Monday, October 26, 2015


Principals Report China- September 2015.

Wow!  One of the largest challenges being a part of this delegation is trying to write a report explaining the experience.  I learnt very quickly that China is an assault on your senses…. The smells, the sounds, people everywhere and yet a sense of belonging, organization and calm. 

I applied to be a part of this delegation for a number of reasons.  Firstly, a common theme of my principal appraisals has been in encouraging me to investigate an overseas context to broaden my understanding of education in other countries.  This has been particularly apparent in my new role as principal of Silverdale Normal School, which has a remarkably diverse community.  Often we have families coming straight off a plane to visit our school and I wanted to have empathy for the parents and learners in this situation.  Another area of focus stems from my university study and interest in preparing learners for the exponential changes taking place.  Shanghai has been the top performer in recent PISA results, and whilst this doesn’t fit with my criteria for pure success I was very interested to see learning in action. 

Finally, on a purely personal note, having travelled to only South Pacific Islands I was looking forward to truly experiencing another culture. 

During this amazing trip I was given the opportunity to:

-       Visit a wide range of sites that held cultural significance. An absolute highlight was walking the Great Wall, sensing the history and being physically challenged to walk the whole section.  Visiting the Summer Palace, Tianmen Square and the Forbidden City allowed me to appreciate the immense history and challenges the Chinese people have experienced over thousands of years. 


In depth visits of experimental schools (like normal schools). These were an absolute highlight of the trip.  Each school offered slightly different experiences and learning.  It was highly evident that there are signifcant changes occuring in Chinese education.  My preconceptions were of classes with students lined row upon row being directed by a teacher and completing text books.  Whilst there were elements of this practice, leaders we met with and talked to highlighted the need for learners to develop the dispositions to innovate and create.  This aligned with a book I had read recently ‘Catching up, or Leading the Way’ by Yong Zhao.  I was particularly excited by the leaders vision for what they would like their schools to become and the pride they had in performance.  One school experience will stick in my head for a long time.  We were dropped off in a very busy and quite rundown hutong.  Walking through I did wonder what the afternoon was going to hold.  We then came to an immaculate school (fit with the customary big screen) and greeted warmly by students that spent the next hour and a half guiding us around 50 plus activities, run in an elective type manner.  My guides (7 and 12 years old) spoke both Mandarin and English and did an amazing job showing off their school.  Would I like my daughters to be bilingual at seven……  Over the next ninety minutes I experienced cultural, sporting, technology, musical, artistic and academic experiences that were absolutely stunning.   The myth of China being all about rote learning and the 3 R’s was completely dispelled.

-Cultural events.
Two enjoyable nights entertainment centred around Chinese culture (whilst Brendan, David, Danny and I added a third).  The first evening centred on the art of Kung Fu.  We were fortunate to witness top class effects, discipline and athleticism from some amazing artists of all ages.  We also gained an insight into how Kung Fu mirrors Chinese philosophy.  The second evening was a phenomenal event watching the amazing performers of ERA.  Words can’t describe the individual and group feats that we witnessed and the sheer entertainment.  The final cultural event saw us pop to a Chinese bar and watch some covers and original bands. 

Bullet Train- International principals.
Why fly to Shanghai when you can jump on the bullet train?  It was a real experience to rush through the packed train station to our first class cabin.  The initial excitement of reaching 300km faded as the seats suddenly became very comfortable.  However it was impossible to close your eyes as skyrise after skyrise rushed past and you zipped past small towns of 8 million.  A highlight of the trip was found at the bar (don’t judge!) as Brendan and I met an Assistant Principal and teacher from an international school in Shanghai.  This led to some interesting conversations regarding education in China, with a particular focus on language pathways. 

NZ business in China- ANZ. 
One aspect of our itinerary that I questioned the relevance of was the trip to the ANZ Bank in Shanghai.  There we met three Australian bankers who opened our eyes to the doors that speaking Mandarin had opened in their lives.  Both ladies expressed the opinion that the most important  / valuable aspect of their educations was in learning Mandarin. 

Visit to the NZ embassy.
 During this visit we met with John McKinnon and Stephen Joyce.  We were able to articulate to them the importance of our students to learn a language at an earlier age.  This is a significant learning I have taken from the programme. 

Being immersed in the Language.
I spent a lot of time with our guide learning some simple Mandarin.  Being immersed in China with the Mandarin language gave us the fantastic opportunity to pick up language and culture that would otherwise have taken quite some time. 

-Sister school contact-  I look forward to the formal and informal relationships that a sister school relationship could bring.  This could be as simple to Skype conversations between staff and students to school exchanges and visits. 

- Language framework (Maori and Mandarin)- Meeting students that were bilingual at such a young age was inspiring.  It also made it very clear in my mind that language acquisation starts with effective English and Maori progressions.  I am very committed to ensuring that our school develop a Maori framework that embraces both te reo and tikanga from years one to six. 

 -Mandarin Learning Assistants-  A huge opportunity from taking part in this experience is in the learning pathways that open up.  Our school will apply for a Mandarin Learning Assistant for 2016.  Regardless of the outcome of this we are commited to providing language pathways at Silverdale Normal. 

-Personal and Professional Learning
Unfortunately I have not travelled extensively in my life (yet).  This amazing experience enabled me to develop a deeper understanding of culture and language and the importance of Asia to NZ. It also taught me the value of learning a language (even at a simple level).  

-Next Steps for Silverdale Normal?
As a principal of a school currently reviewing it’s curriculum this experience encouraged me to reflect on:
-  What does a global curriculum look like?-  focus on key concepts and dispositions essential.  
-identity / belonging... Knowing ones self and countries history is such an essential base.  

-Overall impression
This experience ranks as one of the best professional development activities that I have ever taken part in.  It placed me completely out of my comfort zone, encouraged me to reflect on what I valued about education and allowed me to develop relationships with a wide range of other educators. 
The balance of activities was fantastic, from personal discoveries to formal meetings in which we were representing New Zealand (with pride).  I will always be thankful for this amazing experience. 

Stuart Armistead

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