Dear Miss Swift

in Asia for the Speak Now Tour –

Dear Miss Swift,

My name is Daniel Scott, and I am an English teacher in China. I teach 5th and 6th grade, which seems to be a prime time for students to start listening to music in our language. (By the way, do you speak any other languages?) A majority of the boys listen to and recite Michael Jackson and Maroon 5 while the girls mention your name or lyrics often either in the classroom or on Chinese social media. Some of them went berserk when they heard you’d be coming to China, even if Shanghai is a two-hour plane ride from where we are in Qingdao.

Now, I work in a private Chinese school, and these children I speak of are almost all Chinese students with a few being Korean. Let that sink in, if it hasn’t already. I see you have 60 million+ Twitter followers (I’m not ashamed to be one of them). You have been nominated and won numerous awards while crossing genres. And there is a new line of clothing coming out on a couple shopping sites here in China (Smart move since much on those sites can definitely be fake). More important than all of these matters is the fact that you are impacting my students’ lives in what they say, how they feel, and what they will believe during their short times on Earth.

An article from the LA Times in 2011 quotes you from a “60 Minutes” interview where you said:

I definitely think about a million people when I’m getting dressed in the morning, and that’s just part of my life now. I think it’s my responsibility to know it and to be conscious of it. It would be really easy to say, ‘I’m 21 now, I do what I want. You raise your kids,’ but it’s not the truth of it. The truth of it is that every singer out there with songs on the radio is raising the next generation, so make your words count.

Four years later, how do you think you are doing? I am not calling you out. As a teacher (Shoot, even when I was in elementary), I was guided in how to reflect, journal, and change who I was for the better. Why? John Maxwell says, “Change is inevitable. Growth is optional.” Today’s world is quite different from the past. What I want for my students are updates somehow about what you are learning and how you are growing as a person, written by none other then you but not in songs or tweets (though I have agreed with my students that you are a master with lyrics). What do you think?

Being a teacher for only five years, one thing has stuck in my mind since year one. Relationships are the most important factor for any learning to take place. My students listen to your songs, watch the music videos or concert snippets, and share them with whoever they are connected with on the outlets here. What they do not see or hear is how your heart has transformed over time. What if the students could learn more from you? What deeper impacts could you make from your platform? Though I know you do not make political statements because of your influence, you would not have to. Your actions have shown some of who you are, but what we want to hear are more learning experiences that happen. Because, Miss Swift, you are important. You are impacting future generations worldwide. You matter.

I hope you do not take this letter lightly because I have put my heart into it. Why? Because I am in China for the students, no matter where they come from. They matter, and I love them.

Thank you for any time or thoughts you may have. I hope the best for you and your future.

Daniel Scott

P.S.- If you find any time after your November 12th show to visit Qingdao, please let me know. My students and I would be more than willing to guide you through the city, culture, and people.


He is Special Needs

When first arriving in China to teach EFL, the first year and a half was quite the ride. It was during the Chinese New Year of 2012 that I realized where my heart lies. Children with special needs and the time I spend with them does something very rarely other acts can do for me. It gives me unspeakable peace and joy. Therefore, when I was asked by a Chinese colleague what my passion was, I told her I’d like to be with the children sitting on the side of the road here. Provide food for them. Show them they have purpose. Guide them in truth and love. One experience left an impression on me. I was blessed to visit a school only for children hard of hearing or with developmental disabilities (see below).

I had one particular student in my 3rd grade class who other students looked down upon and didn’t regard any of her comments and actions with respect. I took time with her in class and outside of it, even if English was her L2. It was with these thoughts in mind that my wife and I returned to America for the 2012-2013 school year.

handing out gift bags our school put together

The year back in the US was very informative and helpful. I ended up having a caseload of 25 students who had mild disabilities, and I enjoyed growing with them very much. While working as a Special Services teacher, I learned quite a bit about differentiation, how to advocate, and little ways to make change. All of these qualities are vital for any teacher, but when we moved back to China in 2013, I had no idea how much had changed with the school, particularly in its struggle with some students. The student I had before had improved greatly, and she is now allowed by her peers to be more involved in academic events. The athletic ones still not so much. I have a few students currently in 2nd and 5th grade who require more support in their individual ways, and I love that my classes have these needs.

On the rise as of lately is one boy I’ll call Jay. He possibly has no special need, and I say “possibly” because I haven’t observed him. His mother was told by the school she has to come and observe him daily. I say “no special need” because of my collaboration with other special education teachers via Twitter, email, blogs, etc. The reason why Jay may have a “special need”? He’s different from the other 99% of the school. That indeed is an overstatement, but you get the picture. Jay is in an education system which heavily relies on culture and tradition. Students are demanded to sit up straight, fix mistakes in any subject (Chinese, Math, English) by the tens and at times hundreds, not touch their pencils while teachers are talking, look down and grunt in agreement with whatever the teacher or admin say, and pass standardized tests that are one size fits all. I know, I know…students looking down and agreeing with authority is cultural. But what if culture and tradition don’t know much about children with special needs? Our Chinese elementary principal has told me thrice she doesn’t trust doctors who say our students have “sensory issues” or “no problem at all.”

Now our school leaders don’t know what to do. Thus they’ve decided to weed these students out before accepting them. Say what?! I know, I thought the same. Because of “not having the resources or the team,” future 1st graders have to attend a few subjects on a Saturday in a classroom setting to see how they do. From there, the admin and teachers observe to see from their perspective who may have a “special need” and can’t fit our bill.

people fear
This breaks my heart, but I understand why the school has done this. There are a myriad of reasons that would take more posts to delve into, but again, it breaks my heart. These students, children…are misunderstood. How would you feel? What would you do in my situation? Comments from teachers and parents alike would be great! I’m all ears.

Want Tech in China? Start With a “Special Zone”

The morning of meeting our Chinese elementary head, I went to a Chinese-English teacher for advice. This was a continuation from a day earlier when I told him that I believe our elementary leadership had one feeling toward integrating technology tools, fear. What he said yesterday morning has stuck with me since. He said that, though he is in strong support of what I’m doing, he has the same fear because of a situation that happened last year. A student published information on QQ publicly for his peers to read on a topic not appropriate for their age. It’s stories like these and countless others that have me as a teacher strongly believe that we as educators should be guiding the youth in a direction of positive use of the tools they’ll need to operate for professional and personal reasons.

Thus, Thursday afternoon this week, the head of our elementary and I firstly went over the vision of the school taken from the school website.

“We strive to provide a holistic education by uniquely combining national and international curricula with character building and cultural experiences. We endeavor to help students recognize and fully develop their optimum selves spiritually, intellectually, emotionally, physically, aesthetically, and socially so that he or she may become lifelong learner and responsible citizen who can influence our society and community positively for the long term”

We quickly got into details because I asked how we were providing “cultural experiences” and carving our students into “responsible citizens.” We talked specifics and then I was able to emphasize how our school admin could be using WeChat, Weibo, and/or QQ for branding and a for a reason Eric Sheninger always says. “If you don’t tell your story, someone else will.” This, along with a few other points, were well worth mentioning because of cultural differences in education. Though this was the case, I made it a point to draw her attention to the fact that obtaining the tools necessary for better, more improved student learning is a worldwide issue because “the Internet age” (as one of my student’s dubbed the present) is much more global than it ever has been. It’s not just a US problem.

Now, for teacher-to-teacher communication, the stumper came when I asked how we teachers are able to still actually get on the internet even while there is no wifi. She didn’t know. Our elementary director said she hadn’t thought of that before so I had to tell her because it happens daily. It’s the reality. Yes, students will possibly work ways around sites blocked and other mumbo jumbo, but funny enough, so will teachers. And we do. If we want it bad enough, we’ll get it. Thank you, 3 and 4G. 😉 What to keep in mind is how things may work top down in China. The Firewall likes to keep certain past events sensitive, and for the case of our admin and not to get kicked out of the country, I respect that. This had me understand why she as our leader came off with a slightly controlling manner when we spoke briefly last week. It also has me pondering how the school admin will respond in the future. This is where the key to unlock possibilities lies. We cannot, at a private Chinese school, have Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) on our computers and devices and use American IP addresses. The government and Internet won’t work that way. What we will have to do is coordinate collaboration & communication through avenues different from that of the norm, Twitter and Facebook. Whatever it takes, right?

How will this happen?

Remember how I said I met with teacher who said things I would keep in the back of my mind? That convo continued to an idea he had. Back during the Revolution, Deng Xiaoping put into action the idea of starting new economic ideas in a small contained environment called 特区, or Special Economic Zones. There were many cities like this around China at that time, but for our case, it will probably be just one. One classroom, or “special zone,” will be where we test out for teachers to integrate tech with simultaneous student usage. And as former Chairman Hu Jintao said on the 30th anniversary of the SEZ, these areas need to “be bold in reform and innovation in their roles as “first movers.”” I totally agree so I plan to quote Chairman Hu to our school admin and hope that there will soon come a time when Chinese teachers can collaborate with one another and use mobile learning tools to guide students while admin can be mouthpieces for the school and the students will learn with 21st century education and skills in mind. To my surprise, the Chinese elementary head agreed with all of this and more because she knows our students are growing up digital natives. Now, she said, it will take convincing the rest of the admin and putting much more focus on improving our resources. But we need to start somewhere and starting with a “special zone” will be best since we currently have weak signals and connections as well as just one tech worker for a K-12 school with over 600 students.

Up to this part in the journey, I cannot thank enough people for your support, but I shall start my list now since I know the resources and encouragement come from around the globe and the team is ever-increasing. In no particular order:

Eric Sheninger – @E_Sheninger
Scott Capro – @ScottCapro @BFC530 #BFC530
Ritu Sehji – @rsehji
Rosy Burke – @rosy_burke
Jessica Raleigh – @TyrnaD @BFC530 #BFC530
Michael Boll – @autismpodcast
Chris Carter – @christocarter
Ryan Harwood – @rharwood17
and many more, especially a couple vital teachers at my school… THANK YOU!

We’re not done yet. And for the sake of the students, we’ll continue to “be bold” as the “first movers.”

One Small Step for a Chinese School…

I include this first post of a series on my personal site for a couple reasons:
1) I work at a private Chinese school (and this blog is about Chinese culture), and
2) for more communication since Schoology‘s blog will only let users comment. Speaking of comments, once sending out the below original question to the world for assistance, tens of people have reached out with hearts that have the same passion and care for my students. This crowd has come from the U.S., Australia, Korea, China, and beyond while it’s not just teachers. Ed tech game changers, American education influencers, Apple Distinguished Teachers, Google Ed Trainers, superintendents, and much more have retweeted, made suggestions, and shared resources in the midst of collaboration.

It’s been a blessing in the midst of an inner struggle. Where is “inner peace” when you need it? Sorry, Kung Fu Panda, not this time…I’m not giving up or in because good is not good enough.

(See the full conversation of @shyj and me here)

After I finished Eric Sheninger’s Digital Leadership: Changing Paradigms for Changing Times, I picked up Daniel Pink’s Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. Maybe this was a bad transition in my reading material, but Sheninger has quoted Pink in the book and webinars and I’m quite interested in motivation since I teach elementary-aged Asians in a private Chinese school where 95% or so of the students are learning English as a Foreign Language (EFL). The more I’ve gotten through Drive, the stronger my belief has grown in the necessity of mobile learning tools, their relation to modern life/jobs, and how much fire can actually reside and be tapped into within one’s innate motivation. Not to mention, if teachers don’t take the opportunity to train the students to become well-rounded citizens, which includes being a digital one, who will? As all of the Chinese staff have reminded me so far, the students’ parents don’t know how to guide them. Playing games is the priority of a tool that could foster one’s love of learning. I’d like to change that since Candy Crush can only teach you so much. 😉 Hence, the above question was asked of me after sending out an SOS.

Yes. My students rely solely on curriculum, teachers, and dictionaries for their language learning. We have one TV and computer in the classroom, but only the teacher is really allowed to use these. A computer lab/class is where basic skills are learned and then games or social media (point made?) take place. What then can be done to further the educational abilities of our students? Well, I believe we first need wifi.

And since our administration doesn’t believe wifi can be beneficial, I’m going to meet with them to display and discuss the endless positive possibilities. I just hope not to overwhelm them with the experiences I’ve had over the past few days alone as well as the last few years. And that’s one of the hardest parts about all of this…feeling alone at school yet consistently connected with hundreds outside of it and the country. But I’m encouraged because I know many of you are behind me. My students will be very pleased to know this and to see your support. I show them and my peers at times via my VPN.

Around ten of those 6th graders helped me make a movie to be presented to the admin next week with English and Chinese because they’re all in for change. As a Chinese colleague reminded me, students are not their real selves in front of the admin. I knew this thus I had the students find me personally to record short videos of themselves providing reasons why we should have wifi. And some of these students stand out by standing up so I admire them even if they’re 11-12 years old. They have grit. They have a gut that tells them there must be a more modern way of learning, and they’ll do whatever it takes. As Chris Carter put it so eloquently above, a few of the students have spoken plainly and frankly for our school leaders. One even stood in front of a book case and said that with the internet, he can know or search for anything. Without it, he is limited to only what is in on his desk.

Keep the conversations going…because #internetmatters, especially for ELLs in China.

Sports Day

Today was our Sports Day, and it’s one of my favorite days of the school year. It’s up there with the field trips that we take every semester to a park. But seriously…the day is filled with students marching, running, throwing, jumping, screaming, cheering, drinking, and eating. You name it, and it could very well be happening.

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Before the meet started, our principal shared how she was happy about the events to come, but she wasn’t too keen on the food the students brought to eat. I thanked her personally later, and she explained that this is a generational thing (according to her husband). When they were children, they didn’t have much food so Sports Day was an occasion they looked forward to because of the candy that was provided. Nowadays, students’ families don’t struggle so much for food, but they still bring the “junk food” as she called it publicly. Good for her!

The Ball Throw's Boundaries
The Ball Throw’s Boundaries

The day transitioned into the foreign teachers helping out with the Ball Throw. It’s the part of this that we always assist with. The students are sent in groups to us by gender from each class. Ergo we would have only several at a time, and my job was to guide them when to throw their three attempts. The others were uber-easy to manage, no matter the age ranging from 1st-5th grade. During this time, I was able to chat with students and give pointers on how to throw the ball according to the students’ comfortability and liking. We finished around 11:20am and headed off for lunch. For some reason, our cafeteria believes that baozi is a great meal for a day like this. Many of us teachers beg to differ especially since we have to run afterwards. Hence I brought a peanut butter sandwich and some almonds to eat. I wasn’t about to repeat what happened last year. 😉

When lunch finished, I went outside and watched many of our staff members including: cooks, maintenance men, dorm teachers, nurses, etc. doing an assortment of activities. Some were doing long jump. Others were throwing a heavy ball while a group of older cafeteria and finance staff were playing a favorite of mine. Basically, you roll a ball and try to skillfully get it to land on the zone that gives you 10, 9, 8, or 7 points. Why’s that a favorite? Because, as I shared with my colleagues, we get to see so many staff members laugh and make memories together. If they’re anything like the few of us FTs, jokes and stories will inevitably be told for years to come. It was during this time I decided to start warming up. About two hours after lunch would be when the teachers’ races would begin. That’s right! The glory days return! Or as a friend said today, it’s when we have fun. Exactly! Right…

The 100m dash came and went. Then came some more races and relays of former students of mine. If anything, this day reminds me of the camaraderie and good times my high school track team had. So it gives me joy to cheer on the students and push them physically and mentally to do their best. The race of the day came, I believe, when the 5th grade classes had their girls run the 4x100m relay. When the race has all three teams neck and neck, it can be quite invigorating. It was right before this that I aided the Ball Throw again and witnessed a 6th grade boy toss a ball over 150 feet. Yea, he won. Hands down. Then came the 200m dash. My legs were heavy for that one. 😀

The last event of the afternoon was the 6x200m relay. This consists of teams from all levels: elementary, middle, and high school. The high school usually has a team of students while the other two departments have teams of teachers and other staff create teams of their own. Those who wanted to run for elementary were up and ready while a few more needed to be pressured to join in on the “fun.” Several Chinese teachers didn’t take part in any event because they weren’t about to lose any face. It truly didn’t matter to me. What’s the harm in being embarrassed in front of your students? Of course it depends on your context, but this wasn’t anything to be worried the least bit about. We ended up in third place. Not bad.

Closing Ceremony
Closing Ceremony

Lastly came the closing ceremony where a class from each grade was awarded the winner by points. Another certificate was handed out for the classes with the best sportsmanship. The administrators made some final comments, and the time came for the PE staff and some students to help break down as the school headed in to prepare for going home. I talked with some teachers, broke down equipment, and congratulated students in their efforts and achievements from the day. It was definitely a sunny day filled with laughs, smiles, high-fives, encouragement, challenges, teamwork, and friendship.

Moments likes these are hard not to think about upon the return home. I was touched by the students who smiled so much at my acknowledgement. I consider now the ones who I high-fived though they didn’t get first place. My hope is that the students walked away from the field with stronger desires to do well in their physical fitness, eating habits, teamwork, character, and the list could go on.

Man! It would be nice to have this kind of event more than once a year.