Teach For Portugal’s First Summer Institute: Dreams Do Come True!

Pedro Almeida and Maria Azevedo, Co-founders, Teach For Portugal

After officially  joining the Teach For All network in February, Teach For Portugal recently completed its first Summer Institute, and will be placing its first cohort of participants in classrooms across the north of Portugal next week. The following is a reflection from Co-founders Pedro Almeida, CEO, and Maria Azevedo, Head of Program, on the experience:

Have you ever woken up from a beautiful dream wishing you could fall back asleep and prolong it? Teach For Portugal’s first Summer Institute was that dream for us. After four years of planning for this moment—dreaming and redreaming it in our sleep and in daydreams—this desire became a reality, an authentic experience embracing all of the feelings of real life: strength, courage, and creativity.

At first, the Teach For Portugal team was nervous and anxious. We kept asking ourselves, “Will we create the culture we need? Will this be the start of a movement?” Together with our colleagues at Teach For All we envisioned what the ideal Institute would look like. We discussed, openly among ourselves, what our expectations and fears for the Summer Institute were, and wrote down our goals and the challenges we anticipated. At the end of the Summer Institute, we realized that our lived experience exceeded all of our expectations.

Our participants and staff experienced a lot of emotions and intensity during those five weeks: dedication, compromise, a sense of community and belonging, very tight schedules, encounters with numerous curious people, back-and-forth journeys, late dinners, long program meetings. With the generous support of our tutors from our fellow network partners Teach For BulgariaTeach First, and Empieza por Educar, our participants were able to witness their own growth on a daily basis. The devoted tutors helped our participants by providing invaluable feedback and inspiring words after every class they taught and during planning sessions. We all knew that our Summer Institute was going in the right direction when the participants started voluntarily asking for feedback from their tutors—genuinely wanting to improve their skills. This feedback did not stop between tutors and participants, and it spread to students as well. “I have no words,” one student shared with us. “I loved being here, and it was very important for me because I ended up learning more English, Portuguese, and mathematics. I am taking with me a great friendship with all of you for the rest of my life.” 

What is all of this for, some might ask? All of this is for the change we believe is possible: that in our country, one day, all children will have the same life opportunities. You cannot feel it, touch it, sense it, nor smell it, but we know that this change we are working towards is there waiting for us. We know it exists—hidden behind the heavy curtains of bureaucracy, traditions, norms, rules, and legislation, that are complex and discourage us from questioning, revisiting, and reimagining them. This is why, during our Summer Institute, we gathered 18 young, diverse, and committed individuals who are willing to take this step forward with us,  and shake off these heavy curtains.

Pedro and Maria (both kneeling) with Teach For Portugal's first cohort of participants

We know progress is possible because in only five weeks, we’ve witnessed incremental change across a small community:

First, the sense of this change has come from our participants, who have pledged their commitment to continuous learning and development from now on. Our Summer Institute offered the first round of this ongoing development, and focused on three defining principles: lead through self, lead with others, and lead change. Every session began with this beautiful sense of belonging to something bigger, to something that underlines this change. Every session then sought to strengthen this passionate community of young leaders dedicating their time, energy, and knowledge to education by creating and redesigning educational tools such as games, songs, role playing, and treasure hunts. At the end of every day, in “learning circles,” we reflected with our participants on our collective strengths and areas of improvement. 

We saw signs that the change we seek is possible when we witnessed our participants showing up enthusiastically every morning. Their dedication and thirst for learning has always been there—we’ve just helped them find it and use it for a larger purpose. We also were extremely encouraged and thankful to the greater community within our movement and their belief in our mission. Local authorities joined by helping us sort out numerous logistical needs. Parents picked up their children with encouraging smiles on their faces, recognizing that their kids had spent a fruitful day with our participants. Our stakeholders, from donors, to universities, to Board members, shared that they were impressed with our progress throughout their countless visits. And, most importantly, we could see and feel the happiness and confidence of the students increasing with every class, week after week.

For all of this, and for all that is still yet to come, we are grateful. Our first Summer Institute has come to an end, and we can happily say that it exceeded our expectations in every aspect—from building a solid community, to strengthening our belief that change is possible, to affirming our hopes for the future. Now it’s time for us to buckle up and get ready for the autumn, as our first cohort of participants enters classrooms for the academic year ahead. Change is upon us!

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