Visiting Japan to represent California education has been an absolute honor. The Japanese people have been incredibly welcoming and gracious as a whole, but most especially the teachers, students, and faculty at the schools we visited in Tokyo. We were lucky to observe and interact at a variety of schools, both public and private. After several very full days, I found that there is a wide range of educational environments students can experience. Each school seemed to have a distinct philosophy, climate, and instructional approach, just as in the United States. We were even fortunate to meet two female principals, which our guide indicated is less common in Japan.
One universal theme was the importance placed on education. Japanese families and communities consider a strong education essential, with the goal of raising students to be responsible, productive members of society. That message isn't all that different from the one many of us try to instill in our students. However, I did find that the intensity with which it is conveyed in Japan far surpasses that of American schools. For example, one of the schools we visited encourages students to plan their study and homework time outside of school every week. To do this, students keep a log or agenda book called, "self-study notes." One student whose schedule I examined logged 1,945 hours of work time this school year! Her teacher explained that this was an especially good student, and that most students log between 1,000 and 1,300 hours per academic year. When I asked if students ever decide to do less, the teacher smiled sadly, shook her head, and said, "I have one student who only worked 30 minutes outside of school."
Another almost universal theme in Japanese schools seemed to be educating the whole child, with a "mind, body, culture" approach. While our experience included visiting a wide range of classrooms, some of which were teacher-centered and some more student-centered, all of the schools had very rich elective and club activities for students to enjoy. Most students stay at school until 7:00 or 8:00 at night, participating in clubs, sports, or studying. At Tokyo Metropolitan Itabashi-Yutoku High School, we were served formal Japanese tea ceremony from by students and a "Master of Tea," who taught us the ritual in partaking. We also observed the calligraphy program, which was absolutely incredible to watch as students created works of art. At Sakuragaoka Junior and High School, we observed a very rigorous soccer club practice and a joyful home economics classroom where students were elated to share their sewing projects. Our visit to Nerima Municipal Nakamura Nishi Elementary was a particularly joyous experience, as students ran out into the hallways to greet us and happily shouted "Hello!" To commemorate the spirit of each visit, I made an iMovie trailer in the van after we left every school. (Since I posting this from the mobile app and can't embed video, check out my YouTube Channel.)
One of the teachers from
Sakuragaoka graciously allowed me to stay in her home while we were in Tokyo. Her name was Tokoyo and she has been an English teacher for ten years. We exchanged many ideas, because this was her first year being selected as an 1:1 iPad classroom teacher and that is my ed tech wheelhouse! She loved the iMovie trailers and asked me to teach her how to create them - so we did! What a fun, international tech geek moment!
As I sit here writing this blog post, we are on the Shinkansen bullet train, heading to Kyoto for several days, then traveling to Hiroshima. As a side note, my students are following my journey on Instagram, which has been really fun! Connecting with my kids from another continent feels AWESOME.
More to come...