One look at the agenda, and I caught myself saying a quick prayer for my survival. The schedule for the five-day institute was packed; it was apparently designed for teenagers with raging hormones, not for middle-aged guys like me! Besides, the school year had just ended for us, and I was exhausted. Where was I going to grab the needed stamina to survive the week ahead?
Any doubt or regret, however, disappeared as soon as cocktails began. I found myself rubbing elbows with educators of every shape and size–every single one of them bursting with passion about their work. The energy in the group was infectious, especially by the time Adrian Lim formally opened the Institute with his welcome. Rebecca Stockley, our expert at improvisation, made sure that the energy never waned. More than anything else, it was this energy and passion of the ADEs that defined the experience for me.
Ho Chi Minh. Actually, even just setting foot in Ho Chi Minh City already brought me a rush of energy. There was something about the city, its 60s charm and–let’s face it!–its “Vietnam War” mystique that captured one’s imagination. The Notre Dame Cathedral, just a couple of blocks away from our hotel, was certainly worth a visit with its a constant procession of wedding couples posing before the famous church facade. Inside I was moved by the so-called merci walls, walls plastered with messages of thanksgiving for answered prayers.
Personal Branding. The Institute was designed to invite us to appropriate the mission of an Apple Distinguished Educator, as well as to get incorporated into the ADE community. The 4 As were a helpful frame to make sense of our role: Author, Ambassador, Advocate, and Adviser. The workshops on “Creating the Brand of ‘You'” dealing with different media were quite engaging and helpful. However, it was the personal branding exercise that forced us to articulate how each of us would take on our four-fold role. Not an easy task! The exercise required a lot of effort since we had to think hard about our roles. It was also an unfinished task since as we were told, our personal brand would always be a work-in-progress, requiring constant review and revision.
ADE Saigon Race. For this Amazing Race-inspired activity, each group was given an incredibly lengthy list. The goal was to get us to get to know the city and one another — and it succeeded. Lam, our student guide, gamely took us around. We were lucky to have Guang Chen in our group, who turned out to be a most cooperative model, agreeing to risk career and reputation by putting on an ao tai, a tight-fitting silk tunic worn by Vietnamese women, just to provide the required surprise feature in our project — and did the surprise work!
Saigon 360. Our group got together because of our shared interest in personal stories. We decided to split up into two groups, and our sub-group decided to interview Anh, our student guide, who turned out to be a lovely and articulate subject. Of course it helped that Charlotte Dillard had a gift for connecting, that Aysem Bray constantly set the tone for us to be respectful of persons, and Jose de Castro turned out to be an incredible videographer and editor. Working on this project and watching those of the other groups, once again I saw how important it was for an educator to be a learner who constantly allows one’s mind to be pried open and changed by new experiences. After watching so many moving and powerful videos that day, I suspect a lot of stereotypes were demolished that day.
Nerd Talk. What made the Institute such a rich source of learning was all the “nerd talk” during and in between sessions. The workshops, explicitly designed for practitioners, were, as a result, engaging and enlightening. But the conversations during snacks and the meals always eventually led to sharing how our work as educators could better promote 21st-century learning among our students. There was no doubt what this group was most passionate about.
The Home Group. From Day 1, we were assigned to a “home group”–a group of people with whom we stayed all throughout the Institute and shared our reflections about our experiences. It was a great arrangement because the workshops and projects enabled us to meet with different kinds of people, but it was this group that we always came home to. I consider myself lucky to have been part of this group–a real assortment of characters–placed under the care of the wonderful Charlotte Dillard. It was only fitting that for the graduation, it was Charlotte who, in the name of the Apple Team, handed out our certificates as ADEs.
The final evening didn’t disappoint. The room was full of really happy people. To the Apple Team led by Adrian, many thanks for all the hard work in designing and conducting an unforgettable Institute. To my fellow ADEs, thank you for your infectious passion and inspiring generosity. On the way home to Manila, I realized that it is this passion and generosity that truly distinguishes us as educators.