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I Left My Heart in Brazil

The loveliness of Iowa seems somehow sadly gray
The glory that was Chicago now makes me ill
I've been terribly alone and forgotten in Carbondale
I'd love to go down south and teach in Brazil


I haven't been blogging that much because over the past month I have been dedicating most of my professional life to the leaders of several Binational Centers in Brazil. This opportunity came to me through a grant I worked on with partners at Global Ties, World Chicago, and CIVIC (Council for International Visitors to Iowa Cities).





Purpose & Goals


The purpose of this program is to support a faculty exchange program for supervisors, coordinators, and teachers from the Brazilian Binational Centers. These participants have been chosen to make a lasting impact on the Brazilian ESL education system. Our program specifically focuses on English as a Second Language (ESL) and English Language Learner (ELL) programs. By the end of our program, participants will understand the different structures of ESL/ELL education and their strengths and weaknesses, the importance of creativity and innovation in the classroom, and best practices for implementing new strategies once they return home.
Several unique themes will be addressed throughout the program:

  • ESL Program Models: Primary Schools, Secondary Schools, Private Schools, and Post-Secondary Institutions
  • Primary and Secondary School Resources for ESL Educators: Panel Discussions and Workshops
  • Educating ESL and Foreign Language Teachers & Researchers
  • The 21st Century Classroom: Innovation and Technology
  • Adult Learner Programs for non-students
I conducted informal talks with participants throughout the program to assist in their ability to digest and apply programmatic learning. I also held a workshop at the end of the program to assist with the synthesis of information by the participants. This workshop enhanced participants’ abilities to take the information they have learned and apply it to the context of their jobs in Brazil. They also discussed how to create action plans and work on specific plans for the future.

By the end of the program, the participants:
  • Identified how each observed second language education program is organized
  • Analyzed the leadership of each program in terms of strengths and challenges
  • Discussed benefits and challenges of adopting similar organizational or pedagogical practices from the observed schools
  • Compared and contrasted training pre-service English language teachers in the US and Brazil
  • Made proposals on how to introduce creativity, innovation, and technology integration in K-12 English language classes in Brazil
  • Shared their overall concerns for language policy and planning regarding the future of English language education in Brazil
  • Prepared an action plan to be implemented within the first six months upon returning to Brazil
For many details on the program itself, I highly suggest you visit the website for the program at https://brazilchicagoiowa.wordpress.com/

Reflections

My Motivation

Programs like this one are the main reasons I continue to stay in the profession of English language teacher education. I love helping to make connections between English language teaching professionals as well as connections between research and practice. The main reason I pursued my PhD is to help make research more accessible to teachers and school leaders. I also love cross-cultural exchanges where I learn as much about the participants or "delegates" as much as they learn about English language teaching practices in the United States and American culture and values.

Over a year earlier, in October 2016, I helped Southern Illinois University with a grant bringing 24 English language teachers from 22 different countries to Carbondale, Cape Girardeau, and St. Louis. You can see more details about that here: https://usculturesvaluessiu.wordpress.com/. That grant opportunity helped me learn about the English Access Microscholarship Program and the many great EFL teachers around the world. In fact, one of these 24 teachers who participated in the program in Southern Illinois was also one of the 20 Brazilians who participated in this latest program. Through both opportunities, we have become good friends.

I have always had my eye on Brazil since 2004. When I was working in South Korea as a teacher trainer at Sookmyung Women's University's TESOL Certificate Program, a few of my colleagues suggested that my wife and I should teach there. They shared their wonderful experiences living and teaching English there, and I was sold. However, the next decade took me in a different direction until this grant brought Brazil to me. My interest in Brazilian culture and the Portuguese language was renewed before and especially during their two-week visit.

Curriculum Design and Development

I also love designing curriculum for teacher education and professional development. My earliest opportunity to completely design a curriculum on my own was as a Senior English Language Fellow in Russia in 2006/07. It was also my first time working on a US State Department project and it was my inspiration to pursue more opportunities with the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. My outreach program in the Greater Volga Region of Russia was quite successful in that I reached one thousand English language teachers, offering them workshops and presentations based on their needs. My needs analysis helped me learn a lot about the challenges English language teachers face in Russia.

My Fellowship was also the first opportunity to practice the entire process of Instructional Systems Design, which I learned as a graduate student earlier and used to help redesign a course at Sookmyung Women's University. After my success in Russia, I had the knowledge, confidence, and skills to design curricula to meet the needs of English language educators. But I wasn't able to put this ability to use until a decade later when I was curriculum coordinator at Southern Illinois University. I used it to help update the curriculum for the Center for English as a Second Language, to design the Shawnee Hills IEP Camp, and to design the first grant with the 24 Access teachers. In all contexts, I helped the teachers find connections between research and practice. And what made these situations successful are the partnerships.

Partnerships

In order to create a successful teacher education or professional development program, one needs confidence without ego. What I mean is that you should take pride more in the process of learning than in the product. There are two parts to this process, learning how to address the needs of the participants through partnerships. I always have a vision for what makes a professional development opportunity successful, but I need input and feedback from those who have more experience in that context. "One size does not fit all" is a quote teachers and researchers like to use when talking about the curriculum for their students, but some forget that it's also applicable to teachers.

My most successful programs have been developed with strong, trusting relationships. My outreach program in Russia was successful thanks to Dr. Ludmilla Kozhevnikova. The Shawnee Hills IEP Camp was successful thanks to Dr. Emi Zlatkovska. The curriculum for the Access Teachers US Culture & Values workshop was successful thanks to Mary Black. And this latest project was successful thanks to my partnerships with Global Ties, World Chicago, and CIVIC. I believe these partnerships were successful because we were asking the question "What's in it for the participants?" rather than "What's in it for me?" I think I speak for most if not all of us is that we get out of these programs is a high level of participant satisfaction and partnerships and friendships that last a lifetime.

Participants

I'm not one to believe in miracles, but the participants in all these programs have been wonderful. I counted myself lucky in Russia, then the luck repeated itself for the Shawnee Hills IEP Camp, again for the Access Teachers US Culture & Values Workshops, and once more with the Brazilian "delegation." These last two groups were selected by people associated with US Embassies, and I must admit they do a very good job finding like-minded people. I always design a curriculum for a diverse group of teaching ideologies, but the Access teachers and the Brazilians, I found teachers as hardworking if not more hardworking than me. This helps generate an incredibly positive feedback loop for creating a very productive program. And because we share similar interests as well, it creates a strong bond of friendship among most of the participants. In both instances, it felt like I have created a new family.

What made this program unique is that all the participants are in Brazil, so my motivation to visit to Brazil are even stronger. I even have the temptation to go there and stay there, but my real family helps me stay grounded. I definitely want to visit for an extended period of time. As you can see in the map below, I will need a lot of time if I want to visit all of them.


I'm not sure how well this group represented Brazilian culture, but they made me feel like I could adjust well to Brazil when I get the chance to visit. I learned a lot about their sense of humor. When I first met them, I thought they were a very serious group. They are, after all, leaders in our profession. But after a week, we got to know each other, and then I felt like I was the serious one. Our senses of humor came out when we would purposefully jokingly insert seriousness during fun times and the lightheartedness during serious times. This sense of humor kept us on our toes to remind ourselves not too get too serious or too lax. 

By the end of the program, they thanked me a lot for my patience as if they were a lot to handle, but this was not the case. I saw early on how responsible and autonomous they were for achieving the goals of the program, and that made my job easier. Their passion and diligence was also inspiring, and I can understand why they are leaders.

Special People and Places

Not only was I enjoying every day with these 20 fantastic people from Brazil, I also had the opportunity to share with them my love for Chicago and Iowa City. My hometown of Kenosha, Wisconsin is only an hour north of Chicago, and I loved visiting Chicago every chance we got when I was growing up. Now many of my friends and family live there, so Chicago feels somewhat like home to me even though I never lived there myself. And Iowa City is where my family and I lived for six years while I was earning my doctoral degree at the University of Iowa. Iowa City still feels like home to me and family, so I was filled with nostalgia while visiting many of the program sites with the Brazilians, who got to know more about me because I had a lot of emotions to share as well as academic information about many of the sites.


This is a video I captured while we were crossing the Mississippi River from Illinois to Iowa while a famous Brazilian song was playing. It put all of us in a joyful moment as the Iowa portion of the program was about to begin.

Final Takeaways

What did I learn most about this experience? I learned that I love working with diligent English language teachers who are passionate about improving the teaching and learning conditions for their institutions. I also learned a lot about the current state of English language education in K-12 schools, a context in which I have little experience. For these contexts, I learned almost as much as the participants:
  • The Seal of Biliteracy - I have become a big advocate for this. Check out the link!
  • Dual Language Immersion Programs - I have known about them for many years, but I never had the chance to see them in practice. I have been completely astounded by the accomplishments of the teachers and students, especially in the Naperville, Illinois and West Liberty, Iowa school districts.
  • Charter schools - After visiting the Academy for Global Citizenship in Chicago, I got a better sense of what a charter school looks and feels like. I am not sure the visit changed my position on charter schools, but the students seem to benefit a lot from this Academy.
  • Professional development - I only learned a little bit about how K-12 English language teachers continue to develop professionally. I think ELTs in higher education contexts could benefit a lot by interacting more with K-12 teachers, especially for bilingual and multilingual students who matriculate into universities. As for EFL contexts, this program is a great case study on what EFL teachers can learn from K-12 contexts.
I am not finished with this program or these teachers. The grant requires that I check up on their progress 6 months and 12 months after their visits. However, I am in frequent contact with them through our private Facebook group and emails. I am both professionally and emotionally invested in this program and the progress of each BNC affected by the participants' experiences and growth. I look forward to learning to seeing its impacts through our online contacts, and I hope I also get to witness them firsthand. Even though I have never been to Brazil, it sometimes feels like l left my professional heart with the Brazilians when they returned home several weeks ago.

Again, don't forget to check out the program's website at https://brazilchicagoiowa.wordpress.com/ to learn how and why it was so successful and rewarding.

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