Santiago. July 11 – 14, 2017

Behind a network, an organization, a person, and all…

The global RSM conference included 60 people from over 40 partners of the Teach For All network, hosted by Ensena Chile (eCh – Teach For Chile), a 9-year-old partner with 7 cohorts placed and 350 alumni so far.

Day 0: Welcome to Santiago
After 2 days of flying, Santiago welcomed visitors with a cold hand of 5 degree Celsius. Much to my surprise, instead of being freezing, I pretty much enjoyed the chill, dried weather. Grouping in a minivan with friends from Teach For Cambodia, Teach For Bangladesh, and Teach For All, I was ready for the adventure (by “adventure” I mean a 20-minute-trip from the airport to the hotel (!)).

Alive: checked! Excited: checked! Jetlag: checked!
Adapter:… Oops!

Tip when travel: Adapter is life-saver. Either you bring one, or you must have a roommate that has one.

Day 1: At the end of the day, it’s all personal.

Around 60 people from over 40 organizations in the network gathered in the hall to explore the core theme through the conference.

After a warm welcome from Tomas Vergara, Director of Program of eCh, we spent the morning immersing ourselves into experiences across Santiago that reflect the alumni movement influencing education in schools, nonprofits and government agencies.

In Chile, there’s a big gap in the results of tests between public system and private system. This leaves public school students out of the race for the best universities in the countries. CREE, the school that we were going to visit, was founded in 2016 by 3 alumni from eCh, so that more students can have opportunities to attain quality education. CREE currently serves around 360 students pre-kindergarten to 3rd grade in Cerro Navia, the 3rd most vulnerable district in the country.

Passing a quiet neighborhood of small old houses, we stepped into a well-built and spacious school. In winter training, 50 teachers who barely speak English were working intensively to prepare for the new semester.

Later on, we spent time talking to Juan Paulo, CREE’s founder and principal, about his philosophy of education:

“I want my students to have a choice. Either they want to get into college or they want to skip it, they clearly understand what choice they have and do it because they want to, not because they have to.”
The humble man that left his promising career path in Engineering behind is now planning to increase the number of students to 1,200 in the next 2 years.

My heart fluttered when I thought about how the fellowship experience changed him and what the future may hold for Teach For Vietnam’s fellows with the alumni movement.

What motivated him to do it? What motivated other alumni to do it? What motivated them to keep doing it? And… what motivated us all to join this journey?

An urge of improving the education system? A hunger for equity? A love for children? A desire to bring them a better future? Or what?…

It could be anything. It could be everything. What I know for sure is that it means something to him, to them, to me, to us, personally. Because the only way to keep going on such a long challenging journey must be something that set fire in your heart.

At the end of the day, it’s all personal.

Day 2 & 3: Bringing the right people on board, the exchange of lore and learning

It was time for us to break into smaller groups for in-depth discussions of how to bring the right people on board, the right teachers to the students, the impactful leaders into the communities and how to keep them engaged with a life-long commitment of eliminating education inequity.

There were valuable sharings and learnings during those 2 days from a lot of partners, successful stories and learning lessons on how Teach First UK became one of top 5 employers in the country, how Teach For America gained attraction from top Ivy League graduates, how Ensena Chile and other partners strengthened their partnership with top corporate, and so on. Round table discussion and peer consultancy helped us understand each partner’s opportunities and challenges, as well as made room for collaboration.

All brought me back to the question once asked by Wendy Kopp, Teach For All’s CEO & Co-founder, when she visited Teach For Vietnam earlier in June:

“What keeps you awake at night?”

An inherent urgency in fighting for equity? A desire to let every child reach the fullest of their potential? And… “How to bring more like-minded people on board”, people with capacity, grit and commitment to make it happen.

Along the recruitment of Teach For Vietnam’s first cohort, I had chances to exchange thoughts with a lot of young, talented and brave people who see the key for social, economical and educational equity is rooted in education. “I have to find all of them and bring them on board.” We have to find them and engage them in the movement. We need them. Our communities need them. The students need them.

Above all, I felt a lasting surge of energy that keeps everyone together, and it’s all about the idea that “One day all children will attain an excellent education.” It must happen, that’s it.

Fun fact: Others were surprised to know that Teach For Vietnam did recruitment in 8 weeks. And my favorite answer was to smile and say: “That’s top secret!”

 Day 4: So this is goodbye!

We woke up early in the morning to connect with peers. All partners had fun time in a fair introduction and instructions to represent what we have done in our countries and learn from peers around the network.

Teach For Vietnam (TFV) was neighboring with Teach For America (TFA), and the reason why I could not take picture of our booths was that TFA only had their laptop while TFV’s merchandises were so “hot” that they were all gone before our session started (lol)

We spent the afternoon discussing about managing our team towards greater community representation, building learning loops and becoming the best version of ourself, as a manager.

Finally, what must happen happened:

In a circle of trust, we shared our gratitude for the present moment we were having, for the previous moments that we were together. Joys, laughter and tears, a little bit of everything we had, as for some it might be literally the last day we meet each other in person.

Yes, this is goodbye, but let’s keep it “See you again” instead.

Day 4 ½: To the airport

In the morning when I woke, and the sun was coming through, Santiago filled my lungs with sweetness, and snow.

Then I headed to the airport while something kept repeating in mind:

One day you may wonder: “Did I make a difference?”
TEACH FOR the certainty that you did.
Teach for all.

Nhung Vu