What China’s Education System Can Learn From Finland’s Education Reform

“Finland is becoming more and more known for being a happy place. This is a direct result of the education.” – Peter Vesterbacka, CEO of Rovio at MindTrek in Tampere, Finland in October, 2018.

Mr. Vesterbacka was referring to the World Happiness Report that anointed Finland as the happiest country in the world. During his speech, Mr. Vesterbacka went on to compare Finland’s education to Singapore’s, which he identifies as “the world’s worst education system.” He described an unhappy Singaporean society where students are cheating each other, increasing suicide rates, and rising stress levels as a direct result of the competitive education system. Actually, these issues are very similar to the situation that exists in China.

Peter Vesterbacka gives a speech on Happiness and Education at MindTrek (10.2018) (Photo by Brad Walsh)

China’s education does have its positive aspects. Teachers are highly respected in Chinese society. China’s education system can pump out large amounts of students who score highly on the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), which is something many schools across North American drool over. Personally, over my ten-plus years living here, I have notived the Chinese education system breeds a strong culture and respect for learning from which the Western students can learn. However, despite these strong aspects, student well-being is still a major concern.

In order to improve student well-being, education reform in China has been a hot topic, and the Finnish education system is a model of excellence to which Chinese educators are focusing their sights. However, the question remains: Can China’s education system become similar to Finland’s? To do so, we must first understand what makes the Finnish education special, and how the two education systems differ on these aspects.


There are some common misunderstandings about the Finnish education system that cause people from other countries to thinkg ‘that model doesn’t work for us’. Oftentimes, Chinese educators don’t believe the Finnish model will work in China because it involves too much Project-Based (PBL) and Play-Based Learning, which contradicts or disrupts teaching the national curriculum. One of the Finnish schools I visited only does PBL for one week per semester, and it is up to the teachers to decide what teaching strategy suits them and the students best, so play-based learning is an option, not a requirement. Also, there seems to be a general belief that Finnish students have no homework, classrooms are much smaller than average, there are no textbooks, and there are no assessments of students. When visiting Finnish schools a few weeks ago, our tour group noticed every classroom desk had a textbook on it, and the teachers also complained about too much homework for their students/kids. Most classrooms were the same size as typical public and private schools (25-30 students). Finally, as I stated in another article, Finnish students are assessed, but the focus and method just differs to what we may be used to.

Students engage in play-based learning about recycling outside of the Nature School in Tampere, Finland. (Photo by Brad Walsh)

Teachers as Expert Educators

Finnish teachers are developed to be professional practitioners that advocate change and innovation in the education system while Chinese teachers are trained to implement a set curriculum. In Finland, teachers are required to have a two-to-three-year master’s degree in education. Teachers combine four years of learning theory and pedagogical practice with two years of education research. In China, teachers are largely taught content and pedagogical practices in a four year education degree.

Finnish teachers are required to have a Master’s degree in education. (Slide from Sirpa Eskela-Haapanen, Head of Department of Teacher Education, University of Jyvaskyla, 10.10.2018)

A System of Trust

There is a communal trust between the school and community because teachers have thorough educational backgrounds. At one school I visited, the principal was proud that he had no idea what his teachers were teaching. We went on a hunt for classes to observe, but didn’t find any because he didn’t know where his teachers/classes were located that day. “I am not the right person to tell (teachers) what to do. They are highly educated, and they know their students,” he said to us. Compare this to schools in China where micromanagement of teaching duties is excessive. In China, all public school teachers have to hand in every lesson plan for inspection to comply with school regulations.

Overall Teacher Well-Being

A study by Sohu in 2016 found that 72% of Chinese teachers polled said they would not want their kids to become teachers. Chinese teachers largely believe being a teacher in China is too stressful due to the long days. By contrast, in Finland, teachers work shorter days and less days per year than in most countries, and are much happier in their profession.

Finnish teachers also have considerably lower teaching hours and more holiday time (Slide from Sirpa Eskela-Haapanen, Head of Department of Teaching, University of Jyvaskyla, 10.10.2018)

 Education Reflects Society’s Needs

The Finnish education system focuses on 21st Century Competencies, which reflect the needs of local, national, and global communities. Tampere, Finland wants to become a carbon-free city by 2020, so the schools are now focusing on developing the 21st Century Competencies its citizens need to help the city attain its goal. In the Chinese curriculum, the focus is on preserving traditions and culture, so teachers are tasked with teaching the complex Chinese language and traditional poems and stories.

School Organization

All Finnish schools have a wealth of learning resources and facilities available to them, which is publicly funded. Teachers also stay with their class throughout the years, and classrooms sizes are manageable. These are luxuries some schools in China can only dream about. Finally, Finnish schools are about joy and collaborating to make a stronger learning community – “Nobody can tell you what the best school is in Finland – they are all fantastic! There is no such thing as an Ivy League school, and there is no competition to be the best,” responded Mr. Vesterbacka to a question about how the schools are rated in Finland. Are Chinese schools competitive? (Author’s Note: *emphatically proclaims* They are!)

A typical classroom in Finland with SMARTboards and projectors to ensure children get plenty of modeling practice for their workbook-based school work. (Photo by Brad Walsh)

 So, this leads us back to the original question: Can China’s education system become similar to Finland’s? The simple answer would be to say that China’s education system shouldn’t have to do so because the Finnish education system works for the Finnish context, and China should find an education system that works for them. But this answer ignores a great model educational success from which China’s education system can learn.

“To learn from Finland, China needs to look past quick-fix methods, such as taking a curriculum and implanting it in their schools. If China wants education reform, schools should take notes on how Finland’s education reform happened, not just what they are doing,” says YuZhou Cai, Director of Sino-Finnish Education Research Center. He explains “Finland’s education system in the 1960-1970’s was very similar to what China’s education system is today; lessons were centered around the teacher’s ability to deliver them, students had to select vocational and academic paths, and schools varied in quality.”

Mr. Cai explains three key strategies that will help China’s education system become more like the successful Finnish education model. “China should continue its education reform. Reform has to start with unifying ideas and values on education, working with foreign expertise to adapt their methods to the localized context, and most importantly, to be patient.” Chinese schools can push educational reform by adopting Finnish techniques in teaching and learning that fit within the Chinese context. As that model succeeds, then more schools will take notice, and the whole system will gradually change.

ETU School in Beijing is one such school that is working on such a Sino-Finnish education model. ETU is currently working with experts from Finnish Universities to create a Finnish-inspired curriculum suited to the Chinese context. They are closing the gap between Chinese and Finnish teacher expertise by offering unique professional development and training programs in pedagogical practices from Finland and around the world. The schools provides the national curriculum taught through student-centered practices (play-based, project-based learning) combined with content focusing on sustainability in their local and greater communities. Specifically, students are learning how to face issues of tomorrow and not just textbooks of today.

Powerful Project-Based Learning Professional Development

Teachers are inherently lifelong learners. They thirst for new ideas and practices to add to their teaching repertoire. However, teachers often feel overwhelmed when trying to innovate their teaching craft. Through well-designed Professional Development (PD) programs, schools can empower their teachers to be more innovative.

Teaching Efficacy in Professional Development

Self efficacy is an attribute that allows us to explore and implement new concepts and strategies in our daily lives (Bandura, 1977). In education, it is more finely defined as teaching efficacy (Protheroe, 2008). Essentially, the higher your teaching efficacy, the more likely you are to experiment with new teaching strategies in your daily practices, which facilitates professional development.

According to Bandura, efficacy can be developed through four modes of induction: performance accomplishments or mastery experiences, vicarious experiences, verbal persuasion, and emotional arousal. In PD, efficacy is built through plenty of modeling, suggestions, self instructions, relaxation, feedback and desensitization to potentially averse emotion-inducing situations.

Professional Development Focusing on Project-Based Learning

I was recently tasked with the responsibility of facilitating a PD on Project-Based Learning (PBL) for new teachers. The teachers’ experiences in PBL varied greatly. However, the majority of the teachers in the PD had never taught a PBL lesson before.

PBL has always been a difficult PD focus. For teachers that are new to PBL, it can seem like a daunting task of implementing it in their classrooms. Teachers feel that using the PBL approach requires overhauling their existing teaching metods. There is a lack of clarity in PBL pedagogical practices, which can be confusing to teachers. PBL is also a relatively new concept for teachers, so they have limited-to-no first-and second-hand experience to draw from in lesson planning and implementation.

The PD as a whole was designed as a “project slice” – a wonderful idea borrowed from PBL training gurus at High Tech High. A project slice takes teachers through a project from start to finish. During this time, teachers get a feel for the project process through the eyes of a student. The project process involved seven steps that were derived from Buck Institute of Education’s (BIE) PBL Handbook : project launch, building general knowledge, team organization, building specific knowledge, creating a product, presentation and reflection, and assessments.

At each point throughout the project, I introduced specific teaching strategies used to facilitate a PBL classroom. The teaching strategies used were highlighted on a large printout of the Gold Standard of PBL model, and teachers were asked to reflect on these strategies at the end of each day as part of their “teaching toolkit”. They posted these reflections (how and why each strategy is used) on the school’s blog as a means of documenting their new teaching strategies, which could be easily accessed during their upcoming semester.

This practice of connecting practical teaching strategies to a conceptual model helped with bringing PBL to life. As one experienced teacher described: “Connecting specific teaching practices to the components of this PBL model is brilliant! I have been doing PBL for a few years now, and this model has never made more sense to me.

After each key learning point throughout the PD week, we stopped to take a mindful minute and reflect on our processes. The teachers vocalized their fears, concerns, or excitement about the processes of the strategies or information provided. There was no need for feedback at this time, but silent recognitions (the sign language action for “agreement”) were conveyed when a sharing was provided . This part of the PD was overwhelmingly successful. The teachers were impressed at how good it felt to voice their opinions, and the mindful environment within which they did the sharings reduced their existing anxieties.

Protocols were used to facilitate experiential learning and discussions on some more complex portions of the PBL process. During team norm settings, the teachers did an Inner-Outer Fishbowl protocol, which brought about a deeper discussion and sharing of norm setting and building strategies used by teachers. As one teacher shared: “Having students understand something as complex as a definition of what a behavior looks and feels like was something I either did too much of, ineffectively or avoided altogether. The fishbowl activity really brought to life simple, yet structured approaches that I will surely use in my classroom this semester.”

After we had completed the project slice, we circled back on the whole process through a case analysis. The teachers read a complete PBL case that was taken from the BIE PBL Handbook. They then designed a visual timeline of the strategies and protocols used at each point of the PBL process. “Creating this (visual representation) really helped me review the process again. It will come in handy when I get down to actually planning my project for the upcoming semester.

TImelines designed by the teachers on the Project-Based Learning (PBL) process. Image: Brad Walsh

Finally, a mini assessment was designed from the PBL Teaching Efficacy Scale (Tschannen-Moran et al, 1998) to see how the PD participants’ teaching efficacy in PBL grew over the PD week. Teachers provided their personal assessment on two main questions at three points throughout the PD week: 1) I have a good understanding of PBL curriculum and lesson design, and 2) I am able to organize and manage PBL activities effectively. As we reflected on our growth, the teachers were also invited to share the thought processes and experiences that got them to each point.

As a teacher coming from a public school, I was required to attend a PBL PD once. It was a lot of discussion about theory and making a lot of posters. After the PD ended, I really had no idea what they were talking about. What was PBL? How could I use it to help me become a better teacher? (This week’s) PD made me realize how valuable it is to actually practice and experience what PBL is if I ever want to truly implement it in my classroom. I am really excited for this upcoming semester, because I am going to put everything I learned here into practice!


Teachers’ self assessments on PBL teaching efficacy taken at the beginning, middle, and conclusion of the PD. Image: Brad Walsh


Bandura, A. (1977). Self-efficacy: Toward a unifying theory of behavioral change. Psychological Review, 84 (2), 191-215.

Protheroe, N. (2008). Teacher Efficacy: What is it and does it matter?. Available at: https://www.naesp.org/sites/default/files/resources/1/Pdfs/Teacher_Efficacy_What_is_it_and_Does_it_Matter.pdf (Accessed: 08/20/18).

Tschannen-Moran, M., Woolfolk Hoy, A. & Hoy, W. K. (1998). Teacher efficacy: Its meaning and measure. Review of Educational Research, 68, 202 – 248.

Teaching Critical Thinking in China: Cross-cultural Teaching Strategies

Child handwriting of the words teaching and learning in English and Chinese
Teaching methods vs. Learning habits

The Chinese education system has been known for its utilitarian approach. Education exists for the purpose of nation-building, rather than helping students fulfill their potential and ignite their curiosity. From the early days of the founding of the People’s Republic of China, education has had clear objectives to fill in relation to the national development [1], such as transferring knowledge and skills for the development of science and technology, and training people to have a definite viewpoint and moral character [2].


As such, the education in China remains exam-oriented, relying on memorization and repetition as the primary approach, and uses test scores as the primary or only criterion to evaluate students.  For instance, the National Higher Education Entrance Examination, also known as the Gaokao, is usually the only benchmark for student acceptance to Chinese universities. But the memorization and regurgitation of facts start from early stages of education and many times it is reinforced by parents (as this mother recalls,  parents pushed their 5-year-olds to learn multiplication tables). Indeed, the Chinese education system has been frequently described as a factory of test-takers.


How does the focus on examinations affect Chinese students? How do foreign teachers perceive its impact? Are the differences between the way students learn and the way western educators teach noticeable? Particularly, do teachers struggle to engage students in critical and creative thinking? International teachers have expressed concern when trying to teach critical thinking to Asian students [3]. Here is the experience of a liberal arts teacher and the strategies she uses to teach critical thinking in an exam-oriented education system.


The Story of a Liberal Arts Teacher


Silvia Perdiguero has been working in the Dalton Academy, one of the houses of the Affiliated High School of Peking University, for the last 6 years. She teaches Liberal Arts in 12th grade. The Dalton Academy accepts Chinese students who aim to study abroad, primarily in North America. In fact, several students from her school have been recently accepted to very prestigious universities in the US.


Most of the students who enroll in this high school come from middle schools with a Chinese curriculum. However, the department where Silvia teaches has a very different approach: It is one of the few schools in China with a student-centered approach. For many students, the change from a knowledge-focused education to a student-centered classroom is a great challenge. In the Dalton Academy, students are responsible for their own learning; the teacher’s role is to guide while the initiative to learn remains in the student’s hands. As Silvia explains, classes are largely discussion and cooperation based, exams are rarely used in her classroom and student’s independence is encouraged.


During her time as a Liberal Arts Teacher, Silvia has perceived the impact of the exam orientation of her student´s previous education in three main ways: Students (1) have trouble expressing themselves, (2) they focus exclusively on their grades and (3) are unfamiliar with critical thinking. It’s not hard to see a connection between these characteristics of Chinese learners and its influence on critical thinking and creativity. For instance, it could be that the fear of expressing oneself “wrongly” and getting a bad grade causes students to remain silent in class. Because they fear their ideas might be challenged, their critical and creative thinking are hindered.º


As Silvia says, many students struggle with shyness and anxiety when speaking in public. “In other countries, when students have a question or an opinion, they say it. In China, students are generally quiet and they prefer to talk to a classmate if they have a question. They lack confidence in themselves.” She says even in the 12th grade, the last year of high school, some students still struggle with these issues. “No matter how much we try to immerse students in a foreign-style education, students still live in China.” Outside of school, students have the constant input of Chinese culture in which beliefs and behavior patterns perpetuate the inhibition of personal expression. One such belief is the fear of losing face, which can be roughly translated as the fear of losing one’s reputation, dignity, and honor. (As pointed out here, sometimes it’s just better to let someone be wrong than to point out that they are wrong, for the sake of not losing face).


Overcoming fear of expression

Illustration of a child in spotlight and unable to speak
Speaking up without freaking out

To make students feel more comfortable expressing themselves, Silvia has many strategies, but she suggests focusing on the following three. First, when she asks an open question, she tells students to write the answer in their notebooks. This way they feel more comfortable when they have to say it out loud; it makes them feel like they are just reading, which takes away part of the anxiety of public speaking. The second strategy is to divide the class into teams and have them discuss the question in small groups where they feel more comfortable speaking. The third strategy is to ask students to write their comments anonymously on a piece of paper and turn it into a ball. After, students throw their paper balls into the air, pick one up, read it and comment on it. This way all students´ opinions get a chance to be heard and get feedback, without students having to worry about being “put on the spot.”


Silvia also gets ideas from pedagogical websites such as Facing History, where there’s a compilation of teaching strategies for encouraging discussions, ones that don’t rely on just speaking in public. For example, the barometer teaching strategy helps students share their opinions by asking them to line up along a continuum based on their position on an issue. Another strategy is the silent conversation where students comment on a stimulus (text or image) and ask questions of each other in silence by writing on a big sheet of paper. This strategy can also be modified by asking students to respond to the stimulus in a non-verbal way, using a symbol or an image.


Overcoming focus on grades

Illustration of many hands reaching for perfect marks
Goodbye straight-As

When it comes to the focus on grades, Silvia thinks it’s a harder problem to overcome. Even though she thinks the most important thing in education is the process, she also understands students need a score to get into university. In her opinion, a way to put more value on the process and shift away from the sole focus on grades is to make students feel valued as persons, not just for their grades. One way she seeks to convey this message to her students is by taking time to have informal conversations with every one of them and learn more about their interests. Furthermore, Silvia keeps her student´s interests written down in a notebook and tries to relate the content of the class to them as much as possible. This way students can identify with the content of the class and see more value in it.


Another way she thinks teachers can help students feel valued is by being authentic, that is, by being sincere. “For them to believe you care about them, you need to be authentic. If I tell them volunteering is important, it’s because I believe volunteering is important and it is something I do. Also, if they perceive I am authentic maybe I can become a person who inspires them to be better people.”


Familiarizing students with critical thinking

Illustration of empty minds
Learning how to learn

When it comes to training students to think critically, Silvia thinks it’s important to start with them thinking about their own learning. At the beginning of every school year, Silvia has her students create a classroom contract, in which students decide the goals, rules, and consequences of the class. Once students reach an agreement, they write the contract on a large piece of paper and everyone signs it. This gives students an active role in their learning, instead of being passive receptors of knowledge. Also, it provides them the opportunity to think critically about the decisions they have to make to reach their goals.


Another technique Silvia uses frequently is thoughtful questioning. Silvia tries to provide as many opportunities for students to engage with questions that promote the evaluation and synthesis of facts and concepts. Thoughtful questions are open-ended questions that start with words such as “explain,” “compare,” or “why” and go beyond knowledge-level recall. One specific teaching technique that uses thoughtful questions is the Socratic seminar, in which students help one another understand the ideas, issues, and values reflected in a text through a group discussion that starts with an open-ended question. Other strategies Silvia uses are writing daily questions on the whiteboard for students to answer during their free time and keeping a questions box for students to write any questions they have about the content of the class. As Socrates believed, thinking is not driven by answers but by questions.


Closing remarks


The impact of the utilitarian approach of Chinese education, as seen through the lens of a foreign teacher who implements a student-centered approach, impacts students in diverse ways: fear of expressing ideas and opinions, devaluation of the process of learning and unfamiliarity with critical thinking. These characteristics of students seem to be a product of Chinese society and not just the education system. As such, cross-cultural pedagogy in China is up against a great challenge, but not an impossible one. The strategies highlighted here focus on providing students with diverse channels to communicate their ideas, tailoring lessons to student´s interests and giving students an active role in their learning.


Are you currently teaching in China? What challenges have you encountered and what strategies do you use to overcome them? Leave a comment below and share it with our community of educators.


[1] https://news.cgtn.com/news/774d544f796b7a6333566d54/share_p.html

[2] https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/BF02262576

[3] http://researcharchive.vuw.ac.nz/xmlui/bitstream/handle/10063/1211/thesis.pdf?sequence=1


Catalina Arciniegas

I am an advocate for art education, although my drawing skills disagree. For two years, I worked as a project coordinator at an international art center for kids in Beijing, where I got to promote, design and participate in creative events. The best part of my job was getting to meet art educators with diverse styles and specialties.

Email: catalinaarciniegas@outlook.com


Illustrations by Nichalia Schwartz, Creative Commons Attribution


Show Some Love for Pets – A Kindergarten Class’s Journey in Project-Based Learning

Last semester, our two Kindergarten classes engaged in a Project-Based Learning (PBL) adventure about pets. The students researched their favorite animals throughout the year from experts, story books, movies, and informational texts, and then turned their knowledge into content for a storybook that they affectionately called “P is for Pets.” The students illustrated each page of the book using collage art. They also designed songs for an accompanying music album. The project culminated with a book publishing event complete with a screening of their music videos, a book reading, and book signings by the authors.

Here is the digital version of the book they designed with the accompanying songs.


P is for Pets is a book two kindergarten classes designed over a school semester. Source: Brad Walsh

The Gold Standard PBL model was used to highlight key elements of the P is for Pets book publishing project.

This project followed the Gold Standard PBL model.
Source: www.bie.org


Challenging Problem or Question /Essential Question

All of our teachers own or owned pets, and we had noticed students were also passionate about animals. One of our school’s core values is “show some love to others,” (care and empathize with others), so we decided that caring for pets was a great way for students to understand this core value.

Some ideas for essential questions we originally came up with were “How can we care for animals?” “Why do people care about animals?” Eventually, the students and teachers tied the essential question and project outcome together after analyzing models of excellence for the storybook design. “How can we show some love for pets?” was the final iteration of our project’s essential question. It came from a student sharing his thoughts about how a book about pets could inspire others to care about pets.

Project Launch

The children interacted with the animals and insects at Chaoyang Park in Beijing over a few weeks to help them relate to the goals of their project. Source: Brad Walsh

At the beginning of the semester, we had the privilege of being located in ChaoYang Park in Beijing. This allowed us to get outside and be one with nature. It also provided us with the great opportunity to see firsthand the children’s interactions with animals and insects. We reflected on these experiences with the children using thinking strategies such as “I used to think… Now I think…” and “I see… I think… I wonder,” which helped them make connections to our project topic. For example, we interviewed a woman running a goldfish fishing game about how she cares for the fish before they are caught, and if she wonders about the fish safety and well-being after they are taken home. One student’s response to this event was “I used to think these goldfish were happy, and now I think people treat them as toys. I hope people can show more love to them.”

Sustained Inquiry / Need to Know / Knowledge Harvest / Research

First, students brainstormed pets and animals they knew. We also did some fun phonics activities to help students identify and categorize the pets according to their initial letters.

Many letters had more than one pet/animal associated with it, so the students did class surveys to identify one favorite animal for each letter (This is why we ended up with odd pets, such as a narwhal!)

The kids surveyed each other to decide on which pets they wanted in their book. Source: Brad Walsh








Next, we held reading workshops and prepared Teaching Proficiency through Reading and Storytelling (TPRS) activities such as MeTalks, PictureTalks, MovieTalks, One Word Images, and StoryAsking to build the students’ English language fluency in the target language they would use to create content for their book. After each activity, students shared their learning in a KWL reflection exercise, which we documented.

The students researched and documented the content for their book. Source: Brad Walsh
The students performed TPRS activities, such as Story Asking, to build up their target language skills in before developing the content for their book. Source: Brad Walsh

Some other authentic activities that helped build the students’ language skills and knowledge for creating the book content include:

  • Caring for class pets (butterflies and hamsters).
  • Talking with insect guest speakers
  • Interviewing policemen who care for police dogs
  • Interviewing people who manage the goldfish fishing activities in Chaoyang park.

The children participated in a variety of real-world connected activities to help them come up with content for their books. Source: Brad Walsh

Publicly Presented Product

The teachers decided on a book as a publicly presented product, but we respected “student voice and choice” as much as possible in other project aspects, such as the book’s layout and illustrations on their own. The students also composed a music album. They felt the songs would make the book more attractive to students their age who couldn’t read. Here is how we designed the book step by step with the students’ voice and choice at the forefront:

Part 1: Designing the book illustrations

The content for the book was inspired by the book E is for Earthworm.
Source: http://modelsofexcellence.eleducation.org

For the illustrations, we began by analyzing and evaluating ‘Models of Excellence (MoE)’ in order to create our own guiding rubric of the work we produced. We looked at different children’s books, such as the book “E is for Earthworm”. They loved the book’s collage artwork, so we looked at more books with this illustration style, such as works by Eric Carle (i.e. The Hungry Caterpillar). To help maximize the outcomes of these brainstorms, we had the children share their thoughts using “I see… I think… I wonder…” The teachers recorded the children’s thoughts on the artwork.

Students practiced layering techniques for their book’s artwork. Source: Brad Walsh

Some artwork ideas the students came up with included:

  • using contrasting colors
  • using similar color themes (i.e. different shades of red)
  • using playdough for animals
  • use colored paper
  • layer the paper for a 3D effect
  • taking quality pictures of the artwork
What happens when the quality of work doesn’t match expectations? This happens in just about every project, and ours was no different. Our first final draft was largely left to the students’ own creations, but the final outcome was not up to their high personal standards.
The original drafts of each page in the book were not up to students’ expectations, so they continued to evaluate and revise their work. Source: Brad Walsh

So as not to discourage the students, but still push them to persevere in improving their work, we held art design skills workshops guided by Critical Friends sessions. The students gained the constructive feedback necessary to guide their iterations.

The students were given a chance to draft their drawings of different pets first. We got inspiration for this drafting process from Austin’s Butterfly.

A  student’s pet frog drawing before and after receiving feedback and revisions. Source: Brad Walsh
Source: Brad Walsh









After, students practiced designing their collages. They learned how to center the pets images on the page, how to layer, how to design color themes with similar and contrasting colors. Eventually, the pages started taking on personality. Most importantly, the children were satisfied with the quality of the artwork they designed.

The students practiced layering techniques to make their collages more vivid. Source: Brad Walsh

For example, students chose various shades of blue and orange as the color theme for the narwhal page. The students identified ice, sea, splashing water, sky, fish and clouds as the elements in a narwhal’s environment, and then we matched appropriate shades of blue for each of those elements. The contrasting orange was used for the sun.

The students learned how to select color themes for each pet page. Source: Brad Walsh

Part 2: Designing the book

We used Book Creator to design our books. We first familiarized students with its functions, such as uploading pictures, writing different text fonts, adding in sound, deleting images, drawing in images, and adding background colors.

When the students were comfortable with the Book Creator functions, they worked on designing the page layouts.

The students used Book Creator to add illustrations to connect with the book content. Source: Brad Walsh

During one Critical Friends session, a student pointed out that some  of the text wasn’t represented in the artwork. So, we went back through all of the pages to fill in the missing illustrations. For example, on the ‘H is for Horse’ page, students noticed that hay and a brush needed to be added to the picture to support the text, so they drew it in using Book Creator’s drawing function.

The author’s page was a last-minute personalized add-on, which made the kids laugh and scream with excitement. We saw how the children’s faces were superimposed on the worms in the book “E is for Earthworms,” so the students all agreed to include this in their book. This aspect really made the book publishing experience authentic for the children.

Personalizing the book with the students’ pictures on their favorite animal helped make the book publishing experience authentic for the children. Source: Brad Walsh

Part 3: Designing the music

We spent some time with the students in sampling children songs, selecting rhythms, adding and mixing beats, and allowing them to practice singing their lyrics to the beats. The student’s enthusiasm for the songs is almost tangible as they listen to their CD at home and at school every day. They have also memorized all the song lyrics. You can listen to the music here:

Authenticity – Exhibition Day

We planned a book publishing event to celebrate the publishing of our book on Amazon for just this reason.

Students also designed a music album for their book. Source: Brad Walsh

Before the book release, we had professionals discuss with students what a book publishing event is, and discuss book publishing choices, such as binding options, book cover and printing options, ISBNs, etc.

Our book publishing event involved a screening of music videos from our album and an autograph signing. (The students absolutely loved signing their names on the author’s page right below their pictures!)

The students held a book signing for the release of their book. Source: Brad Walsh

We also published the book online using an Amazon online seller account through Amazon’s CreateSpace. Check out our book here!

Assessments and Reflections

We reflected on our creativity, communication, collaboration, and critical thinking growth in the project using these rubrics. We also had a “What I know now…” discussion about our pet knowledge. Perhaps the most impressive reflection on the project came from a young girl in class. She said “I know now that books are magical. They help you share something you love with many people, which can help make us all better. More kids should publish books about what they love.”


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Brad Walsh
I am ETU School’s Vice Principal in charge of Project Based Learning Curriculum Development and English Teaching. Throughout my teaching career, I have been specializing in developing positive psychology in children through STEAM-based (Science, Engineering, Art, Technology and Mathematics) activities, and have even written and published textbooks with my team in these subject areas.  I am also very passionate in learning about innovative classroom projects, so please feel free to share your ideas with me!

Email: brad@etuschool.org


Collaboration Competition Event

We’re excited to introduce a new opportunity for collaboration to Global Innovative Educators. The goal of the event is to allow educators with a multitude of backgrounds and current scenarios to work together to solve real-world problems in the classroom and school community.

We’ll host this event:
on Saturday April 21st
from 10am-noon
at Art+798.

A pin location will be given to those who sign up in a WeChat group.

Step 1: Tell Us Your Problems

Before the event, educators and administration, whether attending the event or not, can send in anonymous cases of issues they experience in their classroom and school community. Even if you’ve already solved your own personal issue, if the problem might have been difficult for others too, it could be useful for you to share. The volunteers at Global Innovative Educators will then pick an issue that is highlighted by the majority of educators or is the most detailed in scenario.

(If there is any sensitive information, we’ll change it if we use it as a case study. Also, we suggest using an email address that doesn’t clearly include your full name or school for anonymity.)

[Sign-ups are now closed.]

Step 2: Sign up.

There are only 30 spots and if you bail at the last minute, we might financially penalize you. (Just kidding… kind of.)

[Sign-ups are now closed]

Step 3: Show up. Team up.

On the day of the event, the educators attending will be split up into teams to review the curated anonymous issue or scenario. The educator teams will then collaborate together to present potential solutions to the scenario. Teams can use their laptops and phones, along with any other tools they happen to have access to, to research and develop their solutions. Once each team decides on their solution within the time limit, they will turn in their solution to the event coordinator.

Step 4: Show off.

Each team will then have a chance to present their solution to the rest of the attending teams. After every team has had a chance to present, all attendance will vote on which solution was the best. Another vote will be taken for which team did the best in delivering their solution as a collaborative team in a format that was easily digested.

Step 5: Gloat.

We’re not making promises, but there could be a bit of surprise gift for the winning teams.

At the very least, they’ll get bragging rights.

If you’d like to join our WeChat groups of over 600 educators across China and the world, scan the QR code below to be added. 

Vanessa Jencks founded Global Innovative Educators to connect passionate educators and community members. She is the former managing editor of beijingkids magazine; see her previous work here. She is also the founder of ChinaFamilyBlog

WeChat: vanessajencks
Email: vanessa.jencks@gmail.com

Picture: Greg Dunlap

A Taste of Competency-Based Training for Childcare Practitioners

Join us for the first Global Innovative Educators event of the year. Scroll down for sign up.

Space is limited! Childcare provided, but parents must RSVP. 

Sign Up Below! 

When: Saturday, March 17th, from 9am to 11am.

Where: Hyde Academy, No. 9, An Fu St, Hou Sha Yu, Shunyi 顺义区后沙峪安富街9号

Who: Lead by Zhiwen Tan, CEO of Childfolio

Why: From ayis to ESL kindergarten teachers, childcare providers are often undertrained and yet are put in charge of the most precious people within our society.

Childfolio in cooperation with John Hopkins University has created Transformational Learning for Child Care  (TLC2) which seeks to change the way ECE teachers and staff learn and demonstrate their professional skill for the young learner’s classroom. Come see how competency-based training would work in action with a practitioner-and-tech-based focus.

Best Audience: Kindergarten and Early Childhood Education Teachers, Kindergarten Classroom Support Staff, Teacher Trainers, School Administration, Professional Development Coordinators, and Curriculum Developers.


TLC2 in Zhiwen Tan’s words:
“Practitioner-centric in design, the Transformational Learning for Child Care (TLC2) program accommodates multiple pathways that encourage lifelong learning and achievement aimed at building the capacity of the child care workforce. It combines micro-learning with gamification to match the time available for learning with the engagement power of gaming apps, as well as collaboration through coaching by trained professionals and peer forums. Watching short videos or “tasks” and passing short quizzes to earn “badges” or “micro-credentials” result in completion of “pathways” that lead to Continuing Education Units (CEUs). From there a provider could go on to get professionally certified and increase their earnings while improving the learning and other outcomes for children and families. The future of TLC2 will be paved to go from professional certificates to degrees at major universities in the future like our partner, Johns Hopkins University, if desired.

Various points of entry and completion within the program’s design add flexibility and opportunities for learners to decide on a commitment that aligns with their life goals, professional needs, and demands of their personal and professional lives. Recommended sequences and pathways are provided for learners who are unsure of where to begin or how to engage with the content. Similarly, advancing technology with adaptive learning elements are integrated to create experiences that guide learners along pathways.”


If you’d like to join our WeChat groups of over 600 educators across China and the world, scan the QR code below to be added. 


Photos: Zhiwen Tan

Teaching Proficiency Through Reading and Storytelling – Engaging EFL/ESL

What is your biggest hope for your students at school?

Most educators would say they want their students to “achieve high academic goals” and “be engaged in learning.” If you are anything like me, then building engaging lessons for your students is a priority. Academic achievement isn’t an afterthought, but a direct result of engaged learning. If you have ever taught English as a Foreign Language (EFL), then you know that engagement is especially important for learning. Learning foreign languages is stressful, so engagement is the key to avoiding students tuning out their learning.

I began teaching over a decade ago at a prominent English language school in Taipei, Taiwan. I overcompensated for my lack of teaching experience by being the fun teacher. This involved mainly learning through games. My go-to classroom materials were the sticky ball, a flyswatter, stuffed dice, cards, crosswords, word searches, a “star” leader board, etc.

Over time, I realized engaged learning is more than just fun and games, and so my teaching strategies matured. A friend and mentor of mine introduced me to Teaching Proficiency through Reading and Storytelling (TPRS). TPRS made learning more engaging for my students. Classes were more active and comprehensible. My student’s language acquisition and classroom behavior also improved after I started teaching with TPRS. Most importantly, TPRS has made me confident that every class will be an engaging learning experience for my students, and thus I enjoy teaching much more.

I have worked in multiple cities across Asia and North America, and found that TPRS is not well known or practiced in EFL/ESL teaching circles. This is surprising to me because it is such a fun, engaging, and effective teaching method. In some schools, TPRS has improved enrollment in post-secondary foreign language studies programs by 400%. My colleague and I even had our current school’s EFL department adopt TPRS as our key form of instruction. In this article, I will briefly introduce TPRS in hopes to inspire more EFL/ESL educators to adopt it as their teaching practice.

What is TPRS?

TPRS is an effective method for teaching proficiency and fluency in foreign languages. Its goal is to immerse students into a foreign language so the language is subconsciously and effortlessly acquired as opposed to consciously learned.  This is done by teachers making class content comprehensible and meaningful to the students through story asking and a lot of reading. Conversely, the Skill-Building Hypothesis of language learning involves memorizing grammar rules, which is slow and restrictive to the thinking process.

TPRS children's drawing
With TPRS students design personalized stories every 1-2 weeks.

TPRS is an evidenced-based teaching practice grounded in research. The main research supporting this practice is Stephen Krashen’s Theory of Second Language Acquisition and its five main hypotheses. A discussion of the research into TPRS is beyond the scope of this article, but you can find more information about it here.

TPRS started as Total Physical Response (TPR), which involved students simultaneously listening to and performing commands from instructors. TPRS was then developed by Blaine Ray in the 1980s so teachers could expand teaching imperative language with the TPR method to the narrative and descriptive modes of speech. This is done by having students read stories and design their own stories with target language.

How does TPRS create an engaged learning experience for EFL/ESL students?

  •  TPRS is personalized.

Students buy in to learning when it is about them, but teachers struggle to personalize lesson plans to all the unique personalities in their class. Personalization is a key to TPRS lesson plans. In TPRS, the focus is on the students rather than the content being taught. This is achieved during Personalized Question-Answer (PQA) time. During PQA time, teachers personalize lessons by asking students about topics relevant to their lives.

With TPRS students design personalized stories every 1-2 weeks. These stories are for the students, by the students. When students take the lead in story creation, they often use names, places and issues meaningful to them. After, students dramatize their stories for a public audience, which solidifies their ownership and engagement in learning. Finally, students publish their books using media design programs, and then place the books in a classroom DIY library where they can curl up in a bean bag chair to read and laugh a with classmates.

TPRS book page about owls
Students publish their books using media design programs.
  • TPRS facilitates active thinking/learning.

Active learning is the essence of engagement. Students that are participating in class are engaged, and are thus actively learning.

One example is TPR. TPR is still used in the TPRS classroom as a vocabulary introduction technique.  In TPR, the teacher repeats commands in varying sequences while the students execute those commands. The students are actively thinking about what the teacher is saying by doing the actions proposed to them.

For example, in a TPR classroom the teacher may say the command “stand” as she and the student perform the standing action together. Then, the teacher will say “stand” again, but delay her action to allow the student to respond independently. After, the teacher may say “stand” and “walk,” or other verbs, to chain commands together. Finally, the teacher would include descriptors such as “slowly and quickly” to the commands as the student follows them.

The repetitive nature of the TPRS classroom requires teachers to constantly ask students questions. The TPRS teacher navigates from class-directed to individual-directed questions throughout the class, which keeps students attentive. Also, the questions being asked are at a level where all students have the confidence to respond, so student participation is always high.

  • TPRS makes content comprehensible for EFL students.

In the TPRS classroom, the teacher conveys language audibly and in print to the students using a technique known as circling. In circling, the teacher scaffolds content down into simple and repetitive questions and/or statements, and incrementally has students build more details about the story by asking increasingly complex questions. Questions go from dichotomous (yes/no, either/or) to open-ended (who, what, where) as the students’ comprehension increases.

Krashen’s Affective Filter hypothesis states that motivation, self-confidence and anxiety have a major effect on learning languages, so foreign language learning environments must remain motivating, positive, and confidence building. Therefore, in the TPRS classroom, teachers respect the native language barriers to learning by slowing the pace of their class and doing native language comprehension checks. Texts are also presented bilingually so children can quickly confirm their assumptions of language meaning. This goes against most immersion class rules of “no native language in the classroom,” but it is a very effective method for increasing engagement and respecting culture in the foreign language classroom.

  • TPRS is fun for you and your students!

A typical TPRS class involves storytelling, story writing, reading, video viewing, media design, drama, and art!

  • TPRS makes you a better educator.

TPRS will make you a better communicator because you will learn to ask students more questions at levels they understand. I have often heard teachers say that more questions equates to more thinking in the classroom. I would adjust that to say “more quality questions equates to more thinking in the classroom.” The circling technique has done wonders for the quality of communication I have with my students. I am able to pace my thinking better, and ask questions they comprehend while simultaneously building up their thinking to a higher level.


Implementing TPRS into your classroom is one definite way to make your teaching more engaging and effective. TPRS has brought my students deep and rich learning experiences over the years. It creates a fun and interactive classroom where students are fully engaged in their learning. It teaches students in a meaningful and non-stressful way because the input is comprehensible to them.

There are many ways to practice TPRS in the classroom. Here are some great TPRS sites that provide some insight into TPRS teaching practices:

Ben Slavic – A Happier Way to Teach Languages

Susan Gross TPRStorytelling

Brad Walsh
I am ETU School’s Vice Principal in charge of Project Based Learning Curriculum Development and English Teaching. Throughout my teaching career, I have been specializing in developing positive psychology in children through STEAM-based (Science, Engineering, Art, Technology and Mathematics) activities, and have even written and published textbooks with my team in these subject areas.

Email: brad@etuschool.org


Photos: Brad Walsh, All Rights Reserved

Classroom Rewards: What Is Your Flavor Du Jour?

Motivating students has been a teacher’s task since the beginning of teaching which is possibly the world’s second oldest profession.

At the Catholic school I attended my elementary years the motivation for the classroom was fear. The last thing any student of Sister Agnes’ third-grade class wanted was to be dragged behind the piano in the corner of the room where one’s backside would have a lengthy conversation with the custom-made, solid oak, half-yard stick. Sadly, over the course of the year every student in her class would have that conversation—a staccato firing of the oak with reports blasting throughout the classroom like Spring Festival fireworks. Even little Susie who never did anything wrong was forced to walk the walk-of-shame—coming out from behind the piano, Sister Agnes smiling her well-that-certainly-taught-you-never-to-backtalk-a-nun-didn’t-it smirk, while trying to hide the tears welling up from the pain and indignity as all the students did.

Thankfully, in most schools they don’t have the funds to put pianos into classrooms any more, and in most countries I’ve worked there are laws protecting students from nuns. (However, the last country I worked in, in SE Asia, the native teachers really had to mess up a student before the teacher was reprimanded. One teacher lost their job only after hitting a student in the head with a ruler and accidentally slicing off the student’s ear.)

And then, thanks to modern adhesives, someone invented the gold star and a more modern system of student rewards was born. Which leads to the question: What is your classroom reward flavor du jour?

Do you have a points system that you tally on the board? Do you have a gold star system? Do you have a multiple choice foamy sticker collection? Do you let students choose from a toy chest of Super Balls? Do you give the students lollipops or chocolates? Do you give them a cigarette? Or do you find that you don’t need rewards?

Whatever you do, there are scores of other teachers and classroom assistants doing the same thing. The bottom line is if it works for you and your students are constantly improving it’s probably a good thing for you. But, could it be better for them?

As a teacher, in theory, you want to make a difference in your students’ lives—probably to make their lives better. Filling a student with knowledge and curiosity is a common goal amongst educators. Working hand-in-hand with educators to make the students’ lives better are the parents; sometimes a teacher knows the parents and more frequently not.

What if I told you that some of the things listed among the student rewards above are bad for your health and are among the leading causes of death around the world; cause cancer [1]; are a major cause of heart related diseases; are the cause of many dental problems; and are addictive?

You reply, “You did mention cigarettes, and of course I’d never give a cigarette to a student as a reward.”

Of course you wouldn’t. Yet, these health issues which are all directly related to cigarettes are also all directly related to sugar consumption as well.

But one lollipop surely can’t be that bad. Now replace the word lollipop with cigarette.

According to guidelines set forth by the World Health Organization (WHO), people should limit their sugar intake to 5 percent of their total caloric intake to prevent sugar-related health issues that include all the ones mentioned plus dozens more—including diabetes which is a heinous disease in the way it kills people. For an adult that’s 25 grams of sugar or 6 teaspoons per day. For a child the 5 percent applies as well.

In a survey I gave to 80 students in grades 7 to 10, ninety-seven percent said that humans require sugar every day with their answers varying in range from 3 teaspoons to 30 teaspoons per day. When I told them that humans do not require sugar some even had their parents come talk to me because they were so upset. Even at my thesis defense one of the committee members questioned that fact—fortunately, another committee member, an M.D., corroborated my position.

My current school has several teachers who use cigarettes candy as rewards. One gives out 100 gram chocolate bars—another, Chupa Chups lollipops, or something very similar.

One Chupa Chups lollipop weighs 12 grams, and its website says it contains only 10 grams of sugar (but it has 11g of carbohydrates so there is some number fudging going on since carbohydrates are sugars). This means it has 2 grams, 17 percent, of coloring and additives, which is difficult to believe.  So my belief is that it contains 12 grams of sugar, but I’ll humor the official ingredient list and say 11 grams because 11 grams of carbohydrates directly converts to 11 grams of sugar.

Now, if the student is a full-grown 17-year-old, one Chupa Chups would be about half of the WHO limit.  For a first- or second-grader it’s likely the total amount of sugar that student should have for the day. I don’t even want to calculate the 100g chocolate bar into this equation.

If you only give out individual, cello-wrapped candies that weigh 3 grams, is that OK? I can’t say. But I can ask what your job is. Is your job to fill a student’s belly with candy and get them closer to their daily limit of sugar? I propose that your job is to fill students’ heads with valuable, or otherwise, information that’s going to make a difference in their lives not filling their bellies with sugar that may unequally make a difference in their lives, in a deleterious way.

“But I’ve spoken with the parents, and they said it was okay if I give their child a candy during class,” you reply.

Maybe so, but would you give them a cigarette?  What if the parents said it was OK if you give the student a cigarette as a reward; would you do it then? What if the candy you provide is the beginning of a love affair with that candy that leads to their diabetes or cancer.  It may be a far-fetched scenario, but is it impossible?

These reasons are why I prefer to give stickers and stars rather than lollipops and candy bars to my students. Because I don’t know if the parents want me to give their student a lollipop. And I don’t know if the same parents know about the associated cognitive development and health concerns that have come to light with current research into sugar consumption—critical information that would enable them to reach an educated decision concerning the matter.

I don’t know the research on giving students stickers as a reward, but I know research shows that children who eat nutrient deficient food regularly perform worse in exercises requiring cognitive flexibility. And students who eat junk food regularly have lower grade percentage averages (GPA) than students who eat meals prepared at home from unrefined ingredients. One of the ingredients that determine whether a food qualifies as junk food is its sugar content. One Chupa Chup lollipop, a relatively small piece of candy, contains 12g of sugar, half of the WHO ideal for sugar consumption per day for an adult. So, as a group who want our students to succeed, should we be helping them reach their WHO recommended intake of sugar by giving candy as a reward?

For great ideas about rewarding and motivating students follow this link to my alma mater.

[1] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14713323


Christopher Jones
I came to Beijing to teach after teaching in Thailand for 9 years in primary, middle, and high school. I earned my MAT English, and Diploma in Teacher Education, while in Thailand, spending many weekends commuting back and forth to Bangkok from my home in Hua Hin. I am currently working on my thesis for a Master’s Degree in Scientific and Technical Communication (STC).


Contact: surfingjones@hotmail.com
WeChat: Mr_C_Jones 


Illustrations by Nichalia Schwartz, All Rights Reserved

Spring 2018 Volunteers for Global Innovative Educators

We’re excited to introduce our first group of semester volunteers for Global Innovative Educators! We’re thrilled and thankful to have this group of passionate, experienced, and dedicated volunteers.

—Resource Managers—

Contact these volunteers for information about getting involved through providing a resource, such as a venue space, workshop, speaker, or materials. 

Summer Li
I love education and have been working in international education for over 7 years. Prior to working in operations and leadership, I was an educator for 5 years. I led teachers’ internal professional development programs and through this introduced advanced and Western educational philosophies, research, teaching methodologies, and best practices for Chinese national educators.

I was responsible for marketing and communications in my former role as Director of Marketing & Communications, and then was transferred to communicating and cooperating with overseas universities, educational institutions and educators to improve the global scope of education. Now, I am a trainer and facilitator, and also a program developer for international education training programs.

I have a Bachelor’s Degree in English Literature, a certificate equivalent to a Master’s Degree in Administrative Management, and a Master’s Degree in Early Childhood Education. In addition to my work in international education, I research and facilitate workshops related to parental roles in education, cross-cultural communication, organizational management and leadership. I am a Certified Positive Discipline in the Classroom Educator, Certified Positive Discipline Parent Educator, have expertise in Non-Violent Communication, and will soon finish my Cognitive Coaching certification.

Fun fact: I cheated the 2-child rule by having twin girls in my second pregnancy and dodged the 200,000 RMB government fine. So, my second-born twin literally was born with a silver spoon in her mouth.

Email: bjsummerli@hotmail.com

Emerson-Shea April

I have 8 years of teaching experience focusing on music and teaching the full spectrum of the difficult and the gifted. I have a degree in Business, a BA in Humanities with a minor in Business, and a Master’s in Film and Special Effects. I also have a Master’s in TEFL and a teaching certification in Early Childhood Language Learning.

I am an avid reader who is always trying to effect positive change. So much so, I have a letter of recommendation from the mayor of Vancouver for my organization of homeless connect campaigns, and I was invited to dinner with my Canadian Prime Minister during the Super Bowl in 2012 for my dedicated work with the homeless.

Though I no longer teach the autistic and gifted here in Beijing, make movies, or even practice the art of marketing, I have found a treasure more valuable than gold:  a way to apply my meandering life and more than a decade of educational pursuit to bring meaningful education and innovative educational jobs through Innovative Educators. I am grateful to moderate the Innovative Educators Job Groups, helping in my small way to better education.

Fun fact(s): I have a tendency to build things when left alone for too long; I can’t stand to have my feet covered; I was the science advisor to the SFU science cub, and I’m not a science major. We did learn a lot about rockets and first-stage rocket fuel; admittedly, the food dehydrator had design flaws from the beginning; I want to learn programming; I like Walt Whitman;  my favorite author is Terry Pratchett.

You can read more on about me on LinkedIn,  but trust me it’s all dreadfully boring.

—Events Coordinators—

These volunteers will be leading and coordinating future Global Innovative Educators (GIE) events to help our events make an impact on our community and  run smoothly for our speakers and workshop providers.

Winnifred Reid
I am British, but Jamaican by birth. I have a love for children and education. I have been teaching more than 20 years. I taught for 12 years in Jamaica, 14 in London and have been in Beijing since 2016. I enjoy being a part of workshops, love to learn new things, and am happy to share what I know. I am a year-2 teacher at Dulwich College Beijing at present, but looking to move on in August.

Fun fact: I started teaching at age 20, then at 21 I decided that I wanted to be a model as well. I entered my first competition in Jamaica and made it before the judges twice. But when I got chicken pox in the middle of the competition I cried for a long time and had to quit practicing before going in front of them a third time! It could have been the beginning of a new career.

Email: winniereid2@yahoo.com
Facebook at Winnifred Reid.

Delphine Huang
I am from Taipei, Taiwan, but have lived in Beijing for 17 years.

I once worked in Aphlevelle Kindergarten in Yangquan as a teacher for 2 years. I didn’t like being so far from civilization. It was too rural, and it had no fruit.

I love fruits of all kinds, but my favorite is cherimoya. If you’ve never had it you need to try it. Mark Twain, the famous American author, said, it’s “the most delicious fruit known to men,” but also to women.

Next to cherimoya, I love languages. One of my hobbies is collecting languages and I can speak Chinese, English and Japanese—my Thai and Vietnamese are works in progress, and I speak a teeny weeny bit of French.

My other hobbies include attempting to draw anime, embroidery, crochet, and volunteering for various causes, including beijingkids and now Innovative Educators.

Fun fact: I wanted to be a mangaka (anime cartoonist) when I was in year 10 but I ended up liking foreign languages.

Email: sevenyearswar@yandex.com

Vera Madeira
I am Portuguese and have lived in Beijing for the past 10 years. I speak Portuguese, English, French, Spanish and some Mandarin.

I have a degree in Languages and Business Skills, and when I am not translating files, or planning multicultural events, or doing business between Portugal, China, and Africa, I like to watch online training about social media.

In my spare time I like to attend fashion shows, dance with friends, travel, or go for dinner with friends to try the delicious delicacies of restaurants from every foreign country I can find in Beijing.

My biggest passion is to plan events, or to do branding, for products or brands that I myself try and trust. Luckily I have people that trust me and pay me to write posts on my moments and bring their brands with me to promote on a platform called Double Moms and place advertisements on Beijing Subway lines 1, 2 and 10.

Regarding volunteer experience, I worked for MTV Portugal and UEFA; it was the best experience of my life. This is why I like to do volunteer work.

Fun fact: I always try to have time to learn new things—to help others to see life always with a smile on their face because I almost died in 2004. I had an operation to remove 50 stones from my gall bladder. I only had 4% chance to survive, and fortunately I am not paraplegic as I was told this could happen.

Email: radarita@hotmail.com


—Social Media Managers—

Every team needs social media managers to keep the larger group and the public aware of events, new articles, and respond to questions. 

Susan Qu
I lived in Toronto for 4 years, I studied Medicine for my BA, and I studied Global Logistics and Supply Chain Management for my Postgraduate certificate.

I am an easygoing person with great passion. I aim to promote excellence in education, and to help Chinese students to learn proper English. I hope to make the world a better place.

Fun fact: I have passion for Yi Jing and Traditional Chinese Medicine.

Email: 356382833@qq.com

Eurika Michelle Foster
I am from the United States. I moved to Beijing in September 2017 to teach at Yew Chung International School of Beijing. I began teaching in 1999 where I taught Computer Technology to students in grades K-8.

I graduated from Alabama A&M University in 1998 with a BA in Psychology, in 2004 with a MS in Personnel Administration and in May 2010 with a MS in Elementary Education.

In addition to my teaching experience, I have extensive experience outside the classroom—Instructional Rounds, Pacing Guide and Benchmark Committees, Culturally Responsive Trainer, as well as Honors Camp Content Coach for English Language Arts. When available, I was also an adjunct instructor at Calhoun Community College; teaching Developmental Psychology and Orientation classes.

I am avid runner. I have run 3 marathons, 30 half-marathons, and numerous 5ks.

Fun fact: I once had a clown business where I dressed up as a clown, did face painting, danced, and made balloon animals at children’s birthday parties. It was a real sight to see!

Email: eurikafoster02@gmail.com



Creatives collaborate with the GIE social media mangers and events coordinators along with speakers and workshop providers to introduce forthcoming events. They also  produce articles, videos, graphics, and podcasts in order to share the best practices in education.

Catalina Arciniegas

I am an advocate for art education, although my drawing skills disagree.

Currently, I work as a project coordinator at an international art center for kids in 798, where I get to promote, design and participate in creative events. The best part of my job is getting to meet art educators with diverse styles and specialties. I particularly remember Ana and Ollie, two STOMP-style body percussion artists. I found it inspiring how they ignited children’s imagination and creativity through movement.

During the years I studied for my BA in Psychology, my main interest was the study of language which is why I decided to learn Mandarin. I moved to China in 2015 against all advice from family and friends, whose reference of China was along the lines of Red Sorghum, the 1987 movie. Nevertheless, after proving impressive skills using chopsticks (for Colombian standards), I have now gained approval from my loved ones.

Fun fact: I only watched Star Wars so I would feel comfortable buying a Star Wars t-shirt I really liked.

Email: catalinaarciniegas@outlook.com

Rebecca Forbes
“Looking for an adventure?”

That was the tagline of a job ad I spotted in the newspaper in 2008 that prompted me to hop on a plane to Shenyang where I intended to teach English for six months…

Flash-forward to a decade after answering that ad, I’m still here. And the adventure lead me to a passion for educating young children through play-based, multi-sensory and authentic learning experiences—which lead to owning a cozy nursery in the hutongs. I am at the finish line of my Bachelor degree in Educational Studies. The next step is to complete a graduate diploma in Montessori Education (Infant/Toddler Program). The biggest and the best adventure so far is parenting. You can read about it on my blog, One Feeling at a Time.

I joined the Global Innovative Educators group because of the collaborative opportunities that will enable me to learn new skills to become an effective educator of young children. It also provides an opportunity to share my insights from my experiences, as well as resources that will hopefully help other educators create a learning environment that advocates children’s voice, as well as their rights and citizenship in their community.

Fun fact: I love Peter Pan (the O.G. non-Disney version) and my philosophy of children is based on the quote from the story: “Fairies have to be one thing or the other, because being so small they, unfortunately, have room for one feeling only at a time.”

Email: n.rebeccaforbes@gmail.com


Bobby Wayne Jencks
In 2013, I started my career as an educator, and from that time onward, I have been passionately pursuing the art of pedagogy. I continually improve my practice through ongoing education by leveraging digital networks, setting my own professional and educational goals, and keeping myself informed of current educational practices. I am a husband, father of 2, and work and live in Beijing.

I am a digital citizen who utilizes a variety of platforms to collaborate with other educators to design authentic learner-centered environments and to redesign yesterday’s teaching processes to equip tomorrow’s innovators.

Fun fact: I come from a long line of truck drivers, my dad, my mom, my step-dad, and my uncles. In addition, my father named me after himself, so I officially have a nickname as a given name, and my next younger brother is  named Robert in order to perpetuate the Bobby legacy.

WeChat: Bobby_Wayne_Jencks;
Skype: live:bjencks1880_1;
Email: bjencks1880@icloud.com

Rebekah Olsen
I am American but grew up in Bangladesh and India.  I enjoyed band in high school where I played the trumpet.  I attended bible college where I began in intercultural studies with a TEFL and changed to Christian Ministry gaining an emphasis in Children’s ministry.  In the end I found myself teaching English to children in China.  Later on I moved to teaching adults, but am considering going back to teaching kindergarten teaching this fall.

People tell me that I connect well with children, write well, and give fantastic back rubs.  The opportunity to volunteer with Innovative Educators seems like the perfect platform to get my feet wet and help me grow and hone my writing.  I enjoy encouraging people, playing games, being a part of BICF church, and learning new things.

Fun fact: I went to high school in a town with a population of 5,000 people. I started teaching in a town in China that had 5,000 students in the high school!

Email: followersfootsteps@yahoo.com.

Michael J. Moher
Howdy folks! I love working in education and blending more technology into the classroom. We’ve been using Scratch Jr. to have our grade one students explore phonics through programming. We used Seesaw last semester to practice giving precise, thoughtful, and kind feedback to each other as we drafted a few versions of our projects.

I’ve been in and out of China, starting from 2009 to the present. The endless possibilities and wildness of the city brought me to Beijing and the growth and excitement kept me here.

Come check out the annual Olympic games I’ve organized the past few years for some fun with friends.

I’m looking forward to being on the Innovative Educators team.

Fun fact: I’m an avid concert goer so come join me for some music one night.

Email: umjammerlammy@gmail.com


Nichalia Schwartz

Nichalia Schwartz
Hi there! I’m Nikki. I work in language and arts in the south of China, where I have lived for nearly a decade.

By day I work in adult second language acquisition. I’ve written materials for various institutions, as well as recorded and edited EFL and test prep audio. I have a CELTA, DELTA, and I am wrapping up an MA in Applied Linguistics. I think it is interesting and disturbing how big the gap is between modern theories and research, and what happens in real classrooms. Teachers are the ones who need to be the best informed, but how much access do they have to current research? Not enough, I think. I’ll be happy if I can help narrow that gap.

By night I sing (and arrange) a cappella, do freelance voiceover from my home studio, and make illustrations for all sorts of purposes. I made the art on this page, for example.

“I like discovering new ways to go about old problems.”

Fun fact: I play video games. Add Nikki Nornlegs on Guild Wars 2.

LinkedIn: linkedin.com/in/Nichalia
WeChat: nichalia001
Personal art blog: Nichalia.tumblr.com
Personal website: Nichalia.com

Eli Walker
I’m an educator currently on hiatus from teaching to continue studying. Before returning to study, I counseled at-risk teens in North Carolina, taught upper-primary English at a bilingual school in Beijing and did a bit of everything at a Chinese high school’s international program. For now, I’m finishing my thesis for a Chinese-language MA in comparative education at Beijing Normal University, focusing on cross-cultural learning adaptations. In general, I’m interested in everything education, from pedagogy to curriculum development to administration to counseling. I love writing, educating and volunteering, and I’m excited to do all at the same time with Innovative Educators.

Fun fact: I once got carried away playing dodge-ball on a trampoline. In the end, I might have torn a tendon in my ankle, but I did win the game. My then-fiancée/now-wife, who I had met through swing dance, was especially unhappy about it, though; I could only get around on crutches for one month before our swing dance-themed wedding and honeymoon at a week-long Swedish dance camp.

Email: eliharriswalker@outlook.com

Christopher Jones

I like early primary because there is a lot of positivity, and daydreaming is expected.  I use their attention as a gauge to know when I need to change up the lesson. Depending on the lunar cycle it could be every few minutes, but if I’m lucky and it’s a topic they are really, into it may be as long as 15.

I came to Beijing to teach after teaching in Thailand for 9 years in primary, middle, and high school. While I love the earlier years I find that students in high school get my jokes more frequently, though I still found I was the only one laughing at my jokes on a few occasions.

I earned my MAT English, and Diploma in Teacher Education, while in Thailand, spending many weekends commuting back and forth to Bangkok from my home in Hua Hin. I am currently working on my thesis for a Master’s Degree in Scientific and Technical Communication (STC).

Fun fact: I love stinky cheeses, and have only met one that was too stinky for me; it was a ripe Munster I bought in Amsterdam. It was wonderfully strong straight out of the store’s cooler spread on to a crusty baguette in the morning, but as it warmed up I had to move it out of the 5th-floor apartment. By evening the aroma was so strong I had to move it to a garbage bin outside, and by the next morning, before the garbage truck mercifully appeared, the smell hung like a haze through the whole neighborhood.

Contact: surfingjones@hotmail.com
WeChat: Mr_C_Jones

Brad Walsh
I am ETU School’s Vice Principal in charge of Project Based Learning Curriculum Development and English Teaching. Throughout my teaching career, I have been specializing in developing positive psychology in children through STEAM-based (Science, Engineering, Art, Technology and Mathematics) activities, and have even written and published textbooks with my team in these subject areas.

Prior to joining ETU, I was the co-founder and chief curriculum designer for the AiTuPo Positive Youth Development program with Raising Culture. In this program, my team and I helped thousands of students understand their potential as community leaders and global citizens through inspiring educational programs.

I hold a degree in Business Administration and Marketing, a Master’s in Educational Leadership from the University of Roehampton, and am finishing my thesis for a Master’s Degree in Gifted and Specialized Education from National Taiwan Normal University.

Fun fact: I am a strong advocate for “authenticity” in learning as I took French for 10 years growing up, but am unable to string together a full, comprehensible sentence when speaking. However, I received a certificate of Mandarin fluency (speaking and reading) after just two years of self-taught Chinese while living in Taiwan.

Email: brad@etuschool.org


—Founder and Volunteer—

Reach out to any of the volunteers above, or if unsure about who to turn to, contact Vanessa to be connected  with the appropriate volunteer. 

Vanessa Jencks
I often start things I never finish; projects, exercise programs, books, etc. I intended Innovative Educators to be one of those things. I started the first WeChat collaboration group to connect educators in Beijing for the purpose of raising the bar of education in the city. I was shocked that the group grew to include educators from all around China and a few from other parts of the globe.

Really I attribute the growth to all of the educators who are involved. They are the fuel for collaboration; I am just a facilitator to keep the group on point and focused.

I started in education field as an Early Childhood Educator and completed the Teach-Now teacher certification program. My passion for education was set ablaze through this program along with being equipped with cross-disciplinary skills. Beyond education, I’ve published work in anthologies and became the managing editor of beijingkids magazine for a time. I volunteer as fiction editor of InkBeat and started several blogs. Currently I work in Human Resources at Beijing SMIC School and Kindergarten in Yizhuang, Daxing, a quaint little suburb with lots of high-tech developments on the south-side of Beijing.

Fun fact:  I’m currently learning to ice skate along with my children because I’ve always wanted to learn. Wearing a dress and twirling on ice really is just as magical of a feeling as it looks. I can’t deny ice skating brings out my inner uber-girly-child.


WeChat: vanessajencks
Email: vanessa.jencks@gmail.com


Christopher Jones
I came to Beijing to teach after teaching in Thailand for 9 years in primary, middle, and high school. I earned my MAT English, and Diploma in Teacher Education, while in Thailand, spending many weekends commuting back and forth to Bangkok from my home in Hua Hin. I am currently working on my thesis for a Master’s Degree in Scientific and Technical Communication (STC).


Contact: surfingjones@hotmail.com
WeChat: Mr_C_Jones 


Illustrated by Nichalia Schwartz, Rights Reserved