New Mind partners with Jack Ma Foundation to develop education leaders in rural China.

The Need is Huge. So is the Impact.

In China, over 90 million children are raised in rural villages and towns, many with parents working far away in wealthier cities. This means the over 3 million rural teachers and their principals who have so much time each day invested in the children are often the most influential in determining the futures of them and, therefore, in shaping the future of China.

In 2016, the Jack Ma Foundation launched the Rural Principal Initiative to identify and support 20 outstanding rural principals in China annually and pledged to donate RMB 200 million ($30 million) over the next 10 years to the initiative.

This year, New Mind Education was proud to be selected as the host of a 15-day leadership development program for the 18 first-ever winning principals, selected out of 5,000 applicants from across the country, several representing ethnic minorities. The U.S.-based leadership program was a critical component of the initiative’s efforts to promote leadership and management skills of principals in rural China.

How We Did It

The overall program consisted of a visit to New York City, an eight-day training program at UNC Greensboro (UNCG) and a visit to the University of Virginia and the St. Anne’s-Belfield School in Charlottesville, Virginia. The eight-day program at UNCG was made possible through a collaboration between New Mind Education, the UNCG School of Education, and UNCG’s Principal Preparation for Excellence and Equity in Rural Schools (PPEERS) program.

We had three learning objectives when designing the program with partner institutions:

For Chinese educators to develop a deeper understanding of U.S. education…

to engage in conversations about student development with US colleagues…

to build the vision and skills needed to make changes in their schools in rural China.

Bridging the Gaps

Knowing that only one of the 18 principals had traveled abroad before, we wanted to ensure that the language and cultural differences would not prevent the principals from fully engaging in the learning experience and forming a profound understanding of U.S. culture and education.

We believed that cultural ambassadors - not just translators - with a true understanding of both countries would be the key to achieving the goal. We put together a strong team of New Mind teachers and managers who speak fluent Chinese and had either studied or taught in China for a significant amount of time. With knowledge and experience with both U.S. and China education systems, they ensured all the language and cultural nuances were taken into consideration in the design and implementation of the program. They provided the context and filled in the gaps for the conversations between China and U.S. educators.

Facilitating Mutual Learning

Despite differences in the education systems and the resources available, the China and U.S. educators shared the common goal of promoting student development and were excited to share and learn from each other’s experiences. New Mind worked closely with UNCG’s School of Education and the PPEERS program to develop and execute the 8-day training program at UNCG, where the principals participated in expert-led seminars, discussions with school and district leaders, and workshops and reflections for action planning.

Many of the principals cited the field visits to the five rural schools in North Carolina as the most memorable experience because they were able to observe first hand how U.S. schools approach differentiated instruction, family and community involvement, the development of the whole person and more.

We also thought it was important to help the U.S. educators understand and appreciate the success stories of the 18 outstanding Chinese principals. We worked directly with each of the principals to develop a PowerPoint presentation in English to share with the teachers and administrators at the visiting schools. Both parties found the presentations and the discussion afterwards an important bonding moment for them.

Building the Vision

Due to lack of resources, most rural principals in China, including many members of the visiting group, were promoted to become school principals directly from teaching positions and thus had not had professional training in Educational Leadership and Management. New Mind was challenged to provide applicable leadership knowledge to the principals and empower them to build visions for their own schools within a very short time frame.

We were excited to utilize all the experience and resources we have accumulated over the years and invite over 20 experts in education leadership to participate in the dialogue…

Some of the main teachers and speakers for the program are Dr. Ye He from UNCG’s School of Education, Dr. Kimberly Hewitt and Dr. Carl Lashley from PPEERS program, Mr. David Lourie from St. Anne’s-Belfield School, Dr. William Robinson from University of Virginia, and school and district leaders from five rural schools in North Carolina. They led productive and inspiring lessons and discussions, with topics covering U.S. education systems, rural education in U.S., principal competencies, talent management, and more.

The program ended with a full-day visit to St. Anne’s-Belfield School in Charlottesville, Virginia, where the head of the school, David Lourie, and the founder of New Mind, Michael Chen, led a lively and engaging discussion and exercise on change management. We were thrilled to see the amazing group of rural principals already starting to apply what they learned through the program to create their visions and five-year strategic plans for change.

Before my visit to U.S., I thought that American teachers are paid very well, that school principals have a large budget to manage, and that American students are not disciplined. The visit completely challenged my views.”

- Guozhao Xiong, Visiting Principal from China

Without New Mind Education, the visiting program would not have been so impressive, unique and unforgettable. We hope that in the future we can continue to work together to support rural education in China.”

- Tingting Huang, Project Manager for the Rural Principal Initiative