By Yongling Zhang-Gorke, contributor
During the past several years, we have witnessed the growth of Chinese programs in K-12 schools in Minnesota, especially those in the 12 affiliated Confucius Classrooms. As schools grow their Chinese program, so does the need for establishing stronger connections with Chinese schools and obtaining deeper understanding of the Chinese education system. The need is reflected in the following three areas:
1) Partner with a sister school in China for concrete activities such as exchange of students and teachers
2) Get knowledge about the latest trend in curriculum reform in China, especially on core subjects of Chinese language, math, and science, which have implications for Mandarin immersion programs
3) Understand and compare teacher development in both U.S. and China to better support in-service development for the Chinese language teachers in the U.S.
Minnesota school districts with a well-established Chinese program and interest to further develop their relationship were invited to apply and participate in the first 10-day Minnesota Educators Delegation to China trip developed by the Confucius Institute at the University of Minnesota (CIUMN) in June. The CIUMN would like to acknowledge the gracious financial support given by Confucius Institute Headquarters/Hanban, and the excellent logistics planning by one of our Chinese partners, Capital Normal University, as well as International Education Association Shanghai for their tremendous help in arranging for school visits and meetings with Education Bureau in Shanghai. Without the help from these organizations, CIUMN could not have completed the mission of this year’s Minnesota Educators Delegation.
The 2014 Minnesota Educators Delegation had 10 members, nine of whom are principals or district administrators from four districts. The nine educators are: Kristine Schaefer, principal, Woodbury Elementary School; Karin Lopez, principal, Woodbury Middle School; Bob Bulthuis, certified employment specialist, Hopkins Public Schools; Molly Wieland, coordinator, Mandarin Immersion Program at Hopkins Public Schools; Shirley Gregoire, principal, Hopkins West Junior High School; Todd Roundabush, science teacher and IB coordinator, Hopkins West Junior High School; Joe Mueller, curriculum coordinator, Forest Lake Area Schools; Rob Rapheal, president, Forest Lake Area Schools Board; and Susan Tennyson, strategic data analyst, Edina Public Schools. Yongling Zhang-Gorke, assistant director of CIUMN, was the coordinator and leader of the group.
The delegation arrived in Beijing on June 7, hosted by Capital Normal University, who also arranged a round-table discussion with the Beijing Education Commission. On June 10, the educators visited Confucius Institute Headquarters/Hanban and experienced the many resources for learning Chinese language and culture. They also exchanged greetings and gifts with the Deputy Director of Division of America and Oceania Confucius Institute Affairs Ms. Ren Shifang and Program Officer Ms. Miao Jiefang. The educators visited the following Beijing schools where they met with some students, teachers and administrators: Beijing No. 4 High School, 21st Century Experimental School and the Middle and High School affiliated with Capital Normal University.
Shanghai. The delegation was greeted by Mr. Fan Yigang, director of Putuo District Education Bureau, and discussed possibilities of developing educational exchange between schools in Minnesota and in Putuo district. The educators also had the opportunity to visit five schools, based on each school/district’s characteristics of Chinese program and needs for furthering relationship. These schools include Cosco experimental school, Jiangning School, Muslim Elementary School of Putuo District, Anshi Experiential School affiliated with Shanghai Music Conservatory and No. 2 High School affiliated with Tongji University.
In addition to participating in educational exchanges with their Chinese counterparts, the Minnesota educators also had the opportunity to experience the rich history and culture of China through visits to the Forbidden City, the Great Wall and Beijing’s unique form of residences and alleyways, the hutongs. They also dined at restaurants that were frequented by locals. The delegation was very fortunate to witness a demonstration of Peking opera, one of China’s most prestigious cultural art form, from Ghaffar Pourazar, a renowned British Peking Opera Master, the recipient of the Great Wall Friendship Prize, and attended a Peking Opera performance. While in Shanghai, the educators visited the Bund and Yuyuan Garden, experiencing the rapid change of the city within the last hundred years. Both cities offered their unique charm and deeply impressed the delegates.
Reflections from the Delegates
I summarized and organized the delegates’ impressions in three areas:
I. Understanding about curriculum reform and teacher development
Round table discussion with policy makers and administrators in Beijing and Shanghai on the topics of curriculum reform and teacher development are common interests of Chinese and U.S. educators. The Minnesota educators introduced new reform initiatives such as the College Readiness program and curriculum mapping tools such as Naviance, Atlas and the policymakers from Beijing Education Commission and scholars from Capital Normal University introduced new directions of K-12 curriculum reform in Beijing. Educators from both countries had lively discussions on teacher development, eager to learn from each other. Apart from sharing similarity in the procedures of teacher hiring and continued professional development, the Minnesota educators learned useful lessons from their Chinese colleagues on certain areas of instructional hours, professional development, research conducted by teachers and group collaboration of teachers of the same subject areas.
More first-hand knowledge and experience on teacher development were obtained through school visits. Teachers who teach internationally focused courses such as AP subjects shared their experiences with Minnesota educators. While visiting schools in Shanghai, Minnesota educators had the opportunity to observe math and English classes in progress. Wieland, Mandarin immersion coordinator at Hopkins Public Schools, commented on her enhanced understanding of Chinese teachers at her district, “I understand much better why our Chinese teacher struggle with classroom management in an American school… why my Chinese immersion teachers have the same expectation [3-4 hours per night on homework] for their students in our program…It is the shared cultural space that we need to strive for as we develop curriculum and as we create our staff development for teachers.” It was a pleasant discovery that what was learned in China can be applied to Minnesota schools with Chinese programs.
II. Prospectus on developing educational exchange
Every educator visited at least four schools in Beijing and Shanghai. One common pattern expressed by the educators: while schools in both cities are excellent, Shanghai schools had a more representative cross- section of students while Beijing schools had exceptional students whose top academic performance was the schools’ primary focus. In Shanghai, in addition to high achievement, schools that we visited focused more on whole student development (social and emotional), and the desire to learn about other cultures and perspectives. While this is primarily attributed to the different types of schools we visited, it also reflects the different educational philosophy by practitioners in Shanghai and Beijing.
Fan Yigang, director of Shanghai Putuo Education Bureau, provided guiding principles from the Chinese perspectives on developing international collaborative for educational exchange. Minnesota administrators also shared the practices in the U.S, where district superintendents and the school board have the ultimate decision-making power. State level Department of Education, unlike the Education Commission or Education Bureau, does not have to approve the various levels of administrative procedure. This is a demonstrated difference between centralized and decentralized education systems. Both sides (Shanghai Putuo district and the participating Minnesota districts) had interest in exchanging students and teachers on two-week or one-month exchanges during an academic year. One principal has reported to the district superintendent on developing a multi-district collaborative for international education exchange. It is sincerely hoped the discussion will continue and lead to concrete and meaningful activities, and will continue to foster such dialogues.
The educators in Beijing have not reached an initial agreement on developing international exchange with Minnesota educators. CIUMN will continue to explore possibilities in Beijing in the future.
III. Further development of district’s Chinese program
One of the primary purposes of this delegation was for the participating district administrators to better understand the Chinese education system so they can provide more support to the district’s Chinese program. Therefore, although the participating educators do not teach Chinese on a daily basis, helping everyone become more informed will foster more collegiality and collaboration with the Chinese teachers, hence promoting healthy growth of the Chinese program in the respective districts. Administrators were invited to reflect on some next steps their districts will take on Chinese programs and partnership with Chinese schools.
Forest Area Schools is not a Confucius Classroom, but the district’s Chinese program experienced substantial growth in the past three years. The district is encouraged to participate in more Hanban-organized activities through the Confucius Institute and think about future possibility as a Confucius Classroom. Initial steps such as digital pen pal have begun for high school students to communicate with students in Anshi Experimental School. For Hopkins Public Schools, the Mandarin immersion students will enter middle school and the West Junior High School plans to establish a sister-school partnership with Cosco experimental school and conduct student exchange in spring 2015 and onwards through Confucius Classroom programming. Further discussions are in place in South Washington County and Edina school districts with the participating educators informing other district personnel about future opportunities.
It is hoped that Hanban will continue to support the short-term student and teacher exchange in the future.
Summary of CIUMN
All the delegates gave positive feedback on their experiences in Shanghai, and I attribute this to the rich experience of IEA Shanghai in conducting international exchange programs and fostering collaborative initiatives. It was the depth of school visit in Shanghai that allowed the Minnesota delegates to develop a much better understanding of the educational system, teachers’ workday and expectations of teachers, students and administrators.
For the Confucius Institute, it is a meaningful program to offer for furthering the development of local Chinese programs in Minnesota. CIUMN has developed deeper relationship with Capital Normal University through the collaboration and improved its quality of service to the local K-12 schools. This kind of personalized and customized programming offers a nice complement to large-size educators’ delegations offered by the College Board. Bulthuis (Hopkins Public School employment specialist) pointed out, “This trip is good for someone who has experienced China in the past and/or who has a very specific objective of finding a sister school or for learning more about the Chinese educational system.” Such small delegation offers a balanced, personalized and high quality experience in China.
Chinese language program, in addition to being an important world language for the 21st century, is also an important pillar that will enable youth to “actively engage in global interaction and enhance global citizenship efforts to the benefit of all humanity,” elegantly stated by Tennyson from Edina Public Schools. As a new Confucius Classroom, Edina Public Schools charged Tennyson with redesigning the secondary education experience. I am pleased to see that there will be discussions on building capacity for cultural learning across the curriculum, expanding Chinese language learning program and ultimately develop meaningful partnership with one or more schools in China to support short- and/or long-term student/teacher exchange. I hope to witness the growth in both quantity and quality of the Chinese programs in these participating districts through:
innovative model of immersion
exchange with sister schools, and
the long-term support of dedicated staff
For CIUMN, we hope to bring more opportunities like this to other districts so that the state of Minnesota will have a closer and stronger connection with Chinese schools and Chinese education system.
The Confucius Institute at the University of Minnesota (CIUMN) was established in 2008 to promote the learning of Chinese language and culture statewide. in a collaboration between the University of Minnesota, Confucius Institute Headquarters/Hanban and Capital Normal University in Beijing. CIUMN supports Chinese learning through a variety of programming for students, educators and the general public. CIUMN offers non-credit Chinese courses, Chinese language assessment, teacher professional development, and customized language and culture training upon request.
Yongling Zhang-Gorke, Ph.D. is the assistant director of CIUMN and director of the affiliated Confucius Classrooms, which consists of twelve schools/districts/organizations that offer Chinese programs throughout Minnesota.