Global Connections VI

April 2002

Wuhan, China

Global Connections VI “declaration” on Teaching and Learning Styles: Creativity and Innovation in the Classroom.

Great thanks are due Principal Li Shuisheng and his colleagues at the No. One Middle School attached to the Central China Normal University. Their efforts on behalf of the nearly 80 delegates and fellow educators were remarkable as were their efforts to present images of the Chinese way and education, a process which, like the city of Wuhan, exhibited patterns of the past as well as glimpses of the future. For those of us who were the waigoren, the foreigners, it was an important if not always apparent learning experience.

About one-third of the participants in GC VI were Chinese, a number of whom were members of the English faculty at the No. One Middle School. The remaining two-thirds of the delegates came from 16 other countries.

There were 10 presenters, 4 from China (Beijing, Shanghai, and Wuhan) and 6 from other countries worldwide (2 from Australia and 1 each from England, France, Turkey, and the United States). They spoke on topics as varied as their nationalities from “Pathways to Creativity from a French Perspective” and “Constructing a New Teaching Environment for Student Development,” to “Piercing the Veil of the Future: A Strategic Approach to Innovation and Creativity” and “Construction of a New-type School with the Orientation Toward the Era of Knowledge Economy.”

Each presentation was followed by questions, answers, and some discussion. In addition, there were daily small group meetings each involving members of the host school’s English-speaking academic staff with conversations often spilling over to meal times and on some evenings to multi-lingual and multicultural sing-alongs involving marvelous Chinese opera solos, Kenyan folk songs, and karaoke performances by whomever felt so moved. Very innovative and creative!

Instead of a feeling of isolation, inclusion and a sense of partnership pervaded the entire program. Much of this is attributed to a cadre of 25 Global Connections “alumni,” including Principal Li, as well as the efforts made by the Chinese. The sense of involvement was enhanced by spending two nights and two days on the Yangtze, the “Long-River,” the Chang Jiang, “The River at the Center of the World” as it has been called by Simon Winchester in his book A Journey Up the Yangtze, and Back in Chinese Time.

The River, the third longest in the world at 3,964 miles, was our home, classroom and teacher. From it we learned ancient as well as contemporary history, learned about trackers, of Mao Zedong’s masterful swims in the Yangtze, Wuhan’s historical uniqueness, saw firsthand the bucolic beauty of the Three Gorges, the massive dam now nearing completion (which will span 6864 feet), the demarkations along the river’s bank of the anticipated water level, and the myriad of new construction on the highest ground to accommodate those whose villages, cities, factories, and ancient temples will be flooded in 2003.

It was a learning experience: to sit in this rapidly changing scenery, the new and yet to come alongside of the what has been and to discuss Creativity and Innovation in the Classroom provided at once a sense of the absurd and an appreciation for the realities of change.

Collaboration was heightened on board ship as all meals, meetings, conversations, and sightseeing were shared. The commonness of proximity helped in aligning the differences in concepts and systems of education. The seeming impossible became possible. And the result was The Wuhan Declaration, a rather remarkable document in which the first item of the declaration proper states that: “it is understood and accepted that teaching and learning are about relationships,” and which, in its opening statement, acknowledges that “change is ongoing and embracing.”

Within the few days we were together, evidence of change in relations, attitudes, and involvement were perceived. From a cultural perspective the presence of the seventeen nationalities was enlightening and of interest to our hosts, especially the delegates from Africa whose appearance on the streets of Wuhan and elsewhere created as much of a surprise as others had in seeing the immensity of the new dam on the Yangtze or experiencing the magnitude of The Great Wall.

In many ways, GC VI established a benchmark of sharing, concurrence, and change, not only for an appreciation of differences but also the acceptance of a declaration which recognized, endorsed, and furthered the process of educational reform. As one presenter put it so well:

“The fact is that successful reform usually must be initiated and supported by you, by the heads of schools and their administrative team. But it must be initiated in the same way in which we call for innovation in the classroom. We are not always that sensitive to the teacher’s needs or the constraints under which they work. Teachers must be involved. They must be given time to learn and reflect, and above all they must understand what the reform is all about. If they are asked to teach for understanding, we must administer for understanding. We must give them time in their busy schedule to make the changes we want from them. We must demonstrate why the changes are going to serve the students and in the end make their work more meaningful. All of this means that we must think before we act. In the words of Laozi: We must sit for awhile and “do nothing so that all will be accomplished.”

– Livingston Merchant, Headmaster of Robert College, Istanbul, Turkey

Click here to view the outcomes following the Global Connections VI Seminar. 

Read and enjoy the Global Connections VI Wuhan Declaration by clicking on the button below.

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