'Cloud Mother' principal a digital advocate but also a devotee of 'emotion education'
Wu Rongjin arrives at school with a picture of the "school full of love" posted on WeChat before 6:30am and leaves after 10pm with another posted image of the "long long corridor of love."
She greets students at the school gate every morning, posting photos of them during the day and saying goodbye to them every afternoon.
This is a typical workday for the principal of Luwan No. 1 Central Primary School in Huangpu District, Shanghai. She knows almost every one of the over 1,000 students at her school and keeps her phone on 24 hours a day all year round, ready to immediately respond to parents' calls .
She is called "Cloud Mother" or "Cloud Principal" as she is an advocate of digital technologies in education. And now she has a new title – "Role Model of the Times," an honor from the Publicity Department of the Communist Party of China Central Committee.
A teacher of love
Wu, 47, became a teacher of Chinese in 1994, but is now better known for her dedication to emotion education, which she has been practicing in the school for about 17 years.
It started in 2004 when the school found many students were poor at expressing themselves. They were unwilling to say, or didn't know how to say. Some were uncaring, impulsive and selfish and getting cold feet in the face of difficulties and setbacks.
The then principal Cheng Hua decided to launch a course to promote the emotional development of students and Wu, the young teacher, took the initiative to start the pilot program.
"There were no existing models and we had to learn through practice," she said. "It was not merely to lecture doctrines but to guide students to communicate, to care about others, to handle challenges, to adapt to society and to live a happy life."
The course used to be a short 15-minute talk at noon but is now a formal class to solve all kinds of problems occurring among students, such as anxiety before exams and disputes with classmates.
One thing that lingers in Wu's memory was the day that a girl told her she was sad because she had picked up 90 missed balls in a table tennis class as her classmates always volleyed the ball when playing with her.
Wu later learned that her classmates had teased her and called her "lion king" because she had shaggy hair.
So, she talked about the importance of friendship and mutual support and encouraged other students to shake hands with the girl. But the situation did not get better.
Then one day after lunch, Wu brought a comb and colorful hairpins into the classroom and braided her hair carefully in front of the whole class. After that, the children changed their attitude toward the girl.
"You can only change them when you show them you really love the girl," she said.
Another impressive lesson happened after a girl passed away due to sickness. The empty desk and chair made students perplexed and scared.
Wu did not evade the topic of death, but shared a story the girl's mother had told her. After she passed away, the mother found a small box under her bed, in which there was a paper where the girl had written: "Mum, I love you. I will be good in the future."
Wu and the students repeatedly read an essay called "Rains and Leaves" written by the girl.
"I wanted them to know that life is precious and we have to cherish every person around us," she said.
This year, the school admitted a student suffering amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a progressive nervous system disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord, causing loss of muscle control. The school discussed with the family in advance about the assistance they needed and made a tailored class schedule for the boy.
"It's not the first time for our school to admit students with physical challenges," said Wu. "We don't want to let any child be left behind. The school also benefits from them. We can teach other students how to give care and love to people in need and the smiles and tenacity of sick children may also show other students how to stay optimistic in life."
Every year, Wu would write a card for each graduate with her contact information and words like: come to "Cloud Mother" whenever you encounter any troubles.
Graduates do come back frequently to talk about their confusions and troubles. Even parents of some children who are not students of the school get to know her outstanding skills in handling children's emotional problems and turn to her for help.
"That's part of the reason why I stay at the school so late every day," Wu said. "Some people may say my family must be miserable as I spend so much time in the school. No. I have a lovely family with my husband and parents supporting me all the time.
"My husband would come to the school to accompany me after work and we would go home hand in hand, just like we are dating. I always encourage parents to keep dating as a family full of love can nurture a child full of love."
A team of volunteers
In Wu's school, there is a volunteer team with members aged 10.2 years on average to guide visitors to the former site of the First National Congress of the Communist Party of China, which is about a 15-minute walk from the school.
Wu said she had found students did not quite understand the explanations of adult guides and was seeking a solution to help them have better experiences in museums.
Yang Yu, director of the publicity and education department of the former site of the First National Congress of the CPC, also found the same problem when she delivered a speech at the school.
"They didn't seem to catch the historical background and asked me questions about minor details I had never thought about, such as why there was no woman in the meeting," she said.
They school and the memorial then cooperated to launch a program in 2006 to train student volunteers in explaining the history and the exhibits. Now they have developed a series of simple but vivid stories about the congress and put them in not only Chinese, but also English, Shanghai dialect, comics and Kuaiban (clapper talk).
"It would be a tragedy if young children don't know the history of our country," said Wu. "But former education on history may not be that interesting for children. So we developed the volunteer team to encourage students to do more research on history and transfer it into interesting stories they can tell others with the language of their generation. Through the whole process, they can find out interesting things in history and better understand it, and then help their peers with understanding."
In the past 16 years, more than 1,000 students have participated in the team.
The team now has been invited to other museums in the city, such as the former residences of Sun Yat-sen and Zhou Enlai.
A set of cloud classes
As a "Cloud Mother," Wu has led the school to develop a set of digital classes, ranging from regular classes to reading, cooking, sports and exhibition to better understand students' learning and make individualized education plans.
For example, when students use an electronic pen and pad to do homework, their behaviors, including how long do they stop at a question, can be recorded for analysis.
Two students might get same scores in a test, but one may be distracted at the beginning and hurry up in the end while the other may do it steadily, according to Wu. These two students need different instructions in later study and the first student might be set up with sport classes such as shooting to enhance concentration, she said.
Meanwhile, the school also has a "Cloud Kitchen" to teach students to cook, "Cloud Watches" to monitor students' health indexes such as heart rates and fatigue during physical exercise and "Cloud Exhibition" to show students' creations, among other digital applications.
"Any use of technology should be focused on helping to improve the efficiency of education and growth of children," she said. "The technologies used in our school help us know the strength, shortcomings and interests of students and provide references for us to make individualized education plans for them."
The school's smart education system had attracted Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, to visit its campus and share the experience at a conference.
With her success in education and school management, Wu has been commissioned to help improve education quality in suburban Shanghai and remote areas including provinces of Qinghai, Guizhou, Shaanxi, Sichuan and Yunnan, as well as cities like Chongqing.
She has provided online training for more than 10,000 principals and helped rebuild the Tianma Mountain Central Primary School in Dujiangyan of Sichuan Province after the Wenchuan Earthquake in 2008. All schools assisted by her have seen student improvements in studies.
She was also appointed to be principal of a primary school in Jiading District for three years and made it a popular school among local families.
Wu said no matter how busy she was, she would managed to stand at the school gate in the morning to greet her students as "I love children and I love teaching."