New kindergarten in China, part 2

The original is here, part one.

A friend writes:

I continue to work with a ‘new’ preschool in the middle of its second year with 3 of 5 classrooms currently open.

There is a two, three and four year old classroom with and additional three year old starting in May. We have been gaining a good reputation and have a wait list for the future so we plan to be full by the summer program in July.

It is satisfying to build a good reputation with parents.

I think you are aware a lot of schools open up here but there is little accountability for programming. Most of what is offered is boxed stagnant curriculum materials with didactic teaching formats. This is true at this school so, there is a lot of work to do.

I am working with the owners to move from the current system to a child centered play based curriculum. My current strategy is to extend familiar curricula, conduct parent salons, lead professional development, and coach and mentor teachers.

Most teaching, all over the world, is didactic. The teacher wants to talk.

In China this problem is more acute. Compared to other countries, parents are very interested in this specific curriculum. That is, they want a list of topics to be Covered. You can often see that list posted on the wall. By contrast, American parents have much less interest in the precise details of which topics are being covered.

The more a teacher feels pressure to cover a list, the more he or she has to talk. “X is in my brain. Let me explain it, so ex is in your brain.”

I have been mainly collaborating with the foreign teachers to expand familiar experiences beyond the current format they are working with by introducing activities that support the curriculum. Building a relationship with them is very important to gain their trust and show successive experiences by integrating new ideas.

I have had some success with the introduction of small group formatting in the morning portion of our schedule in several classrooms. One teacher said to me, ‘well, yeah they want to be with your activity, it’s fun’ …. I replied: ‘young children learn very well this way and you can have this in your classroom all the time!’

In another classroom, the teacher has evolved from a 40 minute ‘English large group activity time’ to 15 minutes of large group activity and then open centers with a concentrated rotating small group activity. He has found he can engage more with his students and loves the change. So we are moving forward – a bit.

Another reason some teachers prefer large groups is it is easier to keep them orderly. Teachers vary in how much anxiety they feel as disorder rises.

You might be more willing to tolerate small groups, because you don’t mind that group two is screwing around, because you notice groups one, three, and for are doing well. But I might feel anxiety, where all my brain can do is notice that troublesome group two.

Meanwhile you might feel anxiety teaching the whole class, because it pierces your soul when you see five kids who are clearly bored and agitated. For me, though, I don’t mind that, and instead I focus on the 15 kids who are engaged with my lesson.

There has been some other progressive areas of development. When I arrived in September, teachers were standing watch over children and after my return in February I have observed they are now are down on their level and more involved.

In working to increase and develop conversational skills, I am encouraging self talk by teachers with the children. This includes moving from comments such as: ‘that’s beautiful’ to: ‘look at the colors you have created – I see red, yellow and when mixed they created orange. Tell me more about your creation’.

This is great to hear. Some moves are easy to show teachers. The idea of physically getting down eye to eye, easy to teach and fairly sticky. Does not require much teacher effort. However, getting kids to talk is not easy. Often a teacher must get skilled with wait time, encouragement, accountability, precise phrasing. These are hard moves to show teachers, because they require nuance.

Challenges for us currently are having the resources to outfit the classrooms. This includes adding more to center areas, supplying rooms with access to basic supplies (such as paint and paper which currently is on a need to have basis). Books on the themes teachers are exploring is another area for improvement with a library system to keep tract of them.

On a good note, rotation of materials is beginning to be integrated where classrooms have had the same materials for an entire year. I want to add sensory centers, easels, beef up the science areas, and change around the format of the classroom lay out (currently all the manipulatives are on shelves around the classroom with the a big open area in the middle- this means running children and teachers constantly telling them to stop running).

I have always found it frustrating that teachers often lack Basic supplies. From a budgeting point of view, we’re talking about less than 1% of revenue. It is usually very easy to increase this spending by 50%, let teachers control it, and have near zero impact on the bottom line.

At match charter school, I used to budget I’ll hundred dollars per year for each kid to go purchase his own paperbacks at the Barnes& Noble bookstore. I just wanted to encourage pleasure reading. But over time, that spending was wiped out. I’ve noticed an unfortunate tendency in school budgeting is to always clawback any discretionary money controlled by teachers or controlled by kids. Almost always it goes to increased salaries, benefits, or headcount.

Language barriers are another area of concern. They prohibit a solid joint collaboration between the Chinese Lead Teacher and the Foreign Teacher. Fortunately teachers are striving to keep positive so far. The efforts of wanting to make successes in the classroom are good.

The flexibility to change is possible for the Chinese teachers (so I am told from the Chinese curriculum principal). With the Foreign Teachers, they have been in the current teaching ‘system’ for 6, 7, and 16 years and are leery that any new changes can happen unless everyone is on board for this, and I agree.

For example, parents will have issue with seeing something new. How adaptable are native teachers? Also, will children moving onto public programs be able to integrate easily into primary programs?

Whatever the cause, a common story in Chinese bilingual school is the foreign teachers are leery of change, and the native teachers are more open to it.

One cause is a professional mindset. American and British teachers often and learn to resist ideas from administrators. Usually that’s because they have been burned before. A decent idea was poorly implemented.

Another cause is that the foreign teachers are not really organized into a true team. Many have never worked into school where there is a legitimate team orientation among adults.

Another area I am working on is developing a relationship with various private primary schools in the area that our families will be considering for their future education. In my experience in California, collaboration of this kind has several advantages. They include: understanding the expectation of children entering into a new school, finding a ‘goodness of fit’ for families, exchanging ideas for better education, sharing community outreach for parent education, and collaborating for professional development. Also, I have recently been in touch with some of the neighboring Kindergartens and want to see if there is a possibility to work together for professional development, workshops and perhaps a children’s fair. There are so many possibilities.

Parents considering new schools need ways to decide if it safe. Certainly the most common badge of Quality is to say your graduates were admitted to prestigious schools. That’s most true with high schools, but even true with kindergarten.

One thought on “New kindergarten in China, part 2

  1. Pingback: Housekeeping 2 – New School In China

Comments are closed.