Poking Holes in the Insulation

Most of us live in an insular society – we function quite well within our little worlds. Our daily routines keep us secure and when life throws us off a bit, our insulation allows us enough security to deal with the changes. This is certainly true in my chosen profession. I am blessed to work in a community that cares about education and supports what we do.

I received a brief visit into a very different world last month when Harold Martin School was visited by ten school administrators from Vietnam. They are participants in the International Visitor Leadership Programsponsored locally by the NH World Affairs Council in Durham with involvement from the US State Department. The Principals are all from Ho Chi Minh City and their goal is to examine educational systems in other countries and bring back their wisdom to Vietnam. As someone who grew up as a boy during the Vietnam War, it’s heartening to see our counties work together so smoothly. The description written by the program for the visitors says:

You will be hosted at the Harold Martin School in Hopkinton New Hampshire to speak with their Principal.  This is a local elementary school that is one of the nicer schools in New Hampshire.  (Isn’t that nice?-Bill) Discussions here will focus on the role of a Principal, how he runs his school, and what is expected of him.  Also, if time allows, a tour of the school can be arranged.

When the Principals arrived, it was clear that none of them spoke English (and I only speak a modicum of Vietnamese 🙂 ) so they arrived with two interpreters and a bluetooth wireless system. They asked questions in Vietnamese, the interpreter would translate for me and then as I started answering back, the interpreter expertly spoke into his microphone so that the Principals could hear the translation. The questions primarily centered on teacher supervision. They wanted to know about unions, improving teaching practice, and they were curious about the role of state and federal government in education.

Of course, I was trying to glean what I could from their Vietnam experience. I did discover that class size averaged about 40 students per class, even in elementary schools. I received two gifts from the group of 10, a yearbook of sorts from one of the schools and a beautiful wood relief model (pictured) of their Department of Education.

A few of the Principals extended an invitation to me to visit their schools and retreat from my insulation. The reality is that I could probably learn more in a brief visit than in the scores of journals and books that I attempt to devour. Social media has certainly poked holes in the insulation, but nothing would replace feet on the ground in Ho Chi Minh.

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