This website requires JavaScript.
    arrow right
    arrow right

    James Sweeney: Teaching Innovation


    09 Mar, 2018

    10 : 00

    • In this week's Teacher Profile, we highlight the work and ideas of James Sweeney, Year 3 Learning Community Team Leader at Yew Chung International School of Beijing. Originally from Birmingham, England, James first joined YCIS Beijing in 2015 where he's come to play a key role in the development of the school's PrimaryLearning Communities.

      In speaking with James, he shares more information about the new educational trends in the 21st century and how YCIS Beijing incorporates these innovative practices - including the evolution of the idea that learning happens everywhere, and the need for creative new uses of physical space. Now a veteran expat, James also discusses his favourite spots for exploring in China.

      Please introduce yourself.

      My name is James Sweeney, and I am from Birmingham, England. This will be my third year here at YCIS Beijing. 

      What innovations have you seen (and expect to continue) in education in the 21st century?

      Physical Space: The evolution of the idea that learning happens everywhere, and how that translates into our schools, is at the forefront of the idea of 21st century learning. Schools are becoming even more aware of how the physical space impacts on learning and student output. In particular, flexible and varied learning spaces and furniture is sought out for how it especially encourages collaboration and peer learning alongside of individual work and reflection.

      Teaching Methodologies: Teachers are now not simply a source of knowledge. They are rather a guide for the students to learn actively through exploration and discovery, giving them key support at critical times to achieve their learning goals and ultimately seeing them develop into knowledge producers. The old analogy attributed to Plutarch rings even more true for 21st century educators: "Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire." If we were then to flip this phrase and look at it through the lens of a student rather than a teacher, we could see that the aim is to have 21st century learners that are active participants in their own learning, rather than passive receptacles of knowledge.

      Other Areas: An emphasis on developing transferable skills and lasting character, alongside of content knowledge, is an essential aspect of 21st century education. 

      How do you feel that YCIS Beijing is keeping up-to-date with these new innovations?

      The first, and most obvious, can be seen as you tour our redesigned buildings. There are spaces that invite collaboration and communication and more closely model real-life work scenarios than closed, traditional classrooms could ever do. The variety of different available spaces to which the students have access more easily match individual learning preferences as well as the varied learning opportunities.

      Students becoming digitally literate remains a 21st century learning goal that YCIS Beijing aligns with. We are seeing students expanding on their learning through the creation of digital presentations and digital learning portfolios. The infusion of technology into our learning, from iPads to Apple TVs to green screening, all enhances our students' ability to become digitally literate and to showcase their learning in new and inventive ways.

      In addition, YCIS Beijing has adopted learner dispositions that are at the heart of our vision for students to experience true transformation during their time at our school. Every learning scenario presented to the students has been carefully and mindfully permeated by our teaching team with opportunities to develop in these learner dispositions. For all the great accomplishments our students are going to achieve as they grow and eventually go into the real world, we are to ensure that they not only are equipped with the knowledge and skills needed for it, but also the appropriate attitudes and character.

      Now a veteran expat, what can you say about your experience living in Beijing?

      Beijing is a dynamic place to be: there is always something exceptional happening, and the city itself is constantly changing! Beijing has brought me great friends, a new language to learn and life experiences that I'll never forget. 

      As a history enthusiast, what have been your favorite parts of Beijing (and/or China) to explore? Have you had any favourite trips?

      Within Beijing, my favourite spot is the Temple of Heaven. I have gone there several times and each time there is a new aspect of it that intrigues me. Joining in with the Beijingers practicing their tai-chi or playing jianzi, hearing traditional instruments being played, seeing the careful calligraphy done in water, and feeling the buzz of excitement the throngs of Chinese visitors bring as they eagerly look to see a majestic relic of times gone by: these are the things that I love and which keep me coming back to it.

      Outside of Beijing, I'm always up for trips to different cities. Some of my favourites have been to Harbin, Xi'An and Shanghai. A place I haven't yet gone to is Guilin. I'd love to explore the famous mountains and soak in the unique scenery that Guilin has to offer.