A trainer and a group of  teachers sit at a table discussing a learning point

The first-year pilot has provided a very solid foundation of more strategic collaboration between Xixiu District and the UK. International and professional development of teachers and head teachers has always been one of the top priorities for education development in Xixiu district.” Ms. Yang Li, Vice District Mayor of Xixiu District People’s Government, Guizhou Province

Guizhou province is a less developed area, with many ethnic minorities, and it was here that the British Council’s Teaching for Success approach was first used in China. Introducing communicative language teaching in an area such as this was a major step forward in the reform of the education system and demonstrates the local government’s commitment to reducing the gap in English teaching with more developed areas.  

The coursed aimed to present, discuss and practise communicative methods of language teaching. It was important to empower course participants with a variety of approaches and activities so that they could bring a more learner-centred approach to their classrooms.  

I learned so many skills to improve my teaching. Thank you so much!” Participant

The training took place in two intensive blocks, allowing the teachers to put what they learnt into practice in stage one, before attending stage two. Selected Teaching for Success materials were used, supplemented with bespoke materials identified in the pre-course needs analysis. There was an emphasis on: improving use of classroom language; teaching English through English; moving from input to output in a logical way; increasing opportunities for student output through pair-work and group-work; and managing communicative activities with large classes.  The second stage involved classroom observations with feedback from the trainer and other teachers, consolidated by one day of training based on emergent needs from the observations.  

Building on the success of this training, the local government and the education bureau are keen to make it a flagship programme showcasing educational collaboration between the Province and the UK. A three-year MoU has been signed between the local government and British Consulate General covering teacher training and preschool to basic education leadership.  

Two teachers in Yunnan demonstrate a new activity
Teachers in Yunnan demonstrate a new activity
View over the roofs of Shangri-La old town
Shangri-La old town ©

By BrokenSphere - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Roofs_of_Shangri-La_Old_Town_1.JPG

Yunnan Master Teacher Studio Development Project

In 2016 an ambitious three year teacher development programme began in Yunnan province in the far south-west of China. The province is noted for 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 here 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 Yunnan Secondary English Master Teacher Studio Development Project involved 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. 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 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.

2.Extensive model 

Contrary to common local practice, where training is done intensively, without giving teachers the time to implement and reflect on what they have learnt, this training used an extensive model. Following the initial face-to-face training there was an implementation period and classroom observations. Finally remedial workshops took place, based on emerging needs from the observations.

This longer-term training model is gaining popularity in China with more 4+2 days sessions instead of the previously used five-day intensive 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

WeChat is a ubiquitous social media platform in China. 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 step towards blended learning was extremely successful.

4.Delivery model

Unlike most local training, which is 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) enrolled all his studio teachers and joined the training himself to ensure maximum impact within his team.

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 minority teachers.

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 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.

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