Helen Sullivan

Hurley K-8, Boston MA

Conduct School visits in multiple locations across the Dominican Republic to observe ESL teaching methodologies and create best practices for dual-language instruction for the large percentage of students emigrating from there.

Where I've Been

  • Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic

My Fellowship in Images

Preschoolers help their teacher plant a garden at the Tres Mariposas Montessori School
Partner teacher, Monica, pets a goat at the Tres Mariposas Montessori. Students milk the goats and make yogurt.
Monica and I with the director of the Tres Mariposas Montessori School
Ricardo, the gardiner from Tres Mariposas, walks us to view the local public school in Cabarete.
Monica and I with the director of the International School of Sosua.
A classroom in the International School of Sosua.

Your Personal and Professional Growth

How have your knowledge, skills and capabilities grown?

As always, it is valuable to step out of your own set of circumstances and become a part of another world. Although I have some experience with international education, I have been in the Boston Public Schools for six years, so it was nice to be re-immersed in a world that I used to be familiar with. It was nice to hear about different approaches to language learning. For example, I had never been to a Montessori school, so it was interesting to observe at Tres Mariposas.

As a result, in what ways will your instructional practice change?

My partner teacher and I have already begun to discuss how our instructional practice will change as a result of this trip. From the Montessori school, we learned about the importance of student choice and student-directed learning. We discussed ways in which we can incorporate more of this into our own classes. From the International School, we learned that the 50-50 model is not enough for effective language learning, and discussed how to increase Spanish instruction throughout our day.

What is the greatest personal accomplishment of your fellowship?

It was great for me to step outside of the world of Boston Public Schools and be immersed into the world and pace of the Dominican Republic. Many of my students are Dominican, so it is great to have a better sense of where they (and their families) are coming from. Mostly, it was great to be on this trip with my partner teacher. We were able to reflect together on our own practices throughout the experience. Additionally, we were able to strengthen our own bond.

Impact on Your Classroom, School and Community

How will your experiences positively impact student learning in new ways?

I am returning with some concrete ideas for how to alter my instruction. For example, after visiting the Montessori school, I have decided to give my students more choice during stations time. Rather than have them rotate to a set place and have a set task, I plan to give them to freedom to work in groups or alone, and in any order, as long as all of the tasks get done by the due date. I hope that this will foster student ownership of their own learning and develop time management habits.

What are your plans for working collaboratively with colleagues?

My school is a dual-language school with just two sixth grade teachers. It was great for my partner and I to take this trip together because we work so closely together and with the same students. we will be able to adjust our practice collaboratively this year. Additionally, we plan to share what we learned with our principals and with the rest of our staff.

Imagining the Future

How do you envision celebrating of your students’ new learning?

I plan to work on celebrating process over product. I plan to adjust my feedback so that I am praising independence, struggle, collaboration, and progress, rather than praising accomplishment. Additionally, in terms of language learning, I plan to celebrate my students for being bilingual, and be explicit about the opportunities that are and will be available to them as a result of that.

Are there issues or challenges in your school, community or the greater world about which you and your students might try to make a difference?

One of the luxuries of the schools we visited was that they were not necessarily following government mandates. While it may be best practice for us to increase our Spanish instruction in order to graduate fully bilingual and biliteral students, we know that cannot happen because high stakes testing is in English. It would be great to have students write letters to education policy makers to explain this predicament, and advocate for change in the area of testing.

How would you describe to a friend or a grant funder the most fundamental ways in which your fellowship has changed your personal and/or professional perspective?

This fellowship is great for many reasons. First, I was able to visit some school and leave with some concrete takeaways for instruction. Second, I was able to spend time with my partner teacher. Third, I was able to spend time in the country many of my students are from. Most of all, however, I was able to step out of my own perspective. Students will be better served if they have teachers that are worldly and have been given the opportunity to travel and learn.