EAL “Unconference” Creates a Collaborative Showcase in Shanghai

Photo above: Harrow’s Deputy Head of School Simon Probert welcomes participants to the January EAL “Unconference” event. 

By LeeAnne Lavender, PeerSphere Storyteller

The English as an Additional Language (EAL) “Unconference” held at Harrow International School Shanghai in January was a dynamic showcase of collaborative learning, featuring over 50 enthusiastic participants from various international schools. Organized by PeerSphere in collaboration with the head of Harrow’s EAL department, Jade Morris, Celina Mathews (EAL Learning Lead at Shenzen International School) and Julian Fisher from Venture Education, the event showcased the power of peer learning and community building.

Simon Probert, Deputy Head of Harrow Shanghai, shares insights into the event’s evolution: “Michael visited Harrow in November, and we talked about hosting something; he suggested a small EAL gathering in January. I’m keen to showcase our school and get it on the map and, from the initial idea, the event evolved and grew.”

Simon continues: “Obviously, at our school, we’re committed to professional development, and peer learning is key. It sets a benchmark for the types of things we want to be involved in and host in Shanghai. It sets intentions for other communities in China, too.”

The choice of the school library as the venue for the event added a special touch. Simon explains, “We hosted in our library for two reasons: it has lots of light, and it’s the hub and center of learning at our school; that seemed to mesh with the idea of peer learning as a hub of collaboration.”

Julian Fisher, representing Venture Education, was involved with planning the collaborative event. “We have our own teacher community called Teach Better, and it made sense to collaborate with Michael and Ewen at PeerSphere to merge what we do. We offered promotion, especially among education leadership in China.”

The collaboration extended beyond the event itself. Julian highlights the extensive post-conference resources, stating, “There’s sharing afterward: a 13-page document with key takeaways from everyone who attended, advice for leadership, key takeaways from breakout rooms, resources mentioned throughout the day. This is a resource for participants to take back to their schools and also serve as inspiration for better practice.”

The heart of the event was the peer sharing workshops about differentiation, data, and culturally responsive teaching. A panel discussion on inclusion provided insights into the power of narrative and personal journeys in creating an inclusive environment.

The standout topic of the day was Artificial Intelligence (AI), with participants sharing their experiences and practices. Julian emphasizes the impact, saying, “The number one takeaway of the day was AI. What was really powerful about it was that some people were using it all the time, and others not using it at all. Those people became aware they needed to change their practice. When your peers say this is powerful and is changing my life, you listen.”

“When you don’t have a facilitator and it’s not being run by school management, it very much shifts engagement between participants. It takes away the hierarchy. The dynamic of that raised a lot of interesting ideas and gave a platform to many people who wouldn’t normally have a platform,” says Simon. 

Jade, who played a key role in organizing the event, says: “I’ve never been to an event like this before, so I was unsure of what to expect; Michael and Celina were key in this regard. It was fun to see this come together. I know they were trying to avoid this being speaker-led and they wanted a collaborative process for all participants.”

Celina highlights the positive feedback from participants: “The feedback was positive and participants enjoyed having an avenue to hear practical things happening in other schools. At a conference, it might be difficult to take information from a presentation and fit it into your context. In this setting, it was a boots-on-the-ground experience with others in similar contexts. Everyone could ask questions in a non-judgmental, non-evaluative manner.”

As participants left with new AI tools, inclusion techniques, and reflections, the success of the PeerSphere EAL “Unconference” at Harrow International School Shanghai affirmed the power of peer learning and collaboration. This is the first of many in-person PeerSphere learning events; stay tuned for more offerings as they evolve!

Below: a photo gallery of highlights from the PeerSphere January EAL event at Harrow International School Shanghai. 

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