|By Chris Maza
Japanese elementary school students share their work with one another.
Reminder Publications submitted photo
LONGMEADOW – Continuing the school district’s initiative to build bridges with educators around the world, Superintendent of Schools Marie Doyle recently had the unique opportunity to see Japanese learning firsthand.
Doyle was one of 15 educators from across the country selected by The Japan Foundation to take part in a goodwill trip to meet with government and education officials in Japan this summer.
“The point of the trip was to build partnerships between American schools and Japanese schools and to build strong foundations between the educators between two countries,” Doyle said. “We visited several schools, we met with the minister of education and the minister of foreign affairs to discuss education.”
In order to be considered for participation, educators had to be nominated.
“Lori Snyder, our social studies teacher at the high school had nominated me and then the Council General in Boston chose me to be the representative from Massachusetts to go on this trip with the Japan Foundation,” Doyle explained.
In assessing what she learned in the trip, Doyle said her biggest takeaway was the fact that both Japan and America wish to continue the strong bonds they have built and feel education is paramount to that.
“I think the officials of Japan want strong partnerships with Americans,” she said. “They value what we’re doing in education and they’re also very willing to share what’s happening in their schools.”
Doyle said in observing classrooms and speaking with educators, she found that the Japanese approach to education is not all that dissimilar to that of American school systems.
“I was surprised at how gregarious the students were and how creativity flourished in the schools,” she said. “That was a surprise because I think I was expecting to see classrooms that were more traditional and similar to the Chinese. I would say the Japanese values are much closer to the American values on education.”
In fact, she said, some Japanese practices in professional development are already being used in the Longmeadow Public Schools.
“One thing the Japanese have done for a long period of time is something called ‘lesson study.’ There will be one teacher that actually instructs the class while several others watch and observe. Then all the teachers get together to discuss what went well and what didn’t go well,” she said. “That’s been happening in Japan for quite a while. Americans in this area are just beginning to do it. Longmeadow has been involved in this form of teaching staff development for several years, but it’s really gaining momentum throughout the region.”
One difference, she said, was the size of the groups involved in the collaborative developmental efforts, something she said she might explore in her district.
“I think they do it in larger groups than we’ve done it in the past,” she said. “It’s something to think about in how we allocate our substitutes to free up more time for teachers to share those dialogues.”
Doyle also said she brought with her new ideas she hopes to implement in some fashion in the district, including what the Japanese call a “creativity block.” She explained that Japanese students were given a two-week period of time for “self-instruction,” which encouraged creativity.
“They did choral songs, they wrote a musical and produced it, they did floral arrangements and calligraphy and more,” she said. “I’d like to see our students have the opportunity to do something similar where they actually take charge using creativity to produce things. I think one thing we’d add more of is demonstrating use of technology in some of the student directed activities.”
Continuing to foster foreign relationships is essential to the future of the country and the world, Doyle said, explaining that giving children a better world view and understanding of others would help in the quest for peace.
“We’re living in the 21st century and these partnerships are critical so that people get to understand one another,” she said. “The more that we travel and spend time in schools and engage in dialogue with educators, the closer we’ll come to world peace. It’s this next generation that’s going to lead the way and it’s up to educators to foster the partnerships so that we build bridges of understanding rather than hatred.”
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