TPS visit to China could impact nation’s educational system


TPS Supt. Kelly Coffin stands with a silk banner featuring calligraphy, which was a gift from a contingent of Chinese educators, during an ongoing exchange program. Photo by Kerry Hamilton Smith.

Tecumseh Public Schools (TPS) is part of a program that could conceivably change the educational system in China. A contingent of nine TPS administrators and teachers recently returned from a three-week learning experience that will also lead to modifications in the way Tecumseh students are taught.

Dr. Kelly Coffin, superintendent of TPS, was part of the group that included teachers Chelsea Anastasoff, Julie McDowell, Linzey Yeaster, Chelsey Elliott, Joyce Lammers, Lindsey Day, and Mike McDowell and Principal Deidra Thelan.

“The impact that Tecumseh Schools is having on China is amazing,” Coffin said.

The journey began through Dr. Jim Berry from Eastern Michigan University while Coffin was attending leadership training. It was there she met Wong Hong Shan, who goes by the American name Wendy. She is a successful business person and head of a private boarding school in China. She is so respected that the Chinese government asked Wendy to study ways to improve the Chinese educational system. After further discussion, Wendy asked Coffin if she’d like to partner with her school and come to China at Wendy’s expense.

More discussions took place, the TPS Board of Education approved the plans and Coffin and a group of Tecumseh educators took their first trip last year. This year they left on June 28 and returned July 19. They stayed just north of the world’s most populated city, Shanghai, which is “New York on steroids,” Coffin explained. The population of the Shanghai megalopolis is 30 million. The “small city” where they stayed had a population of 1.3 million residents.

There are many similarities in both countries in terms of the value of education, but the differences offer the best opportunities for improvement. “At the heart of it all is everyone wants the best for their child,” Coffin said.

In China, Coffin explained, education is offered to everyone up to the eighth grade. Central to the Chinese educational system is standardized assessments and tests. The way a student performs on tests determines whether they will continue on to a higher level of education and attend the best schools. As a result, those students go on to higher-paying jobs. “We know that you cannot minimize a child’s talent down to a test score,” Coffin said.

Coffin explained that parents in China work long hours so their children can attend boarding schools in order to receive guidance, complete homework and attain the best test scores. “Their entire family structure is centered on education,” Coffin said. “The family unit is rock solid. They truly sacrifice to make sure their children get the best.”

In the U.S., critical thinking and problem-solving are part of the curriculum for all students. Wendy’s goal is to gather ways to use these practical skills in her classrooms. She has developed pilot programs for the Chinese government, which has implemented some of the techniques her contingent of teachers learned from visiting TPS classrooms.

At the same time, TPS administrators and teachers have learned things from their Chinese counterparts they can use that will improve the way they deliver lessons. “We learned so much,” Coffin said. “We have been examining the art of teaching and what we’ve found is they are much more open. They learn from each other.” Coffin said the Chinese teachers take much more time to plan lessons. Groups of teachers will, together, spend hours on a lesson plan, then they examine it and improve upon it.

“Wendy’s commitment to us is huge,” Coffin said. “We couldn’t afford this otherwise. This is really preparing our students for the global world they’re going to enter.”

In the fall of 2017, the Chinese will send a group of students and parents to Tecumseh. Discussions have also begun to send Tecumseh Middle School students to China, but no date has been set. “This is just the beginning of a long-term relationship,” Coffin said.

It wasn’t all work while they were in China. The Tecumseh group was able to see the Great Wall of China, Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square, and the Great Panda Research Center. “The history is amazing,” Coffin said. “We (the U.S.) are such a baby in comparison. It’s almost difficult to comprehend.”

They also stayed in small Chinese village. “It’s a kind, warm culture,” Coffin said. “There’s no security. No guns. We never felt unsafe.”

However, they did feel like they were celebrities. Coffin said most Chinese don’t travel outside of their village so seeing an American was an anomaly. Having 30 people take their photos at once was not out of the question. In one instance, the entire Tecumseh group was asked to be a part of a family photo.

One of the things that has made it easier to travel to China is that all students there start learning English in the third grade. With 57 different languages, minorities are based on the language spoken. While there is poverty and homelessness, those people are not shunned like they are in the U.S., according to Coffin. “It’s just part of the fabric of the city,” Coffin observed. “We’re more the same than different. We all want a strong family connection. We all want to be safe and secure.”


Tecumseh Herald


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Tecumseh, MI 49286

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