Six Weeks on the Road: 3 + 1 Takeaways from Costa Rica

October 8, 2017

Fact: October is rainy season for Costa Rica. And the reality matched the forecast. What did occur were winds and rains of what is growing to be Hurricane Nate. When up on a hilltop in San José for a divine dinner, the view was spectacular of the city lights below, until clouds and storming blocked the view completely.

Advisory: Creating a Personal Inventory Wall

Advisory: Creating a Personal Inventory Wall

Lights went out in the restaurant for added effect.

These five days were not spent river rafting (I did that last time); instead I was in a hotel with about 600 other educators for the Tri-Association Conference: What Matters Most? Learning in an Era of Change.

The workshops. I led two full days sessions, one on Growing a Dynamic Advisory Program and The Promise and Practice of Service Learning. Then a two-hour session on Teaching Strategies and the BRAIN. All were action packed, highly interactive, and delivered concepts and practical content that (I hope) enlivens learning for students beginning this Monday. I am fairly sure of this, because already one attendee has scheduled an in-service for her faculty this coming Thursday to lead my signature Four Corners Experience.

And my 3 +1 Takeaways.

1.       Educators with an open heart and open mind lead the way.

Whether administrators or classroom teachers who participated, I was enlivened by their deep desire to grow. This is the beauty of a career in education. The learning is ongoing. The desire to expand our thinking is consistent. The light bulbs that go off are literally electric! It’s also fun to have what I say “tweeted”! here are a few of the participant takeaways, noted by their tweets; these are from the Engaging Teaching and the BRAIN session:

“Students learn when they have movement and can talk about what they are learning.”

Children Learn When MIND MAP leads to building a Dynamic Interactive BRAIN

Children Learn When MIND MAP leads to building a Dynamic Interactiv

“Remove judgment from the process of learning to create engagement and freedom to learn.”

“Motivation comes from within. When you engage a person, there is a likelihood they will choose to be motivated.”

“Under-direct, One Minute Think Tank, asking ‘What was the process like?’, and ‘instant feedback’ – ways to engage students.”

“You can think faster than a person can speak, the science of distractions.”

2.       The process of service learning is still completely reliable and current.

While listening to keynotes, I found much of what was presented are elements of learning embedded in the service learning process. Consider these six aspects described by Michael Fullan for Global Competencies: Creativity, Communication, Citizenship, Critical Thinking, Character, and Collaboration.

What does SUPPORT look like? Sound like? Feel like?

What does SUPPORT look like? Sound like? Feel like?

For service learning practitioners, these are education habits that we regularly infuse to enable and engage youth to lead their learning and to identify and respond to authentic needs. Michael even said, the catalysts for his framework are Citizenship and Character. I admire the concepts and frameworks provided, and I know we can always improve with fresh thinking. Still, I see the five stages of the service learning being the reliable and effective how of so much being presented as “new” in education today.

3.       Young people continue to amaze.

The student orchestra from the Lincoln School in San José were so talented. And the young singer, Isabella, from Pan American School, showed the music video of her original song and she is ready for prime time. And the two juniors (also from Lincoln), Maria Fernanda Blanco and Antonella Andreolli who brought their social entrepreneurship ideas to the conference were brilliant. One is making energy bars designed for specific health need of athletes in different sports, an example of studying nutrition and athleticism and adding business savvy. The other is selling delicious (according to canines) dog biscuits to raise money for JAKE, the School Therapy Dog who is soon to join the Lincoln School Community! In addition to planning this whole concept, the funds she raises covers training for teachers and students to be Jake’s guide on campus. Why a therapy dog? She explains that the dog brings comfort to students who struggle, can assist in eliminating bullying, and bring joy to everyone.

Therapy Dog

+ 1. STILL THINKING. This one is still in process. I am thinking about the important dynamic of experience as the essential base for personalization, before we introduce new theories and concepts. Not saying this is new. However, I am examining this progression to see how we can move from: Experience to Expanded or new Concept/Theory to Integration through Practice to Application to Transference.

As we know, learning is not accurately measured by the ability to pass a test. True learning comes from the application of knowledge in new settings – the transferable nature of learning. This is one of the reasons service learning has POWER because we see what transfers, and youth are working for an identified purpose that may override the “gotta get the grade” motive – elevated by doing something small or large to better some aspect of the world.

If we want,  “What Matters Most? Leading Learning in an Era of Change,” then the challenge remains to “be the change you with to see in the world” (Ghandi) and enable youth to also be the change.

Two amazing agents for Change: Michael Lees, Director, International School of Havana, and Michael Johnson, Head of School at Colegio Maya in Guatemala -- co-leading workshops on Compass Education

Two amazing agents for Change: Michael Lees, Director, International School of Havana, and Michael Johnson, Head of School at Colegio Maya in Guatemala — co-leading workshops on Compass Education

MY AIM over the next six weeks is to post weekly blogs of my global adventures. This is the routing: Costa Rica (brief home stopover), NYC (overnight at home, then), Chang Mai, Paris, Cairo, Valencia, London, Beijing. If you are in any of these places let me know! Will be leading weekend workshops (Chang Mai and Beijing) and at the MAIS Conference (Valencia) and leading Professional Learning on Advisory and Service Learning at schools.

Please send questions and comments — your ideas and responses welcome to

Grateful for these opportunities to connect and grow!


PLAN YOUR SCHEDULE! Join us in UPState NY for the Service and Advisory Summer Institute, at Carey Conference Center outside Albany. July 16-19, 2018. Email — soon to be on the website (Sponsored by the New York State Association of Independent Schools and open to ALL educators!)

Follow me on Twitter @ cbkaye and LinkedIn and Facebook at Cathryn Berger Kaye.