Written by Joanie Wang, Partnership Development Manager – China Region
How do you keep students engaged creatively when you constantly run into administrative and collaborative hurdles along the way?
Last Saturday, the JUMP! Hangzhou team sought to explore this question at our first community workshop focusing on the challenges educators face in their work with youth in China. JUMPers Mei Lum, Joanie Wang, and Alexandra MacLeish facilitated an interactive workshop that highlighted the challenges participants face in their roles as teachers, guidance counselors, education consultants, and administrative directors in the Chinese context, which revealed interesting connections between the seemingly different roles.
Identifying Our Challenges
Starting with a “sticky storm” brainstorm, the group voiced personal challenges, drew connections between the different challenges, and consolidated the challenges educators face into what the community sees as the most important roadblocks in their classroom. We grouped related issues into a Challenge Pyramid, with what participants felt as most important at the top, and ended up with three key areas of challenges, outlined below.
1. Finding The Right Mix Between a Western and Chinese-Style Classroom
While participants understand the complexity and advantage in current Chinese teaching and learning styles, we also recognize the effects of discussion, participation, and individual thinking in the right context. Classroom structure in China is very different from in the United States, and it’s important to adjust our expectations as educators when we work with Chinese youth in the local context. The key is to find a comfortable medium that prepares students for the inevitable exams and tests they’ll have to take, whether it’s the gaokao or the SATs, while providing them with the opportunities to achieve success through collaboration, discussion, and creativity.
2. Getting Students to Engage and Participate Creatively with Their Own Thoughts
We believe participation is key to healthy learning and growth, but many at the workshop cited the lack of student participation in the classroom as another challenge educators face. This most likely stems from the different methods educators use to engage their students in China and the US, and the different approaches to learning. On one hand, Chinese classrooms tend to focus on memorizing information for the gaokao exam, while many western classrooms encourage students to create dialogue and challenge each other’s opinions.
When introducing students to different styles of learning, it is important to understand what they are comfortable with. For example, educators in China often say that it is difficult to engage students in a classroom discussion. Is it because students are shy? Because they’re not used to speaking up in class? Because it has no relevant correlation to higher test scores? Most likely, it’s a mix of all three factors. As educators, it’s our responsibility to answer this question and find ways to encourage engagement in a productive, comfortable setting.
3. Balancing Expectations Between All Stakeholders
As an educator, it’s inevitable that you’ll have to work with parents, administrators, other educators, and students themselves to create a nurturing environment for your students. However, depending on what field of education you work in and where, the degree of collaboration varies. Some schools are much more experimental in nature, so it’s easier to find the right balance between the school’s and parents’ expectations. On the other hand, some parents might want to focus on social or creative initiatives while the school focuses on raising test scores as an indicator for success.
At the end of the day, active parents can be the greatest resource in providing the best learning environment for your student, so it’s important to meet parents expectations without giving up your creative style.
Connecting Different Perspectives
Using JUMP!-style interactive activities, the workshop highlighted the importance of balance, whether it’s between Chinese and western styles of teaching or student and parent expectations. The conversation dug deep into the educators’ challenges and highlighted them from many different perspectives, which was valuable in trying to assess the current education landscape in Hangzhou.
In hosting events like these, we hope to spark dialogue that helps educators connect with like-minded individuals who are eager to tackle the challenges they face, both as a group and as an individual. Our mission to INSPIRE, EMPOWER, and ENGAGE individuals requires passionate teachers who want to make a difference, and we’re starting the conversation one city at a time.
If you’re interested in joining the conversation or bringing these conversations to your city, please let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org.