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CGC Case Study: Colegio Maya- Cutting Through the Edu Babble to Get to What is Most Important

CGC Case Study: Colegio Maya – Cutting Through the Edu Babble to Get to What is Most Important

By Michael Johnston PhD, Director, Colegio Maya

We at Colegio Maya, along with all Common Ground Collaborative schools, continue to drive everything we do from one question. “What is most important to learn?”. Whether we are focusing on conceptual learning, building competencies, fostering character traits or all three simultaneously we are focused on providing learning experiences that matter.

Communicating this important learning is our biggest challenge and continues to be the biggest challenge globally for PK-12 schools. High school is the most difficult as higher education requirements dictate certain protocols of communication. Regardless of all that surrounds the communication of learning, we at Colegio Maya will never let up on our drive to provide connected, meaningful, personalized learning experiences for all community members. We learn together, we struggle together, we celebrate together and most of all we focus on what matters most for our children, together. “What is most important to learn?” a question that drives everything we do at Colegio Maya.

“Having a consistent definition of learning has been a game changer for teachers, students, parents and all stakeholders.”

Parents of PK-12 students are consistently subjected to Edu Babble in schools which creates a disconnect for speaking about learning at home. At Colegio Maya creating a common way to organise learning and having a consistent definition of learning has been a game changer for teachers, students, parents and all stakeholders. In our journey to seek consistency we arranged a parent gathering of all new families to Colegio Maya to both make them feel comfortable in joining the school in early years and to test the impact of our new learning language. The results clearly supported our choice to join the Common Ground Collaborative and gave wonderful insights into how we can shape similar experiences with all families new and longtime members. Here is how the session was shaped:

All of the families were either joining in Pre-Kindergarten or Kindergarten for the school year 2017/2018. The parents were anxious, nervous and excited as they greeted each other. As the Director of Colegio Maya I see every family in the admissions process and there is a clear trend of families wanting more than traditional education for their children in terms of learning and experiences that prepare them for an unknown landscape in the future. I started the session with the all-important question:“What do you wish for your children in 2030 when they graduate from Maya, or any school?”

I simply asked them to write their ideas on a post it notes and stick it to a chart labelled 2031. They started slowly, as most unfamiliar groups do, but the board then quickly started to fill with a plethora of ideas, big ideas like happiness, success, resilience, etc. I asked them to lump common ideas together and as they did it seemed to be very heavily weighted on dispositions, habits of the mind and values pieces. The conversation continued with what success actually means to them and the one thing in common was the idea that success is about doing things that make themselves happy and creating a better world while doing it. This was both encouraging and daunting as I asked the next question: “What role do you think the school plays in making this a reality?”

The discussion that followed was enlightening as they tried to figure out what role school played, what role parents played and how the two worked together to create such a noble outcome between the ages of 4 and 18 for students. It led to the next question: What do students need to learn in school to make this outcome a reality?

It was time to get more specific as I gave them examples like specific skills or values. I did not want to lead them but allow them to develop the learning outcomes from their desires for 2030. They quickly filled two more charts with many Competencies, Character traits and less so Conceptual learning, but I still had not given them our learning language as of yet. It was interesting to note at this point that the Character traits were certainly the majority.

I then introduced our learning ecosystem at Colegio Maya briefly, including the 3C’s learning that matters most, Concepts, Competencies, and Character. It certainly helped to clarify with our statement prompts for each. I had these prepared previously on chart paper.

  1. Conceptual Learning – Students will understand that…

  2. Competency Learning – Students will be able to…

  3. Character Learning – Students value…or Students are like…

See learning profile for Colegio Maya below.

It required no further explanation as one parent asked if they could take the post it notes off the other chart papers and place them on the 3C’s. The response was fast and the clarity reached quickly with the exception of conceptual learning. The character traits and competencies populated quickly but the concepts were more difficult for them (see photo below).

The chart was riddled with moral purpose and competencies that would allow them to be successful in any arena of work or study.

It was time to ask the most loaded question of the entire session: “If these are the most important things to learn in school to get them to your vision upon graduation, how would you like us to communicate and report this learning to you?”

This prompted silence and contemplation as there was a group realization that schools struggle with this. What schools have traditionally communicated have not been these important things. Content learning, grades, surface comments etc. will not be enough. This is where my invitation was extended for them to come on this journey with us as a school in seeking better communication for the things that are most important to learn. Let us figure this out together knowing the pressures from higher education, the experience that most stakeholders had for their own Pk-12 journey, and the focus on extrinsic rather than intrinsic motivation in traditional schools.

We all agreed to set the standard, stay focused on what matters most and stay in constant communication to ensure their children have the journey they require to end up where they want to see them in 2030. We have started conversations with students also as seen in this example from our student council as they shape how they wish to lead and what they may require to do so. See below two charts on Leadership and Management.

Come join the journey with Common Ground Collaborative. More to come from Maya…


About Colegio Maya:

Colegio Maya, founded in 1958, is a private nonprofit, nonsectarian, coeducational day school, which offers an educational program from prekindergarten through grade 12 for students of all nationalities. Colegio Maya serves a diverse international community, preparing responsible global citizens through a rigorous U.S. accredited college preparatory program. Colegio Maya develops ethical values and inspires all students to achieve their unique potential for excellence through challenging academics, arts, sports, leadership, and committed participation in social service.

The school is located on the outskirts of Guatemala City in Santa Catarina de Pinula. The School offers an American international curriculum and is recognized and authorized by the Guatemalan Ministry of Education and is fully accredited by AdvancEd.

More information on the school can be found at

About the Author

Michael Johnston Ph.D., Director, Colegio Maya

Michael is a leader and change agent aiming to improve learning through deeper connections to the world around us. Through a true understanding of sustainability, skills to act upon this understanding and the motivation to create a better world, schools can be a place of engagement and grander purpose. Michael has served as the Director of Colegio Maya since July 2016. Previously he served as Middle School Principal at UWC South East Asia, Middle School Principal at EARCOS and Middle School Associate Principal at the American School of Doha.

Contact Michael at


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