Bendigo Schools' Cluster VIC
Team China consists of a group of primary schools in the Bendigo region in Victoria whose principals think creatively and act collaboratively to bring Asia capability learning to life. This cluster of schools involves 14 primary schools with Bendigo Senior Secondary College (BSSC) as a strategic partner. This is a highly collaborative effort and mentoring opportunity, matching schools involved in establishing the Team China programme a few years ago with schools new to it in 2014. Several working parties have been established to oversee various aspects of the immersion programme.
The Team China programme extends to other aspects of learning, teaching and school management. Schools work together to deliver professional learning, building information and communication technology capacity through instant messaging and video conferencing programmes Lync and Skype, as well as wikis, to support regular and meaningful interactions with their sister schools. All schools support Asia-focused content in their teaching and learning programmes by undertaking curriculum and resources audits, establishing an Asia capability section in each school library and documenting units of work with explicit Asian links that are cross referenced with the Australian Curriculum guidelines.
The number of involved primary schools has increased from five to twelve. The participating schools are Kangaroo Flat, Quarry Hill, White Hills, Maiden Gully, Marong, Epsom, Huntly, Specimen Hill, Camp Hill, Golden Square, Lockwood South, Kennington, Spring Gully and Eaglehawk North. BSSC has been acting as the cluster's employment authority of all the Mandarin language teachers who work across each of the schools in varying time fractions. This arrangement has enabled the very small schools to access qualified language teachers for short amounts of time as these teachers can then work across a number of schools in a more flexible manner. Schools have also made use of Hanban teacher instructors who have been working alongside teachers on a fortnightly basis with the classroom teachers reinforcing the new learning in Mandarin language instruction between these visits. The schools in the cluster are experiencing an increased uptake in the number of students engaging in Mandarin language instruction. The success of the Team China initiative has enhanced the cluster's ability to recruit quality language teachers.
The schools have instigated three Chinese immersion programmes that have involved 128 Chinese students and 15 teachers. Of the schools in the cluster, 12 have hosted these Chinese students for eight-week in-school programmes where they are billeted out with local families. This number will have risen to 178 students by the end of 2014.
In addition, the principals/school leaders have the opportunity to tour China annually to build intercultural understanding. Planning for a nine-day 2014 Overseas Learning Experience to Shanghai and Suzhou for 57 students took place in May 2014. The cluster has established no fewer than seven working parties to ensure that nothing is left to chance and that each participating student benefits as much as possible from this experience. The schools went to great lengths to ensure that students selected to join this inaugural trip would have the best chance of benefitting from the experience. All students were interviewed and parents and students were made well aware of their responsibilities. Parents were very keen to assist with the various fundraising efforts. The cluster facilitated a number of 'pre-departure days' aimed at preparing students and staff for the tour.
The working parties have included a risk assessment team, a uniform team, a media and sponsorship team as well as an internal communications team. Students stayed together while in China and spent time in schools while there. The fact that 20 staff members attended increased the number of staff members who are aware of the need for schools to reach out to education partners in China. The various working parties have all made extensive use of Asia Education Foundation overseas travel resources, which are freely available to all schools. An extensive and detailed package that includes the management and educational components of this overseas experience has been collated for use in the planning of future tours.
The cluster schools have established 13 sister school partnerships, with these now being embedded in a number of the schools. A number of middle leaders from each school have begun to meet together regularly and have engaged in quality professional learning coordinated by regional staff. This strategy to distribute the leadership beyond the principals' group will sustain the Team China project.
BSSC teacher Nicholas Freeman received a scholarship from the Australia–India Council to participate in the School Leaders in the Asian Century study programme. Participants spent four days living and working with a host from a school in Delhi, which offered unique opportunities for building personal and professional relationships across cultures. A reciprocal visit is planned for June 2014.
The schools involved in the Team China project have made extensive use of information and communications technology for planning, connecting with strategic partners and sharing quality learning resources. A range of digital resources have been designed and there have been increased collaborations with partners using instant messaging and video conferencing programmes as Lync and Skype. Some of the schools in the cluster have developed apps for staff and student use, and make use of wikis and blogs. The schools have also accessed AEF's and Sunshine Online's web resources.