INNOTECH’s precious gift of friendship
“Not only have I sharpened my skills and gained confidence as a school leader; the friendship and connections shared with INNOTECH staff, co-participants, and students and teachers I met in the course also make up the relationships that are at the core of change and improving the lives of learners wherever they are in the region.”
I came to know about SEAMEO INNOTECH in 2018 as I learned of my participation in the SEAMEO Educational Development Fund or SEDF Excellence in School Leadership Program. I anticipated it with joy as I have always been fascinated with the Philippines — its geography, society, and education — especially because there are many Filipino teachers who teach English in Thailand.
My school, Ban Mae Lid School, is located in the mountains of Northern Thailand bordering Myanmar. The ban or village is three hours away from Chiang Mai Airport plus a 10-kilometer drive from the foot of the mountain. There are 319 students in the school and all of them are from the Karen Hill Tribe.
Joining the course of an international organization like INNOTECH increased my confidence in being with school leaders from different Southeast Asian countries. One activity in the course allowed us to share a day in our life as a school head. Together with 30 other school leaders from the different countries in Southeast Asia, I shared this story:
In the morning, the children walk from their village to our school. We begin the day with hugs. Teachers hug students every morning because hugging is a wonderful medicine of healing. This is how we start our day before the children go about their duties.
There is so much power and meaning in going through morning activities like paying respects to the nation and singing national anthem. Once students are settled, we do mental activities. We play soft music to adjust brain waves to low frequencies so that students are ready to learn, practice, reflect, and focus on the connection to things. This takes 20 minutes, then the children study basic subjects.
In the afternoon, we start with the body scan activity that allows us to focus on breath and concentrate on the movements of the body organs. The students close their eyes, and sit or stand as teachers read poetry and tell stories. At the end of the activity, students are given the time to sleep so they can recharge for the afternoon’s activities. At different times of the week, students are given the space to attend problem-based learning (PBL) and learn about career skills. The streetlights leading up to the school uses hydropower — a product of the school’s PBL; a joint project by the students, parents, teachers, and an engineer from Chiang Mai University brought in by her daughter who is one of the PBL teachers of the school.
Before the day ends, the teachers and I would gather to reflect and share our accomplishments. I pay attention to the discussions as I find it an important strategy to drive the organization and form a strong professional learning community that helps add value and meaning to the school’s day-to-day activities.
My story is just one among the many stories shared during INNOTECH’s two-week program. I was convinced that if I opened myself up to the possibility of forming new friendships with people from different cultures and ways of life, I will have a very valuable experience.
There are two significant memories that stand out in the training course. The first one is the school visit. Through the discussions and group activities, I became aware of the unique situations and education contexts not only of the Philippines but of Southeast Asia. Having firsthand experience of the school setting also made me appreciate how the teaching, learning, and management of the school environment are admirable.
The second is participating in activities that gave me the opportunity to exchange stories with friends abroad. Friendship is a precious gift from INNOTECH. I am truly grateful to know that I have gained new friends. One of them reached out to me several months after the course, proposing for an exchange program between students and teachers from her school and mine. Mabel Leong, the Head Teacher of Springfield Secondary School in Singapore, sent her students and teachers to Ban Mae Lid School in Thailand in September 2019. Students from both schools spent three days walking together along the rice fields or up the hills of Mae Lid in the morning, camping out at night, and learning together. A few months later, my teachers and I went to Mabel’s school in Singapore to learn from teachers and students. When we returned, I allowed some space for the teachers to manage learning in the school and apply what they learned from the educational trip.
Without the opportunity given by INNOTECH, none of these good things would have been possible. I have changed so much over the last few years. I consider myself more confident in taking on new challenges and maximizing performance. I find that there can be so much joy in aspiring for bigger things, overcoming challenges, and cultivating a growth mindset. Through the course, I recognized my desire to learn to speak English better, which led me to watching YouTube tutorials. From time to time, I would also chat with my former co-participants online so I can catch up with them and practice using the language at the same time.
At present, my teachers and I are looking at how we can further align school-based teacher development with the Southeast Asia Teachers Competency Framework, also developed by INNOTECH.
There are indeed gifts that keep on giving. Not only have I sharpened my skills and gained confidence as a school leader; the friendship and connections shared with INNOTECH staff, co-participants, and students and teachers I met in the course also make up the relationships that are at the core of change and improving the lives of learners wherever they are in the region.