Today was the first day of our work together as a group of 6 Principals at the Centennial Teacher Education Symposium & 3rd Annual Conference of East-West Learning in Education. We were gathered at Southwest University (formally the Chongqing Normal University) in Chongqing, China. I will save the conversation about what a Normal University is and why this is significant in a later post.
We were introduced in a room (I recognized the room from my first Skype call!) of over 600 people most of which were in-service teacher candidates or graduate level students. 100 of the guests were Professors or visiting professors called together to celebrate 110 years of the University’s history and 10 years of the University’s amalgamation as Southwest University simultaneously. This was somewhat coincidental as the conference date happened to fall on the April 18th celebration. The whole of the campus was buzzing with excitement. Education is a very serious endeavor and experience for the people of China. From my limited experience so far it is at the very center of their cultural experience and identity. Confucius is often identified as the origin of this cultural identity.
We sat among the many honoured guests today that included Dr. Ian Menter from Oxford (a school that celebrated over 1000 years lately!), Dr Ruth Hayhoe- OISE and China Education Expert, Dr. David Hansen, Columbia University and Dr. Michael Connelly from OISE with Dr. Shijing Xu (our sponsor and host for this reciprocal learning event). Dr. Connelly and Dr. Xu also happen to be the very reason for the Reciprocal Partnership Project’s existence.
To suggest it was a full day is a vast understatement. There were 15 keynote addresses, two “tea” breaks and a one hour lunch. My head was full to say the least. I heard so many perspectives and philosophies on the status of education, teacher education and the global experience. I would struggle greatly to identify and explain the varying perspectives I heard. There were themes however that I believe have impacted me to consider how I will continue my work as a lead learner and Principal in our Canadian / Ontario context. These themes hover mostly around the critical understanding of what Culture is and how education is an expression of that culture.
Figure 1, Dr. Ian Menter of Oxford University
Dr. Ian Menter challenged me to consider the role of education. Is it “designed for the greater good, the moral imperative of a nation and civilization or is it shaped to meet the needs of the individual?” His answer, among all the other dignitaries, seemed pretty clear. The global perspective on the human condition requires us to act in ways that improves the human experience and not simply that of the individual.
Dr. Ruth Hayhoe used the 5 Harmonies to illicit an image of education that was deeply rooted in Confucianism. At the center was Trust or Xin.
Dr. Connelly articulated that “watching school leads us to the understanding that school in and of itself is a cultural artifact, coming out of the narrative of history of that culture.” When experiencing different educational experiences it is far to easy to show the dichotomies of pedagogical practices and say “they do that kind of math this way here and that way there” and further suggest one is better than the other. Having contrasting narratives around teaching and learning creates tension that is necessary for learning not for polarizing the argument.
Finally Dr. Hansen spoke to his academic body of knowledge titled Cosmopolitanism. He described this notion in education as: a sustained readiness to learn from the new and different while being heedful of the known and familiar. It is a sensibility. It is the ability to be a person that his both leaving and staying “home” simultaneously. Cosmopolitan sensibilities allow the learners to become closer and closer apart while at the same time getting further and further together.
It was a full day. At the end of it I recognized that the themes embedded in the day jived with my strong conviction towards developing as a lead learner that respects life experiences, professional experiences as learning moments that combine with previous understandings. The themes of the day stemmed from cultural awareness. The themes of the day made none of us “wrong.” I have described teachers as facilitators of the flux. The flux being that messy place were questions are asked and the teacher has no intention of being the sole provider of the answers. It was a day that asked us all to never stop considering why it is that we chose to become students of teaching.
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