If the world is a classroom for students, it's every bit as instructive for educators and school leaders.
Last month, Texas A&M University faculty and staff from the College of Education and Human Development and the Confucius Institute led 14 public school administrators from nine Texas school districts on a week-long educational tour.
"It was eye-opening," says James Barron, assistant principal at Hutto High School in Hutto ISD. "It required me to sit back and evaluate how we do things educationally in the United States."
The Winter Chinese Bridge for American Schools Tour was designed for educators who are interested in starting and strengthening Chinese language and culture programs in their schools and districts.
The tour included school visits and meetings with Chinese educators and students; partnership-building workshops and networking opportunities; presentations about successful educational models and available resources; and site visits to cultural landmarks.
"Standing on the Great Wall of China and looking out over the countryside was overwhelming," says Diana Werner, executive principal of Bryan High School in Bryan ISD. "There were so many people from other countries, as well as China, standing there with me. It was a once in a lifetime experience for me."
In meeting their Chinese counterparts and touring local schools, the travelers were struck by the similarities and differences between the Chinese and U.S. educational systems.
"The most obvious similarity was that desire to meet the needs of the students," Werner says. "The students were cared for in China as they are in America. The school system was striving to find ways to meet the needs of all students."
Mario Torres, associate professor of public school administration and trip co-leader, also noted that commitment to serving students as well fostering new educational partnerships.
"China appears strongly committed to improving its system of education with respect to access, teacher quality and curriculum, but it's too early to tell whether such commitments will be realized in the long run. The one certainty is their willingness to engage in collaborative educational opportunities with the U.S.," he says.
The trip caused the school leaders to reflect on how they could help their students achieve success and be competitive in a changing world.
"The tour makes me think about the things we need to do to make our students more competitive, not just at the state or national level but at the global level." Barron says.
"As we prepare our students for the global economy and access to the world, visiting China has helped me to see the value in our students learning to speak Chinese as well as understanding the Chinese culture and the cultures of other countries," Werner adds.
The Winter Chinese Bridge for American Schools Tour, offered for the first time through the Confucius Institute, introduces Texas educators and school leaders to the Chinese culture and educational system in hopes of building cultural and language programs in public schools. The tour was led by Mario Torres and Kelly Kleinkort, assistant director of the Institute for Pacific Asia.