Monday, May 23, 2016

Step One: Pay it forward

These letters are part of (hopefully) a ten-step series speaking to the development of #Worldchangers in education, and how to affect significant change in global education.

Note: Here I am sharing my letter to Becca's parents, their letter to me (which took place first actually), and finally my thoughts.  The purpose of Becca's visit was to gather research for her university thesis, comparing American and British approaches of education. "Preservice teachers need to witness effective collaborative relationships between teachers before they enter the classroom" (Michael & Miller, 2011).  For future work-force educators, I believe that synergetic experience and connection is a crucial element in which to observe and engage.  Accordingly, it was our pleasure to arrange and model opportunities for this pre-service teacher to observe classroom lessons as well as collaboration among education stakeholders.  Enjoy the post! 

Dear Dave and Alison, 

Hello from sunny Florida! Hope all is terrific with you and your wonderful family! 

Your kind note brought tears to my eyes, and I am grateful too for the rare opportunity to have been "a teacher" again in my mentoring role with Becca (@beccaleanne94)! She has an absolutely precious personality that reminds me of myself at her age, and she got along beautifully with our sons and in our family environment, which was so wonderful. 

I have to tell you: the experience is one where I continuously think of the movie and catchphrase, "pay it forward." Back in 1994, the summer after my fourth year of university (of my five-year program) and when I was 21, I spent the summer staying in Washington, DC with my friend's aunt & uncle in their home, while I interned at the FAA. I remember that they (unwillingly) charged me $100 per month for room, board, food, and transportation (upon my urging of them taking "something,") which was crazy-inexpensive. Honestly, I became like the daughter they never had, and to this day, we are close. They took me in as a favor to their nephew, and to truly just help someone in need and do good. It really kept coming back to me these last couple weeks that after 22 years, I was paying it forward myself, giving Becca a small piece of "the gift" that Lenny & Richard had given me so many years ago! 

As you know from Marialice (@mbfxc) and from researching our website and our activities of the past six years, Jennifer (@JenWilliamsEdu) and I are passionate about changing the field of education so that teachers and students will experience classrooms designed for human creativity, innovation, and collaboration.  Between the wonderful school experiences Becca saw in many of our friends' classrooms, and in our conversations with her, we also feel that she understands how learning can be transformational, and especially when facilitated by an inspired educator, such as herself in the near future. Her attitude, independence, manner of speaking/teaching, and "grit" in order to come visit us here in America all demonstrate that she truly is a global citizen, life-long-learner and future-amazing-teacher! We view her as a success-story-in-the-making, and will continue to support her in her educational endeavors. It was amazing to see her interact with our boys, as she is so patient, fun-loving, funny, and sweet. Every day and every activity was so much fun! She blended in perfectly, and her smile and easy-going demeanor made it so easy  for her to connect and shadow the various teachers we introduced to her. When we had our online Edcamp meeting, as well as with Nik Chatzopoulos (@chatzopoulosn), Becca just jumped right into the work part, and put forth such outstanding effort. One could see she cared about her tasks, and could easily observe her can-do attitude; it was refreshing! 

Thank you all for your thoughtful gesture to support the mission of Calliope is unnecessary, but welcome at any time. We definitely have accrued expenses in spreading our message near and far, as only some presentations/travel have been offset with contracted funding. Our personal mantra is "good brings good," and with that, we have volunteered our services time and again with educational communities in need or in ones where our own children have gone to school. We are motivated by passion and the wonderful human connections we have made; we do what we can with what time, money and resources we have. 

If I were to ask for assistance, though, it would definitely be for the opportunity to influence educational systems and/or educators on a global level. I have always seen myself traveling to Europe or Central and South America or Asia, and making a difference with poorer communities or with bringing innovation/engagement to the youth of today.  I have always enjoyed working with teachers in their professional development, as well as taking on projects of innovation...and I believe my forté is in talking and interacting with people in active ways. Whether it was teaching Spanish in my classroom for 20 years, volunteering in a Costa Rica after-school arts & technology program, presenting at educational workshops/conferences around the US, taking in Patrizio from Spain for five wks, running our Spain/America two-week student exchange-assimilation experience called Conquistadors Connect, or volunteering efforts with various Edcamps and our kids' school, I am a do-er, and I love connecting with the people themselves. If there are any opportunities for contracted work, or teacher or student training...or other "creativity/productivity" educational initiatives, I would be most interested. I look forward to speaking to you and your team more about ways we can inspire and transform education together.  Also, I cannot wait to hear from you more about what you envision for the future. 

In addition, as I mentioned to Becca and all of you, we would love to extend an invitation to your family to come spend time with us in Clearwater, Florida at any time! Your children are awesome, and if you all or they would like to experience more of our (crazy) American life, "¡nuestra casa es su casa!"  Our boys loved Becca (she was like the sister they never had), and meeting Alex and Cam would be great. Cam and Luciano have similar interests, and they all would get along in a terrific way.

Please write back whenever you all have a free moment. 

Big hugs from me, Dave, Luciano & Giovanni across the big ocean! Take care everyone, and let's chat soon! 


Fran Siracusa

---in response to---

Hi Fran,

I just wanted to drop you a note on behalf of Alison and I to thank you so much for looking after our No.1 special daughter over the last 2 weeks, you went far and beyond anything I would have ever expected

I am sure Becca will have told you whilst she was with you that over the past few months she has become more and more disillusioned with her teaching degree here in the UK, having begun 3 years ago with a fire and determination which has slowly diminished this year as she has come to the realisation that degrees are hard to achieve and require hard work, application as well as dedication to that work, determination alone is simply not enough.

I have to tell you when I picked her up from the airport on Friday she was a completely different person to the girl who left England 2 weeks before on the verge of giving up, she had a renewed spark, energy and maturity the like of which I had not seen in her, ever.

I want to thank you and Jennifer so much for taking Becca under your wing, your guidance, mentoring and friendship has shown her a different style of teaching, a new, more tangible way of learning that she connects with outside of pages of essays, analysis and theory.

Becca knows she has to finish her degree and attain the best grade she can which she feels will open the door to her longer term ambition of teaching in the US via a Montessori application of practical learning and theory.

Above all, you have given her the belief back that I thought she had lost. It has been her life’s ambition to become a teacher, ever since she was old enough to tell her 2 little brother what to do !

I cannot tell you have grateful both myself and Alison are for what you have done for our daughter, you connected, you created and you inspired.


All the best and a very personal thank you from both of us,

Dave & Ali Shepherd

This letter exchange occurred between two friends: one from the United States and one from England, who became connected through Twitter. Both parties did not start out as friends, but instead as Twitter contacts, eager to take advantage of the connected world we live in. Both groups, in addition to many other Twitter contacts and #EduPals, set in motion an experience that is not as unusual as one might think.  

In the hope of evangelizing global education as well as leveraging connections-based learning approaches, one must be creative and learn to take risks.  Challenges such as time, money, and effort play a part, but do not necessarily serve as the clincher to end possibilities of international travel.  The first educational "hat I wore" was that of Spanish teacher.  In that role, I attempted to prepare students for school and work-life beyond the classroom.  I practiced conversational speaking and writing exercises with them, found international partners with which they could practice language, and even organized and led student-travel programs.  Frequently, I tried to teach students how to be resilient LEARNERS, who were adaptable to situations, conversations, countries, and people they might encounter in their lives.  I always drew upon my own experiences from spending summers with family in Sevilla, my own study abroad program in Salamanca, my internship opportunities in Washington, DC, my volunteering stint in Costa Rica, and more.  Most recently, I aligned myself with an international ed-tech company whose team members live in different areas of India, Spain, and the United States.  Teamwork, resiliency, and flexibility all become integral skills to possess in order to operate on tasks.  There has always been a level of risk, as team members have never met each other in person before.  Nonetheless, taking a gamble can prove to be fruitful and rewarding, as well as equate to future typical business practices.  

There will be many times in life when we are confronted with unfamiliar and sometimes overwhelming exploits.  However, if we can provide encouragement to fellow adventurous educators and students, perhaps, just like me, they will forever be life-long learners. Again, may it be altruism or venturousness, perhaps, in order to be a world-changer, step one is first to "pay it forward" and be a risk-taker!