I was given a referral by a colleague who asked if I was interested in doing any work in the Dutch Caribbean. At first, I thought he was joking. But when it turned out that he wasn’t, I told him I would MAKE time!
My destination: an island called Sint Eustatius, located between the islands of St. Maarten and St. Kitts. Sint Eustatius only has a population of about 3,800 people and is about eight miles long. It is a very quaint little island, largely untouched by tourism and very safe. The people are some of friendliest people I’ve ever known! In the United States, if someone honks their horn, you think they are upset. But on the island, everyone says hello by honking their horns. I drove to “work” each morning with everyone waving and honking like I was part of the island.
Our puddle-jumper flight from St. Maarten to Sint Eustatius was met by my contact was Christina Timber-Glover, who was incredibly welcoming and made me feel right at home. We stayed at the Old Gin House, right off the water. Absolutely gorgeous.
I was asked to come do some hands-on training to help their teachers upgrade their mathematics instruction. They’d been using the Math in Focus program for several years, and their teachers needed help specifically using manipulatives, developing number sense, and looking at problem solving pieces.
The first day was spent meeting the teachers. We also worked on strategies for number sense, including using number talks in their classroom, and they also learned how to really use the manipulatives they’d received as part of their math program. We spent a lot of time examining the 8 Mathematical Practices and 21st Century Thinking to help teachers and students.
I spent day 2 working with math coaches on problem solving and application of math to really get kids to develop an understanding. Days 3, 4, and 5 were spent on-site, coaching in classrooms at the four schools across the island, GoldenRock School, SDA school, Governor de Graff School, and Bethal school. All four schools are unique and vary in religious affiliation and personality. During these days, I worked with teachers by observing them (reverse coaching) and modeling. The main focus was shifting their instruction from teacher-led to student-led. Strategies they learned during the first day were able to be implemented immediately during these coaching days, which was really exciting! It really affirms the fact that when professional development is relevant, hands-on and exciting, it is so much more effective for teachers! The teachers and school administrators I worked with while I was there were so excited to see the results of what we did were excited for the future of their schools!
It wasn’t all work, of course. We had to do some sight-seeing! Sint Eustatius is a volcanic island, so we spent time hiking up the volcano and visiting the botanical gardens.
- The island is owned by Holland and is considered a Dutch colony, and their education system is still supported by the Dutch.
- Dutch children start school at age 4, regardless of their birth date.
- Dutch teachers have the title “Teacher” rather than “Mrs.” so I was Teacher Shannon all week, which was a little strange!
- Grades are marked by groups, starting with Group 1 (4 year olds), Group 2 (Kinder), Group 3 (1st), etc.
We are planning a return trip in the fall to continue the work that we started, including adding in some principal coaching to help the principals fully understand the 21st Century shift. I can’t wait to see what they’ve accomplished by the time I go back!
This was truly one of the most amazing experiences (I even made the paper!) and I feel so honored to be able to share my knowledge with the wonderful teachers of Sint Eustatius. The excitement I felt from the teachers at the end of the week was so refreshing and one of the most rewarding parts of being a consultant!