Building a common learning language…with our parents
By Emily Cave, Director
NCIC Immersion School, Shenzhen, China
Parents know what they want, we just need to ask them. There is no better resource for innovative thinking in education than parents. When schools can harness this creative thinking, the results can be impressive. In August, CGC Executive Director Kevin Bartlett visited CGC member school NCIC Immersion School in Shenzhen, China, where he and Director Emily Cave led just under 100 parents through a workshop on How Children Learn Best.
At NCIC Immersion School, we have been debunking the myths about ‘what parents want,’ since our founding in 2016 (? Check date). We see our parent community as partners in our efforts to better understand children become expert learners. We work closely with our parents to create a common learning language that accurately reflects our shared values.
“At Immersion School we are building experts, with deep conceptual understanding of important ideas, high levels of competency in key skills and strong, positive character.”
How children learn best
NCIC-Immersion school opened three years ago in Shenzhen, China with the aim of providing an international education for local Chinese students. Our student population is almost 100% Chinese. On a Saturday in late August 2019, just under 100 parents gathered in our auditorium with the school’s leadership and Kevin Bartlett, Executive Director of the Common Ground Collaborative (CGC), to co-create a common understanding about How Children Learn Best. The audience was 100% Chinese parents with no background knowledge of the CGC, or preconceived notions of what they might hear from us regarding the chosen topic.
What do parents really want?
Consumers in China, in our case school parents, are commonly perceived as having little trust for new or unknown institutions and products. The refrain is that parents want "name brand", old names with history that are known around the world. Yet our parents are more savvy consumers than that. They are young, thriving professionals who work in tech companies, in research and development, or in logistics for global companies; they are architects and engineers, and they are entrepreneurs. They want something different for their children’s education, and they haven’t found it in all the familiar places.
In order to connect in direct and honest ways with our parents we created a CGC-led workshop to share what we know to be true about learning. A powerful theme was the idea of "building experts". We connected with our parents at a very personal level, by recognising that each of them was an expert in their own particular field. We then unpacked the characteristics of experts using the common learning language provided by the CGC through its definition of three kinds of learning: Conceptual, Competency and Character.
Experts are masters of the important ideas in their field
Parents quickly grasped the importance of Conceptual Learning when we invited them to make connections to the ideas that matter in their own profession. A logistics manager talked about key concepts such as resources, cost, time and efficiency. An architect discussed safety, design, and function. A marketing manager referenced strengths, relationships and story. As each parent unpacked their own conceptual framework, we documented their contributions in Mandarin and English.
Experts are masters of the key skills in their field
It didn’t stop there. When it came to discussing Competency Learning, there was no reversion to skill and drill comments, no focus on high test scores, or SAT vocabulary words. Parents wanted their children to be skilled practitioners in the field of AI technology, to be skilful in physical, healthy activities and to be masters of logical, causal, thinking.
"They want more than "successful" children; they also want to raise decent young people, expert in the business of being human."
Expert human beings
As the workshop evolved, parents were instinctively moving into conversation around Character Learning. They talked passionately about the importance of human traits like kindness, fairness and empathy. Their list of character traits closely resembled our school’s list of core values. It was built independently in the workshop by our parents, speaking from the heart.
Finding common ground…and the courage of our convictions
We don’t need to hang on to practices in which we no longer believe, just because "that’s what the parents want". Our parents showed that, when we work with them honestly and openly, and when we begin by connecting to their own experience and expertise as successful adults, they want the same things for their children as we do. They also want us to be courageous enough to throw out all that is getting in the way of real learning. They want us focus on what really matters: building experts with deep conceptual understanding of key ideas, high levels of competency in key skills and strong, positive character…the keys to success in a challenging world.