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Home-Based Learning: A Remarkable Experience. Interview with Ryan Witt, Head of School, Tianjin International School (TIS)

Home-Based Learning: A Remarkable Experience

Interview with Ryan Witt

Head of School

Tianjin International School (TIS)

涓撹 Ryan Witt


TP 202003 01The Tianjin International School (TIS) is a private international school in Hexi District that provides a well-rounded, high-quality education for the children of foreign passport holders living in the city.


The TIS program provides for these children from the age of three through to Grade 12. Its campus has state-of-the-art facilities, but their most important and valuable asset is their exceptionally qualified and friendly staff, led by Ryan Witt, Head of School since 2019. We had the pleasure and honour to interact with Ryan and get to know him as a great education leader and an extraordinary person.


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5W3A6669You state in your welcome letter that 鈥淭he education is rigorous, but the opportunities and experiences at our school are incredibly rich and give the students that start here the ability to go anywhere.鈥 Could you expand on that a little?


The foundations of the American education system are really designed for the purpose of allowing choice in students鈥 education, and so we align all of our education standards to an American system of thought. Students can use the skills that they will develop here to go to any country and do well in any university in whatever field they desire.


We're really proud of the quality of education that we provide our students. We really demand our students do well, and get a lot out of them. It's difficult at times, there鈥檚 struggle but we build mechanisms to support students with various learning needs, and we've had a lot of success over many years, and I鈥檓 really proud of that.


Could you tell us some of the highlights of your experience since you became Head of School in 2019?


The coronavirus certainly took us all by surprise! But there's been some great events that we've held, whether it be Fine Arts performances, International Day that we had this past fall, or China day we had in January. These events celebrate our school鈥檚 diverse culture, and it is always a great joy seeing students participate and express themselves in a way outside of the classroom. A key for me is always relationships and people, and I think that's a strength that we have here.

5W3A6628 What are your goals for the school? What are the future plans that you have in mind after this situation has passed?


I鈥檓 continually looking forward to the ability to reach individuals and challenge each individual student to grow in a unique way that they are gifted in.


I would like to continue to see us reach out to new families arriving in Tianjin. I also believe that by partnering with local authorities we could contribute to Tianjin becoming a destination place for education, and a reason why people want to move to Tianjin.






What challenges have you encountered, and how did you deal with them?


There are always challenges, and that's just the makeup of organizational leadership.


Often these are misunderstandings, but if we are working through it together then we can get through challenges together.


I really believe in teamwork and a family atmosphere, and I try to address every situation that comes up through understanding individuals, and learn from it and do things differently in the future.

HBL 01Online classroom

TIS QR CodeQR Code that links to a sample Home-Based Learning video.


Why should parents choose TIS for their children? What makes the school stand out? Is there something you are particularly proud of?


There are good educational institutions in Tianjin. But what makes us special is we don't just provide a strong academic education. We really want to work with individuals to grow as individuals and to be able to think for themselves and to be able to move on and be global citizens someday, so we have a system of values that we try to build in and teach and help students understand and be able to personalize.


We aim for our students to become quality leaders and high level learners, but also to be able to care for the world around them. We teach them to be persistent and to be curious about the world. We have a uniquely qualified group of teachers that are not only strong in academics and understanding of educational practice but also carry that desire to share those values with their students.


For the past couple of years, we鈥檝e been working on adopting the AP Capstone Program (Advanced Placement Program). AP Capstone is an innovative program that equips students with the independent research, collaborative teamwork, and communication skills that are increasingly valued by colleges. Students typically take AP Seminar in the 10th or 11th grade, followed by AP Research. Students who earn scores of 3 or higher in AP Seminar and AP Research and on four additional AP Exams of their choosing will receive the AP Capstone Diploma. This signifies their outstanding academic achievement and attainment of college-level academic and research skills.







RYAN WITTWhen did you decide to switch to home-based learning for this emergency period? What factors played a role in your planning?


We were about halfway through our New Year holiday when I started talking and working with our team of leaders on this. It became very apparent that this was going to be longer than just a few days or a week, and as a result, we knew that as we value education, the consistency or continuity of education, we needed to progress and provide an education platform, even though it would not be the same.


It took a few days of working and thinking to figure out what we were going to do and how we were going to be able to communicate it out and get our students prepared for that, but technology has been ingrained into our educational practices over the last 10 years or more, and it allowed us to make a very smooth transition and be able to offer an education even though we could not come to our building.


It also provides something to allow students to have a focus on what to do during the day, so they're not panicked or feeling that confinement, would lead to their education falling behind.


We came up with the idea of home-based learning that we were able to adopt from other platforms. In western education, taking classes online in university is becoming the norm, so all of these students someday will do this, and so it's also a great component of just preparing students for what the future is going to be.


I want to give credit to the teachers, because we proposed the idea to them and they stepped up. They care so much for their kids that they all basically stopped their vacation and their holidays, and they went back to work immediately. The things that we are seeing them produce are amazing, and every day is a new learning opportunity for children. Kids are engaged every day, and hearing my own children talk about what they're learning along the way, it warms my heart. It's been remarkable, but it all has to do with the teachers.











school 01What resources are you using for the home-based learning? Are all these resources readily available and accessible?


All our resources are still under the authority of the teacher in the classroom, and every single day they are working I would say anywhere from 8 to 10 hours producing resources, holding video calls. We're using Zoom as a big tool to bring all of our students into the same platform and be able to talk to them.


Our IT team has been remarkable. They had already set up a place for teachers to create all of these learning opportunities, save them in a component and then bring the links up, so that we don't need to rely on external videos or resources. We really have relied heavily on just the teacher being able to produce it and do it, and this has led to teachers meeting, even with the young kids, once or twice a week, either in whole groups so that they can see their classmates on the video call, or individual calls so they can work with the teachers one-on-one.


Teachers can use the presentations that they would give students in the classroom. They record and save them, so students who are not able to get onto the live call are able to watch the whole presentation later. An unintended blessing of that has been the value to the language learners because they can go back to the video and they can understand what the words are and they can follow along, and it has added a positive component that we never intended it to add, but it's been powerful. It's been great.


What previous experience do your teachers, students and the parents have with online or home-based learning and teaching?


We've got one or two teachers with previous experience, so the familiarity and the use of technology that鈥檚 already been in place have allowed them to continue on with a lot of their practices that they were already doing.


But I would say that nobody has done it this fast in this way before. Some teachers have taught for an online school, so they have had some of those unique experiences already and have been able to help others understand what to do and how to grow through it.


It's been a learning process, so we've put out parent surveys to collect data the first couple of weeks, just to compare and understand how is it being received, and what are we doing well, and how can we improve.

HBL 02Student engagement at home.


What has been the response from parents?


I would say that it has been mostly positive. There鈥檚 always going to be some challenges along the way. We recognize that it鈥檚 not something for a long period. It鈥檚 something that can fill this gap during this emergency time. I鈥檓 thankful that they鈥檙e willing to understand that and work with us and their children.


In the home-based learning, is all teaching done online, or do parents do some of it themselves? Could you explain to us the methodology your school is using?


The teacher is still fully responsible and engaged every single day, and is available all the time. We鈥檝e found that our middle school, our high school, our secondary, being older, they did not need as much parental involvement or motivation, so the younger the grades go, the more parents are involved.


One adjustment we actually made in the second week was to have all directions verbal as well. For some of the young students where maybe English isn鈥檛 their first language, understanding and being able to read the directions was sometimes difficult, but we鈥檝e made changes now; we have now more verbal directions and short videos.


So, we have short videos and then a learning exercise for them to work through and understand and grow. And really, school is always about practice, and getting the students engaged into doing it themselves. So it鈥檚 a lot of a balance and the level of parents鈥 involvement depends on the age of the kid.







5W3A6425What resources were used to prepare parents?


We communicated the plan, but ultimately all of the resources and all the communication has come out of the individual teacher. We have to find out what resources parents already have in their homes, what technology, and we figured some of that out through a survey. But all of the education resources are coming out each day and are prepared by the teachers.


Is there any local and online assistance for students and/or parents?


Our teachers have office hours online every single day. They set office hours for a certain period of time. And we have some teachers that are back in the U.S. right now, and they鈥檙e working through the night so that they can support the students here.

school 02What challenges have you encountered so far in this home-based learning initiative?


The biggest challenges have been, although the teachers are still working almost the same amount of hours, the fulfilment of not being able to see their students; helping them and celebrating with them when they succeed, and working with them when they struggle.






How are levels or assessments standardized? It is a challenge, right?


It varies from age level, but some teachers are using project-based assessments; they can submit a project and they can determine the project based off a rubric. Others are assessing based upon some sort of picture or video, whilst others are having all the students live in the classroom and interacting with them and assessing them in that way on how they are learning. It certainly is a challenge, but we have put some mechanisms to ensure that things are being done and that students are grown.


How will you transition back to normal classes once the emergency is over?


That鈥檚 the question that everybody wants to know. We continue to follow and work with the local authorities, particularly the Education Bureau, the Municipal Education Bureau, and they have been great support for us; helping us understand the situation and the needs of the students.


We are doing some planning for multiple situations to occur because we don鈥檛 know which one is going to happen. But one thing we will for sure do is have the two-week quarantine if that鈥檚 still required, and we鈥檒l make sure all our staff and students fulfil that.

5W3A6655Please tell us something about your personal life. What does your family enjoy about living in China?


My family loves the people that we鈥檙e around. The thing that we鈥檝e most enjoyed about Tianjin has been the community and the people, and its great institutions.


I think it speaks a lot to the quality leaders that they have provided a safe, professional, comfortable place for us to live and enjoy even just in Hexi District. We鈥檇 love to be here for a long time.





tisIs there anything you would like to add and share with our readers?


I鈥檓 just so thankful for the ex-pat community, and the opportunity to be able to provide an education in our community is a privilege and a joy, and our school has been able to do that since the mid-1980s. It is a rich heritage and I鈥檓 so glad that we can continue on and be a part of that.


I also just want to just thank the Municipal Education Bureau, the Hexi Education Bureau, and other bureaus that have been able to take care of us and our school.








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