From classroom strategies and expectations of student behavior to parent-teacher communication methods and overall views on learning, every country and culture has its own style of education.
What can we learn from these varied styles? The short answer? A lot.
To be truly effective teachers and open-minded learners, we need to learn about the best practices the world of teaching has to offer. Below, I have highlighted four effective practices that I’ve picked up from diverse educators in classrooms around the world.
While teaching abroad in Japan, I observed a kindergartener walk up to his teacher and explain that his classmate was in the back of the classroom, throwing markers. The teacher calmly replied, “I see. You should do something about that,” and then turned back to what she had been doing.
From the very start of their education, Japanese children are taught to be problem-solvers. The teachers will not step in to fix every issue. Students quickly learn to think critically, rely on themselves, and speak up with confidence.
After seeing this, I gave it a try with my own class, responding to many little tattles with, “Okay, how can you solve that problem?” I would often talk the scenario through with the student, but the decision of what to do was left up to them. The results were terrific. Not only did my young students become critical thinkers and conscientious members of their classroom community, they became certain of their ability to solve problems.
Looking at Shanghai specifically, I noticed one strategy of professional development that can be easily replicated in U.S. contexts: peer lesson demonstrations.
Whether a teacher is testing out a new teaching strategy or trying to adjust a lesson that doesn’t quite seem to be working, teachers in Shanghai find it helpful to demonstrate their lessons to their fellow teachers who can give feedback from the students’ perspectives. A step beyond simply sharing lesson ideas or collaborating on planning, peer lesson demonstrations allow your colleagues to see your lessons as they will really play out and give you authentic, helpful feedback.
I think we can all agree that good teachers create to successful students. One of the hallmarks of a good teacher is a desire to keep learning and adapt to constructive feedback. I once worked with a Singaporean teacher who sought information whenever possible—even from students.
Like any customer service agent, this teacher realized the benefits of customer feedback. The only difference was that her customers were students. So she surveyed them, finding informal, age-appropriate ways to ask:
1) Was this activity easy, hard, or in the middle?
2) Did you understand how I explained this concept?
3) Is there something I could change about the way I teach lessons that would help you learn?
Teachers should be lifelong learners and should seek new knowledge wherever it can be found. Why not start right there in your classroom?
As an American who went to schools that had custodial staff, I was amazed to see that, in many Korean public schools, the students do the cleaning. All the kids are responsible for keeping their classrooms clean, and I don’t just mean organizing their own desks; students wiped the windows and swept the floors. There was even a rotating schedule for each class to clean non-homeroom spaces like my English classroom.
It is incredible how much more carefully students treat their surroundings when they are the ones to have to clean them. Not only is there less mess, but fewer homework assignments go missing and fewer textbooks are forgotten. The lesson here? If you want students to act responsibly, you must give them responsibilities.
There is no one right way to teach or to learn. You will see variations throughout your teaching career from differences in personal style and the policies dictated by administration to differences in the application of educational theories. Keeping this in mind, why not soak up everything you can?
Teaching is a collaborative art–we must always be ready to learn from one another. Let’s not limit that learning to our own national borders.