Tag Archives: Tutorial Relationships

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!




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.