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Nevin MacLeod, Shi Jing Xu, Ming Hua Wang, Jacqueline Veres and David PotocekNevin MacLeod, Shi Jing Xu, Ming Hua Wang, Jacqueline Veres and David Potocek discuss the experiences of reciprocal learning program participants.

Chinese exchange provides unique cultural perspective for UWindsor teacher candidates

UWindsor’s Faculty of Education is offering teacher candidates a learning and research opportunity in China, sponsored by Mitacs Globalink Research Award, to ensure future teachers are better equipped to teach the growing number of new immigrants enrolling in Canadian schools.

Each year, through the Teacher Education Reciprocal Learning program, a group of UWindsor teacher candidates spends three months at Southwest University (SWU) in Chongqing, China, and in turn, a group of its students spend three months in Windsor.

Education professor Shijing Xu, Canada Research Chair in International and Intercultural Reciprocal Learning in Education, directs the program, in partnership with superintendent Clara Howitt of the Greater Essex County District School Board, SWU vice-president Shijian Chen, and Yibing Liu, dean of SWU’s Faculty of Teacher Education.

Dr. Xu says an influx of new Canadians and refugees makes it crucial for new teachers to become culturally sensitive and responsive.

University of Windsor teacher candidates who take part in the Reciprocal Learning Program participate in professional development seminars and school placements, as well as audit university classes and go on field trips in China. Dr. Xu says she advises students to go as learners first and only secondly as teacher researchers.

“Don’t go to a school with a critical eye right off the bat, because then you are not learning,” she says. “I say you must go into a class as learners first, to see how a different education system is organized and how the teachers teach and how the learners learn.”

Masters candidate David Potocek (BHK 2013, B.Ed 2014) is a graduate research assistant with Xu. He went to SWU as pre-service teacher candidate in 2014 and says the program expanded his idea of what it means to be an educator.

“I think teachers today need to be culturally aware and culturally sensitive with their students, but also with their parents,” says Potocek. “Being able to better communicate with parents will help deepen that important relationship.”

Erika Robinet (B.Ed 2015) participated in the program in 2015 and is now teaching English as a second language in Vietnam. She says she has changed some of her teaching practices after interacting with students who are just starting to learn English.

“I know to slow down my speech, choose simpler words and phrases, and use repetition,” she says. “When I go back to Canada where we have so many students from different countries who have just arrived in Canada, I think my experiences in China and Vietnam will have better prepared me as an all-around teacher.”

Robinet says before participating in the Reciprocal Learning Program, she had imagined teaching in England or Australia, but never thought of taking a job in Asia. She said the people she met through the program will be lifelong friends.

Many alumni of the program are now involved as volunteers and take visiting SWU teaching candidates on field trips and show them around. Xu says alumni support greatly enriches the program and shows how deeply affected students are by the experience.

Research built on the program is funded by a seven-year Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) partnership grant of $3.8 million, as well as UWindsor’s Strategic Priority Fund and in-kind contributions from Canadian and Chinese partner universities and school boards.

The University of Toronto’s Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, with Michael Connelly as the project co-director, is a collaborator university. The UWindsor research team consists of professors Jonathan Bayley, Anthony Ezeife, Geri Salinitri, Zuochen Zhang, George Zhou, Bruce Tucker and Kara Smith.

To date, five groups of UWindsor students have visited China, with a group set to travel to Chongqing in April. Seven groups from SWU have visited Windsor and nine sister pairings have developed between Windsor and Chongqing public schools.

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