Tag Archives: Comunidades de aprendizaje

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!




The Power Within

5 Jun

Dancing in Río Grande, Zacatecas

¡More photos and en español aquí!

Today’s officially my last day living in Zacatecas. I can’t believe how quickly the time flew by. Two weeks ago, I packed up my bags and left Presa de Maravillas to live in a new community called San Ramón and travel to two regions Río Grande and Tlaltenango to support their work and also to see at a more state-level, differences between regions and schools.

It was a crazy final two weeks, with the temporary move to San Ramón on Monday to being part of the team in Río Grande on Friday and Saturday of last week to going back to San Ramón and taking a 3 hours bus ride on Tuesday, May 29th to the region furthest south of the state, Tlaltenango. It was a lot, but how rich each experience was.

In Río Grande and Tlaltenango, I had the opportunity to be in schools, talk with teachers, students and community members, observe the tutorías and best of all, be in tutoría. That Friday in the community Ignacio López Rayón, the academic advising team (ATP) in Río Grande joined forces to bring 2 or 3 students and the teachers from their various schools together to work in tutoría, exchanging temas among schools and strengthening each tutor and the tutoría. There, I saw students in deep dialogue; I saw students investigating and applying the temas to their lives; I saw students in the community create their own lines of investigation and seeing their world differently through their scholarly work. One tema called “You are a miracle” caught my attention. I observed Axcelia, a student from José Ma. Morelos y Pavón, the school that hosted us, begin her tutoría with a startling but beautiful question: Why are you a miracle? And with that question, Axcelia and her tutee began to explore the human reproduction process and life, why we were indeed living miracles. Axcelia chose this tema because her mom was pregnant with her baby sister and wanted to know about the stages in pregnancy. How wonderful it is to learn something that has a direct link to what we are living.

The academic exchange in José Ma. Morelos y Pavón

In Tlaltenango, I had the pleasure of working with Luis Álvarez González, a boy in his second year of the telesecundaria called Independencia y Libertad, in the community Los Reales. He was small and skinny and had clear, green eyes with a small Mohawk from where he molded his hair. Although he only had worked since October in tutoría, he had such a clear vision and strong work ethic of what a good tutoría should be. He was brilliant and sharp, and meticulously took notes as he worked and analyzed the poem “Mushrooms” by Sylvia Plath. And this Luis moved us with his demonstration on kidney failure. For the first time, I saw a demonstration that hit a perfect blend of raw and rational, a demonstration that moved something inside of me.

He began, “I created this tema because of what I lived, and what my family is living.” I sat up. He began to explain kidney failure and what this means, how it is caused and ways to treat it. In a small bag, he brought a home dialysis kit and with careful detail, showed us how to use it at home and what it does. He ended his demonstration like this: “Now the personal side to my tema. My brother, at 18 years of age had kidney failure.” He talked about the fearful and painful decision-making, how his sister became the kidney donor and the slow recuperation process. There was an unusual courageous and maturity coming from Luis, an earnest quest for learning that intricately united the theories and academic learning of body systems to shed light on life. Through Maestra Mireya Contreras Marquez’s complete openness, trust and belief in her students and the liberty she gave them to explore any issue or a subject, Luis was not only able to go deep in his learning, but gained a special courage and confidence to be a part of the change in his family and a source of awareness in the community as he shared.

The dialysis kit, Luis, Independencia y Libertad, Tlaltenango

In the midst of a volatile political climate and disheartening resistance at times to the work, these small sparks of hope fill us and keep our hearts fighting for what we do believe is worth it. Dalila López, the national coordinator for the national strategy team, once said that through our work, we’ve made many enemies, but gained a lot more friends. In Río Grande and Tlaltenango, I saw the daily battles and how sometimes, it can feel like a tiring, seemingly endless uphill climb with little help from the top.

Under the passionate leadership of Profe Rito Longoria and the support of important authorities, Tlaltenango has been called a model region, where even though none of the schools were labeled “focalized” due to repeated failing results, the creation of the network of tutors expanded slowly and organically through the personal commitment and volunteer of the teachers. When the work in tutoría was just beginning in Tlaltenango in 2008, the pioneering group of teachers decided to commit every Tuesday afterschool to study together, create new temas and demonstrate what they’ve learned. Students were part of this network and that was the most wonderful part of it. They called this “Study Tuesdays.” This week, they switched it to Wednesday so I could be a part of the group. So from 4.30-8pm, we gathered in the small local library in the town of Tlaltenango. We worked in tutoría and listened to two demonstrations, one by Maestro Luis Rubén and another by a student, Edgar Longoria. However, only about 4 teachers and 2 students came that day. Profe Rito, saddened at the lack of attendance of the other teachers that didn’t come, and wanting to do more for the team, asked us, “What can I do to help our region? What’s wrong?” Maestro Luis Rubén quietly said, “Maybe some teachers think that with a change in government, the program will finish they think, why commit?” He had a point because no one really knew what was going to happen after this year. Hearing that statement, I understood that fear and uncertainty. But I looked at the team, at the teachers that had tirelessly come week after week on their own accord to study and build a network from the ground up; I looked at the students who were eager and convinced that working in tutoría has really helped them learn and it was obvious. This change that we have created is irreversible.

I told them, “Maestros, the government can change, but this won’t change how we work. The much-needed changes in education are already in motion, the revolution has already begun, and it’s impossible to go back to how things were. It’s so much more than just an educational policy. The relación tutora has changed not just how we teach, but who we are and how we live. Even if the government changes, we are not going to go back to how we used to teach, it’s impossible. What’s more, we’re preparing the next generation of teachers here in our schools and they are not going to teach in the traditional way.” I looked at the students and asked them,  “ When you become teachers, how are you going to teach? In the old-fashioned way? They firmly shooked their heads and said, “No, in tutoría”. There’s no way. That’s the kind of change we’re creating. It might be hard to see in the midst of tough and volatile political climates, especially now that elections are only a month away. But what we’re creating is much more and lasts much longer than just the now. We’re creating a new way of thinking, a new way of living and a generation that is going to be so used to thinking and living in that way. It’s a change, a radical one, but one that is completely and totally irreversible.

Waking up to learn in Río Grande

In both regions, I got to be a part of an incredible team of ATPs and teachers, passionate and so humble, wanting to grow, wanting to learn. They were hungry for new ideas, hungry for new ways to improve the network of teachers and students here, hungry to be better. For example, the power I see in Río Grande is the incredible commitment and sacrifice the team of ATPs and teachers are willing to make for this cause. They have a community, a brotherhood that pulls them through in the toughest times. But that’s it- it’s a cause, it’s a calling that consumes and moves to inspire. It motivates the teachers to create temas that are relevant to their community and motivates a deep hunger and love to innovate and share. In a small talk I gave to some of the teachers in Río Grande, a conversation came up about a video that Maestro Jesús made of me that inspired other teachers and students in the técnica. I hadn’t seen the video but the teachers began asking for a copy of this video to motivate their students too.

I was glad they had that video but couldn’t help thinking and telling them- you are the inspiration for your school, you are the inspiration for your community. Sure, please use the video with all the confidence you need, but the best inspiration is you. In Asset-Based Community Development we always talk about the resources within a community – the parents in community, their students, the school and its teachers, first and that’s what I wanted them to see. Yes, I love being that source of energy but the real power is here, in the passionate teachers and inspired students and community who have changed through the relación tutora; the power is within. As Profe Rito helped me remember: and what comes from within is so much more powerful. The practice of the tutoría changes us and pushes us to do more for our schools and our people, more for México. We just have to continue to believe in that power, believe in ourselves and gather more who share this vision, and create that community, the learning community (comunidad de aprendizaje) that is leading the movement from Zacatecas to the rest of the country, and I’ll dare say, the world.

There’s a lot to change, but I think the world is discovering that there are new answers. We just got to go back to the basics, the very basics of what makes us human. And learning is one of that, but real authentic learning is what we’ve already robbed from our schools. We’ve created educational systems that were not created with students in mind- that’s a huge problem. In tutoría, the blessed simplicity as Gabriel Cámara always talks about, is going back to the basics. With just a notebook and a pencil, we can do a lot to grow the minds and hearts of the people. And that’s definitely worth fighting for.

The people – teachers, authorities, communities and students in Zacatecas have truly been an inspiration for me. And I almost feel like I’m Zacatecana. Leaving was so hard but I know that I’ll be back, soon. In Chinese, we don’t have “goodbye”, all we have to “See you again” and that’s what I’ll say to you, Zacatecas, “Thank you for all you’ve shared with me and showed me through the power of your people, the power within. And yes, I’ll be seeing you again.”

Profe Misael, Profe Martín, me and Profe Oscar en Río Grande