In 2016 an ambitious three year teacher development programme began in Yunnan province in the far south-west of China - bordering Vietnam, Laos, and Burma. The province is noted for its clean air, altitude and above all its ethnic diversity. Among China’s 56 recognised ethnic groups, 25 are found in Yunnan and 38% of the province's population are members of minorities. 

It was against this colourful backdrop that one of the most successful training programmes in China to date took place, and the lessons learnt there are now having a positive impact on many other projects across China. 

The programme is called the Yunnan Secondary English Master Teacher Studio Development Project, which refers to a teacher community (or studio) lead by key (master/core) teachers.  A studio is usually comprised of one master teacher, ten core teachers and 40 frontline teachers. The primary duties of the core teachers are: research, mentoring, observation and feedback, and remedial training delivered at studio level. 

This model, due to teacher numbers and geographical scale, is widespread in China and allows the training to have an impressive reach with roughly 70% of studio system teachers coming from schools in rural or remote areas.

The Yunnan training targeted master and core teachers, and was innovative in many ways.   It also proved highly successful with the teachers who attended.  Headmaster Fan Meiming of Zhenxiang Junior High School told us “All course participants were encouraged and motivated by the updated training content, the practical teaching skills and the importance of learner-centred idea. That said their teaching abilities have been developed after the training. They have implemented and will continue to use those ideas and skills in the daily teaching.

Insights from the training

1.Teaching for Success

The project was the first large-scale roll out of the new British Council approach to teacher development, Teaching for Success in China. It was extremely well received with over 90% of the teachers reporting that the content, which had been specifically tailored to their needs, was relevant to their job. Following on from that success, Teaching for Success has now been used with over 500 teachers on various programmes across China. 

2.Extensive model 

Contrary to common local practice, where training is done in intensive sessions, which don’t give teachers the time to implement and reflect on what they have learnt, this training was delivered over a more extensive period of time. The initial face-to-face round of training for core teachers was held in Kunming and was followed by an implementation period and classroom observations across three cities. Finally remedial workshops took place, based on emerging needs from the observations. The observations and workshops were opened to all studio teachers who were invited to attend as observers. 

This longer-term training model is gaining popularity in China and with more four days + two days sessions instead of the previously used five day intensive training sessions. Although still short this is a significant step towards change, allowing teachers to return to the classroom and reflect upon what they’ve learnt before returning to the training to hone their skills further. 

3.Social media (as an online platform)

WeChat is a ubiquitous social media platform in China. It’s somewhere between Facebook and WhatsApp with almost everyone being able to navigate it intuitively. To help ‘bridge the gap’ between the initial face-to-face training and the follow up, studio groups were formed on WeChat where the teachers discussed their action plans, shared photos and reflections under the supervision of the trainer. This was a step towards blended learning, was extremely successful and will hopefully serve as a stepping stone to the use of fully blended learning in China. 

4.Delivery model

Unlike the majority of local training sessions, which are commissioned at district or institution level, the Master Studio programme was open to the schools directly so they could enrol their core teachers if they wanted to. For example  headmaster Fan Meiming (a former English teacher) of Zhenxiang Junior High School enrolled all his studio teachers and joined the training himself to ensure maximum impact within his team. His school went on to be the host school for the follow up training in Qujing and roughly 300 other teachers from the city were invited to join. 

5.Equality, Diversity and Inclusion 

The British Council aims to mainstream equality, diversity and inclusion and builds it into programmes where possible.  This was a key part of the Master Studio programme, which visited some very remote areas to reach many of the minority teachers of Yunnan. 

The school visits and follow up training went as far and as high as Shangri La in the Dêqên Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, where the local teachers kindly provided the British Council trainer with aerosol oxygen canisters to help them cope with the elevation. By going off the beaten track like this, we were able to engage with a very diverse set of teachers, with roughly 90% of those who signed up for the follow up training day coming from minorities. 

These insights are now informing many other programmes across China and looking back, although small, this programme has been a remarkable template for a lot of recent programmes across China and we look forward to more reach and impact in 2017. 

View over the roofs of Shangri-La old town
Shangri-La old town ©

By BrokenSphere - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,