My Orient Express

As I write this I am in the middle of what is a whistle stop tour of various cities in China. I have visited Shanghai, Hangzhou and Ningbo and am about to depart for Changshai followed by Chengdu, Shenzhen then on to Hong Kong – all in the space of just over a week! This is my second trip to China and on both trips I have been struck by the kindness and generosity of the people that I meet and the pride they take in their country, their history and their traditions.

As I have said to many people I do not feel that I have seen any of the country but could talk at length about train stations, airports, schools and taxi’s but then I suppose that is down to the nature of my visits. It often feels like a conveyer belt rather than an experience but even on such a hectic schedule there is still time to take notes, borrow ideas and speak with people.

It is always a privilege to be able to tour other schools, whether they are in the UK or further afield. I have also enjoyed meeting a good number of the parents of our international students and been able to provide them with feedback on how their studies are progressing. Although there are many differences between our two countries actually there are many more similarities, particularly in the field of education.

Much has been made in the press recently of the Shanghai Maths teachers who have been brought over to the UK but when I spoke with a prospective pupil in Shanghai she had a different take on the educational approach. She said that what she wanted was the opportunity to genuinely learn and explore different attitudes rather than just repeat and repeat and repeat. Every approach will have its benefits and its drawbacks.

We at St Martha’s have an excellent relationship with Green Town School in Hangzhou and one addition that they have made to their site since I visited it last year is a new building for students from Hong Kong. Their school is establishing campuses not only on mainland China but around the world to ensure their students have a global outlook when they come to leave school.

One of the discussions I had with the Principal of Greentown School was an exchange of staff and students between our two great schools and it is my hope that this is something that the staff and students of St Martha’s would embrace?

As I travel from airport to airport and train station to train station I have had time to think about St Martha’s and our staff, students and parents. We all know that we live in an increasingly smaller world thanks to advances in travel and communication. The fact that I can write this whilst waiting for a plane at Ningbo airport and it be on our website minutes later is evidence of this. But the question I have been asking myself is what are we doing to ensure our girls are prepared for this modern world?

The answer is a lot: We help them to be safe online, we provide them with advice and guidance on careers and subjects. We encourage them to talk about life after St Martha’s and we work with schools from other countries and provide opportunities for them to participate in exchanges and cultural trips all around the world. But is this enough?

I often challenge the girls to take risks – calculated ones obviously! But as leaders within schools we must ensure that we role model this ourselves. Today alone I have eaten things that I never thought I would and experienced a culture that probably four years ago would have been an aspiration rather than a reality. But do we take risks in the classroom as teachers? Try something new or allow our students to have a greater say in the direction of their learning? Do we share experiences that will enhance the learning of our girls? Do we provide opportunities for them to develop a love of learning both inside and outside the classroom?

So as my Orient Express journey continues I would encourage us all to take a risk today. Do something different, speak to someone new or try something you have never had the courage to try before because by doing so we are extending our own horizons, both personally and intellectually which in turn will help us all ensure we can positively contribute to this brave new world.

25/03/2015 Comments (0)