A Vision of Den Haag

IMG_8031.JPGIn my current role, I’m allowed to take three days for vision engagement opportunities.  These are unsponsored, non-holidays that I may take to develop my practice in whatever way I deem appropriate.  One of my colleagues was a part of a program called Eerst de Klas in 2009, generally considered the Teach First of the Netherlands.  This year, the organization learned that the Ministry for Education would halt the program in its current form.  Would anyone like to accompany my colleague back to his home country to explore the current climate of the organization, visit Dutch schools, and engage in dialogue about the potential new program?

Resounding yes!

Our trip began on a Wednesday with an orientation of the Eerst De Klas (EDK) program, and a briefing on the educational /school structure in the Netherlands.  Outright, our group noted that EDK’s vision differs from the goals of Teach First and Teach For America.  The program is intended to stop the teaching shortage irregardless of school placement, rather than to place teachers in areas where pupils need them the most.  Being that we discuss ‘vision’ obsessively in our teacher interactions, we began to interrogate the foundations of both programs over seasonal chocolate-covered gingerbread snacks.

Just thirty minutes later, we walked to the Ministry for Education where the ‘think tank’ team charged with developing the new EDK program asked us to feed into their options, plans, and goals.  It was incredibly invigorating to question current needs, and brainstorm new systems.  We rotated around various chart papers and post-its notes commenting on expectations, funding, alumni, and sustainability.  Our group couldn’t stop talking about the new EDK potential even after the Ministry closed for the day.

Anna (my colleague and friend) and I found our airbnb and oohed and ahhed over our very cosy street.  Shop owners pressing traditional Dutch sweets into our hands, candles lit on restaurant tables, and design stores with sleek and simple furniture.  We ate at Little V for a Vietnamese dinner the was surprisingly good for being outside of the Bay Area (I’m a tough critic).

Thursday was a very early morning. The minor time difference of an hour still makes 5am compared to 6am a pretty blunt wake up call.  Bleary-eyed, we bought breakfast at Albert Heijn, which is a mini-mart in the train station.  We each chose mystery pastry rolls, and I added a stroop waffle as a snack for later.  We got to take a ferry ride to our first school visit in Amsterdam.  The secondary school had a pretty lax culture with jeans as the main staff uniform, and with students being on a first name basis with their teachers.  The visit made me recognize how coded school presentations can be.  I think I could tell that this school was built for pupils with privilege by the third powerpoint slide.  My hypothesis was confirmed in the first classroom where every pupil was working on their personal laptop, tablet or smartphone to access Googleclassroom.  When I asked about the seemingly unlimited electronic access, I was told that the school’s expectation was for every student to bring a laptop/ smart device to class each day.  Every lesson was completely online and pupils were expected to make their own progress through the online modules.  I saw zero direct instruction or assessment of learning in three different lessons. I was pretty heartbroken that the high tech classrooms still weren’t teaching skills: what makes a good source, when should you use a pie graph vs a line graph, and how do you quote an author?  Anna whispered to me “But aren’t these kids school-proof anyways?”…meaning they’d be fine no matter what school they were plopped in, right? and no matter the skills taught or… not taught?  There is so much to tackle in education that sometimes I don’t know how to start.

We traveled to our colleague’s previous school where we were warmly welcomed with a bossche bol, a massive chocolate cream puff from the Southern part of Holland.  I’d say this campus was a cross between a community college, an adult GED program, and possibly a continuation school.  The lesson we saw felt very collegy- lecture style, with little redirection for off-task conversation or use of phones in class.  The headteacher here saw her teacher shortage as a way to engage the top pupils at her school-give them teaching assistant roles to peak their interest in the field of education.  Currently, over fifteen staff were previous pupils of the school.  We had beer and snacks and more educational conversations about how to improve schools and about how to maintain a positive outlook during large transitions.

Dinner was in Utrecht and it was absolutely lovely. The EDK staff took care of us with a buffet dinner at the Color Kitchen.  We ate on wooden plates and were given two drink tokens.  We heard from a series of speakers, and then played a TF/EDK pub quiz with the current cohort as well as alumni.

Friday, we shadowed EDK first year teachers for their weekly leadership day. One of EDK’s main draws for applicants is its partnerships with various organizations and corporations that give ‘master classes’ aimed to provide leadership development.  This week, Siemens delivered a presentation about their role in  sustainable technology.  However,  many of us felt skeptical about their vision being ‘People, progress, profit’ (in that order).  We traveled to a European school in the afternoon.  This is different from an international school because the curriculum and assessments are directly from Brussels.  We learned that all pupils start learning a second language at age six, and continue to study history and geography in that second language by high school age.  I’ve never spent so much time in a school library, noting books in at least ten languages. Then I learned that basically all of the pupils are children of diplomats in Brussels.  Not that they can control that, but sheesh, that’s a very different population of children than I’ve had experience teaching.

Anna and I had an amazing dinner at Caroni! Homemade chewy bread, red wine, unique ravioli with honey, and biscotti dipped in a super strong port.  Plus a waitstaff of three who asked us about the electoral college in the nicest way possible.  We shut down the restaurant with talk of delegates and popular votes and how we still have hope for the world.

Anna left early on Saturday, I did some admin work, and then I went out for the day to visit the MC Escher museum.  Highly recommended! What an incredibly unique artist. I even bought a book because I still wanted to look at some of the illusions after I left the gallery.  Dinner was at Oker, a tapas type spot in Den Haag.  It couldn’t hold a flame to Caroni, but it was an easy walk home.

On the final day, I woke up to wind and rain and grey skies.  Not great exploring weather, but each day is really wonderful when you’ve got the opportunity to travel!  I took the tram through a quiet neighborhood nestled in an autumnal forest.  I ended up at the seaside boardwalk, full of casinos and oversized hotels.  But being a very grey day, I had the walk to myself.  The Beelden aan Zee (Museum by the Sea) was showcasing Picasso and his post-WWII artwork, when he dabbled in ceramics and pottery.  I was definitely the youngest person in the galleries by thirty years.  Wandering through the sculpture garden was cold but worth it to climb onto a long bench to see the sea beyond the museum walls.

After a quick stop at Dudok for their famous apple cake, I entered the Mauritshuis to see the artwork of Dutch golden age painters like Vermeer and Rembrandt.  I enjoyed the self-guided tour on my museum app, and learned about the patterns and symbolism that many of these artists used during this time.  It was nice to see ‘The Girl with the Pearl Earring’ without a crowd of people surrounding it. Think of her as the Dutch Mona Lisa.  I took a final stroll through the major shopping area downtown, and found a good spot for Indonesian food.

The Netherlands is a top ‘must see’ on my list.  I know the term ‘livable city’ is one that we could debate for hours, but I’d say that this city would help me build some of my criteria for success around this topic. With its canals, mass numbers of bikes, museums, and yummy food, I’d definitely schedule more time in 2017!

Quick Shot for 36 hours in Den Haag:



  • Tram to Beelden aan Zee and walk the beach
  • Tram to Dudok for apple cake
  •  Walk to the Mauritshuis
  • Little V or Indonesian for late lunch (still think the Kartika is the best Indonesian we’ve had so on your way back to the airport/train station, stop in Amsterdam for this one!)

More pics for fun 🙂

They got this right at the Ministry for Education! Posted in the corridor of bathrooms.

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