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Ensuring every child succeeds. Dionne Zantua and Lisa Li

Ensuring every child succeeds
Dionne Zantua and Lisa Li
Head and Deputy Head of Early Years
Wellington College Tianjin - Bilingual Nursery
By Bethany Marshall
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TP 201901 cover 02Since its opening in 2011, Wellington College has been a brand of inspiration for the future thought-leaders of Tianjin. When providing education for those aged 2-18, Wellington College bases its identity on the five Is: Inspired, Intellectual, Independent, Individual, Inclusive. While academically Wellingtonians are pushed to attain places at top universities, on a personal level, the staff also work hard to endorse moral values, respect and kindness towards others.

 

Wellington College Tianjin Bilingual Nursery brings together years of experienced research to provide children with play-based bilingual education. The primary goal is to ensure that the learning journey of each child has a rigorous grounding which will continue to support the child through future development and growth.

 

A successful bilingual nursery needs knowledgeable, affectionate leaders who are passionate about impacting a whole generation. Head of Early Years, Mrs. Dionne Zantua, and Deputy Head, Mrs. Lisa Li, provide this and much, much more. Having grown up with parents as educators herself, Mrs. Zantua was exposed from an early age to the life-changing impact that teaching can have. Despite her extensive experience of knowing how pivotal those first few years can be from her time in the US, in the UAE and now here in China, she feels she can never know enough about children.

TP 201901 Cover 03Mrs. Zantua, what do you think are the biggest misconceptions about bilingual education in early childhood? How does the school and its teachers help in addressing these?

 

It would be that bilingual education is simply to acquire a new language apart from their own and this misconception truly undermines the benefits of bilingualism, as it is so much more. There is extensive research that indicates that being bilingual has a cognitive edge as 鈥淏ilingualism is an experience that shapes our brain for a lifetime," according to Gigi Luk, Associate Professor, Harvard Graduate School of Education. Other than the obvious linguistic advantages, there are social, economic and physical benefits. It is suggested that being bilingual can delay the onset of Alzheimer鈥檚 and dementia, as bilingual brains have developed more neural pathway connections than monolingual ones.

 

How has your experience teaching children in the United States and UAE prepared you for your current role?

 

It ultimately boils down to realising that, in the grander scheme of things, our commonalities exceed our differences. Sometimes all I have to do is close my eyes and I hear the same kind of laughter, small voices (even if they are in different languages) and excitement from children regardless of their nationalities.

 

Being from California, where a wide variety of cultures are represented, and similarly in the UAE, my experiences gave me tangible knowledge in working with various children and their families, and how to serve them and best meet their needs. For me that is the key.

TP 201901 Cover 04In your opinion, what are some important elements of a world-class early childhood education system?

 

A world class education is one that equips children, even the very youngest, with the skills to confront problems and decipher ways to solve them. Carol Dweck, one of the world鈥檚 leading authorities on motivation, identifies 鈥榩erseverance鈥 as a main factor in ensuring success. A carefully planned environment that is purposeful and supports this learning is essential, as well as having practitioners who are not only knowledgeable and passionate about Early Years, but also ones who will help develop this mindset among their pupils. One quality that resonates in what top universities are looking for in a prospective student is the ability to be an independent learner, and having 鈥榞rit鈥 or perseverance, even though things can become difficult. In that way, learning becomes a process, and not just a product.

 

What is your vision for the Wellington College Tianjin - Bilingual Nursery? What can you consider as the nursery鈥檚 top achievements so far?

 

Quite simply: To be the best bilingual nursery in Tianjin.

 

For us, it鈥檚 always about the children, seeing them progress in their skills and their language in both English and Chinese. We want to produce children who are engaged in their learning and willing to persevere, have inquisitive minds and seek out knowledge independently.

 

We鈥檝e been tracking around 5 students now who have been in our programme. They are children with international backgrounds, but we have come to notice that they are starting to associate themselves as children of other cultures. They make jokes in their second language and at that point, they鈥檙e comfortable, they鈥檙e bilingual. This has been a great achievement for us.

TP 201901 cover 05What kind of qualities and competencies does one need to be an outstanding early learning, bilingual teacher?

 

The drive to ensure that each and every child succeeds. Not only this, but Early Years is so hands on, they鈥檙e on you all the time, physically and emotionally. You really have to care for them, truly care for them, and have what we call 鈥榩rofessional love鈥. A second skill is the ability to work in close collaboration with your co-teacher. Each class at Wellington has two fully qualified teachers, each one delivering lessons and supporting the other in driving up the quality of learning for the children. In this way, the teachers model the bilingualism we expect from our pupils over time, and the benefits of such an education can really become obvious.

TP 201901 cover 06What top facilities does Wellington College Tianjin - Bilingual Nursery have that cultivate holistic learning and development?

 

Our learning environment is purposeful and our resources are accessible. The role of the teacher as a facilitator in extending learning further, and fostering independent learning is also important to us. Our staff:pupil ratios are very generous, and mean that each individual child can be supported and challenged in his or her learning journey.

 

On top of that, Wellington has state of the art facilities, such as our sports hall, swimming facilities, a world class theatre, music rooms, our Nest library which has numerous books in English, Chinese, and bilingual books. We have also added a collection of Korean books as well for our Korean children who are growing up in a trilingual environment.

TP 201901 cover 07Can you share how a typical class day goes in the Bilingual Nursery?

 

We have free-play which we call 'continuous provision'. The children鈥檚 involvement is high and they are busy bees with access to all areas in the classroom. Teachers are always on hand to support learning, and there is a balance of child- and adult-directed learning. This being Tianjin, we have an AQI index that we monitor closely, but otherwise, children extend their learning outside at least twice a day. Children enjoy their morning and afternoon snacks and also, very importantly, have an afternoon circle time, so that we can reflect on their day and encourage the children to talk about what they have learned.

 

For many, the day does not end there. We also offer after school activities such as golf, football, ballet, Chinese calligraphy, and arts for all our children. These programmes are delivered by specialist coaches and are provided free of charge to parents.

 

How does the school encourage parents to be engaged in their children鈥檚 education?

 

It鈥檚 a great time for children because parents are very involved. We do a lot of parent participation opportunities for parents to become involved. Apart from the parent briefings that we do every month where we tackle important issues that are of concern for them. In the education field, it鈥檚 also important to educate the parents, because they need to understand what philosophy you are coming from. Parents are welcome to meet the senior leadership, with monthly session specifically set aside for Nursery parents to meet the Master and other team leaders. These events help us to communicate openly and respond to parental questions in a timely way; it is very important to us that we see parents as our partners in educating a child.

TP 201901 cover 09What advice can you give to parents when raising a bilingual child?

 

First and foremost, you have to embrace your identity, and be committed as a family to the goals of bilingualism. Becoming a fully bilingual learner takes time and this needs the full support of all family members as the child grows. For me, being bilingual, or raising a bilingual child, starts with knowing who that child is, whatever their ethnic and cultural background. Whether it鈥檚 embracing two cultures or embracing other languages, it has to start from there.

 

What was an unforgettable compliment you have received from a former student? What was the story behind that?

 

Ahmed was my student when I was in the UAE. At the end of the year, he gave me a card that read, 鈥楧ear Mrs. Zantua, thank you for making me a good person鈥. This is probably the best thing that I can hear from any child. We just persist and persist, even if we think the child isn鈥檛 progressing. It鈥檚 like a seed that grows and grows. You have to build the right foundation, otherwise it won鈥檛 be able to sustain this tall building of knowledge. That鈥檚 what makes Early Years so special; you have to get it right.

 

Despite a busy schedule, Mrs. Li, Chinese herself, whose original dream was to become a primary school teacher, spends 2-3 hours in the classroom daily to observe the changes in pupils鈥 learning. Her independence as a child and wisdom from former colleagues has taught her that we should not control children in their decisions, but rather support them on the path they wish to follow.

 

Mrs. Li, what are some of the usual questions that parents ask before they enrol their children in your school? How do you address these?

 

They usually ask about the physical and mental development of children, education concepts, what and how will you teach their child and how can they help at home.

 

In order to answer these questions, I will normally try to figure out what parents really want to see from their child鈥檚 school, and then build a connection with them, so we can develop a really strong school-parent relationship from the very start of their child鈥檚 time at Wellington.

TP 201901 cover 10How do you describe Wellington College Tianjin鈥檚 - Bilingual Nursery learning model? How does it exemplify the best of Western and Chinese education?

 

Firstly, our programme incorporates the UK鈥檚 Early Years鈥 Foundation Stage (EYFS) and that of Chinese Curriculum (CC). Combining the two, our main programmes consist of social and emotional development, physical development and language communication development.

 

Secondly, our learning model involves suggesting that the parents encourage good behaviour from their children. We hope that parents can love their children without conditions. Instead of telling their children: 鈥榊ou are wrong鈥 or 鈥榊ou should not do this!鈥, they should be making sure that the children really feel loved and supported, and at every step be positive in their behaviour management.

 

We must always put the children first. We are building a community for children, a multi-cultural community. Our teachers are from different countries and so we celebrate different cultures鈥 traditions. For example, most recently we invited parents to participate in our mid-autumn festival and Halloween activities. Some of the parents even shared their experiences with us.

 

What do you consider your proudest moment at the Bilingual Nursery?

 

My proudest moment is when I see the children so confidently singing on stage in their second language. We really invest ourselves in these children, and so to see those as young as 2 years old hosting a show is just incredible.

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