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What makes Junior High special at Huili?

20 Mar 2019

The past six months since Huili School Shanghai opened its doors have been extremely exciting for each member of the teaching staff and (hopefully) for all of our founding pupils and their wonderfully supportive families. Together, we have been able to put into action four years of diligent preparation to allow each pupil to experience truly holistic bilingual education in a learning environment which continually guides, pushes, challenges and develops them. We remain excited about being pioneers in providing the best form of bilingual education, which is still a relatively new concept in China. Crucially, at Huili Junior High School, we provide a bilingual immersion environment for our pupils and teach them to think and communicate in different ways, which will enable them to reach their full potential and broaden their horizons. To quote one of our parents on the appeal of Huili: “We chose Huili because it is the most local international school and at the same time it is the most international local school.” Putting the right people in the right positions Perhaps the most important element in any school is the people who bring it to life, and Huili is no exception. In August 2017, Huili School Shanghai’s founding leadership team was in place. This meant that our central leadership had an entire year to get to know each other and collaboratively prepare for the opening of Huili School. We remained meticulous and rigorous in recruiting our founding teachers. Although our experienced teachers come from diverse cultural backgrounds, they all have an inclusive attitude towards each other and a passion for bilingual education while fully comprehending our educational philosophy. Moreover, they possess strong academic backgrounds, as many of them graduated from renowned universities. We regard this academic team as the ‘dream team’ of Huili School for their excellent qualities, strong abilities and professional nature. Even though Huili has only been open for a relatively short time, it already runs like a school with several years of operations behind it. This is due in large part to the sterling efforts of all our staff members.

All of our Chinese and international staff members are eager to cooperate with and learn from one another in an environment of equality and respect. They plan and shape Huili’s evolving curriculum together, strategise and essentially address any problem as a team, using all of their experience and unique perspectives to find the best way forward. In order to provide the best education for our pupils, many teachers sacrifice their own time to design curriculum and teaching methods. Over the past six months, we have already collected numerous pupils’ data, which was then used for analysing, tracking and reporting pupils’ performances. In accordance with this, we also developed practical teaching plans to support their learning. Fortunately, the founding team has far exceeded our expectations. Respectful and enthusiastic collaboration is at the heart of every working day at Huili. A particular joy for me is seeing how close both halves of the founding team have become as they work and learn together. This can be seen in their continual efforts to improve their linguistic skills, as Western teachers are having Mandarin lessons and our principal Stella Zhou has been delivering practical language lessons from day one. Similarly, Paul Jackson-Read, Head of Primary, introduces to our Chinese teachers various insights into the education system of Britain. Accordingly, we have seen both halves of the teaching staff really working hard to understand each other, not just professionally, but linguistically and culturally as well. Unlocking the value of a bilingual curriculumHuili was imagined from the start to bring together the “fish and bear paw” which is the best of both the Eastern and Western educational systems. The true essence of bilingual education is the integration of Chinese and Western culture and history, which includes not only two languages and frameworks, but also the integration of two different thinking modes, teaching models as well as assessment methods. The past six months have seen the years of hard work in crafting a truly bilingual curriculum being put to excellent use, as teachers and pupils access both ways of communicating, thinking and learning. While we are very pleased with how this has worked in practice, we continue to evaluate, debate and adjust the curriculum according to the practical experience gained by our staff and pupils.

When pupils immerse themselves in the bilingual learning environment, the proportion of Chinese and English learning opportunities are almost equal. As early as four years ago, the curriculum development team comprised Chinese and British educational specialists carefully crafting the contents of all subjects by comparing and integrating Chinese and Western curriculums. However, the integration of languages and curriculums is very superficial and the true integration lies in culture. As for thinking modes, the Western side is traditionally very good at encouraging pupils’ creativity and imagination, while the Chinese side values reasoning, proving, arranging and summarising knowledge in a highly logical manner. Take maths learning for example. In the maths textbooks there is plenty of theoretical knowledge which can be defined, proved and applied. But we may wonder, how do we get the results and what is the practical meaning of it? What kind of detours did the mathematicians take before they reached their conclusions? The traditional teaching methods only focus on ‘the right thing’ while ignoring ‘the wrong thing’. Nevertheless, ‘questioning’ and ‘overturning’ are also the basic abilities of maths learning. We encourage pupils to think from multiple angles and become proficient in switching between Chinese and Western thinking modes.

As for teaching methods, we have to consider how to impart basic knowledge and skills to pupils. Besides, we also need to think whether course contents attract and engage pupils’ attention, whether independent research should be arranged, whether our teaching helps pupils to understand and emulate desirable values and whether we can guide them to think deeply about various questions and problems they encounter. Our teachers also continue to learn from each other during co-planning and through sharing best practice as they observe each other’s lessons to pick up ideas and gain fresh perspective on our bilingual system of teaching.

When it comes to assessment, besides traditional conclusive assessment, we pay more attention to formative assessment that is based on the continuous observation, recording and reflection of pupils’ learning journey. We collect, collate and analyse assessment data regularly and give timely feedback to teachers who can adjust their teaching plans accordingly to support and promote pupils’ learning. The Huili Identity of being Inspired, Intellectual, Independent, Individual and Inclusive is incorporated into our teaching practices. Our inclusive and rational bilingual curriculums not only extend pupils’ effective learning methods, but also cultivate their cultural identity and understanding while forming a global mindset. Delivering Happiness - Pastoral CarePastoral care at Huili is consistent in design and operation to that of our sister schools in both England and China. As a core feature of Huili, it is central to all curriculums and affects every aspect of the educational journey a pupil experiences whilst at the school. Our overall aim is not limited to helping pupils achieve academic success. We also shoulder the responsibility for cultivating them to become a ‘whole person’ in terms of their physical, mental, social, and moral development and to develop their talents to the full. The house system is an essential element in our pastoral care system. Huili pupils were excited about the house system since our opening day but recent months have allowed them to gain a greater appreciation and understanding of exactly what it means and what it offers them. A pupil’s house is his home in the school. Every morning, Junior High pupils meet in their houserooms to plan house activities and celebrate their growth and fulfilment. Pupils also undertake one-on-one talks with their house tutors every two weeks to discuss their academic progress, milestones and any challenges or problems they may face. During the initial term, pupils, on behalf of their houses, took part in various school-wide events, such as the Swimming Gala, Science Week, Arts Festival etc. In a friendly and collaborative atmosphere, they also gradually established a sense of belonging and wellbeing. They also began to take on positions of school ambassadors and house captains which will continue to develop their leadership and organisational skills.

The Wellbeing programme is another essential element of our pastoral care system. It is delivered once a week and includes the six strands of individual, society, emotion, education, economy and mental health. Teachers conduct their coaching in accordance with pupils’ different age groups. For example, when grade 6 pupils learnt the theme ‘adolescence’, we invited a trained and experienced psychologist to address pupils and parents on topics of adolescence and parenthood respectively. Those lectures can help pupils to understand the physical and emotional changes as they go through this formative stage in their lives. Parents can also gain much useful information related to building active relationships with their children. All the staff members, whether they teach the wellbeing programme or not, are practitioners and advocators of the wellbeing concept. By observing pupils, we direct them to apply what they learned on campus, which contributes to forming their Huili Identity and practise the Huili Values of Courage, Integrity, Kindness, Respect and Responsibility. Preparing pupils for their academic careers and the wider world Six months has passed since the opening of Huili School Shanghai. When I begin to reconsider the question “What makes Junior High special at Huili?”, I don’t immediate think of the “Wellington is royal heritage”, or our “second-to-none facilities”, but our persistent resolution to reform wherever necessary and always pursue excellence.  Our immediate world is changing astonishingly quickly. The roles of schools, teachers and pupils are constantly being redefined. In the globalised world, with its greater population and dwindling resources, we are confronted with more uncertainties and unknowns. Thus, what we should do is not simply impart knowledge and skills to pupils, but also train them to become creative problem-solvers, better communicators and lifelong learners in the 21st century. Junior High is a time for our pupils to gain a love of exploration and trying new things. Since the opening of Huili School Shanghai, they have made the most of every opportunity to develop positive habits and unlock their own potential by enthusiastically throwing themselves into whole-school art and sporting projects. When our pupils leave us to go on to higher levels of education and their future paths beyond school, every element of the holistic education they receive will help prepare them for the difficulties inherent in our fast-paced, rapidly-changing world.