Exceptional E-Learning – Tales of Success from YCIS Teachers

The extraordinary circumstances in which we currently find ourselves have created many new challenges and opportunities for staff and students from YCIS Shanghai. While located all across the globe and in many different time zones, and while quickly becoming adept at using new technologies, the need for adaptability and ingenuity has never been greater. Of course, YCIS staff and students are known to be flexible (as well as determined, innovative, resilient, and more!), and this situation has brought out the best in our school community. Here, several YCIS Shanghai teachers describe their experiences over the past few weeks as they have been creatively connecting with their students.

When Mr Jonathan Evans, IB Coordinator at YCIS Shanghai Puxi Secondary, returned to Shanghai for the start of school after the Christmas break, he and his family had expected to spend a quiet Chinese New Year together in the city. Little did they know that the Spring Festival holiday would be extended, and their daily lives subsequently changed considerably due to safety measures enforced across Shanghai and China.    

Despite living only a short commute away from school, Mr Evans, like all teachers at YCIS Shanghai, has been delivering his classes via online platforms, doing his utmost to adapt to these changes. "The transition to online learning has been a really powerful experience for us all. I have enjoyed experimenting with new technologies to overcome the distance and to create truly meaningful learning experiences for my students,” he said.

With teachers and students situated all around the world, this requires allowing for asynchronous learning to take place, and this has meant a change to task design and pedagogy. According to Mr Evans, “The way that I have approached this is to have short, video-recorded lessons with a practice task attached to them, supported by ‘Zoom’ meetings to allow students to clarify their questions in real-time. Students can follow the lessons and then complete their work, but they absolutely know that they can reach me and I’ll be happy to work with them to make sure they have a thorough understanding of the topic.”

Mr Evans added that, “The biggest success so far for me as teacher has been to see how my students have demonstrated great resilience in the face of this challenge to keep pace with the curriculum. As IB students, they are demonstrating the attributes of successful learners that will hold them in good stead in the future.”


Also in Shanghai, just across the river in Pudong, Ms Janelle Garrett, Lower Secondary Co-ordinator at YCIS Shanghai Pudong Secondary, has been in the city with her family for several weeks now, diving deep into e-learning. She looks at history to put this unusual situation into perspective. “As an historian, I am often reminded of the resilience of the human spirit and that our struggles now pale in comparison to what others have endured,” she said. “During this time, I especially miss my students and colleagues, craving the energy of social connection and interaction that they have,” she continued.

The troubleshooting, re-thinking systems and teaching, upskilling her tech know-how, and supervising her own daughter’s e-Learning have kept her busy, and both she and her husband, Mr Nick Adgemis, Head of Performing Arts at YCIS Shanghai Pudong, have been very inspired by YCIS staff and their professionalism and adaptability. “The teachers’ willingness to be innovative and seeing our colleagues learning new skills and platforms, and the way they care about each of our students, comes through even across a screen,” she added.

Ms Garrett has also enjoyed the fact that the individual nature of e-Learning necessitates students taking more responsibility for their own learning, which can lead to productive conversations with students as they take on individual feedback and communicate their understandings and their needs. “This has allowed for more of a coaching model that really helps meet each student where they are in their learning journey,” she said.

While some teachers and students remained in Shanghai for the break, others were already travelling when the news of the outbreak started to affect transportation. One such example was Mr Matthias Peitsch, Year 8 Level Leader and Lower Secondary Music Teacher at YCIS Shanghai Puxi Secondary, who was in Jianhe, Guizhou province at the beginning of the holiday. After initially extending his trip in beautiful, snowy Guizhou, and starting his e-learning lessons there, the situation started to quickly evolve and he realised that it would be prudent to get back to Shanghai as soon as possible. To return to Shanghai, Mr Peitsch had to get special government paperwork to pass into the next town through various checkpoints and on to his train back home. He ended up meeting the town mayor and was even classified as a ‘VIP for Australia’ during the process! 

For Mr Peitsch, delivering a Music curriculum online has meant some significant adjustments for staff and students. “We’ve managed to continue to develop units with specific and measurable skill development in a subject that requires a strong focus on performance and practice on instruments that students may or may not have access to. Furthermore, we have upskilled ourselves and our students on how to use a system that was not initially intended for us to deliver e-learning, while also fast-tracking our curriculum documentation being used for accreditation,” said Mr Peitsch. “By and large we’ve been able to teach performance skills and instrument skills even without being in a physical classroom. This has been a huge victory for me to be a part of,” he added. 


As a Year Level Leader, Mr Peitsch has assisted students in adapting to the changing circumstances. “We’ve helped the Lower School, especially, navigate through the uncertainty of managing their own time for education in an online learning environment. This approach has allowed many of the students to take more responsibility for their learning journey,” he said. Mr Peitsch and the Year Level Leaders have also emphasised the importance of socialising during this time. “We’ve been able to extend social interactions and appreciate the face-to-face moments that can be achieved – even through online means – with staff, students and the wider community,” he added. 

As is common at this time of year, many of our Chinese teachers returned to their hometowns for the Spring Festival break, but, this year, many found themselves staying for longer than anticipated due to disruptions to the national transportation network. This was the case for Ms Kelly Li, a Chinese Teacher at YCIS Shanghai Puxi Secondary, who is currently staying with her family in Luoyang, Henan province. After rail services were cancelled, she decided to take advantage of spending a little more rewarding time with her family, and has also enjoyed this time of learning for our teachers.

“When our school first decided to teach online, I had to familiarise myself with the use of each platform as quickly as possible. At the same time, we also had a big responsibility to help our students get in sync with their learning,” said Ms Li. While adapting to the new technology and processes, there have been lots of teachable moments from this experience. “During our lessons, many students have shared their feelings about the current epidemic situation with everyone. These flashpoints are hard to find in normal teaching and have moved and inspired me,” added Ms Li.

Ms Li’s previous experience with the online platform, Managebac, enabled her to help other teachers and her students: “I created a Chinese online teaching guide for students who faced the same challenges as us to learn more about the functions of Managebac. I am particularly happy that all of us quickly adapted to the new teaching and learning approach and look forward to providing students with an increasingly improved Chinese online learning experience,” she said.  

At the same time, many foreign teachers also decided to spend their Spring Festival break meeting family back in their home countries. Ms Michele Rowland, Year 6 Teacher at YCIS Shanghai Pudong Primary decided to spend time at her in-laws in New Zealand with her husband and their baby girl, couldn’t have imagined that the short vacation would have turned into such a new professional and life experience. Ms Rowland is now enjoying teaching remotely, although she really misses teaching back in Shanghai with her "crazy Year 6s". She added, “It's incredible that technology can help us connect and provide learning for our students, despite the distance.”


And in her case, it’s true what they say: absence does make the heart grow fonder. Ms Rowland, in fact, has a newfound appreciation for both her teaching team and her students. “It’s inspiring to see the team collaborating together despite the different time zones and personal situations, and I am amazed by our students’ dedication and effort in such an unusual situation.” 

While focusing on the many positive aspects of this special situation, Ms Rowland also appreciates how working from home means that she has more time to spend with her family and enjoy her baby girl. "It’s not easy doing it all, but my basket is pretty full right now and I’m loving having the extra cuddles and smiles from my little one," she said. 

Ms Maggie Van Wyk, Year 1 Teacher at YCIS Shanghai Pudong Primary, and her husband Mr David Van Wyk, Secondary Design Technology & Mathematics Teacher at YCIS Shanghai Pudong Secondary, are facing a similar situation teaching through a difference in time zones. They are currently in South Africa, doing all they can to help YCIS students succeed despite a six-hour time difference, while at the same time helping their own children stay on course with their e-Learning. “As both teachers and parents, we are navigating unchartered waters in two boats during this unique situation,” they said.

And adaptability is key, they found. “We are doing all we can to help our students succeed and are discovering the best ways to help our children keep up with their learning,” they said. “This is helping us maintain balance, and we are embracing the silver lining of spending this special time with our extended family. We even enjoyed the special treat of watching our youngest son celebrate his first birthday in South Africa in seven years!” they added.

The teachers, no matter where they are, understand that the situation can be overwhelming, but they are all trying to keep a positive attitude and approach. Ms and Mr Van Wyk encourage everyone to do the same. “When trying to balance it all, look at your family and find what works the best for everybody,” they recommended.

Behind the scenes of e-Learning have been hundreds of team meetings and leadership meetings using platforms such as WeChat and Zoom. Mr Damien Hehir, Co-Principal at YCIS Shanghai Pudong commented: "YCIS Shanghai schools are very much based on a model of teamwork and collaboration and this has continued to be the case during the campus closures. Meetings have been held online and the teachers and leaders have enjoyed connecting with each other in the same way our students have in their online classes." The photo above was a Primary Team Leader meeting on Zoom and shows all the participants connecting and planning together. "It has been wonderful to see our staff overcome challenges and be so positive and creative together to make e-Learning a success for their students," Mr Hehir explained.

The five pillars of the YCIS Shanghai Puxi Common Purpose are: Communicating, Connecting, Collaborating, Capacity Building, and Celebrating. Mr Don Collins, YCIS Shanghai Puxi Co-Principal explained how these are being implemented at this time: "The YCIS Shanghai Puxi staff have been living this to the max as we all work together to produce high-quality learning which is totally online. Hundreds of hours of preparation, meetings online, sharing of documents research and the building staff and student capacity to use the technology has lead to an astounding level of connection to the students. Student surveys have provided feedback on what student prefer and helped shape and also celebrate this online learning reality.  As we all work together to resolve issues, we have also had positive and not so positive feedback from parents who, like staff, are feeling displaced and having to work from home with children to be cared for and assistance needed with learning tasks. We have an amazing learning community who can see the value of everyone working together," he said.

During these unusual times, there has been a remarkable outcome: a whole new generation of students is now getting used to being educated online, which will open up great new learning opportunities in the years to come. Students and teachers alike are embracing innovative ways of learning and working. The YCIS Learning Community model has now become a global Learning Community, as education is taken not just outside the classroom’s walls, but also beyond the campus, the city limits, and even the country’s borders. 

We wish all of our teachers and students continued success during this period and beyond and look forward to hearing more from them all very soon.

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