What is education like outside of the United States? This was my primary query when embarking on this international excursion. I wanted to gain insight on educational best practices outside of the states. In the three weeks I was housed at this particular school, I had the opportunity to take on different roles: I was in positions wherein I observed, co-taught, and participated in lessons. I participated as an administrator, teacher, and student. I had discussions with teachers of the school, visiting teachers like me, students, and administrators.
Creating cultures of trust among students and teachers along with teachers and administrators is an overarching theme that I encountered. This particular school is private and serves grades Pre-K to 12 with a population of about 600 students. Interestingly, students remain with their peer group throughout their time at the school, from Pre-K to 12. One can imagine the community this creates.
Of all my experiences, I especially want to discuss two. The first is my observations of elementary teachers and their classrooms. The elementary administrator and I observed a fourth grade classroom. She and I had a pre-conference before conducting the observation. The discussion included the school’s ideology, methodology, and particularly what to look for during the observation. At this present moment the school is transitioning and has a focus on teambuilding, classbuilding, collaborative and cooperative learning. Before we went into the classroom the administrator pointed out specific elements to look for during instruction in regards to cooperative learning. These elements had four main parts according to a Kagan structure: positive interdependence, individual accountability, student interaction, and equal participation.
The teacher of this fourth grade class had all of the students seated in groups of mostly four, an environment conducive for learning . Each group had their own identity as evidenced by their hanging banners and intermittent cheers. The banners and cheers created by students of each group were part of collaborative and team building exercises (this was a sight to see). For the lesson students were working on multiplication. Students were required to work a problem individually on whiteboards and then discuss how they worked the problem with either their nose or shoulder partner. In an instance in which a student got a wrong answer, another member of the group “taught” their peer how to get the correct answer. Students were doing the gamut of intellectual work, and the teacher was their to guide and a facilitate. As I conducted this observation, it was clear that this teacher had established clear expectations and procedures and a positive and trusting space.
The second experience has much to do with the realization of the valuable relationships fostered with members of my cohort. The conversations and experiences we shared in those three weeks were exceptional. We discussed educational theory, charter schools, alternative teacher certification, along with national and local educational policy. What is education going to look like in the near and far future? Or further, what is the world going to look like because of education? What is the function or purpose of education? Are schools’ curricular materials aligned to the purpose(s)? These are some of the questions that guided our discourses. To grapple with these complex topics, in the end, was quite rewarding.
Lastly and importantly, it is erroneous to make hastened evaluations regarding education in Chile as juxtaposed to education in the United States. While it is tempting to say in the US we do this but in Chile they do this, it is irresponsible to not consider contexts be it socioeconomic, political, or what have you. Though generalizations can be made, making wholesale evaluations would hardly be of benefit. Nevertheless, experiencing schooling in another country and culture allows for the broadening of perspectives and allows for more cultural tolerance and understanding. I wholeheartedly recommend such a program to educators, student-teachers, and administrators as it provides an opportunity to observe best practices through an international lens.