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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!




Eating an Elephant

14 Sep
Art Students Tutoría team!

Art Students Tutoría team!

I apologize for not blogged in a LONG while. It’s been quite a journey! I just came back from Thailand two days ago working at a school and am starting the Tutoría network in a school in the town of Phitsanulok. Been challenged and amazed at the opportunities and the support that you all have been – thank you. With help from all of you (and thank you Eu-Wen for website help!) the FiftyFold website‘s up. (and check out the Redes de Tutoría one too)  🙂 From having Dr Gabriel here at the Eagles Leadership Conference or and running two sessions for teachers in Singapore and the Curriculum Planning and Development Division here to having the Art students at Shuqun tutor the Deputy Director General of Education, it’s been a lot of fun being in Tutoría with a whole bunch of people.

The Cámaras and Buenos in Singapore!

The Cámaras and Buenos in Singapore!

In Singapore we celebrate Teachers’ Day this month and it’s been a pretty special. Other than beginning work in Thailand with a group of teachers in a little town called Phitsanulok, celebrating with the teachers at Shuqun Secondary on our last round of Tutoría in Singapore, two funny things happened.

First, on Aug 23 Shuqun played host to the Cluster board meeting and guess what? ACJC is in the same cluster. AC. So Mrs Chan, my principal at ACJC came along and was tutored by one of my students at Shuqun. It seemed like my education world had gone full cycle.

Mrs Chan being tutored at Shuqun Secondary

Mrs Chan being tutored at Shuqun Secondary

Aug 23 brought to life the cycle of learning and teaching and teaching and learning for me. That unbroken chain of life-long learning that we all talk about, not just as a skill, but as a way to live, became a reality. If we could get that in our classrooms, in our schools, across continents, that teachers learn from students, policy-makers learn from teachers and I mean really learn – we’d have a global learning community that keeps getting stronger.

On September 20, the students at Shuqun (the school I’m working with in Singapore) are going to tutor their parents at our Normal Technical (NT) Showcase night, and on Oct 3, they are going to tutor and share the art of tutoring and their content skills to other teachers at Shuqun. I can feel this cycle continuing and slowly growing and taking shape, spilling out from classroom to community.

Tutoring at Shuqun

Tutoring at Shuqun

The second thing that made this month special was a note from Wen Fong, a Secondary 1 student in my classroom. He was initially rebellious in class but when he was given the opportunity to tutor in class, he began to show more interest for Math. I chose him to be one of the students to tutor the principals at the Cluster meeting.

The day before we tutored on Aug 23, he painstakingly hand-wrote out his entire teaching guide, filled with his own questions and anticipated responses in a thick 5 page document. He prepared his Tema on understanding the circumference of circles. He kept it in his file like a precious document and proudly brought it out when he began tutoring. “I bring it everywhere”, he tells me, “everyday to school, just in case.” Tutoring and sharing knowledge has become a lifestyle, a way of living and it’s that in Wen Fong that I can’t wait to see more in more students in Singapore.

On Teachers’ Day, he wrote to me

“Happy teacher day Miss Meixi, for teaching me a lot of skills for math and teach me how to example to others when I was teaching and let me join a lot of activity for teaching Student, Teachers and Principle.

THANKS YOU Miss Meixi for all the help to let me love math sooooo much and I got the dare to teach friends, teacher and other peoples.

Miss Meixi have a nice day for today and have fun during holiday… XD.

From your student, Wen Fong”

Best note ever.

Best note ever.

That note will stay with me for a long while, especially when it’s a lot easier to give up and stop trying to make change. Sometimes it feels like there are so many obstacles against us: I still don’t know how to fund my work or how to strategize in the most wise or productive way.

Then notes like these from Wen Fong remind me of a saying from South Africa: There is only one way of eating an elephant: One piece at a time.

by John Piotrowski

Eating an Elephant

Building the network of learners in Southeast Asia, changing the way we conceive of the classroom, train teachers and interact between schools a lot. Changing the role of schools in the community is also going to take time. But when I see students like Wen Fong rise up to the call, grow in passion, service and self-confidence as a person and be a leader in his school and community because of the academic work at school, my passion is renewed and my calling refreshed. We’re eating the elephant one piece at a time.

Thank you for joining me in this journey. I wouldn’t have had the courage to carry on without a lot of you. Please let me know what’s going on with you too!! So,

To all of you who have been my teachers in school and life in many more ways than one, Happy Teachers Day.



The Healing Power of Relación Tutora

9 Aug

The school!

After spending about 4 months in Zacatecas- from January to July 2012 (being outside of community in April in June), with the majority of my time spent in the community called Presa de Maravillas, I have come to grow and learn in a way that would not have been possible without this experience. For four months, I really lived with the community. Mondays and Wednesdays were usually spent in afternoon lessons with the primary school, Tuesdays was tiangi’s, where you could find almost everyone you knew in the outdoor market either buying or selling things. Thursdays was either a day to do the laundry or wash the dishes and Friday I’d go to a painting workshop with other women in the community. I was game for anything – making cheese, climbing over rocks to get to another part of the community, riding donkeys and of course, dancing. And through all of this I really grew to love the people there, what living in community really means and how the school Pedro Vélez was an oasis for the students in this context.

As the study moved along, I moved to live in San Ramón for two weeks in May with the telesecundaria Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla and Maestra Sara Moran, who also has students who have trouble at school and/or a home, including a student who was recently expelled from the Téchnica in Villa de Cos, almost drawing a parallel to the students and situation in Presa de Maravillas. Furthermore, I made side trips to work in Río Grande and Tlaltenango and took the opportunity to see if the trends I was seeing in Presa de Maravillas and in San Ramón were common in other regions, and they were.

Here is the full study for sharing!

The Healing Power of Relación Tutora

and in Spanish!

Poder sanador de la relación tutora

Presa de Maravillas