Last week, Kathryn Kaiser, Kevin Fittinghoff and Belinda Nicholson, the three division directors at The School at Columbia University, were invited by the Cuban Ministry of Education to participate in the 15th annual Pedagogía 2017 conference. This international conference is held every two years in Havana and draws more than 4,000 participants from the Americas and Africa for a weeklong forum to discuss pedagogy and best practice for preK-12 education.
The three directors were able to present The School at Columbia University as part of an action research roundtable, as well as visit primary, secondary, performing arts and special education schools around Havana. The conference was a rich exchange of ideas, projects, pedagogy and discussions on best practices.
The directors from The School had three main takeaways from the experience. First and foremost was the consistent value for education held and openly expressed in the entire community. Principals, teachers and children all demonstrated tremendous respect for learning, but this was also shared openly by members of the larger community. Parents, taxi drivers, restaurant workers, and other Cubans they met during their stay all echoed a greater commitment to children and to education. This philosophy echoes research the directors did at Harvard Graduate School of Education and with a faculty committee at The School on the importance of effective family engagement in closing the achievement gap, particulary engagement that develops family strategies for academic socialization. To them, this theory was perfectly exemplified on a much larger scale throughout the schools they visited in Havana.
Second, the directors were deeply appreciative of the Ministry of Education for inviting them to present, share and learn alongside other educators from Latin America. Other presenters in the forum discussed the value of an integrated curriculum, strategies for bringing history to life for children, and the challenges of aligned and rigorous curricula and pedagogy across regions. They hope it is only the first of many opportunities for The School at Columbia to be invited to share at this event.
Third, the directors saw tremendous potential for continued collaboration and exchange for professional development for faculty at The School. This was an amazing opportunity to discuss The School's pedagogy, practice and vision for educational equity and excellence in an international forum.