Course registration at the TDC
Team Leaders arrived from Jingdong and Zhenyuan on Saturday afternoon, ready to start their 7-day full-time training course at the College. Most of them made it to registration, where they picked up their course packs and completed a basic questionnaire about their teaching and training experience. All those wooden stools I've been bringing back from county school visits are coming in handy now. Meeting the participants on this first day is a useful way to gauge their levels of English, their communication skills and how 'tuned in' they are to what's going on. So far we've needed a fair bit of translation and hand-holding, but my hope is that they will gradually become more independent, active and communicative. It's a steep learning curve for many of the teachers, who have never before experienced such an open, interactive and participatory approach to training. I only hope we can make it a positive, if challenging, experience so that they feel inspired to adopt some of the ways themselves.

Freda hard at work in the TDC
Child exploitation or job creation? Perhaps a bit of both. Freda was keen to come to the office with me today as I prepared for the TLT course registration. She offered to help with any "little jobs". I remembered there was still some data entry work from the last training. What better a person to employ than Freda? Her computer competence and confidence allowed her to get the hang of the Access database in about 5 minutes. Shortly later she was correcting mistakes in the column labelling and changing 'memo' formatting to 'yes/no'. I paid her 10 RMB for an hour's work (equivalent to a week's pocket money) and she was keen to do more. Assuming her homework's out of the way tomorrow I might just take her up on the offer. Ali and Edie turned up during registration and within no time were playing key roles - Edie colouring in Hou Wanxia's flashcards and Ali taking care of the registration fees. With Tina and Liao Xinli present too, it was quite a task force. Beware, if you come within three feet of the TDC in the next 7 days you're likely to be given a job to do and, unlike Freda, you're unlikely to get paid!

As the one-week training draws to an end, it's difficult to know whether the trainees feel clearer about their Team Leader-Trainer role of whether we're just getting them more and more confused. Whatever, they happily tied each other in knots this morning during the ice-breaker. This activity involves two people, each with a length of string tied to each wrist. Their string is looped together, and they have to separate - without undoing the wrist loops of course. Although one bright pair managed in under five minutes, the rest had a great laugh going through all sorts of body-bending positions, in vain. My hope is that they remember how much they got from these ice-breaker activities and use them with their own teaching groups on returning to the middle schools. It's a much more beneficial way to start a meeting than the common Chinese method: "Let's begin..."

This Chinese expression is read: qiang da chu tou niao, literally meaning 'gun shoots the sticking-its-head-out bird'. I love this expression, because it helps understand so many of the difficulties I face in my work, and my personal life here. [I find it difficult to separate the two, given how/why we came here.] Hou Wanxia shared these words of wisdom with me when we were discussing the difficulties of doing something new, something different. In our four years of working together she has faced all kinds of discouraging and critical comments from colleagues who question her motives for cooperating with me, for taking part in this work, for trying to do something new. Never mind the fact that the work has been successful, beneficial and of little reward professionally. The fact is, she is sticking her head out from the crowd. She has had the courage, alongside me, to challenge some old ways and do more than required of her by the leaders. I have also been under fire by several people, who don't support what we're trying to do (improve education) and how we're trying to do it (through cooperation), and I've found this difficult over the years: two-facedness, back-stabbing, deliberate efforts to undermine our efforts etc etc.

So this Chinese saying really helps me. I realise how difficult it is for people to be a little bit different, to follow their own way, to express individual beliefs or desires, to separate from the flock, to stand out, to leave the comfort zone. While I don't like being shot at, and I'm sure Hou Wanxia doesn't either, it merely reinforces that we are doing something that challenges the norms and breaks away from what the majority are content to accept. How on earth is educational reform going to come about if everyone stays in the safety of the crowd, perched in a big tree, complaining about the conditions but too afraid to fly?

While pondering this I bumped into one of our Grade 3 art students, King. Knowing I've been busy these days he offered his services to help with the training. I asked if he'd like to present this expression in Chinese, and paint a picture. He was delighted and turned up today with the above art work, which is now on our office wall. Hou Wanxia was horrified that I wanted to display it, seeing it as a negative aspect of Chinese culture. I see it as reality, and understanding this helps me cope with the challenges I face as a result.



The main aim of this course is to improve the Team Leaders' facilitation and mentoring skills, in order to create a more positive and productive environment for professional development in their schools. In the mornings we have workshops to explore training skills and approaches. In the afternoons they have to practise - do it for themselves. They each have a practical session that they have to organise and facilitate themselves, in pairs. In this picture I am facilitating 3 TLTs organising a 'trouble-shooting' session for the rest of the teachers. It was a brave attempt that went fairly well and gave us lots of food for thought. An interesting issue came up in the feedback discussion - just what is the role of the Team Leader-Trainer. The traditional approach in China is to manage, direct, and tell! Tell teachers what to do, how to do it, how to improve, what to aim for etc. The job of a leader is to lead. We are offering them some alternative ways - to encourage teachers to discuss, to ask questions, to problem-solve together, to exchange ideas. As one participant said, "This way is very new to us. We have never done this before." I am learning that there are many things I do quite 'naturally', I thought, that it's easy to take for granted -discussing, questionning, sharing - that don't come easily to everyone. For some of the TLTs, being put in this new 'facilitator' role is torture. These approaches and skills aren't 'natural' but are learned, and represent a very different approach to learning, to working, to training.

Lesley in Xi'an
I don't have any fabulous photos from my recent trip to Xi'an. The main reason is that the 3-day workshop itinerary was jam-packed. On the one morning we hoped to cycle around on top of the old city wall, it was pouring with rain.

Besides the interesting and active session plans organised by the PO and volunteers, the highlights were: Getting together with all the Basic Education volunteers currently working in China, including the new arrivals; having time to get to know other volunteers better (at previous conferences, with larger groups including our local partners, there hasn't always been the same chance to talk); the kindness of other volunteers regarding my Jingdong book and my Friendship Award; hearing from Hongyan that we'll be staying in a 5-star hotel; trying out new food dishes, typical of the North but rarely on our table in Yunnan - most of them containing enormous quantities of garlic; wandering around the Muslim food and craft sector of the old city and chatting over beer in a bustling restaurant; a corn seller and other locals on the street sorting out what bus we should take back to our hotel after our night out; the bus driver taking a wrong turn [perhaps following another route] and the other passengers sorting him out; our journey back home - we were delayed from Xi'an and nearly missed our connection to Simao. They held the plane up and we were escorted to it in a little van with a flashing light. All very exciting.

The lowlights were: Not having enough time to catch up with people, knowing that it will be a long time until we meet again; the smoggy, noisy, horrible walk with Tina on our first afternoon - we both returned to our room smelling of pollution and fighting off a headache; always having garlic breath; gradually losing my voice - although I'm sure everyone else was pleased.

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