Teaching is about more than the 3Rs

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Educators have a critical role in teaching character and in preparing their students to be able to make a real difference in the world.
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Shaping the leaders of tomorrow is about more than teaching facts and figures. Educators have a critical role in teaching character and in preparing their students to be able to make a real difference in the world.

Evie Slatter is an elementary school counselor at Concordia International School Shanghai.

The ‘character quotient’ defines attitude

Any veteran educator will tell you that before learning reading, writing and other academic subjects, students must have key social skills in place. What will the veteran educator say on teaching character?

Recently, Peter Dalglish, senior urban advisor to the World Health Organization for Liberia, presented a keynote address to a large group of international high school students at Concordia, challenging them to invest their lives in shaping our rapidly changing world.

Most of these teens had entered life tracking toward high profile, high-paying careers. He asked: “Which of you here today will be our future world-changers?” While a likely few from that crowd will eventually make a global impact, everyone was challenged to make a difference, no matter how local their reach of influence.

As educators, we were trained to provide sound academic instruction in school settings. Once in the classroom we quickly learned the importance of also creating a positive learning environment. Education went beyond a mere transfer of information. We needed to take into account the whole child. Over 20 years ago, Daniel Goleman asserted that emotional intelligence can be taught, and that it holds the same importance as IQ for success in academic, professional, social, and interpersonal aspects of life. In a relatively short time, educators became as familiar with EQ as with IQ, and schools embraced and embedded social learning in the curriculum.

What then, is character? If IQ reflects intellect and EQ measures self and social awareness, “character quotient” defines the underlying attitudes, beliefs and commitments that shape behavior. This learning begins early in life as modeled by parents and other caregivers. But can it be taught formally? How are these attributes understood across a range of cultures? Most international schools today embrace such values as responsibility, respect, honesty and kindness as fundamental. Educators can have a great influence on character development, particularly in how they model integrity in day-to-day work and relationships. A culture and practice of mutual respect, responsibility and concern for others builds the strongest foundation for a safe and nurturing learning environment. 

As Ralph Waldo Emerson noted: “Character is higher than intellect. A great soul will be strong to live, as well as to think.”

And this insight from business magnate, investor and philanthropist, Warren Buffet: “In looking for people to hire, you look for three qualities: integrity, intelligence and energy. And if they don’t have the first, the other two will kill you.” 

(The article is written by Evie Slatter, an elementary school counselor at Concordia International School Shanghai.)

Michael Watson is head of English at Nord Anglia International School Shanghai, Pudong.

Grades are important, but they are not the only measure

I have come to understand that exam grades are not the sole purpose of schools. Over the past 18 years, I have come to see that grades alone are not enough. In fact, some of the most successful students, those who score As, Grades 7s and secure top university places, are often those who fail at life.

 Studies show that for some of these high-flying students, they unfortunately have troubled lives, find it difficult to secure jobs or become great parents or partners. In fact, in some cases, having so much ambition and success at school can mean that what comes after can seem a little underwhelming. The nice reports, certificates and awards stop happening and at university students are suddenly faced with the realization that they are not necessarily the best and that what they, perhaps, found easy at school has not really prepared them for the next step.

Increasingly, teachers are well aware of the idea of “learning from our failures.” If you’ve never failed at anything, you’ve never tried anything new. The security of an examination grade is a fallacy. Don’t get me wrong; exam grades are important and we encourage all students to aim high and to do well. But they don’t guarantee success.

I once asked students to consider the chef Gordon Ramsay. How did he become so successful? What can you learn from him? Students were surprised to find that he didn’t have a stellar academic performance and they were even more surprised to find out that he didn’t suddenly become a great chef. In an interview, he explained that he worked ungodly hours for very little money, learning everything he could. He took opportunities even if they seemed risky. He made mistakes but he dusted himself off and moved forward. His success didn’t come from grades, it came from his character: grit, determination and resilience. How can schools foster these traits and promote academic achievement?

At NAIS, we are committed to learning in three ways: academically, personally and socially. Teaching students to be good global citizens, to have a moral conscience and to accept failure is a crucial part of learning is central.

In teaching the International Baccalaureate, teachers are aware that learning should promote the traits of the learner profile. These traits combine the academic disciplines of thinking skills, having an inquiring mind, valuing knowledge but are complemented with social skills such as being principled, open-minded and caring. Students are given opportunities to take risks and to be reflective.

The approaches to learning adopted by the IB runs through the way we promote social skills through the whole school: as a central aspect of learning. This is why there is a focus on STEAM, performance, sport and other activities; ultimately, these life skills will work hand-in-hand with academic knowledge — and great grades — to enable students to work well with others, to communicate effectively and to have choice in the lives they lead.

(The article is written by Michael Watson, head of English at Nord Anglia International School Shanghai, Pudong.)


Chris Perks is school chaplain at YCIS Shanghai Century Park campus.

Sowing the seeds of hope builds character, compassion

At YCIS Shanghai, we believe that charity-focused volunteer work is a key way to teach and develop character for children. The wonderful thing about volunteering is that by helping others, you are also helping yourself. One significant way students can experience this is through our school’s charity, Seeds of Hope. 

Throughout our school year, students and parents raise funds for Seeds of Hope in a number of ways, allowing us to make improvements at the various Seeds of Hope schools that we support, including furniture, eye testing, gift bags and reusable stationery.

Beyond fundraising efforts, we arrange for our students to participate in trips to visit and volunteer at these partner “Seed” schools. These trips are designed to take our students out of their comfort zone and allow them to face challenges they don’t experience at home. They need to overcome (perceived) challenges related to hygiene, food and accommodation, and use the skills they have learned in their Chinese language classes to help them communicate.

Beyond that, we take our students into the classrooms where they help teach the younger children. They build strengths of kindness and patience. One repeated phrase I hear after this activity is: “Wow, I didn’t know how hard it is to teach a class!” This task helps our students develop their sense of responsibility, and understand what it takes to persevere, to think on their feet, and to be flexible. They also learn about endurance, with multiple classes to teach in one day.

Outside of the classroom, our students get to explore the local village where they see the challenges others face, and this builds empathy and broadens our students’ perspectives.

For many of our students, there are many other firsts. For example, it’s often their first time on an overnight train, a big step toward developing their independence. On some trips, the students have to prepare a menu, buy food at local markets, then cook it to be shared with the group, and this teaches appreciation for cooperation. Further character skills enhanced on these trips are sharing and respect for others.

When I meet our school’s alumni, many often say that the Seeds of Hope trips changed their lives, and that they were a defining moment in their education. This charity work reinforces the entire ethos of the Yew Chung Education — to support children as they become caring, global citizens.

Whether this happens at school, as we do at YCIS Shanghai, at home with families, or through any of the highly reputable charities in Shanghai, one thing is for certain for children and families: By volunteering their time, there is an equal or greater return in the form of the fantastic opportunity to build positive character aspects that will last a lifetime.

(The article is written by Chris Perks, school chaplain at YCIS Shanghai Century Park campus.)

Sharon Moan is science teacher at Harrow International School Shanghai.

Judy Jiang is a Year 12 student at Harrow International School Shanghai.

Where are all the women in science?

The first International Day of Women and Girls in Science was held on February 11, 2015, at the United Nations headquarters.

Now in its third year, the forum focuses on issues such as gender equality and the role of women in science.

As strong advocates for the involvement of women and girls in science, I felt that it was important to recognize and bring an awareness of the day to Harrow, and open the eyes of staff and students to the disparity between men and women that still exists in scientific fields. 

Women are still under-represented worldwide in scientific and technical fields and one has to ask why? Is it because girls don’t like science? Is it because girls perform poorly in science? The answer to both of these questions is emphatically “No.”

Research shows that girls actually out-perform boys in science academically and uptake of science A levels increases year on year. But this increase in uptake is not reflected by undergraduate course numbers. Globally, women are scarce in research in development — only 28 percent of scientific research and development employees worldwide. It is also a sad fact that women are less likely to enter and more likely to leave scientific careers due to a hostile environment and inherent sexism that is unfortunately still prevalent in many countries. As an undergraduate, I was the only female on my course and in my early career as a research chemist, met only one other female in my position over the course of five years. This disparity ultimately led me to pursue a career teaching science in the hope of encouraging more girls to pursue science subjects. 

In an assembly delivered about International Day of Women in Girls in Science, it was interesting to note that students and staff, when presented with pictures of 10 female scientists who changed the world could only name two of them. Similarly, when asked to name a female inventor, nobody could.

Clearly, a shift in mindset and how we educate girls from an early age is required to remind everybody that not all great inventors were men. Girls need positive role models and a conviction that they can and should succeed in scientific careers.

For where would we be now without trailblazers such as Rosalind Franklin, Stephanie Kwolek, Rachel Carson and Shirley Jackson? If you don’t know who they are and how they changed the world, perhaps you should look them up!

(The article is contributed by Sharon Moan,science teacher, and Judy Jiang,Year 12 student at Harrow International School Shanghai.)


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