Mr. Refsland at the Great Wall during his visit to China
Published on Friday, 15 June 2012 15:18
linton Community School District Superintendent Randy Refsland will soon be joining Ameson’s Nanjing team as a Foreign Academic Coordinator. Mr. Refsland’s daughter’s experiences teaching in Korea inspired him to expand his own horizons by taking his own skills abroad. This April, an exchange program took him to Shijiazhuang, Hebei, where he spent nearly three weeks shadowing a local partner educator, observing the Chinese education system from within.
During this exchange, Mr. Refsland was deeply impressed by the dedication of Chinese students, a quality which he hopes his experiences will help him better cultivate in American students. He was also repeatedly asked how Chinese educators could encourage their students to think more critically and creatively. Mr Refsland immediately recognized an opportunity for cooperation to produce mutual benefit, and became determined to return to China. Shortly after returning to the United States, he discovered the Ameson Foundation’s website, and after some correspondence was promptly offered a position in Ameson’s Nanjing office.
Having worked as a teacher for 18 years, a principal for nine years, and a superintendent for four years, Mr. Refsland brings a wealth of experience in American education as well as an observant and open mind to his work with Ameson. The Ameson Foundation recently conducted a brief interview with Mr. Refsland on how international collaboration can benefit educational systems on both sides of the Pacific. Below is a selection of Mr. Refsland’s replies:How did you come to know of Ameson, and what influenced you to work with us?
I found out about Ameson when I started to research possible opportunities in China. When I saw a job posted I took a look at the web site and began to research and quickly made up my mind that this would be an organization to work with if I were to eventually come to China. The quality of people who are part of this organization is impressive not only due to their resumes but also because of their commitment to providing quality educational experiences for kids. I have been deeply impressed with the people I have met and talked to and I am looking forward to the opportunity to work there. In recent articles in the Beloit Daily News and the Janesville Gazette you mentioned American schools could benefit from some of the discipline you saw in Chinese students. Do you have any thoughts on how the strengths of Chinese education can be incorporated into the American system while maintaining our focus on critical thinking and creativity?
I think that what we can hope to learn from the Chinese is the importance that is put on making sure students grasp the basic concepts and the foundation of a subject matter. I think that our students and parents could learn about focusing in on the importance of education and making good decisions. Too often here we see that people are much more concerned about who the football coach will be than on who is teaching their child mathematics. This is the primary objective of mine in China, I want to learn as much as possible to bring back to my school district. I hope I have a much better and much more complete response a year from now. Similarly, how can the strengths of American education be adapted to the Chinese system?
On the exchange that I participated in from April 4-22 this year, one of the things that kept coming up was that the educators wanted their students to be more creative and better at critical thinking. I actually saw students doing that in art and music classes as well as seeing adults who had very good talents in those areas. However, unlike here, they don’t seem to be encouraged to do those things as much. I believe, because our kids are exposed to a large number of course offerings and are encouraged to be self-reliant, they develop that ability to think outside of the box. I think enlarging opportunities for kids to explore different subjects and encouraging them to try things that are outside of their comfort zone would be a very good thing. Students and teachers in China need to know it is OK to make a mistake, we often learn more from the mistake. Thomas Edison, when he was asked by a reporter, how it felt to have failed over 1,000 times before he finally found the right way to make the light bulb, reportedly responded that he had not failed, he simply had found over a 1,000 ways not to make a light bulb. That spirit of exploration is a difficult concept for people to embrace when they have not been exposed to or encouraged to try it. How does having an international perspective on education benefit education professionals at home (in their own cultures)?
I think way too often in the U.S. we become very insular in our views of the world and it is difficult for teachers and students to develop a true world view. The experience of having been overseas is very beneficial in that regard. We all bring our own experiences and knowledge into our teaching and it can only be helpful to expand our horizons and learn new things about people and culture. The ability to share that information is so important and for every student and adult we can impact and help develop a broader view of our world the better off we are in my opinion.