The Streets of Gurjaani, Georgia

The streets are a cacophony of sounds and noise. Dogs are barking, people chat loudly on the street corners about politics as the roosters acknowledge a new morning, all while vendors are busily unloading freshly baked puri from the trunk of their Lada car, a vehicle reminiscent of a bygone soviet era.

The open market is exploding with colorful fruits and vegetables, cooking oils stored in old soda bottles, spices and herbs of all kinds, giant fish, pork and beef. Walking through the market is an exotic experience for this homegrown Iowa boy and offers a sneak peak at the makings behind the celebrated Georgian cuisine.


With my limited Georgian, I wish a woman sitting behind a table full of apples a good morning and grab the biggest red apple I can find which comes to 80 tetri or about 40 cents and continue on through the market. While the country of Georgia sits at just about the same latitude as my home state of Iowa, mountains and seas which border the country act as a buffer for extreme weather, keeping winters mild and providing optimal conditions to produce some of the most fantastic varieties of produce. Even now that it is March, there is still much to choose from. The word “Georgia” itself translates to “Tiller of the Earth,” and still reflects the way of life for many Georgians. 

Nana Tatiashvili: The Most Perfect Host

It is late at night and I am clumsily fumbling and stumbling over the pronunciations of the names for many of the remarkable teachers, students and friends that I have met here in Georgia. I do not want to forget their names and I desperately want to say them correctly, but trying to force my voice to string a series of consonants together and produce a sound and words written in a different alphabet that are foreign is no easy task.

 And then I think of her…

She learned everything about us before our arrival; I cannot even begin to wrap my mind around the hours of preparation that she must have gone though prior to our coming. The tongue twisting awkward words of the English language that she must have practiced over and over again, wanting to get her greetings and countless introductions of us just right. “Mark Cowley from the state of Utah” and “Joshua Hanna from the state of Iowa,” she has had to say over and over again, Every introduction followed by the most kind and flattering words about both Mark and I as teachers.

Nana Tatiashvili defines what it means to be a Georgian woman. I watch time and again as she humbly puts both Mark and I first, at what is exhausting levels of energy. From sunrise to late hours into the evening, she has poured her heart into every moment to ensure that we were experiencing all parts of Georgian Culture.  

There was no one better to act as a guide for the Kakheti region. She has unselfishly pulled back the curtain of her life to reveal the best of Georgian morals, beliefs and values. Her devotion to her faith and love for God poured out in her every action in our visits to the earliest churches of Georgia as well as her knowledge of Georgian history and tradition as it related to each location.

Nana’s global experiences and exposure to different cultures has made her much more empathetic of others who may struggle when outside of their comfort zone. Without prompt she was always by our side to translate what was going on around us, working tirelessly to ensure that we were a part of every joke, toast, and conversation.

Nana Tatiashvili is beauty personified. She has gone above and beyond to carry out the Georgian tradition of hospitality. Sharing all of herself with us, her students became an extension of my own students and the memories I have made with her family and friends will never be forgotten. I am blessed and am a better person for having her as a part of my life.

დიდი მადლობა, Nana! Because of you my colleagues, students, children and family will know of Gurjaani, Georgia. I will share the proud story of your country and people with them, your student’s folksongs and dance, your passion for wine making and food.  My country will be stronger for our friendship.

I do not say, “good-bye,” but ნახვამდის,” See you soon!

The Most Important Resource for The Republic of Georgia's Future

Children’s laughter and squeals of excitement echo down the corridors of School No. 4 in Gurjaani, Georgia. Resting atop a hill, the schoolyard gives way to a spectacular view of the Caucasus Mountains. Up and down the hallway children greet me with warm, heartfelt “Hellos” and “How are you?” All of them are aching to practice and showcase their knowledge of the English language and to teach me about the people of Georgia, or “Sakartvelo” as they call themselves, “People of the Land or Tiller of the Earth.”

It is not unusual to walk into the teachers meeting area (teachers lounge) and find many of the teachers on their break huddled around the wood fire stove and chatting away about the day’s activities. Wood fire stoves are used to heat each classroom and fill the school with the most wonderful aroma. With the masterful skills that come from years of routine and necessity, each teacher or sometimes the students create a quick fire at the beginning of class, before starting their lessons. Classes run approximately 45 minutes; with the students staying in the same classroom for most of the day. It is the teachers that hurriedly move from class to class in-between sessions, which end around 3:00 each day. For many of the students the academic day extends well beyond the school day.

School No. 4 in Gurjaani, Georgia

School No. 4 in Gurjaani, Georgia

English is a priority for the students of Georgia. Most schools, which range from a kindergarten age through 12th grade, offer at least two foreign language classes, one of which is mandatory, and that is English. When interviewing 6th grade students, I find that many of them are capable of holding simple conversations and their English is quite well. Often times these students take private tutoring lessons by their teachers in the evenings or even on the weekends, giving students continued practice and also helping to supplement their teachers income, which as mentioned in a previous post, can be found around $200 a month.

Beyond the physical beauty of this country and perhaps one of the best-preserved treasures of the Georgian people is their rich and profound love they have for each other, their countries history and their culture. Boys and girls alike sing and dance, with voices that proudly project folksongs from their countries past and dances that tell a story; reflecting both the eloquence and conflicts of Georgian history. Many of these students take private lessons, be it instrumental, choir, or dance, that consume much of their time, as such, students do not have jobs outside of school and for the quiet observer looking in, it appears that more focus is slanted towards academics rather than sports.

More than the wine-makers of Georgia or the cooks and chefs that prepare Georgian cuisines and even more then the politicians I have met, doctors or lawyers (so many Georgian students want to be lawyers), the people of this country that I admire the most are the teachers. They selfishly give and are eager to learn. Sitting in to watch and observe them teach is delightful; they are excited and passionate about what they do. The country of Georgia does a remarkable job through their faith and family life at preserving its past, however it is the teachers of Georgia that are the ones who will be shaping their countries future.

Teaching is one of the most difficult things I have ever attempted to do in my entire life. It has led me on some of the wildest of journeys, has afforded me opportunities to form friendships with teachers and students alike, keeping every day fresh and different. I would love to hear, if only from one student before I leave, that they would want to be a teacher when they grow up. It is the most important resource for the continued successful development of this beautiful country, indeed for all countries everywhere. 

David Gareja Monastery: Kakheti region of Eastern Georgia

I love the outdoors and the majesty that comes with being in the mountains. My travels have taken me to the lush/green White Mountains of Appalachia and to the tops of some of Rocky Mountain’s highest peaks. Nothing could have prepared me for the reverence, beauty, and magnificence of the David Gareja monastery complex, located in the Kakheti region of Eastern Georgia, on the half-desert slopes of Mount Gareja, some 60–70 km southeast of Georgia's capital Tbilisi. Like a scene out of a Hollywood movie, the complex includes hundreds of cells, churches, chapels, refectories and living quarters hollowed out of the rock face.

Road to David Gareja Monastery.

Road to David Gareja Monastery.

I knew today was going to be a special day when I heard a loud knock at my door. Clumsily I struggled to get out of bed. There I found Mark at the door eagerly telling me I had to go out on the balcony to look at the Caucasus Mountains. Two important “Firsts” were happening in this moment, one-it was the first time since being here that I had slept though the night and two-it was the first time that the sky had cleared up to see the Caucasus Mountains. There from my balcony in the only hotel In Gurgaani, I could see, without altitude sickness, the Mountains of Sarkatvelo. 

What I woke up to. I love that there are Grape vines everywhere!

What I woke up to. I love that there are Grape vines everywhere!

Quickly I showered and ate breakfast (every morning Mark and I wake up to the most wonderfully prepared breakfast on the first floor of the hotel), and then headed outside, where some of the students of Gurjaani with their parents met us to take us into town where the shuttle awaited.

I had no prior knowledge of the David Gareja monastery, sometimes the unknown leads to the most delightful surprises. Along the way we had the opportunity to meet with the students and learn about them as they listened to music and sang along (See Raw Footage Below). 

Mark and I taught the students about how in America, when we travel on rides the kids always say, “Are we there yet?” –Which proved to be among one of the more difficult English sayings for them, leading us to then discuss “Tongue Twisters” and rhymes, both in English and Georgian. 

Once arrived, we began our climb upwards toward the church on top of the mountain. It is not like the USA, with switchbacks and snaking trails, rather it was more or less a straight shot up and over, then along a sandy ledge (similar to the narrows of Longs Peak), with a final push to the top where a church awaited overlooking Azerbaijan. The weather and day were perfect. As we sat on top of the mountain taking in the beauty, eagles were soaring high, riding the thermals created by the suns radiance… then a snowball fight broke out with wet clumps of snow being flung every which way… No one was spared. The kids begged to stay atop the mountain a bit longer… to take their #selfies ☺, and then we started down.

  Gurjaani students take a #Selfie, it is a global phenomenon that all teenagers share


Gurjaani students take a #Selfie, it is a global phenomenon that all teenagers share

Before leaving we visited the grave of David Gareja, both Nana and the kids, kissing the mantle of the door before entering, lighting candels, and keeling in prayer. The air smelled of fresh blossoming flowers and all was quiet and peaceful. Heading back to the shuttle a monk greeted us with water from the monastery, of which when drank, has the power to answer prayers. Cool and refreshing, I closed my eyes and prayed to one day see, experience and share this serene place with my wife and kids.

From Wikipedia:
David Gareja (Georgian: დავითგარეჯის სამონასტრო კომპლექსი, Davit'garejis samonastro komplek'si;Azerbaijani: Keşiş dağ məbədi) is a rock-hewn Georgian Orthodox monastery complex located in the Kakheti region of Eastern Georgia, on the half-desert slopes of Mount Gareja, some 60–70 km southeast of Georgia's capital Tbilisi. The complex includes hundreds of cells, churches, chapels, refectories and living quarters hollowed out of the rock face.

Part of the complex is located in the Agstafa rayon of Azerbaijan and has become subject to a border dispute between Georgia and Azerbaijan.[1] The area is also home to protected animal species and evidence of some of the oldest human habitations in the region.
The complex was founded in the 6th century by David (St. David Garejeli), one of the thirteen Assyrian monkswho arrived in the country at the same time. His disciples Dodo and Luciane expanded the original lavra and founded two other monasteries known as Dodo's Rka (literally, "the horn of Dodo") and Natlismtsemeli ("the Baptist"). The monastery saw further development under the guidance of the 9th-century Georgian saint Ilarion. The convent was particularly patronized by the Georgian royal and noble families. The 12th-century Georgian king Demetre I, the author of the famous Georgian hymn Thou Art a Vineyard, even chose David Gareja as a place of his confinement after he abdicated the throne.

Despite the harsh environment, the monastery remained an important center of religious and cultural activity for many centuries; at certain periods the monasteries owned extensive agricultural lands and many villages.[2] The renaissance of fresco painting chronologically coincides with the general development of the life in the David Gareja monasteries. The high artistic skill of David Gareja frescoes made them an indispensable part of world treasure. From the late 11th to the early 13th centuries, the economic and cultural development of David Gareja reached its highest phase, reflecting the general prosperity of the medievalKingdom of Georgia. New monasteries Udabno, Bertubani and Chichkhituri were built, the old ones were enlarged and re-organized.

With the downfall of the Georgian monarchy, the monastery suffered a lengthy period of decline and devastation by the Mongol army (1265), but was later restored by the Georgian kings. It survived the Safavidattack of 1615, when the monks were massacred and the monastery's unique manuscripts and important works of Georgian art destroyed, to be resurrected under Onopre Machutadze, who was appointed Father Superior of David Gareja in 1690.

After the violent Bolshevik takeover of Georgia in 1921, the monastery was closed down and remained uninhabited. In the years of the Soviet War in Afghanistan, the monastery's territory was used as a training ground for the Soviet military that inflicted damage to the unique cycle of murals in the monastery. In 1987, a group of Georgian students led by the young writerDato Turashvili[ launched a series of protests. Although, the Soviet defense ministry officials finally agreed to move a military firing range from the monastery, the shelling was resumed in October 1988, giving rise to generalized public outrage. After some 10,000 Georgians demonstrated in the streets of Tbilisi and a group of students launched a hunger strike at the monastery, the army base was finally removed.

After the restoration of Georgia's independence in 1991, the monastery life in David Gareja was revived. However, in 1996, the Georgian defense ministry resumed military exercises in the area, leading to renewed public protests. In May 1997, hundreds of Georgian NGO activists set up their tents in the middle of the army's firing range and blocked the military maneuvers. The army officials finally bowed to the public pressure and the exercises were banned.[4]
The monastery remains active today and serves as a popular destination of tourism and pilgrimage.

Georgia–Azerbaijan border dispute
Because the complex is partially located on the territory of Azerbaijan, it has become subject to a border dispute between Georgia and Azerbaijan, with ongoing talks since 1991.[5] Georgian monks at the monastery say that "they see the dispute as the result of Soviet scheming to undermine relations between Christian Georgians and Muslim Azerbaijanis."[1] Giorgi Manjgaladze, Georgia's deputy foreign minister proposed that Georgia would be willing to exchange other territory for the remainder of David Gareja because of its historical and cultural significance to the Georgians.[1] Baku disapproves of this land swap because of David Gareja's strategic military importance.[6] "There is no room for territorial exchange. There are no negotiations over this issue," stated Azerbaijan's deputy foreign minister Khalaf Khalafov.[1] In April 2007, Khalafov told a press conference in that it was "out of the question" for Azerbaijan to "give up its claims to the borderlands" including David Gareja.[1] He then made a controversial statement that the monastery "was home to the Caucasian Albanians, who are believed to have been the earliest inhabitants of Azerbaijan."[7] This prompted a response from Georgian foreign minister Gela Bezhuashvili. "It is absolutely unclear to me why my colleague made these remarks," he told reporters in Tbilisi. "His history lessons are absolutely incomprehensible. He should read up on world history."

The Albanian theory is also supported by some Azerbaijani historians who are strongly opposed to transferring any part of their territory to Georgia.[7] "The monastery was inside Georgia only in the 12th century," stated Ismail Umudlu, an Azeri journalist and historian. "Both before and after this period, the area was part of a state to which Azerbaijan is a successor."[6] Georgian art historian Dimitri Tumanishvili dismissed this claim and stated that the complex "is covered in the work of Georgian masters." "There are Georgian inscriptions everywhere dating back to the sixth century," he said "There are no traces of another culture there. After that, I don’t think you need any further proof."[6] "The idea that this monastery was founded by the Caucasus Albanians is simply absurd," said Zaza Datunashvili, a monk from David Gareja. "You might as well say that Georgians built the Great Wall of China."

Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili downplayed the dispute and said that "it can be resolved through friendly dialogue."[5] However, Giga Bukia, a member of the Georgian parliament with the Rightist Opposition stated that "Georgians will never, under any circumstances, give up this territory" and also accused the government of softening its position on the complex in order to secure financial aid from Azerbaijan.[5] "Azerbaijan has absolutely no historical rights to this land," he said. "And what is this talk of it being a strategic location? Are they planning to go to war with Georgia?"

Azeri officials confirmed that Azerbaijan "is open to implementation of joint projects with Georgia for the restoration of the complex."[1] However, official suggestions that the complex could be a "shared tourist zone" have sparked indignation from the Georgian public. Catholicos-Patriarch of All Georgia Ilia II said that "the monastery was a holy shrine that should lie entirely on Georgian soil."[5] A number of fresh rounds of "border delimitation" talks have been conducted between Azeri and Georgian authorities (in Tbilisi and then in Baku).[1]

The Georgians have saying: "When a guest comes to the home, it is like sunrise. When he leaves, it is sunset for his host".


“A guest is a gift from God”, goes the saying in Georgia. And as my host Nana says, “It is in our DNA.” I had heard about this and even read about it in all of my books and online research prior to travel to Georgia, but words cannot describe the way that this country has captured my heart. I have not traversed the whole world, but in what global experiences I have had, I have never felt more safe, or cared for in a developing country. The republic of Georgia is a fascinating country, full of mystery and history, romance, persistence, and pride. Georgians are the most wonderfully giving people I have had the pleasure to meet. 

I try… I TRY SO HARD TO SAY NO and they always win. Georgians have the most delicious cuisine. That there are literally no restaurants in America that are Georgian blows my mind! They fill you until you are literally bursting and then the next dish and the next dish and the next dish… keeps on coming. Such dishes included:

 Khachapuri (Georgian: ხაჭაპური   listen (help·info) from ხაჭო xačo "curds" + პური puri "bread") is a traditionalGeorgian dish of cheese-filled bread. The bread is leavened and allowed to rise, and is shaped in various ways. The filling contains cheese (fresh or aged, most commonly suluguni), eggs and other ingredients.[1]
According to a 2009 survey 88% of Georgians prefer khachapuri to pizza. It is more popular among men and older people.[2] As a Georgian staple food, the price of making a khachapuri is used as a measure of inflation in different Georgian cities by the Khachapuri index, ARE YOU FREAKING KIDDING ME?!?! Economists take note… BREAD is being used to measure inflation! You cannot driver\]/walk down the street without seeing someone carrying bread back home. 

Below: Mark Cowley-my Gurjaani, Georgia American partner in crime makes Kachapuri with the women in the kitchen. They fall in love with him immediately as cooking is not something the men in Georgia undertake.  

Khinkali (Georgian: ხინკალი   listen (help·info)) is a Georgian dumpling[1][2] which originated in the Georgianregions of Pshavi, Mtiuleti and Khevsureti.[3] Varieties of khinkali spread from there across different parts of theCaucasus.[4] Khinkali is filled with various fillings, mostly with spiced meat (usually beef and pork in Georgia, beef in Azerbaijan and other Muslim-majority areas, and sometimes lamb), herbs (usually coriander), onions, and garlic.[5] Mushrooms, potatoes, or cheese may be used in place of meat.
Khinkali is eaten plain, or with coarse black pepper. The meat filling is uncooked when the khinkali is assembled, so when cooked the juices of the meat are trapped inside the dumpling. The khinkali is typically consumed first by sucking the juices while taking the first bite, in order to prevent the dumpling from bursting. The top, where the pleats meet, is tough, and is not supposed to be eaten, but discarded to the plate so that those eating can count how many they have consumed. In Georgia, this top is called the "kudi" (Georgian: ქუდი, hat) or "kuchi" (Georgian: კუჭი, stomach).

Behind the scenes look at the making of Khinkali with the more remarkable Khinkali chefs in Gurjaani. Fun loving hard working Georgian women creating a most marvelous Georgian dish: Khinkali. 

Satsivi (literally means 'cold dish' in Georgian) (also known as walnut sauce) (Georgian: საცივი) is a food paste inGeorgian cuisine made primarily from walnuts and is used in various recipes. OGM, the most wonderfully tasting dish.

Churchkhela (Georgian: ჩურჩხელა, čurčxela, Georgian pronunciation: [tʃurtʃχɛlɑ]) is a traditional sausage-shapedcandy originating from Georgia. The main ingredients are grape must, nuts and flour. Almonds, walnuts,hazel nuts and sometimes raisins are threaded onto a string, dipped in thickened grape juice or fruit juices and dried in the shape of a sausage.

Photo by Amanda Erspamer-Berry

Photo by Amanda Erspamer-Berry

Lobiani (Georgian: ლობიანი) is enjoyed all year round and especially eaten on the Georgian holiday of Barbaroba, or St. Barbara’s Day (December 17). In this recipe we will show how to make this delicious bean filled bread.


Georgian Eggplant Rolls with Walnut-Garlic Filling (Badrijani Nigvzit) (I know right?!?!-Don’t knock it tell you try it!)
Georgians make this dish with "Italian" eggplants, which are smaller than the elephantine specimens found in most American grocery stores. Either will work for this recipe, but it's easier to cut, fry and eat the narrower version, which are often available at farmers' markets. Ground fenugreek, which traveled along the ancient Eurasian trade routes from India to Georgia, imparts a slightly tart, nutty flavor and is worth seeking out. It can be purchased in small quantities from stores that sell bulk spices, or online at Penzey's.

Georgian Homemade wine. It is worth the plane ticket alone... Period. Not the alcohol content of a bottle of wine-much less. Bursting with flavor, rooted in a land and soil that has conditioned itself/evolved for producing the most flavorful grapes on earth. There is nothing else that compares to Georgian wine, it is not a commodity, it is a way of life for these people. 

Tarragon Lemon-aide- Tarragon! I must find this herb in the USA. It is fantastic! It is like a minty, anise/black licorice. 

Borjomi Mineral Water-Bottled at the sulfa springs in Russia. A mineral water with a hint of salt. It grows on you. 


Montage on Student Life in Muscatine, Iowa

“Creative uses of technology require us to go beyond ‘functional fixedness’ (the manner in which the ideas we hold about an object’s function can inhibit our ability to use the object for a different function) so that we can innovatively repurpose existing tools toward pedagogical ends.” Unfortunately, often technology is viewed as an automated system, and many believe its very nature limits productive social interactions and constructs barriers. But, if utilized in an innovative manner, technology can be used to fuse humanity rather than to divide it.

If we want to nurture students who will grow into lifelong learners, into self-directed seekers, into the kind of adults who are morally responsible even when someone is not looking, then we need to give them opportunities to practice making choices and reflecting on the outcomes. This is done through design-based instruction/projects. Similar to projects within a business, students are taught to assume the role of project manager. They must manage team members, checkpoints, and time. In this way students are better able to understand the importance of their learning and how it applies to the real world.

One of our primary objectives with our students is to not only foster connections with the school district, but our community as well. We believe strongly in providing our students opportunities to make connections with the Muscatine community while also highlighting and enhancing public awareness for community events. When technology is used in a design-based environment, it becomes a tool for expression and authentic application - audience expands from the classroom community to a global community. This shift encourages content and standards be taught with purpose to complete an end product. With real-world relevance within classrooms that encourage inquiry and investigation, students are provided a business model with collaboration and organization, communication, and innovation. Our media program is yet another example of the ways in which our classrooms have been transformed into vehicles for public service where empowerment through real-world action is developed and fueled.

Sporting events, commercials, advertisements, guest speakers and community gatherings are all recorded by the students in our program, as such, they have combed through some of the East Campus archives to create a short video montage that highlights what life is like as a student in Muscatine, Iowa to share with the students, teachers, and administrators of Georgia.

To learn more about the East Campus Alternative Program of Muscatine High School Visit: 


Universal Truths



Eager to get the right answer with hands franticly waving in the air

Running in the halls as the teacher yells to slow down

Video Games

Hanging out at Wendy’s (Fast Food-popular poll-Wendy’s beats McDonalds!)

Book reading clubs


Advocating for longer recess times

Aspirations of being a Doctor, Lawyer and Artists

At the end of the day there are some universal truths about children everywhere.

Below: Students of Public School No.165

Today’s events afforded us the opportunity to visit a Private British Georgian Academy and meet with some of Georgia’s top educational reformers at both the U.S. Embassy and the Ministry of Education and Science.

We met and discussed candidly about many of Georgia’s current struggles in education, the most prevalent one being ways to enhance the quality of teachers in Georgian education. These reformers made it no secret that teacher pay was one of the biggest factors in their struggle to draw young professionals into teaching, with many teachers making around $200 a month. Conversely, not a single student that I met with expressed a want or desire to become a teacher. Many teachers are then forced to work multiple jobs, limiting time for professional development. As a result, the Ministry of Education and Science has been piecing together a working document around the idea of basing teacher salary around professional development growth as an educator, years in the field, and classroom observations (sound familiar American teachers?). The model was surprisingly similar to many of the initiatives that Iowa has been implementing this past year in creating different levels for teachers-even using some of the same vocabulary to differentiate between beginning teachers and “Lead Teachers.”

As I reflect on the day, I am drawn to so many similarities and commonalities that we share with one another. Sure there are some differences-Georgians do many things right where we clumsily fumble the ball. Every Georgian school teaches English, with many students becoming exposed to the language before kindergarten and then will go on to learn at least one other language. By 5th grade, many of these students can hold conversations in English remarkably well with English reading comprehension levels that I am sure would rival many schools in the United States. IT IS A REQUIREMENT TO LEARN ENGISH! Contrarily, the first programs that are often cut in the United States many times involve foreign languages. However, it is the similarities and parallels that stick out the most. The universal truths mentioned about children everywhere also applies to the Georgian/USA dilemma with quality teacher education/preparation. Good teachers… Great teachers are by nature, masochists. They go above and beyond, putting their students needs often times before their own. Summers are spent taking on professional development opportunities and working second and sometimes third jobs, while every weekend and night during the school year is spent grading papers, preparing labs, coaching, developing curriculum, aligning standards… etc. To expect young professionals to WANT to go into this field is not realistic and yet some run head on into it. I look forward to exploring this concept more in my time here.

What do you think makes a good teacher?

Significance of the Cover and the Secret to a Good Book

The best children books are crayon covered with finger-stained and tattered pages. These are the books that have been loved.

Today we toured a local public school in Tbilisi, Georgia-School No. 165. Cracked, with chipping paint on the walls and rough wooden floors held down in places by bits of tape. Public schools in many parts of the word (and increasingly in the United States) are not viewed in the same light and standing as many private institutions. As such, public schools must make due with what they have, often times with less-resources than their private school counterparts. Sadly, because of this, public schools can at times be “looked over.” This by no means is a knock on Private Institutions-as a parent you only want what is best for your children, however, sometimes you need to look beyond the smoke and mirrors to see what is really going on in a school and the key to doing so, is in talking and interacting with the students.

As an educator, when I meet kids for the first time (outside of my classroom/school), I ask them if they like school. Equally, I have students that fall on both sides of the line. I have met students who both “love” and some that “hate” school. As I push students further in these conversations, it rarely has anything to do with the physical state of their school, or even that they feel like their teachers are mistreating them. Almost always, it comes back to student validation and self-worth. Not the kind that comes with a letter grade or an award or acknowledgement (some students are motivated by grades, trinkets and monetary rewards, I will not go into the dangers of such actions- I will say however, this is not the type of validation that fosters “love” for ones school). True self-worth and validation comes when students have learned that they have made a difference in doing something to better themselves, their community, and in the process they discover more about themselves, fueling future passions and opening doors to possibilities. This kind of learning is transformative and life changing for students.

A school should be more then four walls and desks in a row, our students deserve better. They need to be exposed to the world and given a chance to become more than a number. In my short career I have had the pleasure to work with some of the most talented and creative students. They are the ones that fuel my passion to teach. The beauty of the situations that I have taught is in the opportunities that students have had to express themselves; sharing their talents in the community designs and collaborations we have with many of our local businesses. The magic behind successful schools is not found in shiny polished floors, new desks, or technology. Rather, it is making the most out of what you have got, helping students to discover their passions and using those talents to reshape the world.

Blessed today to see beautiful examples of students who helped to transform my understanding of their culture. From their traditional dance to the sharing of their stories and talents, I love it when I get to witness students expressing their love and passion for their culture and life-it is contagious. The students of School No. 165 provided a wonderful experience for the U.S. Teachers and helped us to better shape the story we will share with our own students about this remarkable country and people.

Below: Two students dance the "Kartuli." 

From Wikipedia: 

Above-Kartuli (ქართული) - The dance Kartuli many times reminds the audience of a wedding . Kartuli is a truly romantic dance. It is performed by a dance couple and incorporates the softness and gracefulness of a woman and dignity and love of a man. It shows that even in love, men uphold their respect and manners by not touching the woman and maintaining a certain distance from her. The man focuses his eyes on his partner as if she were the only woman in the whole world. He keeps his upper body motionless at all times. The woman keeps her eyes downcast at all times and glides on the rough floor as a swan on the smooth surface of a lake. The utmost skill, which is necessary to perform Kartuli, has earned the dance a reputation of one of the most difficult dances.

Below-Mokheuri: Traditional Georgian Dance


Touring Old Tbilisi

I have started now a few different times to put into words today’s experience in Tbilisi, only to find myself time and again circling back and deleting what I had just typed and once again staring at a blank page. I am now stepping back and trying a different approach to this. My struggle with putting the experience to words was the magnitude of the day-I would need weeks to fully articulate today’s encounters and adventures, so much has happened! Breathtaking views, wonderful smells of incense and fresh baking bread, exotic foods, young couples on benches and old men playing domino’s in the park… A blending of ancient cultures with contemporary architecture, my first impression is that Tbilisi is a city that that has been reborn many times, with new construction everywhere that had been artfully integrated to coexist with some of Tbilisi’s earliest structures, paying homage to their deeply rooted pride for where they have come from, where they are going and who they are as a people. 

Puddle Jumpin: Ein Prosit! Ich habe in München gelandet!

It has always been something that was just out of reach, tangible and real... And unattainable-until now. Here I am, in the land of my fathers-fathers, in a place where everything that is new is still ancient by American standards. Where cultural norms and tradition place emphasis on quality of work, combining functional and aesthetically beautiful engineering with old architectural ideas. A city that had no choice but to rebuild itself following WWII and still maintained its cultural identity.

I found Munich, Germany to be everything that I hoped it would be. Despite a culture deeply rooted in chocolate, pretzels/breads, sausages, krauts, and beer (all of which were FANTASTIC for this American), many of the people looked lively and healthy riding their bikes everywhere as the main mode for transportation despite a somewhat chilly March afternoon. This is something that Americans are missing and a norm that I desperately long for. With only 8 hours of layover, there simply was not enough time. I will return one day, that is a promise.

Teachers for Global Classrooms Symposium-Washington, D.C

“Every time a student touches down in America, or a scholar crosses an ocean to study, the world grows a little bit closer and we understand each other more. Every time a teacher engages with colleagues and students in another country that experience influences the next generation of leaders in the classroom-student minds are expanded, their curiosity is sparked and they are better prepared to compete in a global economy, collaborating with people around the world to address major global challenges.” ~Evan Ryan, Assistant Secretary of State. 

It was a busy weekend and a whirlwind of activity at the symposium that was loaded with handshakes, hugs and smiles as "Team Georgia" finally had the opportunity to meet each other in person, curricular ideas were shared and global ideologies were expressed. Flexibility was tested as Washington DC was blasted with a snow storm that delayed most flights, allowing for extra time to hang out with other TGC Fellows and tour the National Mall to check out the monuments.

The video below captures some of Assistant Secretary of State, Evan Ryan's speech to the TGC Fellow's as well as some of the fun times we had together in the "Hollywood like snow," while taking in the scenic Washington D.C. monuments. 

"Gamarjobat" (გამარჯობა) "Hello" in Georgian

My Educational Media students have been working hard to wrap up some of their “Georgian language tutorials,” which has stimulated fantastic conversations within the classroom. The purpose of this project was to expose students to something that is completely foreign to them and have them put together a polished product using video and editing techniques that we have been discussing within the classroom. All of my students that have been creating these videos are “Brand-New” to the media production class as of this semester. 

Some of the conversations have been around the subtle, yet very “American” elements that can be found in the videos. Such as when the kids get their lunch handed to them on Styrofoam plate’s w/cheese in plastic containers or the use of a Keurig to brew coffee. Questions that have also come up were if the Republic of Georgia celebrated any of the same holidays as the United States (see the Valentine’s Day Example attached to this post).

Even with books and resources, as well as access to the Internet, there are still many questions that I have about the Georgian culture. It has been a blast exploring this culture with my students. I am fortunate to work in a school with students that reciprocate support for their teachers and our endeavors as we do for them and equally excited to finally be meeting the team that will be traveling with me to Georgia TOMORROW!

Dr. Jerry Riibe, superintendent for our school district will be traveling with me to Washington, D.C. tomorrow for the TGC Global Education summit as we hope to gather information, collect ideas and network with other folks that are passionate about global education. Very exciting times to be in education and extremely blessed to have all of these opportunities come my way! 

Kartlis Deda: ქართლის დედა

I have been asked a few questions about my host blog site and images I have been using. The host site that I am using for my "blog" is Square Space (Click here to see Jeff Bridges Commercial-not that the commercial is anything amazing other then it aired during the Superbowl). I am a huge fan of both Wix and more recently Square Space for trying to represent/take my classroom experiences to a professional level. I have also utilized and fallen in love with all things Google and have done some fabulous work with my students using Blogger and Google Sites. However, both Wix and Square Space have some of the most beautiful templates, have "free" versions of the software and are incredibly user-friendly. I am a huge advocate for original work, most all of the pictures on this site have be created by myself or one of my students (I LOVE it when I learn from my students!). The image that serves as the heading of my blog was created by a student to highlight the 6 countries that TGC will be sending teachers to this spring, with the Republic of Georgia in the center with the Kartlis Deda:"Mother of Kartlis," image in the center of the country (No, the  Kartlis Deda image that highlights this page is not an original by me, but I hope to obtain one here soon!). It is a monument in the capital of Tbilisi and has become a symbol of the city. "She symbolizes the Georgian national character, one of hospitality represented by the bowl of wine in the left hand to greet those who come as friends, and in her right hand is a sword for those who come a enemies" (Constable, 2012).  

I could speak to the pros and cons to great lengths for how I have utilized GoogleSites, SquareSpace and Wix, all three of which are wonderful in their own way. At the end of the day I know it is really about the information that you upload onto the site and how you are using it to preserve a global message to share with a larger audience. However, I also know that there is a "stigma" that people have with education. I have joked for many years now about how we need to "Remove the Apple from Education." If we are to prepare students for the next stage beyond high school, we need to act more like businesses and give our students the tools that will help them get recognized, help them to start building a REAL professional digital portfolio so that they enter college with artifacts that align to the state and national standards-providing transparency for teaching programs and validating student work. When students share their work online, the audience extends beyond the classroom, to a global audience. Their work can have far reaching impact, with an authentic purpose which is more than many of the simulated activities that often take place in classrooms. This is why I work so hard to help my students understand the impact they can have online as a digital citizen in the 21st century and both the power and responsibility that can come with social media. It is critical that teachers, GOOD teachers, with good intentions, be a part of this process with their students, helping them to navigate the pros and cons of social networks, both in understanding the tremendous impact students can have when they post things online as well as the dangers. I am sure that many teachers will disagree with me in this, however, if no one else is leading by example and helping students to navigate the social pressures and online sites, then the responsibility falls on us. 

With this in mind, todays Georgian word is one that my students felt would be essential for teachers to learn if they were to survive in Georgia. Enjoy the video and feel free to leave a comment for the students that created the video. 

References: David J Constable, « Kartlis Deda: The Importance of Georgia's Most Famous Woman‏ »,, 21/08/2012

My Books Arrived! Plus, "Adventures with the Georgian Dialect-Part I"

Just a under two weeks away from the Global Education Summit and a month countdown to the Georgian adventure! I am VERY excited to meet all of the other educators with whom I began this journey with last fall and to which I owe a great deal of gratitude for their insight and support. As a part of the Teachers for Global Classrooms program, it has been refreshing to be in the roll of the student once again, surrounded by other eager individuals and given resources and tools that will not only enhance my districts global initiatives, but allow me to also build friendships and connects with other like minded educational professionals.  

Today was wonderful day! I received many of the books that I ordered from amazon today. I owe special thanks to my Georgian team for the suggestions, after looking in many bookstores with no luck, I then resorted to some digging online. With the help of James Dittes and many of the books he was reading along with his wonderful suggestions, I ordered the following literature:

 Abramia, N. (2012). Georgia. London New York, NY: Kuperard Distributed in the U.S. by                   Random House Distribution Services.                                         

 Goldstein, D. & Pʻirosmanasili, N. (2013). The Georgian feast : the vibrant culture and savory food         of the Republic of Georgia. Berkeley: University of California Press.                                   

Kiziria, D. (2009). Beginner's Georgian : with 2 audio CDs. New York: Hippocrene Books, Inc.

Sulakvelidze, T.. (1959). Georgian Cuisine. SkyPeak Publishing, LLC.

Waal, T. (2010). The Caucasus : an introduction. Oxford New York: Oxford University Press.

 Also, need to give kudos to Amanda Espamer-Berry for finding resources online to help with simple Georgian phrases using Peace Corp training videos, she also found a sweet app that turns the language learning into a game, My students have both watched the peace Corp language training video and have had some fun playing around with the app and in doing so have decided to help create a series of short videos to help "teachers traveling to Georgia." I do not claim that my students are experts in any way on the Georgian language, but I do know that they have had a lot of fun putting together some of the videos and as promised to my students I will begin sharing their work in my upcoming posts. The Georgian words of the first post are: "Good afternoon, "Yes" and "No." In the second post the students created a short to explain how to say "Water." 


სათავგადასავლო (adventure)

Excited for the unknown, to be placed somewhere so unfamiliar and exotic, to experience that which connects each of us through a common bond, to enhance our own understanding for what it means to be a global educator in the 21st century. As I think about the upcoming adventure, my heart swells with eager anticipation for what awaits. I know so very little about the Republic of Georgia. Since learning of my placement I have ventured to many bookstores and libraries to learn more about Georgia and have found very little. Turning to the internet I have learned that Georgia, like Iowa, sits at 41° latitude (putting each of us in the heart of winter), however, we could not be more different geographically, as Georgia is one of the most geologically diverse regions in the world and is a country of mountains-bordered by seas, rich with history and tradition and renowned for their hospitality. With the help of “Team Georgia,” I have ordered many of the books and materials that some of my peers have found online to get a better understanding of the region, customs and people of Georgia.  In the weeks ahead I hope to use this blog to share my evolution of ideas, thoughts and experiences as they relate global education and the upcoming fellowship which has graciously been offered to me through IREX and the Teachers for Global Classrooms (TGC) program.