Visiting Chinese educators trade ideas, culture with Trumbull teachers

Trumbull High School recently hosted a group of Chinese educators.

Trumbull High School recently hosted a group of Chinese educators.

Michael Cerulli

When most people think about teachers, they often think of someone who fills the role of educator, mentor and leader. Last week, Trumbull’s teachers took on a new role: ambassador.

On Wednesday, top educators from multiple institutions in China visited Daniels Farm Elementary School and Trumbull High to observe classes, trade ideas and collaborate with the school district’s leadership. The visit, a product of the district’s partnership with Columbia University’s Teachers College, marks the latest step in efforts to maintain Trumbull Public Schools’ ability to graduate students ready to work in an increasingly globalized economy.

“We benefit from knowing how teaching and learning works around the world,” Trumbull’s Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment Jonathan Budd said.

Budd emphasized that a global approach to education “expands our perspective, which is always a good thing.”

The delegation of 24 teachers, administrators, and their interpreters came from China’s Guangdong Province. Situated on the southern coast of world’s most populous nation, Guangdong boasts a population of over 100 million with a provincial GDP north of $1 trillion — roughly the size of Mexico’s economy.

The group, led by Henan Cheng of Columbia’s Teachers College, sat in on elementary- and high school-level classes and took part in discussions with Trumbull school leaders.

Cheng, who has experience teaching in both China and the United States, explained that the purpose of such visits is to expose teachers from both countries to new methods and to “combine different [educational] models and learn from each other”.

“As we evolve into a worldwide society and economy,” Trumbull School Supt. Gary Cialfi added, “exposing our students to other cultures and countries is critical to helping them to think globally.”

Cialfi also noted that Trumbull was selected for the visit by both Cheng and former Woodbridge Supt. Gaeton Stella.

The visit came at a time when bilateral relations between the United States and China are increasingly strained.

Curtis S. Chin, a leading China expert and former U.S. ambassador to the Asia Development Bank under presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama wrote via email, “The China-US relationship continues to be a troubled one.” Chin described several focal points of U.S.-China disputes including intellectual property theft, alleged human rights abuses, and the militarization of the South China Sea. All of these issues represent a “concern to many nations,” said Chin.

Educational exchanges provide an opportunity to leave at least some of the current animosity at the door, he said.

“They should be encouraged” said Chin, who is currently an Asia Fellow at the nonpartisan Milken Institute. Chin also stressed caution, encouraging full disclosure on the goals and expectations on both sides.

The tensions pervading high level diplomatic and economic relations between the two superpowers, however, were absent from the educational visit to Trumbull High. Following a friendly lunch and discussions about their shared profession, the group exchanged gifts and smiled for pictures. At one point, the Chinese educators extended an offer for Trumbull High Principal Marc Guarino to visit China with his own delegation.

When it comes to a China visit, Chin again stressed caution, citing a recent State Department travel advisory, but also added that “it is always positive when individuals make efforts to better understand others’ perspective.”

Underscoring the need for shared values and international cooperation, Cheng said.

“If we start cultivating this global-mindedness at a young age, I’m very positive and optimistic about the future of the two countries,” she said. “Because that’s the key: the students. That’s why we’re here. We want to give them all a shot.”