Tag Archives: Education

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:






2014-12-13 11.30.45-3






Guy, the I’mpossible Kid

24 Dec

Help us reach more kids next year by donating or getting involved with FiftyFold. 


I think if I had to put a finger on what I consider a good education, a good radical education, it wouldn’t be anything about methods or techniques. It would be about loving people first. And that means all people everywhere, not just your family or your own countrymen or your own color. And wanting for them what you want for yourself. And then the next is respect for people’s ability to learn and to act and to shape their own lives.

–       Myles Horton, We Make the Road By Walking

I somehow stumbled upon this quote again, and it puts into words all that I believe in, and all that I want to do with Tutoría both in Singapore and in Thailand.

I recall my teaching days and sometimes I felt that it was easy to lose sight of this, chasing students for deadlines and homework, scolding and yelling in class or wishing I had a fiercer face so that kids won’t muck around during lessons or that I could control the class with a stare.

While I understand that discipline is love, I also knew I didn’t always act that way. Sometimes I was disciplining because of me, my ego of winning an argument that seemed to get the better of me. And they knew how to get to you. Other times it was just difficult to love. Kids with anger management problems blowing up and affecting the class (yes, names are coming to mind) or kids who just simply defiant, with irritating behaviors that irk the hell out of you, offensive, hurtful or still can’t seem to get it when you’ve got a gazillion other things to do and you’re not sure how else to explain the word ‘twice’. I hope other teachers can identify, or maybe it’s just me who struggles with this.

What I learned in Mexico began to topple these ideas of control – as scary as it sounds – and deal with the person in a one-on-one relationship, at their time and emotional state, and then go beyond that to believe that each one of them can do the same for someone else too. And they can do it, and there is a way to train them to do so.

I saw just that in Padoongrasdra School in Phitsanulok. This was my 3rd visit already to do training with the teachers and students in English at the Primary 4 level. This time was the most fun because after training pockets of students, we were finally rolling out the lessons into the main classroom. Armed with 16 trained student-tutors, we brought in the class of 40 to receive Tutoría training from their fellow classmates. We wanted to live out their school name – that many hands hold education – with students taking ownership and driving learning at school in a very real way.


The class came in, group by group and got seated. When the last group walked in, I was introduced to Guy as ‘the kid who was kind of impossible to teach.’ Teacher Mu said he had the shortest attention span and it’s so hard for him to remember anything. I said hi and his teacher seated him a bench of his own. He sat there without a partner, probably thinking, I’m not going to learn today, again.

As I was organizing the class, Teacher Mu sat down with Guy and began tutoring him. I moved over to him and saw Teacher Mu helping him with the flashcards of various places in the Tema called, “My Hometown”. She told me, he’ll only learn the 5 words instead of the original 9. I nodded and sat down next to Guy.

Teacher Mu had left to help another child and left Guy with the five flash cards. I asked him what he was doing and he fell silent. Shyly, he showed me the bus and said ‘bus…’. Then he scrunched up his face and curled up, almost in agony in trying to remember what that place was. Suddenly he lit up, saying  “Bus-ketball!” And then looked puzzled as that didn’t sounds right. He gave up, saying ‘I can’t remember.”


Slowly we worked together and mastered 3 places – the bus station, supermarket and zoo. I told him, if he learned them well enough, he could tutor some of his classmates. He just said, oh, I can’t be a tutor. I can’t do it. I just said when you’re ready, I’m sure you can.

I tried asking him to write the Thai phonetics or the thai translation of each of the places but Guy said, “Oh, Thai, I can’t – I can’t read Thai,” and then went back to the new flash cards. I then gave Guy a two-minute break to just relax. During those two minutes, I expected him to run around or doodle, but he took the cards again, with his head lowered and repeating under his breath, “bus station, zoo, temple, supermarket.” Another girl came around and read some of the cards. She stopped at one and then asked Guy, “What’s this?” Guy looked up, and proudly said, “Bus station!” I beamed in delight – that was exactly right.

Guy was so delighted, that when she left, he went through all the cards again, just over and over again. Out of the pile of 5, he glanced at the remaining stack of cards on the edge of the table. “How about these?” he shyly asked. I felt my heart about to explode with joy. He wanted to learn.


That’s the power of feeling worthy of learning and learning make you feel like you’re worth it. Today for a moment, I saw Guy, filled with that joy. And it’s those moments that you know that Tutoría empowers in the tiniest but most powerful way through the simple opportunity to share knowledge with someone else and empower them to do the same for another. Its FiftyFold.

If we could do more of that in our schools, our students would be in a very different place right and so would our world. With the new FiftyFolf team in Thailand, beginning in 8 schools next Jan, we’re slowly but surely well on our way.

HELP US expand the tutoring network in Thailand – Donate to FiftyFold.

We’re trying to raise $16/ kid for 2014 – Join the Movement



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.