Day 4: March 21, 2013 “A Day of Learning”

By: Dr. Marvin Olige, Assistant Principal, Maplewood High School, Nashville, Tennessee

Today was very informative, amazing, and interesting.  The day started with a lecture from Professor Linghiao Gao in which he spoke on rethinking the school curriculum reform. Dr. Gao stated the school curriculum of 2001 is similar to the No Child Left Behind Act in the United States. It was presented that China is facing great challenges in the new century, and changing the traditional way of teaching future citizens has become one of the urgent tasks of the Chinese educator.  Some current problems they face are elitism, where the best schools usually have the most money. The education system is based on doing well on high stakes tests and the basic teaching style in China is lecture, as he explained it as the teacher only “pours in” the students.

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Marvin, taking notes at the lecture

Positive effects of the Chinese reform act are a deeper understanding of the original school system which includes the curriculum, teaching, learning, and assessment; teachers are able to use different kinds of educational ideas, theories, and strategies. The reform process will take time but the current offerings of new courses will play an important role in the future of the reform act.  The new courses allow the students to focus more on problem solving, analyzing, communicating, and cooperating on activities. The decisions in the Chinese education system are primarily provided from the government; school principals have about a 10% influence on the curriculum in the schools.

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Professor Gao talking about education reforms in China

Later we toured a high school, The Affiliated High School of South China Normal University, where all the students are recruited to attend the high school. All of the students are in the top 10% academically in their province and the students are selected based on their performance on a high stakes exam. Students who come from a province far away must live on campus. The student who gave me a tour of the campus lives 5 hours away by train. Many of the students live on campus and have access to an online international center.  The school is very innovative in the way they attempt to educate its students.
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Marvin, greeted by Principal Wu at the gate of the Affiliated High School of SCNU

Principal Wu, two new teachers, and four students spoke to us about new teachers and the responsibility of the school to train good teachers.  Principal Wu’s approach to training new teachers has two layers: the individual aims of the teachers and overall aims of the school. The teachers spoke about the impact of the new teacher program and how it allowed them to grow into a better teacher.  One teacher stated that when he first started teaching, his teaching style was based on his experiences. However, as he went through the program, he learned how to teach in a way to engage students and one of the important things he learned was how to communicate with children. The lecture concluded with students giving real life experiences from the school on how newer teachers impacted their learning. The students were very open about the negative and positive encounters they had experienced in the classroom with newer teachers and one gave an example of being taught in new teacher’s class versus an experienced teacher’s class and how she felt that they both are needed to make the students grow in knowledge.

Day 8: March 25, 2013 “Family Visit”

By: Hildateri Parks, 3rd Grade Model Classroom Teacher, Lakeview Elementary School, Nashville, Tennessee 

Today I had the opportunity to have dinner with one of the families from the school I visited.  Typically, we have been been visiting the families in pairs, but today I was separated from my teammate and translator. I was nervous because I thought I wouldn’t be able to communicate.  It feels awkward when everyone is laughing and you don’t know what they are laughing about. However, this wasn’t the case. When I arrived at Mr. Johnny’s house, I was greeted with hugs, smiles and something to put over my shoes so I wouldn’t track dirt inside. The English teacher who came with me served as the translator and I found myself feeling very at home and involved in the conversations. We talked about everything from Chinese culture to Tennessee whiskey. They were very willing to answer my questions and I was just as eager to answer theirs. I was also complimented several times on how well I was able to use chop sticks. I have definitely been practicing. I bought several pairs to take home to use and share with family and friends.

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Hilda with her first hand-made dumpling during a family visit

After having an authentic Chinese meal that included octopus, beef, grilled goose, fresh fish, shrimp, chicken, and seafood soup, their son, Johnson, played the trumpet and their daughter, Jasmine, shared her art work. The food was delicious and the conversation and laughs we shared were priceless.  Mr. Johnny and his family were very hospitable and kind. It felt as if we were old friends. I truly enjoyed spending time with them and I hope my next family visit will be just as pleasant.

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Hilda presenting her gift for the hosts

Day 5: March 22, 2013 “The Best of Both Worlds” – Shadow Principal at Guangzhou No.4 Secondary School

By: Nick Wilson, Assistant Principal, Cane Ridge High School, Nashville, Tennessee

As we arrived at Guangzhou No. 4 Secondary School at about 8:30am on the morning of Friday, March 22, my colleagues and I were received with “A Warm Welcome to Mr. Wilson, Dr. Olige and Dr. Hall from Nashville of Tennessee!” on the school’s marquee.  After being warmly greeted by several student leaders, several teachers and the school’s principal, we began a tour of the campus.  We saw some important places in the school’s history, as well as some of the more fun things that the school has to offer, such as roller hockey, a shooting range, and areas for table tennis and badminton.

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A welcome sign at the gate of No. 4 Secondary School

We were then shown some of the more academic areas of the school, such as the science building and the art studio.  The science building showcased many of the students’ accomplishments and national awards, as well as where they take what they learn to create robots, or invent new things.  In the art studio is where we met Mr. Jim, an art teacher with about three years of experience.  He is very passionate about his teaching and it is shown through his own artwork and that of his students.  We saw many excellent pieces of student work, such as sketches, pencil drawings, sculptures, pottery, graffiti and many other pieces from the teacher’s work, as well.

We then went to a class on morality.  The classroom had about 40 students and the discussion and activities were around the ideas of teamwork and responsibility.  The teacher led the group by giving the objective and instructions.  As students were in four groups of about 10 students each, they were told they had 10 minutes to complete a sort of jigsaw puzzle within their groups with absolutely no talking.  But about halfway through the exercise, they were told that the pieces they had would not create the correct puzzle, but that the pieces had been mixed up throughout the groups.  They were to continue the exercise by exchanging pieces among the groups without talking.  The most fascinating piece was watching the students as they discussed what they learned from the exercise.  All of the students sat attentively as each group representative discussed their experience and what they learned from the exercise regarding group dynamics and each person taking responsibility for the group’s success.

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Nick observing a PE class while talking with a student from No. 4 Secondary School

Following the class, we also had the opportunity to listen to a discussion amongst a large group of teachers who had observed the class with us to discuss the strengths and weaknesses of the teaching that we had just witnessed.  It was amazing to see how the teachers were so open and honest with their feedback to the teacher and how she was listening attentively so she could improve her practice.

After lunch at a local restaurant with the student leaders and several staff (and it was delicious!), we returned to campus for the afternoon break.  At this school and in many places across the area, lunch is as 12noon, followed by a nap.  We had the opportunity to speak with several more students about their experiences at their school for a while before we did eventually take part in a little afternoon rest.

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Nick (Middle) and Dr. Lora Hall touring the campus of No.4 Secondary School

The afternoon included an English class where they were introducing a new unit on Canada.  While the focus was on learning some new content about Canada, the class was also intent on the focus of English speaking, listening, reading and writing.  This class was also followed by a meeting with that teacher, the three of us, as well as several school administrators to discuss the strengths of the lesson, ways to improve, and major differences in the curriculum design between China and America.

We ended the day at the school with a student panel where we exchanged ideas of how the daily lives of students and teachers in China and America differ.  We discussed class schedules, subject areas, homework and how they spend their free time.  This was followed by an exchange of gifts and some emotional goodbyes from our student guides.

We then visited homes from the staff of the school to eat dinner and exchange gifts.  We were overwhelmed with their hospitality and generosity and were honored to be in their homes.  It was a fantastic day at the No. 4 Secondary School in Guangzhou and we learned so much.  It is amazing that even though we are separated by almost 10,000 miles and have very different histories and philosophies of government and education, that we have so many of the same challenges in our educational systems.  I think that Windy, the English teacher who hosted me for dinner, said it best:  “If we can take the best of America and the best of China and combine them, then we could really solve a lot of our current problems.”

Day 7: March 24, 2013 “An International Dialogue: Mission and Development of School Principals”

By: Dr. Suzie Cater, ESL Teacher, Eakin Elementary, Nashville, Tennessee
Today we participated in a discussion forum with distinguished school leaders from districts in China and Nashville, TN.

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After formal introductions we were presented with three cases involving school leadership. The first case considered a principal being moved from a high performing school to a low performing school. Participants were allowed four choices to answer the question.

A: This move means a demotion as a result of hidden rules.
B: This means the principal’s leadership abilities have been highly acknowledged by the supervising department as they have trusted them with a challenging job to transform an ordinary school to a high performing school.
C: This was a regular job shift. Neither a demotion nor a promotion.
D: Other opinions.

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A comparison of the answers between American principles (Left) and Chinese principles to the first question

As you can see from the picture, the answers were vastly different depending on the country of origin of the participants. The American principals overwhelmingly agreed this move could best be answered by choice “B” (graph on the left) while the Chinese principal’s answers were more diverse (graph on the right). Miss Wang shared she believed the differing opinions could be based on the fact the United States is a developed country concerned with equity while China is a developing country concerned with efficiency.

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Having a table discussion

The second case concerned a school leader being promoted to a district level leadership position. Principals from the United States and China agreed that deciding to take such a promotion depended on many factors including wanting to remain in a school to affect change at the building level or moving to the district level to affect change on a broader level. Some Chinese principals believed they would not have a personal choice to remain in their schools if a district promotion was offered by the government. In the end, we all agreed the decision to move to a district position can be a difficult personal choice. A comment was made by a Chinese principal “in the end if no one would accept the responsibility, then who would step up to lead the community?”  Professor Wu noted that it is important for each individual should know personal pursuits, strengths, and weaknesses pertaining to their career path. In knowing these, individuals will be stronger decision makers and follow their hearts.

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A principal writing down key points on the white board

The third case involved a principal who had devoted much time to the professional development of his/ her teachers. In doing so, the teachers had been locally recognized for their performance, but the principal had neglected his/her own professional development, not been recognized for his/her performance, and criticized for his/her own personal progress.  Members of my discussion table noted that a principal cannot advance others if they neglect to advance themselves. At my table we decided in both the United States and China we struggle to find the balance between acting as an “Instructional Leader” and  “Manager” with in the school context. A Chinese principal shared leaders need to promote excellence in themselves and others around them and schools should be a cradle to develop teachers.

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Suzie at the principal forum

Day 6: March 23, 2013: “A fun day”

As we welcomed our first weekend in China, we finally got the chance to explore the city Guangzhou a little bit more.  We went to Yuexiu Park in the morning and spent the afternoon at the Safari park. In the evening, we had the privilege to visit the Guangzhou Tower and ride the sky wheel at 450m above ground! All in all, it was a fun day.

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Rob and Jade, a student volunteer, enjoying their conversation during the bus ride to Yuexiu Park

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Arriving at Yuexiu Park

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People dancing at the Park

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Iris, Lora and Kay imitating the dance moves

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Group picture in front of the “five goat statue”, the landmark of Guangzhou

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Taking a walk in the park

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Having a rest

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The Guangzhou tower

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A bird view of the city on the Guangzhou tower

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The skywheel on the 107th level

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A group picture inside the Guangzhou Tower

Day 5: March 22, 2013 “Shadow Principal – Guangzhou Overseas Chinese Foreign Language School”

By: Cindy Ayala, School Social Worker, Overton Cluster, Nashville, Tennessee

Today started with a car ride with Chinese friends from Guangzhou Overseas Chinese Foreign Language School down busy streets to visit their school.  I was so excited to get off the main street and ride into a real Guangzhou neighborhood!

A sign out front greeted Dr. Gary Hughes and myself with our names in bright lights!  I have never felt so honored and welcomed in my life as I have here in China.  My new Chinese friends are some of the most lovely and kind people I have ever met.

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The welcoming banner that says “A warm welcome to Cindy Ayala and Gary Hughes from Nashville, Tennessee”

This school has a rich history.  The land to build this school was donated by overseas Chinese.  Opening day was in 1955.  The campus has rich foliage and many open spaces for children in kindergarten through 8th grade to exercise and play.  I observed morning exercises, badminton, jump rope, tae kwon do and basketball.  Dr. Hughes impressed some of the boys by joining a game of basketball.

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The gate of the school

First, we observed an English class in the Primary School.  The class was taught by an energetic and passionate young teacher who not only captured the attention of the class, but all the observers as well.  Her class was taught completely in English.  The topic was fruits.  She used group work and games to give her students opportunity to learn and practice English.  Of course there were tasty fruits incorporated into the lesson that we got to enjoy at the end!  My favorite Chinese fruit is dragon fruit.  I will miss it when I am back in America.

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A student answering the teacher’s question in class

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Cindy (Right) and Gary observing the English class

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Eager students raising their hands up high

Next on the agenda was an observation of an 8th grade Chinese class.  I had a lovely interpreter who helped me understand the whole lesson.  The students are reading a book about the Dragon Boat Festival.  This teacher was explaining the rich cultural background of this festival and its traditions.  One of the traditions connected to Dragon Boat Festival in the author’s hometown is to eat 12 red foods.  One of the twelve foods is the cooked yolk of a salted duck egg.  (It could pass for red.)  You guessed it!  We got to eat the yolk of a salted duck egg! The teacher had a very different style from the first teacher but still had a connection to his students that was so encouraging to witness.  There was no question that his students loved being in his class.

During the discussion afterward, the principal shared her “theory of happy teaching.”  I saw evidence of her influence regarding this theory in the classrooms of her teachers and it was wonderful to experience!

Later in the day we were able to hear the band dressed in full Chinese costume play traditional Chinese instruments.  There were instruments that I had never seen or heard before.