WALLINGFORD — As Zhao Shituan walked down the halls of E.C. Stevens School Thursday morning, he stopped in front of a bulletin board near the main office that had pictures of staff members posted on it. Shituan, along with 15 other Chinese administrators, pulled out their cameras, cell phones or iPads and took photos as they smiled and chatted.
The Chinese administrators visited the school as part of the Shandong Principal Training Program, organized by The Connecticut Association of Schools. The Chinese educators, who have been in Connecticut since March 13, are spending over two weeks traveling around the state to tour different schools and universities.
Shituan is the section chief of the Division of Normal Education in the Shandong Provincial Education Department in China. The other individuals were principals of high and middle schools in the Shandong province.
The group of Chinese administrators briefly toured the school in the morning — visiting some classrooms and getting a glimpse of what the American school system is like. Their visit mainly consisted of a presentation from E.C. Stevens Principal Nicholas Brophy and Moran Middle School Assistant Principal Julie Foss.
“Last year, they visited the classrooms without a translator,” Brophy said, “so we were relying on one or two students whose parents came from China. With the dialect, it was tough.
“This year, they wanted more of a presentation on professional development.”
Brophy and Foss’ Chinese counterparts weren’t lost in translation during the presentation, as Xinning Cui served as the group’s translator. Both Brophy and Foss took turns explaining to the Chinese principals how professional development for teachers is handled in Wallingford.
In addition, the Wallingford administrators described the teacher evaluation program and how many times teachers are observed throughout the year.
The visits give both groups of administrators an opportunity to learn about the similarities and differences in the American and Chinese education system, Daniel Gregg said. Gregg, who is the director of international programs at the Connecticut Association of Schools, was in charge of leading the group to their destinations.
The Chinese administrators usually describe two major differences after their visit to the United States, Gregg said.
“One thing they always say is how different everything is — the school system, the cultural differences and the structure,” Gregg said. “One other big thing is special education; they’re very fascinated with that.”
In China, Gregg added, the responsibility is placed on the parents to teach the students. But in America, an emphasis is placed on the school system to find out what difficulties the student is having and working to fix that, he said.
In China, there’s more of a “focus” on learning, Gregg said, where the mentality is, “Learning isn’t always easy, but do it.” The American education system has an emphasis on “thinking outside the norm,” Gregg added, where students not only work to get the right answer but also the process involved.
That “focus” on learning is something the American school system wants to incorporate; thinking creatively is something the Chinese school system is working to achieve, Gregg said.
“It’s a challenge,” he said. “How do we incorporate that into our system and how do they incorporate it into their system. Both have enormous challenges.”