Why are American School Leaders in Thailand?

Thaiteam07com_2 This week we are featuring the Thailand for School Leaders Program. Ten school administrators from California have ventured around the globe to lead, learn and share with an international flair. Each is participating in an International Leadership program (and most also completing an independent study program for the Professional Administrative Credential, Tier II, from the University of California, Irvine). As leaders, educators and world citizens; each is participating in a professional development adventure of international experience and professional leadership self-reflection. What better classroom for ‘world-class leaders’ than the world?

What are you doing as a leader to positively affect the global community?

The International Leadership Program in Chiang Mai has been a wonderful experience for us as it has allowed us to escape our Californian school setting and reflect on personal successes, barriers and areas of needed experience in educational leadership. We have had the opportunity to observe and interview leaders in a country that values education and has similar visions for their children.

A very enriching experience …we were able to seek out and interview Thai leaders who are at the forefront of impacting their educational vision and surprisingly their response to: What are you doing to positively affect the global community?…was very similar to that of our own.

Being from opposite sides of the world, from different cultures and lifestyles, we were glad to learn that they have similar concerns. They too are teaching their children about environmental conservation, appropriate uses of technology and cultural appreciation, all of which positively affect the global community.

As leaders we have a responsibility to make our children aware of the impact and effect they can have on the world as an individual, society, or nation. We all have the choice to be involved in affecting the globe in a positive way.

It is refreshing to speak to educators across the world and realize that the world really is a small place, after all. Hopefully, others too are striving towards the same vision.

Paul Birkeland, Assistant Principal, Los Angeles Unified School District
Emily Kirkpatrick, Assistant Principal, Roseland Elementary School District
Support in Chiang Mai, Thailand by R & G Services Thailand_hotel_3

From Thailand: Leadership training from a global monk

This is the 3rd of this week’s blogs from the California School Leaders in Thailand.  They are participating in an international post-graduate leadership program in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

Phra Saneh Dhammavaro is as far away from what we imagine what a global leader would be.  He is modestly clothed with an orange robe, and has very little or no use for anything else except for a pair of footwear.  After spending a few hours with him, however, we were floored as our preconceived notions were instantly shattered.  He speaks with the gentlest of voices as he shared his thoughts and described his way of life.  What he was really doing was speaking to our hearts as leaders.


We listened to Phra make comparisons between our western way of life and his practices, beliefs and ideals.  He shared with us the importance of establishing balance between mind and body.  As visitors, we took care of the body’s needs satisfying the senses with Thailand’s sights, food and massage.  Phra challenged us that the mind equally needs the same attention.  From this message we were reminded that sometimes leaders must remove and place themselves above tangible material things and non-tangible items such as politics and competing ideas that clutter decision-making and focus on what is right.

He talked about world events and offered a simple solution to everyday crisis and social ills that are readily applicable to our day-to-day lives as school administrators and most importantly our personal lives. Following the way of the Buddha, he suggests, “Instead of finding fault in others, look to your own misdeeds.”  He implored us to look within our own selves and strive to find UNDERSTANDING as a way to avoid conflicts.  While this idea is not new, it is often forgotten in the context of our everyday lives and our work at schools.  Towards the end of our time together, he asked us to meditate with him.  We closed our eyes and listened to him describe a happy place free of hate, violence and pain.  He then filled the void full of love, peace and comfort- an ideal environment we strive to achieve as educators.  In closing our eyes, our consciousness opened we were reacquainted to the reasons why we entered this profession.

In search of a place for training on global leadership, one might look towards a metropolitan city such as London, Tokyo, or New York.  Perhaps Chiang Mai should be included in this list.  Thailand’s 2nd largest city of is dotted with Thai wats or temples reminding its citizens of Buddhism’s ancient and lasting legacies.  Its people especially the Thai monks, at first glance, are seemingly unaware of things taking place around them and probably have nothing to offer to us.  All of our notions were immediately dispelled after meeting Phra Saneh Dhammavaro, Director of Academic Affairs at Buddhist University in Chiang Mai. It seems as if he has known us for while, where we came from and the weight of the baggage we carry.  The way he framed and made sense of our work in the context of our world demonstrated not only his knowledge but also his understanding.  And in doing so, he moved some of us to tears as we realize how much further we need to go not only as leaders, but most importantly as human beings.

Daniel Gumarang, School Improvement Facilitator, Los Angeles Unified
School District and
Craig Knotts, Assistant Principal, Celerity Nascent Charter School
Participating in the Thailand for School Leaders Program


Leaders in Thailand: Elephant Conservation Center

Jotram Joannelep Elephant Conservation Center

After an intense week of late nights working and fast-paced assignments, several members of our cohort took a needed reprieve Saturday to visit the beloved and endangered Asian elephants.  We were aware that elephant population in Thailand has declined from 5000 three years ago to less than 2000 now.  This decline has resulted from mistreatment, neglect, or abuse by trainers or owners, often vying for tourist dollars.  We also know that poaching and devastation of the elephants’ natural habitat have greatly contributed to their decline. We wanted to find a place where the elephants would be treated humanely.  Because the all-day visit to the Elephant Nature Park did not fit our schedule, we visited the Elephant Conservation Center in Lampang Province, south of Chiang Mai.  This is a government-run establishment with a unique “elephant hospital” that nurses back elephants before they are returned to the jungle.

We also had an opportunity to appreciate the skills and intelligence of these magnificent animals in an elephant show. The show was a re-enactment of the work elephants would perform in the logging industry. They have transferred these skills to entertain an enthusiastic audience. Walking in single file, holding each other’s tails, as they do in their natural habitat, the elephants enter the large corral. Guided by the ‘driver’ these enormous creatures perform their task with ease; pulling, pushing and stacking logs.  We were then treated to a musical performance and painting on canvas, done by the elephants!  Several of us purchased these paintings to hang in our homes.

Watching these animals demonstrate these amazing skills, our minds are drawn to the fact that there are similarities in what we have been experiencing as a leadership cohort.  We have all brought our unique qualities to this learning environment in an amazing country.

We have been encouraged by our teacher or ‘driver’ to perform many tasks, utilizing our inherent and transferable skills. We are all performing at a level we never thought possible! This unique environment allows us to open up to the possibilities of a new vision of leadership in the future. Our challenge is to bring this home and share our new canvas with students and staff in our schools.

JoAnne Motter & Minh Tram Nguyen

[JoAnne is Assistant Principal in the Tustin Unified School District & Tram is Principal at EnCompass Academy, Oakland Unified School District]

Greetings from Chiang Mai, Thailand!

Weighton_2 Greetings from Chiang Mai, Thailand!

We are a cohort of 10 administrators from California who decided to take a risk and look at leadership from a global perspective. We’ve had the opportunity to experience educational programs from a fresh viewpoint.

However, there is a sea of differences in the schools we visited. The variety ranged from a university demonstration school, to a private school, to a public welfare school. Each site greeted us with openness, warmth and a willingness to share. Friendliness and grace has been experienced in each place we’ve gone and with almost every Thai we’ve encountered.

In each of the schools, they presented their program with the same pride and passion for their students and their work that each of us feels about our own work. All this was communicated even with the cross cultural differences and language barrier. In one school, we saw needy children who live in dormitories, do their own laundry, help with the cooking, and who may receive parent visitors at most twice a month. In spite of all these obstacles, the students were happy and learning.

In both places, Standards were more similar than we expected. Along with the content that our California students receive, Thai students receive religious, vocational and cultural education as well. As educational leaders developing a greater global awareness and sensitivity, at the schools we visited, we were surprised to find that this is already a part of a Thai child’s education.

Daniel Guliasi & Joann Kennelly

Daniel is Principal in the Novato Unified School District & Joann is Director of Special Education in Centinela Valley Union High School District

Global Leadership? YES! International Leadership Professional Development

Next month, a dozen California school administrators will travel to Thailand for an international professional leadership program.  Why don’t you join us?  We will give you an inside look at lSkybud eadership development- international style.  What does globalization and international development have to do with school leaders in the U.S.?  More than you can imagine.  We look forward to our guest blogs from July 23-27, direct from beautiful Chiang Mai, Thailand.  Background information about the program is online at:  http://leadership-innovation.org.