Eyes, Milk Cartons and Border Crossings

22 Oct

Sooo, I’m on the plane back from Chile where I had the deep honor to work alongside Gabriel Cámara, Richard Elmore, Max and la Maestra Magdalena in 7 public schools to begin the Tutoría network in yet another context, space and time.

Los dos ancianos y los dos jóvenes

This year has been characterized by lots of travel, lots of movement, but precisely because of that, deep levels of reflection and learning for me. I’ve been toying with the idea that learning is movement in two sense – that as we move from cultural communities (or even physical borders), we begin to understand that learning is based on appreciating difference, that difference is fundamental to learning. It is through this movement that we find ourselves in the other, and them in us. We begin to see ourselves as more human and part of a larger movement of people wanting and creating educational change together. 

While this has been exhausting, it has also rejuvenated my soul. The complexity of a simple practice such as Tutoría has made change within reach for me and so many others and I’m excited to grow more in my understandings of it. 

Three weeks ago, I was in Guanajuato, Mexico last week where I had the great honor to support Richard Elmore, Santiago alongside Gabriel and Dalila to create a developmental rubric of the Tutoría practice with about 160 superintendents, teacher-coaches, and teachers. While we were talking about the practice, the idea of “shining eyes” kept coming up in our speeches and discussions of learning. We all know that “the look” (as Elmore describes), or la mirada that is created in certain times and spaces, when the head, heart, and body are all connected and that person is filled with deep satisfaction, confidence, delight and peace. Their eyes shine and they are fully present in that moment and space. 


We all know what it is, but in many school days and school systems, we forget that we’re looking for it. Many things have happened since I last wrote you in February before we were just going to being Tutoría at Sahasat School. Very quickly, here’s a brief run-down! 

June 2015: We begin working with the Juvenile Court and Community School (JCCS) under the San Diego County Office of Education to build networks of learning in and across various school sites beginning with a Tutoría conference! I just visited them in late September going out to the school sites. It was in these visits to school sites that I saw these shining eyes (I’ll share more later.) 

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June 2015: Zac, México – I want back to visit the family. My sister gave birth to her third child and Dalia, Carlos, and Orlando are getting so big. During this visit, thanks to Alvaro, I went to Tlaltenango with Profe Rito at and academic exchange and met with some of their Heads of regions to see how Tutoría could be used at the level of the teacher evaluation system that Mexico just put in place. I also met with the team of teachers of Villanueva who are holding out the fort even though the struggle against strict conditions and lack of institutional support are discouraging sometimes. I also got to visit el Maestro Cruz who had moved to the technical school in Jerez and together, started the tutoring networking with 30 students and 9 parents. My last day in Zac, I had the privilege of working with the Normal of Zacatecas (teachers’ college!) to strengthen the practice of 20 teacher candidates who has did their practicum in telesecundarias en la red de tutoría and helped them prepare for another Tutoría exchange with another normal school in Guanajuato. 



July – August 2015: Singapore and Thailand! With the most wonderful team, Suraj and Sukanda (and a new addition now, P’Ja-ae!) We had our first cross-national Tutoría exchange with Shuqun Sec and representatives from the all three schools in Thailand! It was fill with food and fireworks and Tutoría done with the Math, Art and Science teachers at Shuqun. We also had a Tema design day with the Thai teachers at the Singapore Science Center. 🙂




September 2015: Back to San Diego and then to Guanajuato (as described above) to understand not just how teachers need to model the practice of tutoring, but to model the practice of learning. So often we forget that we need to be good learners first ourselves as educators before expecting that of our kiddos. What does it mean to be a good learner? How do we insist on good learning practices? 


October 2015: Chile – More to come as I collect my thoughts. It was my first visit to Chile and it was breathtaking, both in terms of her places and her people. Chile was about the Mari mari (meaning 10 and 10) – the Mapuche greeting where each person brought their all, all ten fingers to be in connection with another 10 fingers to greet each other. 


In this piece,  I wanted to share some of the stories of the kiddos that I’ve had the privilege to meet and design with. In San Diego in Sept, I got to visit a few schools and met some of the most beautiful, courageous and brilliant young people. I wanted to introduce them to you. 

First, there was Henry who had a perma-smile (smile that doesn’t ever seem to go away..) who was bugging a teacher during lunch period and came early to class. Henry was sitting on a stool in class and after banter about his day, told his teacher, “I got into trouble today at lunch.”

“What did you do??” his teacher asked. 

“I blew up a milk carton and stomped on it and it made a really loud sound, so everyone turned and looked at me.” Henry laughed.

“Oh boy, we need to find you a different way of getting attention without getting into trouble.”

Henry laughed again and nodded his head. His teacher turned to me and shared, “Henry lives in Mexico and crosses the border everyday to come to school.” 

I had heard that some students do this but I was still shocked. “Are you serious? Does it take you a long time to cross the border?” 

“Well, not at the time he crosses” says his teacher. 

I turn to Henry, “What time do You cross? He responds, “at 4 in the morning.”

“Whaaa? What time do you get up then?”

“At like 2 in the morning?” 

“Ah! What time do you sleep?” 

“Like 11pm?” 

“Oh my goodness, no wonder you’re stomping on milk cartons at lunch.” 

He laughed. 

There was something about Henry that captured me. The dedication to go to school and cross the border every single day.  

I also met Luis who with those shining eyes said to his table at high school, “I’m going to see my family tomorrow.” I then sat next to him, observing the three 15 year olds at the table. Luis began to speak to me, “What’s your name? What are you doing here?” I told him I was on a visit. 

“You said you were going to see your family tomorrow?” Luis turned to face me and there was the brightest sparkle in his eyes. “Yes,” he told me. As we conversed more, I found out that they had found Luis’ family in New York, the service agency had finally found them. His family consisted of his parents, and his two brothers. 

“How did you get to San Diego?” I asked. 

“I took buses.” Luis took a bus from the south of Guatemala, nearing Honduras to San Diego. And he had such a presence about him that was calm and wise. 

Each visit has been humbling and revitalizing and I can’t help but be in awe at being a part of something wonderful. 



Jumping into the Beautiful Mess

16 Feb


IMG_1104There have been so many wonderful things that have happened in these few months, so many insights and experiences, understanding so much pain but yet hope in educators, students and community members that express a desire for a change in the way things are now. One of the big things that have shaped my past few months has been ideas surrounding the school to prison pipeline.


I had never heard of this term before but essentially, much research has shown that there is a direct pipeline that we have created in the schools here for students, especially black boys, to go to prison. In the U.S., not only can children be sent to prison, but there has been an uproar in the communities because of the unfair treatment of Blacks in schools and in the justice system with the stories of Eric Gardner and Mike Brown moving the country to march and protest in the streets.

IMG_1103My first insight to the school to prison pipeline was during a teacher training session where ex-inmates – who had recently come out of prison after serving say 15 to 20 years since they were 12 – were facilitators at a teacher training session for teacher candidates at the University of Washington. Their stories of pain and hurt in the primary and secondary schools resonated with me. They said one thing was needed – a more human, a more relationally connected classroom. In one class at UW, a professor quoted, “I can’t teach you until I know you.” Yet when asked if they felt that their teachers knew them, no one raised their hand. So many students don’t feel that their teachers know them as humans and individuals as they go through 12 years of public school. It was the moment for me where I felt connected to the deep heartache and hopes in Seattle.

It’s been difficult to move to a whole new city and try to feel connected but there are some things that keep me real. Thursdays at the Southwest Youth and Family Services is when I get to hang out and walk alongside students who have recently dropped out of traditional high schools in Seattle or the neighboring city, Highline. Thursdays at Southwest have kept me grounded and to be honest, kept me still excited about being here. It’s these teachers and students that remind me why I’m in graduate school, why I’m in education and that what I do matters. It’s been a safe place where I can just be in community, listen and build real relationships before thinking I can jump in and “create change”.


What has been wonderful about UW is that I get to think about research in a whole different light. In my Design Based Research class this quarter with Megan Bang and Phil Bell, we grapple with research actually getting involved in the beautiful mess of schools and classrooms; we talk about teachers as agents; we talk about not being afraid to get involved in the mix and to open yourself up to be changed by your own research and the interactions you have alongside those who participate in it. Research is not just the study of some phenomenon. It’s usually messy, filled with emotion but messy is good, messy is how the real world is.

I’ve learned that sometimes you need to be emotional to deal with the emotive and strong objectivity means that you talk about who you are, where you’ve come from and the lens that you are using to view the world, because who you are matters. And who I am is a collection of others because I’m only at this place in life because of other people that have pushed me and got me here. My humanity has depended on and been shaped by so many of you, just as how objectivity in research will depend on my ability to bring our voice, and the voices of those that we represent to it.


It’s been a lot of growing and grappling but I’m so glad I have other teammates to grow alongside with. In Thailand, we are expanding the Tutoría network next week to our third school.This school, Sahasat, is so close to my heart. It is the school I’ve known and grown up with the Lahu community since I was 12. Now to be able to go back and affect teaching and learning there, in the community that planted the seeds that brought me to where I am today, is an incredible honor. As Phil Bell who quoted Brian Smith said, “Here we are building the future of education the night before it’s due.” I’m en route right now to Chiang Rai and jumping straight into that beautiful mess of designing alongside teachers and students the future of education the night before it’s due. I couldn’t be more excited, nervous and hopeful to build that beauty together.


I will definitely write about that experience in the next monthly update as I’m sure the school will have incredible insights about learning that I want to share with you. Thank you all for keeping me in check and calling me out when I don’t write to you! I miss you all dearly and can’t wait to see some of you soon.

Some other fotos from STUDIO, Thailand in December and Seattle:






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Kao Jai – Learning for the Heart

5 Sep


It’s been wayyy too long but I write to you from Seattle where I just moved to do my PhD studies in Education. It’s been a crazy couple of months just before I left and I finally found a place to move into and so I’m slowly getting settled.


I just wanted to share one story that stood out for me during the last few months. I spent the months of July and August mostly in the schools in Thailand, to roll-out Tutoría in 2 primary and secondary schools. We began our work with FiftyFold in the province of Phitsanulok, then to familiar ground in the north in Chiang Rai. So far we’ve trained about 40 teachers and more than 300 students in Math, Thai, English, Science, History, Social studies, Chemistry, Physics and Biology. It’s been such a delight to work alongside wonderful teachers and students. One kid, Ongsin stood out.

Ongsin, a burly 16 year old at Chiang Rai Wittayakhom (CVK) was taking a bath when school started. It was pretty normal for him to come in late. His chemistry teacher was pacing the room where we were holding the Tutoría pilot, anxiously waiting for him to stride through the door. But he took his time.

When we were about 1 hour in, we saw a shadow of a towering figure outside the doors and she rushed out to pull him in. Ongsin has the sheepiest grin on his face. He sat down next to his tutor and leaned back so his could rock his chair back and forth on just its two legs. I liked him already.

The order of the day was that Ongsin would be tutored to learn about Petroleum extraction and the chemical makeup of petroleum and then have to tutor it to someone new.

So it began: His tutor asked him to read the various pages of his textbook. He scanned the pages and then gave up saying, “I don’t get it” or “Mai Kao Jai” in Thai. But his tutor persevered.

I watched the pair from afar. I couldn’t understand most of what they were saying but slowly I noticed Ongsin place his chair on all four legs, and burry his head in the book with absolute concentration, trying to read and re-read the information on petroleum oil rigs – he wanted to make sure he knew everything before he tutored someone else. They both sat down to reflect on the process and then a little anxiously, Ongsin asked his tutor to test him again and again to make sure he was ready.

His chemistry teacher noticed the pair and sauntered over to ask how he was. Ongsin has a glisten in his eyes when he looked up. “This is the first time I finally understood something. I didn’t just understand it, it pierced and went right into my heart!” He waved frantically and beat his heart as if a knife had penetrated it. He laughed.

You see, in English understand is more of a cognitive word. You understand with your brain. In Thai, understand literally means “Kao Jai” or to go into the heart – Kao – to go in and Jai – heart. So understanding is really, finding meaning that touches the heart. Ongsin brought that to life for me. It rang especially true for me this Teachers’ Day.


So as I begin my life in Seattle and PhD studies in Learning Science and Human Development, Ongsin’s story guides my thoughts. I want to study more Ongsin-like experiences – the inner workings of not just the brain, but the heart, and how to dignify people through learning and dialogue.

I’ll also be working part-time to create a tinkering studio in West Seattle and I think that’ll just be a wonderful experience and opportunity to stay grounded to the city and her people. I’m excited to grow from this.

I miss home especially much on a day like Teachers’ Day (happy Teachers’ Day everyone!!) but know I’ll be back with more insight and more ideas on how to grow, refine our work and journey together as educators in Southeast Asia.


With love,



Tutoría in Thailand!