Meet Our Teachers
- Dorothy Mubweka - Secondary School - Humanities Teacher
- Greg Barnes - Secondary School - Math Teacher
- Marie Loan- Primary School - Homeroom Teacher
- Marjorie Barnes - Secondary School - Math Teacher
- Nehemiah Olwande - Secondary School - English Teacher
- Yang Yang - Secondary School - Chinese Visual Arts Teacher
- Jim Mao - Primary School - Wushu Teacher
- Che Qing - Primary School - Chinese Homeroom Teacher
- Lu Nan - Primary School Art Teacher
What drew you and Nehemiah to Keystone?
We have lived in Asia for 9 years and Mandarin is our children’s second language. Hence we wanted to work in a bilingual school so our kids could advance their Mandarin skills. Keystone was the best fit for the family in terms of a residential program and the bilingualism.
What areas of Humanities do you enjoy teaching most and why?
Humanities within the MYP is an integrated course. Hence teaching modules can be developed over multiple disciplines. As an educator, specific skills like research, communication and critical thinking become an enjoyable part to teach in the course because once students acquire the skills, the knowledge can be accessed and applied in unfamiliar settings.
Keystone advisors are a distinctive and outstanding feature of the school when it comes to each student’s individual growth and development. At Keystone, advisors are the gardeners who enable students to grow into mature persons. Can you give some examples of how you as a mentor help make school life meaningful?
Advisory groups are key to the life of students at Keystone. Through these small groups students form bonds with each other as well as with the supervising teacher (advisor). One strategy I employ with my advisees is to set weekly goals. These are not restricted to academics but also encompass the different aspects of their lives at Keystone. Every Thursday, we review the goals set in the previous week and measure our achievement level using a spectrum. When they fulfill the goals then they set new goals. Those that have not fully met the goal get a time extension or re-evaluate and review the progress. This activity instills a sense of accountability and fosters reflective skills in my students.
With your three children (6,11,17) enrolled at Keystone, what do you consider the benefits are for them receiving an education at Keystone? And what challenges do they encounter coming from an international school in Singapore?
An education at Keystone means that my children get to see Mummy and Daddy frequently and if not, then there is the reassurance that we are somewhere close by. This may sound petty but for my children it is quite comforting. An education at Keystone means that my children receive a highly subsidized education which is an investment, bearing in mind that they are taught by educators who are experienced and value their commitment to the school. They are also benefiting from an immersion system that gives them the opportunity to practice a language they do not speak at home.
The biggest challenge for them is the feeling of not fitting in because of the exclusion they perceive as being a minority in the student population. Nevertheless, as a family we have adopted a quote from Keystone’s own advertisement campaign, “Why fit in, when you were born to stand out?” This is the philosophy we want them to embrace.
Describe Keystone as your home away from home for you and your family?
What advice would you offer an incoming teaching couple with children? Are there any activities on offer at Keystone that provide faculty with an opportunity to work out and socialize?
As an international educator, home for me is not my country of origin but where my heart is at rest. As a family we have embraced Keystone as our home. It’s not only the physical aspect of home, but also the sense of belonging. We have settled well in this small, yet diverse community. There are a lot of activities you can do with your children on campus. Sporting facilities are accessible to all. Shuttle buses are organized over the weekend to take families for shopping and other entertainment activities.
The communal feeling is evident during meal times and beyond. There are evening get-togethers where families meet over a glass of wine while the children watch a movie. The different social media chat groups are helpful in motivating and informing people on what is happening. More importantly, the faculty members and their families are very inclusive. Kudos to existing faculty for making our settling in a painless experience.
Dorm parents are part of the multi-layered advising and supervising structure of Keystone’s academic and residential life programs. Residential dorm parents live in the dorms in private apartments. How would you describe your home away from home?
Since our daughters have recently moved out to go to college, it’s been a real pleasure having a new group of teenagers to look after in our home away from home.Our apartment is spacious and comfortable, and we are rarely disturbed by any noise from our neighboring boarding students (10th & 11th Grade boys).The facilities staff are friendly and helpful, and the campus facilities (including swimming pool and exercise room) are more than just comfortable.Visiting with other staff in their apartments is always a pleasure, and everyone has added the personal touches necessary to make their apartments feel like home.
What are your essential duties and responsibilities as a dorm parent during the week? How do student proctors assist you in your duties?
Once per week, I am “on duty” as supervising dorm parent from 7pm until Lights Out at around 10:30pm.During this time, students turn in their mobile phones and observe quiet study time.We have a common area on the floor with small rooms for students to study together in small groups.At the end of the night, all students must turn in their laptops and mobile phones to a “technology room” where their devices charge overnight.The Student Proctors help with all the logistics, and also help with room checks and keeping track of who needs to do what.
What might weekend duty look like as part of the residential life weekend program?
Weekend duty usually involves two assigned responsibilities, each one lasting around two hours.If you have something you want to do with boarding students that stay in the residence halls for the weekend (visit an art exhibit, or show a movie), that activity can count as one of your assignments.Otherwise, we are assigned some kind of monitoring duty or hall sweep responsibility.
Do you also have time to explore areas of interest outside of teaching Math and your responsibilities as a dorm parent?
Definitely!I’m involved in playing with a band of other teachers, and I go out every Thursday night for a trivia contest a group of us participate in.I only have one weekend duty assignment per month, and I have supervision responsibilities on my dorm floor one night per week. I have every other night of the week free, and most weekends are free to travel or relax.
How do you spend your weekends and school breaks?
During our last break, my wife and I traveled to Thailand.We’re looking forward to exploring more travel opportunities during upcoming breaks.Weekends are usually for relaxing or playing music.
As an English homeroom teacher at Keystone, what are the benefits of learning a second language for children?
Learning English is very beneficial to children as it opens doors for their future.English is a predominant language in this world.Having a good grasp of the English language can help with getting into various prestigious universities in the world and it can also expand job opportunities.It helps with staying connected to what is happening in the world.English is widely used as the language of communication even in countries where it is not considered one of the main languages and this can be a huge benefit when traveling to other parts of the world.
Please describe a day in your life on campus during and after school?
My day at Keystone often starts with breakfast with colleagues.I feel very fortunate to be able to stay on campus as this has given me an opportunity to connect with staff.After breakfast, I proceed with my day of teaching two Grade One classes.If I am not meeting with my Grade level teachers, I am often talking to them during breaks to catch up on what is happening in their classrooms and to share ideas. When I am finished for the day, I go over student’s work and/or plan for the following day.
Outside of school hours, I take advantage of the many social activities offered by the school, such as day trips and transportation to the Pinnacle and Shine shopping and entertainment centers in the area.
Aside from being an English homeroom teacher, do you also facilitate an after school co-curricular activity, KAP (Keystone Activity Program) as they are called?
Each Monday, I run a Games KAP with a group of Grade 3 and 4 students.We have had a lot of fun together learning new games.They are teaching me some games now as well.
What do you find most rewarding about teaching at Keystone?
At Keystone, I would have to say that the sense of community is the most rewarding part of teaching here.In August, I found it to be a real challenge to get to know my students and to really connect with them due to the language barrier.In a short time however, I’ve gotten to know my students and we can all communicate with each other very well.I am very much enjoying my two groups.It is most definitely very rewarding to witness the student progress. I feel a real sense of community with my relationships with both my English and Chinese partners as well.I feel very fortunate to work with such wonderful people and I am very happy to be here.The parent community has also been extremely supportive.I am most grateful for that.
All of these aspects are a big part of my professional growth and my sense of well being here at Keystone.
Why would you recommend Keystone to prospective faculty?
I would highly recommend Keystone to prospective faculty as it is a place where you can continue to grow as a teacher and where you can build wonderful relationships with colleagues.
What drew you and Greg to Keystone?
To be honest, my first reaction was, “no way!”It is far away from home, the language is hard to learn, and all the pollution comments you hear in the news were all points against coming here.My friend Diana (who had just been hired as the High School Principal) asked us not to be so negative and to at least participate in an interview over Skype.After agreeing and completing the interview, we took a serious look at the possibilities it might bring for us both.We started to do the research, and we got hooked on the idea of travelling to this part of the world.The potential to be a part of creating a unique school in its beginning years and the opportunities for professional growth were ultimately the biggest selling points.Once we got here, we met some of the most qualified and helpful staff either of us has ever worked with.When we saw all the resources the school has and how supportive and respectful our school leadership team is, we knew we had made the right decision.
What areas of Math do you enjoy teaching most and why?
I am passionate about the subject still today with 26 years of experience.This is a hard question to answer, but if forced I would choose Trigonometry and/or Calculus.Students can finally make infinite serious connections with all the math material they have learned in previous courses and start solving real life problems and applications.Solving problems at this level is so much fun, it is like solving a puzzle or playing a game.
How do teaching Math and our three keystones link in class?
We have 3 keystones that define the character of the school: bilingual immersion, US-style residential program and the promotion of Chinese culture. To me, it is fascinating to explore the influence of Chinese culture in mathematics, which is profound and far-reaching.I have always enjoyed learning how students and staff from different parts of the world learn and teach Mathematics.We approach the content in many different ways around the world, and the similarities and differences have always been of interest to me.The residential component provides many opportunities to have math discussions with students at all hours, and to be a support to them outside of the classroom.As an English language learner myself, Mathematics has always been a kind of universal language that helps me connect with others.Keystone’s emphasis on bilingual education helps me reinforce this and live it in a new context.
Can you describe your role as an advisor in mentoring and motivating your students towards personal, ethical and intellectual growth?
It is part of our mission to provide thoughtful and holistic support to our students, not just academic support.We help students to make appropriate decisions and the opportunity for regular personal contact is a great help in this regard.As parents of two teenagers in college, this program has helped my husband and I cope with the “empty nest” feeling all parents of older children inevitably deal with.As an advisor to an amazing group of 11th graders, I have been able to get to know them well, advocate for them in their personal and academic development with other staff, and sometimes even with their own parents.My advice has been well received and the students have really listened to what I have tried to share.They have become my family away from home and my involvement with them has only gotten stronger and more genuine since the school year started.Students constantly ask me all kinds of questions and it has been a terrific opportunity to share what I have learned in my own experience.
What has been your most rewarding experience working and living at Keystone so far? Have you had the opportunity to build new friendships and explore Beijing?
Working with a great group of teachers, collaborating with them, and learning about the Chinese culture and their completely different perspectives on many issues has made this a wonderful time in our lives.Exploring Beijing and having the opportunity to travel to Thailand for a holiday so far have been the most exhilarating experiences.The staff has been very welcoming and the teachers already living here start contacting you even before you get here.Friendships have been quick to form and genuine, as nearly all of us are new to the area and collaboration is part of our work.
Teaching English in the Secondary School, what benefits do your students reap drawing from the three learning traditions that Keystone brings to its students?
• Promoting Chinese culture and identity in a world context
One of the aims of English Language Acquisition (ELA) is: encouraging and enabling students to gain proficiency in an additional language while supporting maintenance of their mother tongue and cultural heritage.At Keystone, ELA units, the topics, and teaching resources, accord me the flexibility of weaving aspects of Chinese culture into my lessons.For example, while covering the unit ‘Cultural stories’, we read texts on the old Chinese tradition of Foot Binding, exploring its origin, significance, factors that led to its popularity during the Song Dynasty between 960 ‐1279, and the values connected to the practice.Although obsolete, it is important that students know such traditions, which were part of Chinese culture, and understand that some aspects of culture evolve with time. Additionally, through the culture lens, some students learned an aspect of their culture they might not have known.
• Bilingual immersion in Chinese and English
The aims of the English Language Acquisition program at Keystone are aligned with IB’s Language B aims.This includes equipping students with skills to understand and use English in a range of contexts and for a variety of reasons; developing students’ intercultural understanding; and developing the competence to communicate appropriately, accurately and effectively in a range of contexts, and for a variety of purposes. To achieve this, students’ knowledge and understanding is developed through learning language; learning through language and learning about language (Haliday 1985).For instance, after learning topic specific vocabulary, students learn to apply the words in both oral and written communication. Through role-plays, students practice their spoken English and in the process, improve their communicative competency.We also use audio-visual resources and engaging topics to appeal to different learning styles and interests.
• Building character and community throughout our residential setting
There is a genuine synergy between Keystone’s residential life program and what happens inside the classroom.As a dorm parent, my knowledge of the norms and values of Keystone’s residential life program allow me to integrate them in my lessons. I deliberately use certain teaching strategies and texts to inculcate and reinforce Keystone values of Justice, Compassion, Respect, Honesty and Wisdom.For instance, through deliberate and purposeful groupings and activities, students learn to respect others and themselves by listening to them, respecting their views, taking responsibility for their behavior, using their wisdom to make the right decisions, and accepting the wisdom of knowledgeable others for personal growth.
Keystone’s residential life program is an integral part of supporting and preparing students for their college lives academically, socially and emotionally. What has been a transformational moment in this regard for you as a dorm parent?
Keystone’s residential life program immerses students and teachers into a system of living and working in a culturally and academically vibrant community.Living with students and dorm parents from various backgrounds and cultures, having meals in the same dining hall, supervising study hall every Thursday from 6:30pm to about 10:30pm, and engaging in residential life activities that build character and community are all transformational for me.Coupled with daily routines like self check-in for breakfast, tidying up living quarters, academic support and lights-out, residential life fosters cross-cultural awareness and understanding, conflict resolution, time management, independence, good study habits, and healthy lifestyle.These are skills that are crucial in preparing students for their college lives.
In your duties, to what extent do you draw support from the core values that provide the foundation for community behavior and interactions of residential life at Keystone?
As a dorm parent and teacher, I draw support extensively from Keystone’s core values that provide the foundation for community behavior and interactions of residential life.Teachable moments and daily routines provide perfect opportunities for teaching, commending, reminding and reinforcing our core values of respect, honesty, compassion, justice and wisdom.
You recently accompanied the grade 11 students on their experiential learning journey through old Beijing. Can you describe and give your take on experiential learning in general and the program in place at Keystone?
Benjamin Franklin’s quote, “Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn” encapsulates the true essence of experiential learning; learning through reflection on doing.Learning life skills through experience has the propensity to engage students in that students not only observe and listen to experts but also get a chance to actively participate in learning through hands-on experience.
Keystone’s ‘Hot & Healthy’ Experiential Learning Program (ELP) was unique in many ways.This was my first ELP at Keystone and I was impressed by the level of organization, timeliness and relevance of the experience to our grade 11 students.In my view, the experience achieved more than its key objective in that besides learning skills such as preparing different healthy meals, students also engaged in adventure activities and team building challenges that tested and pushed them to think ‘outside the box’.For example, although many knew how to ride bicycles, they learned new rules and tips of safe cycling.They also learned how to make both Chinese and Western dishes.So while they learned how to prepare Western foods, they were also reminded of the importance of their Chinese heritage.
How would you describe the Keystone residential halls and academic buildings?
Residential halls: Safe and secure; home away from home; aesthetically pleasing, spacious.
Academic buildings: Well resourced, modern, appointed, comfortable, warm, secure.
What drew you to Keystone?
Last year, when I worked with Keystone Summer Archway, I worked with a few Keystone faculty members and got a taste of living on campus. I enjoyed the experience and the paycheck made the experience even better. This year, I participated in the Summer Archway program again and a teacher informed me that the school was looking for a Chinese Visual Arts teacher and he thought I fit the description – so here I am.
What do you like most about teaching Art at Keystone?
As a Chinese Thread Art teacher, I have the freedom to create my own curriculum. My classes are not just about teaching techniques and skills, nor are they “down time” as they are often perceived in public schools, nor do they fall under thinking as promoted in the IB curriculum. They are about knowing and feeling Chinese culture in the process.
How do you promote Chinese culture and identity in a world context during Chinese Art class?
I tell stories. Children like stories rather than principles. They memorize the stories in detail and accept the messages easily. My passion for Chinese culture traces back to a book I read when I was little – the 365 stories to read to yourself. When students understand the stories, they will compare them with what they have learned in world civilization and Chinese civilization class and develop their own thoughts about them.
You are a trained scientist in addition to an artist and art teacher. How do your work in science and your work in Chinese visual arts complement each other?
With a background in medicine and biology, I identify firstly as a scientist. Chinese culture and visual arts are hobbies since I was very young. I became logical, critical, and creative because of them.
What has been the most rewarding experience for you teaching a KAP?
As part of the Keystone Activity Programme, I coach girls’ soccer. Last year there was no girls’ soccer team at Keystone since too few students showed interest. This year we had 22 players from grade six through eight and we took part is ISAC and BASE games and tournaments. Although we lost most of the games, all players tried their best and they all want to play soccer again. As the first ever girls’ soccer team we created Keystone history.
Describe Keystone as your home away from home?
Keystone as a home is like a family with a lot of siblings and children. People eat, live, work, learn, and play together. Siblings take care of each other and all adults look after the children.
What drew you to Keystone?
Before coming here, I already knew that Keystone Academy attached great importance to the teaching of Chinese cultural heritage and offered Wushu (martial arts) as a course on its own. I grew up immersed in traditional Chinese culture and my previous teaching experience in a Hong Kong-based international school made me realize the significance of having both one’s own cultural heritage and a global perspective. For years I have been thinking how to instill in Chinese students their own cultural traditions on their path to explore the world. One of three cornerstones at Keystone, ‘to develop students’ love for Chinese culture and encourage them to identify with their Chinese identity in the global context’ really resonates with what I would like to impart through the teaching of Wushu. That is why I joined Keystone.
What is Wushu and what does Wushu teach you?
Wushu is a major part of traditional Chinese sports practiced by Chinese people as a form of physical exercise and self-defense over thousands of years. Theoretically, Wushu features a series of routinesand confrontations. However, in the school context, Wushu serves more as a medium in the teaching of Chinese culture and tradition. By combining physical exercise and cultural study, Wushu lessons help foster students’ enthusiasm and love for the ancient sport in each gesture and move.
Born in a Wushu family, I started my martial arts training in my childhood and am now a career Wushu instructor focusing on teaching and promoting the ancient art. No matter in personal life or at work, Wushu has made a significant impact on me. It has taught me to be polite, modest and sincere when dealing with people, as well as persistent, self-reliant and determined in the face of challenges. These precious lessons I have learnt from practicing Wushu will stay with me for a lifetime.
What connections do you see between teaching Wushu, the Chinese Thread and 5 key values at Keystone?
Wushu is a critical component of the main courses at Keystone. In class, students learn and train in various Wushu skills, including boxing and using martial arts equipment. Chinese Wushu history and its development are also introduced in the course; these include the origins of boxing and martial arts weapons, and legends of Wushu masters throughout the history.
In the boxing skill courses for pre-school to Grade 2 students, lines of Di Zi Gui (Students’ Rules) are recited in the practice. The interdisciplinary teaching method as such not only teaches students Wushu moves but also introduces to them the world of traditional Chinese culture. The learning of Martial virtue (Wude) are instilled throughout all Wushu courses in primary and secondary school, and what they promote are the embodiment of 5 key values at Keystone.
What other responsibilities do you have at Keystone in addition to teaching Wushu?
Besides teaching, I initiated and set up a Keystone Wushu team last year, offering more opportunities for young Wushu enthusiasts. Qualified as a swimming instructor, I also teach PE swimming at Keystone. This year, I am serving as a subject leader of the arts department in the primary school. In cooperation with teachers of music, visual arts, dance, drama, and Wushu in the school, we aim to create more opportunities for children to learn and develop. Meanwhile, as a member of the Keystone Chinese Thread Committee, I am also actively involved in this particular part of the curriculum.
Living off-campus, how do you stay connected with the faculty that lives on campus? And what has your experience been building a social life away from campus and campus activities?
I live by the campus at the moment, so my personal life is not far away from the school. After finishing work for the day, I often go to the gym, play ball with my colleagues, or eat out with friends. On some weekends, I go on excursions to the outskirts of Beijing. I like football, badminton, and swimming, and am an enthusiast for climbing, skiing, snowboarding and other outdoor sports. For me, these activities are a great way to meet like-minded people.
Chinese Homeroom Teacher
Che Qing brings her several years of experience in international schools to Keystone Academy. Besides her wealth of expertise in teaching in bilingual environments, Ms. Che also brings her particular skills in early education to the school. She is living her dream, and as an inspiring teacher, talented singer and dancer, it is no surprise that Ms. Che is one of the many primary school favorites among students. In this article, she tells us about her journey as a teacher.
It was her childhood dream to “always play with kids” and it is this dream that makes Che Qing the teacher she is – bright-eyed, radiant and full of energy. It is the ideal characteristic combination for any teacher, especially for someone experienced in early years education. Dreams are not easy to achieve or live by, but neither are they impossible if one follows the words of the world-renowned author Paulo Coelho, “There is only one thing that makes a dream impossible to achieve: the fear of failure.” Che Qing does not know what this means, not because she hasn’t confronted difficult situations, but because she is not afraid to try, to give it her all. A painting of a flower of eight colors that hangs in her living room is a testimony to this fearless dedication and devotion to teaching.
Pink, Orange, Red, Yellow, Blue, Green, Black, and Purple
“Six years ago, my class welcomed a student diagnosed with autism, let’s call her CiCi for now. She loved to paint, but only in blue; she never spoke with other people though frequently murmured to herself. I constantly consulted with special education teachers for guidance, and talked with CiCi’s mother on a regular basis. Though initially she flatly turned me away, she gradually warmed up, and even began to respond to me in short sentences!” Ms. Che also saw improvement when shades of green began to appear in her paintings, and from time to time she would even give her a quick hug. “Such actions wouldn’t be remarkable for any other student, but for CiCi, it was simply tremendous!” recollects Ms. Che. The most special moment came on her wedding day. CiCi, already a third grader by then, “took the initiative and hugged me to express her best wishes. She also gifted me a special painting – a flower of eight colors: pink, orange, red, yellow, blue, green, black, and purple,” Ms. Che reminisces fondly.
She has another student to thank for her reformative experience with CiCi, Doudou, whom she met much earlier in her career. Her memory of Doudou is, perhaps, not as colorful but it is an experience she will never forget. Just in the second year of her teaching career, as homeroom teacher for 5 year olds, Doudou became her student. Ms. Che recalls, “Doudou was extremely rebellious, he was definitely a ‘problem child’ in my eyes back then. Everywhere I looked, I saw his shortcomings. I had very few encouraging words to say to him. His unruliness only grew with his age.” She remembers employing every remedial measure to support Doudou, who was also becoming emotionally unstable and increasingly violent. “I even began to question my own ability as a teacher.”
As someone who does not give up so easily, Ms. Che says, “I thought to myself, there has to be a solution to every problem. I began reading books written by experienced educators, and realized that I might need to improve my teaching methodologies. I had to make an effort to adjust my attitude, and shift my focus towards Doudou’s strengths. I had noticed that he’s an extremely imaginative and persistent child; actually, I was truly amazed by some of his works!” Though Ms. Che was excited about finding a way to communicate with Doudou, the student was less convinced. Her heartfelt praise for Doudou’s work was met with disbelief. “He just didn’t believe me…I was completely dejected, and kept saying to myself that I was wrong, that I didn’t do a good job helping him.’ Ms. Che did not stop trying; she paid more attention to Doudou in an effort to build a rapport. The trust she was hoping for started forming, but only moments before Doudou’s graduation from preschool. “It came too late for both of us. I didn’t have enough time to help him or make amends for my earlier shortcomings.”
This was a turning point in her personal and professional journey; she began to look deeper into the meaning and purpose of education. “A meaningful education should not be entirely rigid, it should adapt to the different needs of children. There is no shortcut to discovering their needs either, it is only through an extraordinary level of patience and care that they can be revealed.” She quickly realized that she was part of a play without a script – the only certainty is the play or the journey marked by special moments and the full range of emotions. “After the episode with Doudou, I was especially mindful of keeping my patience, and used a child’s specific interest as an entry point for cutting down any communication barrier.” Each child is a different flower, of a different color says Che Qing, “Those children who are labeled as “problematic” are often overlooked gems waiting to be discovered!” Every child needs careful attention and nurturing to be prepared for the world. At Keystone Academy, Ms. Che believes this is possible.
Preparing Students for the Future, for the World
“Our world is changing rapidly every day, and we want our students to be always at the ready for this new world,” the Head of School remarked at the school’s Dedication Ceremony. Keystone’s ethos maintains that cultivating the right skills and qualities is more fundamental to education than curricular content. Such skills and qualities not only include learning capacity, but also deep wisdom and open minds. “Kids of this generation tend to be overly self-conscious. We must help them to learn how to respect others and cope with differences,” Ms. Che explains.
In her opinion, although direct, explicit guidance is veritably important in addressing this issue, subtler approaches and influences may be more effective. Ms. Che practices this by bringing her own life experiences to her students’ education. “My father and mother are of Mongol and Evenki ethnicity respectively, so I grew up with two languages and two different cultures. This was before I was introduced to the Chinese language and culture at the age of five. I have been immersed in the fun and joy that a multicultural environment brings, which also teaches me to respect people from different cultural backgrounds, and gives me confidence when meeting them,” she says, adding, “I make an effort to help my students learn about and get a feel for other cultures, and understand the diverse world that they live in. My hope is that through my efforts, they will expand their horizons and mindsets, learn to respect and accept people from different cultures.”
A worldly vision is only one side of the coin: an understanding of the world and its many cultures must be nurtured without losing one’s self-identity. Keystone advocates this importance in one of the three pillars of the school. “I appreciate the fact that Keystone Academy, promising to be a world school, also takes a strong position on the importance of Chinese culture and identity as one of its central missions. This has inspired me to dig deeper into the Chinese culture, and motivated me to share and spread the Chinese heritage,” says Ms. Che. “Weaving the Chinese Thread and our other school goals into one harmonious whole is no simple task. But I believe theories, reflections, practice, and perseverance will produce the answer I seek. This is a meaningful and enjoyable task,” she recognizes.
This is the ever-optimistic Che Qing. She firmly believes that she has found her calling and relishes its every moment even in the face of challenges. “Children are all blessed with great potential,” Ms. Che says with enthusiasm, adding, “They are eager to explore their surroundings using all means available to them, and are insatiable for information. Then they gradually grow towards independence. This is simply an incredible process!” Her joy cannot be contained as she continues, “To me, this is not only a job, it is a responsibility. I constantly tell myself that this is a career that enables me to bring joy to more children and families, and that is a cause worthy of lifelong learning and devotion.”
Let Me See What You See
Primary School Art Teacher
Some say that you cannot make your passion your profession because of practical and financial pressures, remembers primary school art teacher, Lu Nan. So, she went ahead and did exactly that. Not only is Lu Nan following her dream career in teaching for nearly a decade now, but she is also following her passions – art and teaching art. Here, she explains to us how she blends her passion into her profession calmly, and always with a smile. As she speaks, the glow of a strong and determined teacher shines through her serene composure.
Trained as an artist and a designer, Lu Nan is also an amateur musician. Her instrument of choice – the trombone. The mix of the delicate nature of art, and the not-so-gentle character of the trombone, tells you a lot about our primary school art teacher. “Very few girls played trombone when I was in school due to its weight,” said Ms. Lu, quickly adding, “But that is exactly why I liked it, because very few girls chose the trombone, and carrying it around made me feel strong. In fact, I remember my teacher once told me that I was the first girl to play trombone in any school orchestras in Beijing. I was always the chair of the trombone section in our school. Our orchestra even performed at the Beijing Concert Hall during my junior year in high school. It was challenging, yet one of my best performances.” As you can see, Lu Nan is not one to turn away from a challenge.
Even on her pathway to the profession of her dreams, there were challenges. “Back when I first started school, my mother was hospitalized due to illness, and my father had to spend a lot of time at the hospital. So, with nowhere to go after school, I turned to my first art teacher who taught me for six years, and lived on campus. She was very kind and generous to me. She opened her home to me. I would spend most of my time at her place. She took care of me, and taught me how to draw. She was more than a teacher to me, and her love kindled my interest in art. It is this warmth and interest that made art education a natural career path for me,” Ms. Lu reminisced. She extends this generosity and kindness to her students too, as she helps them explore and express themselves creatively and consciously.
A Blank Canvas?
“The creative process is essential to art,” notes Ms. Lu as she excitedly begins explaining her teaching style. But she stresses that drawing is not about delivering perfect artwork: “I always tell my students to relax, and let me see what they see. I believe that art is ultimately about the expression of ideas and sentiments, and less about the physical object – be it a painting, a sketch, or a sculpture – that has resulted from the expression of your ideas and sentiments.” Ms. Lu focuses her teaching on not just giving students the skills needed in art, but also on giving them the confidence to express themselves through art. She remembers a grade 1 student from her first year at Keystone who told her that he did not like drawing or art because he was not good at it. “I immediately realized that he is one of those students who usually assesses his work against results. What I needed to do in response was to encourage him more, and boost his confidence. And that’s what I did. By the end of that semester, as soon as I would walk into the classroom, he would say to me with sparkling eyes, “Ms. Lu, I love art class now, and I have been looking forward to it for an entire week!”” As an art teacher, these are words Ms. Lu lives for.
On the other hand, the moment she dreads as an art teacher is when a student turns in a blank canvas. This has not happened to Ms. Lu yet, and she hopes it does not come to be. But a blank canvas is a reflection of a student’s lack of originality, and a failing art education, she believes. However, worse would be to suppress students’ creativity by “providing too many detailed images and instructions,” warns Ms. Lu. “I prefer to discuss my students’ ideas with them, before moving on to specific techniques and methods. This helps them better express their original ideas, once they have learned and honed the necessary skills.”
Deliberation and reflection are essential parts of Ms. Lu’s classes. Not just with her, but students can also discuss their ideas with each other. “In my classroom, students are free to interact with me and each other, to choose and experiment with different tools, and decide on how to create their own work. I try my best to ensure that my students do not have any reason to turn in a blank canvas.”
The World is Their Canvas
Lu Nan’s approach to teaching is ideal for Keystone’s model of education that emphasizes reflection, inquiry and innovation, especially for primary school that is framed by the bilingual immersion program. Experienced in both Chinese and international art and art education, Ms. Lu offers students plenty of opportunities to learn and understand art from China, and around the world: “One of my lessons involves learning a Chinese cultural topic via western methods. I designed an art project based on the daomadan (a female warrior character from the Peking Opera), in which students are required to first carry out detailed research on the daomadan through inquiry-based techniques common in international education. Their research will help them find specific costume patterns, types of theatrical makeup used, and other elements. Students are then required to analyze their findings in order to assess how these can be presented using art techniques and skills, and reproduce them in a cohesive manner.”
She cites another example from her grade 3 lesson on learning the technique of block printing where students drew inspiration from African tribal culture. Ms. Lu reiterates that students learn techniques and basic brushwork from a world of inspiration, some more conventionally than others. But the students’ creativity, vision and expression always come through. “Take the fish paintings on the wall,” she points, adding, “I only showed them how to complete a single fish; it was the students who decided how they would represent the movement and interaction of schools of fish.”
Let Them Follow Their HeARTs
As Ms. Lu goes through all the paintings of Chinese fish on her wall, she says pausing in parts, “No two children will have the same reflections or reactions to what I have taught them… I just show them some basic techniques, so that they can follow their heart.” She insists that art cannot be restricted to rigid rules and criteria. She also hopes parents can help their children explore and enjoy art by encouraging them to draw or paint as they like at home or wherever they choose to.
Well, at Keystone if you walk onto the fifth floor of the primary school building, the buzz of creativity followed by the silence of creation that you hear from the Art Room is definitely the sound of students following their hearts. “This is my true calling,” beams Ms. Lu, and it definitely is.