Planning International Collaborations

Our middle school spanish teacher and I met with two staff members from Mercy Corps today to lay the groundwork for collaborations between Catlin Gabel students and schools in El Salvador and Guatemala. It quickly became apparent that we have at our disposal so many different options for how to take the first steps in that direction and subsequently deepen the relationships.

Spencer in Guatemala
Spencer at the Centro Educativo Maya Ixil in Chajul, Guatemala.

Despite our experiences working with schools abroad, we mostly have questions at this time.

  • When will a satellite-enabled cell phone or laptop modem become affordable enough that we can bring internet connectivity to a remote village in a developing nation and leave it there when we depart? When will video Skype become a standard feature on mobile phones?
  • When will the numbers of kids in developing countries who are online in social networks reach a critical mass, so that appreciable numbers from an individual school can spontaneously connect with our students? What happens when we realize that students have far more developed competencies for social networks than do the adults?
  • When should we choose to set up a teacher-teacher professional development relationship with a school rather than going student-student?
  • Is a highly organized, teacher-led, curriculum-based instruction still the best model for global school-school partnerships? At what point can we turn the leadership of the relationship over to the students, for example by setting up a private social network for the exchange and then letting the kids go at it?
  • What language-social studies teacher partnerships can we leverage within our school in order to provide both meaningful learning experiences for both second language acquisition and study of world cultures?
  • How far into our school’s core curriculum does a school’s global education program have to penetrate in order to be successful?
  • Most of our global relationships are due to the passion and commitment of a single teacher. How does one broaden responsibility so that the school owns the relationship, and it continues after the original teacher departs or alters his/her priorities?

    Spencer adds:

    I would add one piece to the last comment about broadening our commitment and having the school steward the relationship as opposed to the individual teacher. I really like the model of individual teachers creating and fostering these international relationships, but we do need some oversight on the bigger picture of how many relationships we can sustain and to which we can dedicate ourselves wholly. Some relationships will naturally form and also end in time. I think this is ok and logical.


    1. Kirk Lorie says:

      Richard – Kirk from Town School in SF…we have not engaged in international collaborations with any schools and I’m wondering if you have some tips on getting a dialog started?

    2. Vicki Butler says:

      Hi! Seattle Academy takes 10 upper school students and 4 or so teachers to Lusaka, Zambia each summer for a month. The annual trip is multipurposed and has been in existence for about 10 years now. The original purpose was to work with the Munali School but we have branched out from there. We have helped develop the infrastructure for their lab. Graduating US students could donate their laptops to the Munali School.

      To quote our website:

      "There they teach and train students at several area schools. They also go on safari and visit Victoria Falls. This trip has a significant community service component to it, including visiting area hospitals to meet with patients, providing shoes to area children so they can attend school, and fundraising to purchase necessary items such as school supplies or mattresses for locals."

      This years participants shared their experiences in the Zambia blog (http://saaszambia.blogspot….)

      Now we donate our middle school laptops as our class carts are refurbished with new laptops (we are on a 5 year cycle). Our middle school students have a Zambia Club and are raising money to build a library. They have actual plans ready to go. This is in addition to various service drives that the students initiate during our school year.

      Our challenge is that our school years are out of sync so to do a collaborative project is difficult – though not impossible. We’ll keep working towards opportunities that are beneficial to all involved!

    3. Richard says:


      That’s the key question, isn’t it? From my limited experience, the best collaborations begin when a faculty member has already established a personal connection to a school in another country over the course of years. The detailed knowledge of the place and the connections with specific individuals give that relationship a huge head start. It also leads to one of the great pitfalls of international relationships — the dependence on one individual teacher to keep it all going.

      It is also possible to make virtual linkages through pen-pal type web sites or to join an collaborative such as Round Square, but I haven’t found those experiences to be as transformative for the kids.


    4. Richard says:


      Thank you for the summary and link to the student blog! It inspires me to create a one-page list of student trip blogs when I have the chance. Tell me — how did the trip leaders organize student blogging? What preparation or experience do the students have to become such thorough and vivid bloggers? Thanks,


    5. Thomas Frizelle says:

      Hi Richard,
      Tom from Overlake here. We have projects in Pailin, Cambodia and Accra, Ghana. This spring we are also starting a project in Bella Union, Uruguay. The travel aspect takes place during our Project Week in the spring. Typically we have between 10-25 high school students on each trip.

      Technology is just one of the project aspects. The other aspects revolve around the schools needs (lab science equipment, art supplies, medical equipment). For instance this year the school in Bella Union, Uruguay was a pilot school for the XO laptop program. As a result we will not need to focus on fundraising for laptops.

      We had many of the same concerns about internet access, electricity and infrastructure. We were able to bring our school in Cambodia online in 2006 (satellite). We also upgrading from solar power to a dedicated electrical system. The school in Ghana was already fairly well established and we focused on upgrading their equipment.

      I would love to chat sometime and discuss some of our struggles and lessons learned. Let me know if you want to setup a time to talk.