Reflections on MAIS ROME 2019 Conference

I’m back home, tired and happy, after spending the last few days in Rome for the Mediterranean Association of International Schools annual conference. I wanted to make a THANK YOU tweet, but realized I had too much to say and to process for a tweet to do it justice.

I gave four workshop sessions plus a keynote. A big theme I discussed had to do with the idea that a school may call itself “international” but is it doing enough to pass along a transformative vision of global citizenship and empower its students with empathy, imagination, and abundant global mindsets (that are deeply rooted in local contexts) so students can become problem-solvers creating real impact?? It’s a BIG question, but don’t the challenges we face today call for us to ask such big questions? Topics in my sessions touched on ideas like: how to leverage social media for social good; going “radical” – getting to the root of something, whether it’s radical inclusion, radical inquiry, or even radical hospitality or kindness; changing the question of “What do you want to be when you grow up?” to “What problem do you want to solve today?” and how this can transform school cultures and student agency; appreciating without appropriating cultures, and going beyond the “single story” of a culture or nation.

I brought copies of Global Kids to give out and was happy to do a drawing during my keynote and a couple other times, and for copies to get distributed to multiple countries, including Italy, Morocco, Egypt, Lebanon, Algeria and Spain.

The deep GRATITUDE is for many, including:

  • Reina and Shannon O’Hale and the rest of the MAIS team: Thanks for always making sure I had everything I needed, from smooth logistics to every unexpected tech support for my presentations. I truly appreciate your invitation and the warm hospitality and care you offered every step of the way!
  • The amazing teachers from Beirut, Rabat, Milan, Rome, Cairo, Lisbon and so many other places. Thank you for your great questions, for the heart you put into your work, the hugs and tears relating your own stories after I shared mine, and even for your pushback when my cultural lens showed its US bias. It’s priceless to hear your support for student protesters who are learning more on the streets than in the classroom and then to explore with you over how you can extend the meaningful learning once they come back to school (whenever that might be), and how you can encourage them to build the world that we wish for them to have.
  • Travel somehow propels me into making deep friendships very quickly. For example, I think the universe brought me together with Judith Dworter, the courageous founding head of the American School of Algiers, who has led schools around the world, including evacuating Tripoli upon Ghaddafi’s toppling, then returning there in secret to rescue a library of 5,000 books! Though we’d never met before, we shared a long dinner with two other new friends who happened to be in the same spot at the same time following the fantastic private tour of the Doria Pamphili Gallery, and the four of us took a long, fabulous dinner on the Piazza Navona as if we’d been friends for decades. One of those four, Mercedeh, turns out to have gone to the same high school I did in California and her aunt and uncle are close friends with my parents (what?!!)! The day before, Christine, who happened to get a taxi to central Rome just as I wanted one, invited me to hop in and introduced me to her favorite gelato spot – the start of our friendship!
  • I was surprised to see the collaboration between MAIS and Fresno County, CA public schools. Thanks to sitting at the gala dinner with Kitty Catania of Fresno, I learned a bit about this 25-year partnership of mutual learning. I love the unlikeliness of this pairing and how dedicated they are to each other’s growth.
  • Before and after I committed to speaking at the conference, Reina stated a few times, as a feature of the conference “Rome is Rome…” Indeed! I took advantage the day before the program started, to explore a bit of Rome. I was planning to rent a bike at a small bike shop that had good TripAdvisor reviews, but the shopkeeper was out when I got there. I walked a bit, thinking I’d check back, and saw an Uber electric bike parked nearby, contemplated about two seconds, opened my Uber app and in about 3 minutes I was riding around Vatican City in the bright red Uber bike! Traffic can be crazy but I was careful to try to stay on bike lanes and not ride in to the busiest streets. With the electric feature I could go up and down inclines easily, but I still pedaled and had the bike riding experience. I LOVED IT! I ended up riding about 14 km, up to Borghese Palace and around the historic city center. When it was time for lunch, I parked it on a random corner and walked into a tiny, outstanding pizza shop (near Trevi Fountain). A few minutes after arriving, a nun asked if she could join me at my little table. She was from Cameroon and in a program to study public health and take her learning back home. She had been sent to London over the summer to learn English, and given her French, she got around ok in Italian. After tourism, seems to be Catholicism the major employer and presence throughout Rome, so it was fascinating to hear a bit of her story. She seemed to eat there each day, and stayed about 10 minutes before rushing back to class. I miss traveling with my family, and all over Rome I had memories of our times together, but since I was alone, this sort of unexpected meeting becomes possible.

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