Ivelisse Caraballo has traveled all the way from the Dominican Republic -- not once, but twice -- to participate in Harvard Graduate School of Education's Improving Quality in Education Systems: Managing Quality Schools professional education program.
The week long program, run by the Ed School's Programs in Professional Education (PPE), attracted 23 participants from around the world and examined the challenges of managing effective schools in order to provide a quality education for all students. As a coordinator for education affairs for the president of the Dominican Republic, Caraballo brings teachers from the United States, mostly New York, to work with local teachers in the Dominican Republic. "This type of seminar really makes an impact on people like us from developing countries," Caraballo says. "It's very important sometimes to just see different points of view, to talk with people that think differently, and solve problems differently than the way you do. It's kind of a reminder that sometimes we think we are doing something great, but maybe it doesn't come out to be that way. We need to be flexible."
An impressive array of HGSE faculty taught in the program including Dean Kathleen McCartney, Senior Lecturers Katherine Merseth and James Honan, Lecturers Elizabeth City and Haiyan Hua, and Professors Fernando Reimers and Richard Elmore. Caraballo shares why she chose to attend this program...twice.
Why did you decide to return to Improving Quality in Education Systems: Managing Quality Schools this year?
I came back because [the program is] a way to analyze myself and the things I'm doing. This gives me the opportunity to reflect on what I'm doing, what is working, and what is not working. It also helps me to work with people that think differently than I do. Here I'm working with people from 20 countries. In the Dominican Republic, I only have Dominican teachers, but everyone here thinks different. I know that they have this means of learning new methods and techniques in teaching, but I need to learn the right way. Well, not to learn, but maybe to improve the way I approach them. It's not an easy task. I'm here to get better and better.
What were your impressions of the program last year?
Last year I had to do a group project with five people from other countries. We all think differently. Initially there was this thought like, "Oh my God, how are we going to do this PowerPoint presentation with all these different ideas?" Some people didn't want a few things to go into the slides, and others did. I didn't know if I was going to be able to do it. But in the end I learned how to be flexible because I had to. We ended up with this wonderful project. I thought about this experience as what I have to take to my country.
How did you apply what you learned here at home?
In the Dominican Republic, I had two projects where teachers were participating in workshops. I used two topics that they used here at this seminar [in 2009]. I looked for teachers that were able to speak about those specific points. I also highlighted what I thought we needed more in my country. The only way of doing this was to reflect on what I learned, and try to transmit that to the teachers.
For example, Professor Fernando Reimers addressed improving curriculum in Latin America, where he has more than 20 years of research. I actually invited him to the Dominican Republic. He couldn't go but he did give me this wonderful video talking about basically the same things he spoke of at the seminar. He also gave me a copy of the book he wrote about education in Latin America, and how we can work with what we already have, and try to make the best out of it. I thought I could do a workshop talking about the importance of professional development. Then I will post the video, and introduce the video, and talk about the video.
Has your experience at Harvard made a difference in what you are doing?
It's really good to hear experts talking about specific subjects. I have been thinking about how am I going to share this with my people? I want to be able to do more. What else can I do? As I spoke with Tom Cassidy [faculty chair of the program], he told me that he had been thinking about it too. Then, he said, "Let's meet on Friday and let's see what type of brainstorming we can do and what else we can do in the Dominican Republic." He's willing to keep me ahead and I really appreciate that.
I also decided that I was going to invite the speakers of the seminar to the Dominican Republic so they can do the same seminar in a two or three-day conference. And, I have been very successful. I am going to coordinate everything and the conference will be for principals and people that are changing the curriculum working with leaders of education.
Also, I'm doing another project and these connections I've made here have helped. One of our weaknesses in the Dominican Republic is teaching math and science. So, I spoke with Professor Kay Merseth and am planning some workshops for college teachers to prepare future educators of math and science. My plan is to take three math teachers from Harvard University. I spoke with Kay and she said, 'I'll take care of the math teachers - don't worry.'
What do you think will be your big lesson this year?
A: When I came last year, my head was more Americanized in terms of thinking about education. But this past year I have been working in the schools of the Dominican Republic and it's a totally different reality. I have, I would say, not problems, but conflicts in terms of the way [schools] collect data, and the way they use it. I have learned that is where the weakness is [for us]. The questions of why and how are we going to use it -- that is a big problem in our country. People think that they are using data, but they don't even know why they're doing it. Those are the little things that I'm learning here and reimagining how they need to be more aware of how they can use data.