of uncomfortably warm. Nine of us sit in a circle, from a variety of educational disciplines; STEAM, Chemistry, Math, IT, PE. I listen intently as my interpreter helps to bridge the language barrier between the attendants and myself. The question sounds all too familiar. A 14-hour plane ride, 3 hours on a bus and 15 minutes in a van, yet, what plagues us is the same; time. “ She says she is not sure about this idea. She says she will not have time for this in her class; she needs to cover too much. How does she make this work?” I let go a sheepish grin. What can I say, the concern is genuine and it is a criticism of growth mindset. When do I have time!
Giving up is not an option, however. I continue to chip away at the question. I acknowledge the difficulty, but I laud the benefits of such a mindset. I softball anecdotes and data at them. Finally, a hand jerks into the air and a conversation erupts in Mandarin between our large PE instructor and my interpreter. “da, da, da.” My interpreter Ben nods his head agreeably. “He gives an example. He has a kindergartener, as tall as your knee. He teaches them how to play basketball. When it comes time to, how do you say.” He air dribbles a ball through his legs; I nod knowingly, “He cannot do this thing. So teacher tells him to try and figure out a way to do it. The boy realized, if he stands on toes, he can dribble the ball through his leg. It may not be as good as older boy, but he did it. Is this what you were saying.”
As I turn from Ben to the teacher, his animation awaiting my answer is that of a little boy who had solved a mystery. I smile, “Yes.” It needed no translation, he threw his hands high in the air and the room erupted in excited chatter. What was said, I cannot claim to know, but that moment provoked an overwhelming sense of pride that made everything I have done or will do on this trip worth it.
What began as skepticism, has blossomed into excitement and curiosity. I have never worked with a more enthusiastic and sincere group of adults. They are eager to learn and share and grow. They are the embodiment of growth mindset. The have tackled independent inquiry, best practice seating arrangements, differentiation and project based learning and have done so with excitement and laughter.
The authenticity of this experience has outdone my loftiest expectations. I have brought so much to these teachers and yet I will come home with more. The cultural understanding that happens through this program is unmatched. No study or cultural tour can equal the genuineness of discussing bridge building with Chinese STEAM teachers, or chatting about Kim Kardashian over lunch.
I will leave this country knowing I had a fulfilling experience not because things were easy but because of the interactions and collaboration with the committed people of both SABEH and Greentown.