Last month, a group of school principals, world language supervisors and teachers from Asia Society Confucius Classrooms Network traveled across the sea to Shanghai for a week to learn more deeply about Chinese Education Systems, and to connect with their sister schools in China. The goal of this Leaders Summit was to offer knowledge and support to educators who aim to implement innovative exchange projects for their students and to build a more meaningful and in-depth school-to-school partnership. The program consisted of talks from experts, visits to exemplary programs in Shanghai, a forum to discuss common challenges, and concluded with a visit to their respective Chinese partner school. This summit was organized in conjunction with East China Normal University. The video above shows the highlight of the program, and in the following article, three participants from the Houston Academy for International Studies (HAIS) in Texas reflect on what they have gained from this expedition.
A Reflection on the 2015 Leaders Summit
By Melissa Jacobs (Principal), Jennifer Kapral (Dean of Instruction), and Sophia Baltz (Chinese Teacher)
What does authentic, cross-cultural collaboration look like? How, as adults, can we model this collaboration for our students? During the 2015 Asia Society Confucius Classrooms Leaders Summit in Shanghai, we had an opportunity to network with other schools from across the U.S. to share and brainstorm answers to these questions. Then, for the later part of the Summit, we worked closely with our partner school at the Heilongjiang Provincial Experimental School in Harbin, China to dive deeper into our five-year partnership.
First, a little background on our school partnership. In the early stages of our partnership with Heilongjiang Provincial Experimental School in Harbin, we focused mostly on student exchanges. We have built a fairly systemized biyearly exchange program. Over the years, our campus also has worked to develop a strong four-year Mandarin Chinese program, coupled with a Model United Nations course and other courses that emphasize cross-cultural understanding, particularly in East-West relations. These components all contribute to a strong identity and focus on promoting cross-cultural understanding and relationships. We attended the Summit with the goal of taking our partnership to the next level.
During the first part of the summit in Shanghai, Asia Society organized a series of lectures and field experiences to enhance our understanding of the Chinese education system. These lectures provided us with essential context and background knowledge to work with our Chinese partner schools. We discussed topics such as the PISA Shanghai data and current education reform initiatives as a result of the data. As educators who have studied PISA data, we felt incredibly privileged to discuss the future of Chinese education with one of the top experts in the field.
During our visits to NYU Shanghai and QiBao International School, we observed models of cross-cultural collaboration between the United States and China and learned about the development of the campuses which helped us generate new ideas for our partnerships. For example, we began to brainstorm ways for our students to interact together informally through sharing common interests, and formally by collaborating on projects. These visits also set the groundwork in helping us anticipate the challenges, successes, and possibilities of authentic U.S.-China partnerships. We also took advantage of valuable networking opportunities, as the design and structure of the program allowed schools to share their best practices for developing long-term, sustainable partnerships.
Our partner school representatives attended part of the Summit with us for part of the time in Shanghai. This allowed us to build on previous relationships and to begin to develop new and stronger relationships. Spending in-person time with our partner school colleagues was the most valuable component of the trip. In Shanghai, we sat together and talked during seminars, and at night we cruised on the Huangpu River and took selfies against the backdrop of the vast and never-ending Shanghai skyline. In this relaxed atmosphere, we began to reconnect on a more personal level, sharing our hopes and dreams for our partnership.
The next day, we boarded a flight to Harbin together, and Heilongjiang Provincial Experimental School welcomed us with open arms. We observed several student performances, visited classrooms, and enjoyed delicious Jiǎozi. Most importantly, we discussed our partnership at length, as well our goals for the future and came away with specific actionable ideas. We would like our teachers and students to collaborate more regularly through Skype and project based learning. For the 2015-2016 school year, each new ninth grader at our campus will be matched with a student at our Chinese partner school. The goal is for each student to develop an ePal relationship where they communicate consistently, ideally working on projects together as they progress through their time at HAIS. Teachers will also work together more to share lesson plans, to develop projects, and to videoconference more frequently in their classrooms. We also discussed taking the exchange component to the next level by adding in teacher exchanges.
There is great value for representatives from both partner schools to collaborate in person on the details of a partnership. We learned more about Chinese culture by authentically working with Chinese teachers and administrators than we ever would have by just touring schools and listening to lectures. The combination of learning experiences in Shanghai plus time for authentic collaboration at our partner school led to a deepening and strengthening of our partnership. Through our efforts and projects, we hope that by the time our students graduate from our campuses, they will have become more interested and knowledgeable about another culture, and also that they will have developed personal relationships and connections with friends who live on the other side of the world.