Learning Communities: Pioneers of the 21st Century
When Yew Chung International School of Shanghai (YCIS Shanghai) opened its doors in 1993, it was the city’s first independent international school to be officially recognised by and registered with the local government. Fast-forward 27 years and dozens of international schools and even more bilingual and private Chinese schools have entered the city’s highly competitive market.
Education has changed dramatically over the past decades, and this is no exception in Shanghai, where schools have had to adapt to the rapid advances of the 21st century in one of the largest and fastest-moving metropolitan areas in the world. Keeping up to date with the latest educational approaches – to ensure the highest standards of education – is of utmost importance for school leaders at YCIS Shanghai and indeed all the schools in the Yew Chung (YCIS) and Yew Wah (YWIES) international network.
Pioneering education is in the DNA of Yew Chung. As well as being the city’s first international school, YCIS Shanghai was the first school awarded the prestigious Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Gold Award. It is part of a network of Yew Chung schools that received China’s first Cambridge Award for Excellence in Education and pioneered the co-teaching model now adopted in schools across the country. Continuing in this tradition, YCIS is now at the forefront of the ground-breaking ‘Learning Communities’ education model.
In YCIS and YWIES schools the term Learning Communities describes students and teachers coming together for shared learning, discovery, and the generation of ideas in the pursuit of knowledge. All participants, who may include parents and other stakeholders, are active learners with shared interests and take joint responsibility for achieving goals.
In recent years YCIS Shanghai has invested heavily in building new Learning Communities across its five campuses. Many are already active while more are planned over the next few years. Unlike traditional classrooms, these flexible ‘spaces’ can be re-purposed to suit the different interests and needs of the learners.
The defining characteristics of Learning Communities include promoting learning activities centred on problem-solving and cultivating language proficiency and cross-cultural understanding. This allows for flexibility in modes of learning and teaching in order to cater to the individual needs of students. Utilising Learning Communities the schools aim to provide opportunities for interdisciplinary collaboration while promoting the development of students’ independent learning skills; making learning visible; and documenting and celebrating both the process and outcomes.
To ensure the success of these Learning Communities, stakeholders have important roles and responsibilities. For the School Leadership Team, this means providing opportunities for collaborative enquiry and learning for teachers, involving shared decision making, and structured time for planning instruction, observing each other’s classrooms and sharing feedback. The leaders effectively communicate the school’s philosophy to parents to enhance their understanding of the curriculum and their children’s learning experience. Forming a balanced teaching team, which takes into account varied interests, professional backgrounds, personalities, disposition, abilities, and talents is crucial. Ensuring teachers have access to professional development opportunities, that will enable effective implementation and development of the Learning Community model, is also vital.
Similarly, the teachers’ responsibilities include modelling collaboration by engaging in shared problem solving, proposing solutions, and evaluating ideas and outcomes. Teachers have shown openness to experimenting with new pedagogical approaches and are flexible and proactive in adopting different roles; as a facilitator, mentor, assessor, resource compiler, or instructor. Planning for learning takes into account the needs of all students.
This environment created by the school leaders and teachers enables students to be respectful of others and their needs and to appreciate differences. The students take an active role in leading and taking responsibility for their learning by evaluating their needs, setting goals for themselves, assessing their progress, and creating learning resources for both themselves and others. Furthermore, their parents and the school community actively contribute and share expertise and experience to enhance the curriculum and expand learning opportunities.
To most effectively enable the implementation of the Learning Community approach, YCIS Shanghai has worked with specialist architects to design innovative spaces for its students. This flows from the Ronghua and Hongqiao campuses in Puxi, which cater to their Early Childhood Education (ECE) and Primary students, through to Secondary campuses in both Pudong and Puxi.
"These Learning Communities provide our students with experiences that prepare them more effectively for future study and their future workplaces, which will demand critical and collaborative thinkers who can engage in tasks with others to solve problems or suggest solutions. Mere knowledge is no longer enough. Understanding and a capacity to be solution-focused and productive in collaboration are essential skills that will continue to be in demand," said Mr Damien Hehir, Western Co-Principal at YCIS Shanghai, Pudong.
Through the pioneering attitude and innovative approach of the Learning Community model, YCIS is redefining education to create a truly 21st-century experience for proactive students animated by the necessary confidence, skills, and the mindset necessary for a successful global future.