I've been doing professional development now for a few years but yesterday was a new experience for me. I went to a private school (not the new part) that was part of a Mosque (that's the new part). From the name of the school, I had assumed that it was associated with Islamic culture but I didn't realize how much. Throughout the day while I worked with the teachers on SEL, conversations mixed in about culture, along with them needing breaks at specific times for prayer. By the end of the day, I think I learned as much from them as they did from me. I wanted to share some of the experience and also my reflections, both personal and professional, about the day.
When I introduced myself to the group, I explained that I know their culture has similarities to my own, Judaism. I understood that they separated by gender and I didn't offer to shake hands with any of the men when I met them. I also stepped back to give space when the IT person was connecting an extension cord to my charger.
It was interesting when he was speaking in Arabic and the principal (in English) told him that he should speak English while I was there. I told them it was fine and joked that I would just assume they were talking about how awesome I was but they did speak English the rest of the day for my benefit.
After introducing myself to the whole group, I took the opportunity to start with a language demonstration of using Microsoft Translator to collaborate with a global network. I told them of my experience working on a global team for E2 and that while we didn't speak the same language we were able to present together. This was my way of showing that if they were more comfortable speaking Arabic, as the minority in the situation I was willing to communicate in their language.
There were 16 attendees in total and it was immediately clear how close this group was. They were not just colleagues but almost like a family. In fact, when we were discussing SEL and some common classroom scenarios, one teacher told me that their students are more like sibling rivalry than classic fighting. This really was a micro-community in the heart of a larger city. They are neighbors; they pray together, work together, and go to school together.
Since I had not thought ahead but didn't want to disrespect their space, I offered to eat my lunch outside rather than bring non-Halal food into their mosque. I explained that when I've trained at the Jewish Day School I would pack a kosher lunch but wasn't thinking when I prepared for the day. One of the women told me that Halal and Kosher foods are very similar and that in-fact they are likely to take a kosher meal on flights or in hospitals because Halal isn't an option. I actually found that statement extremely impactful because I was under the impression that Halal eaters were more common than Kosher eaters.
In the afternoon the group went downstairs for the prayers and I stayed upstairs in the classroom. One of the teachers that was not praying with the others invited me to watch if I was interested in learning about the culture. She explained why she was not praying with the others that day. As we spoke and watched, I saw more similarities between their culture and my own. I am not an Orthordox Jew but I do know the rules and customs. The men stood at one end of the room while the women were on the other. When they got down on the floor, some were sitting in chairs and the woman I was standing with explained that health always comes first and adaptations can be made when needed.
The final interesting thing that came up was when we were talking about parental communication. One teacher gave an example of a time when a new student who didn't speak English or Arabic joined the class. He said something that sounded like a bad word in English but actually meant something very innocent in his own native language. This led to a discussion that online translators aren't perfect and that they translate literal statements. I used "It's raining cats and dogs" as an example of an idiom that makes sense in America and English but might confuse someone when translated.
I will be going back to this Mosque at the end of the month to provide another session and I am interested to see what more I can learn from them while I am facilitating the training. The upcoming training will be technology rich, specifically Microsoft tools.