How a Grassroots Leader has Emerged from the Lab Technicians PLN


By LeeAnne Lavender, PeerSphere Storyteller

When You Chen from the Western Academy of Beijing (WAB) joined the lab technicians peer learning network (PLN) last year, she found a community that provided her with inspiration, confidence and leadership. 

Her PLN experience has changed the trajectory of her career and opened a leadership space for her as the community host for 2023/24. And You Chen couldn’t be more excited. 

“I feel like there’s a new direction for me now,” says You Chen. “I’m meeting and connecting with more people, and I have even talked with my head of school and learning director about how to develop more professional development options for non-teaching staff. I think it’s so important for them to be involved and supported.” 

You Chen is in her seventh year at WAB. She started as a teaching assistant and moved to the high school science department in 2017 as a lab technician. In that role, she manages science equipment and updates on technology; she also coaches teachers on equipment upgrades and processes and helps set up the labs and coach students during experiments. She works alongside teachers during lessons to co-teach or lead specific tasks in the lab. 

“I have a really good time with the teachers I work with and I prioritize work relationships,” says You Chen. “I also love getting to know the students. Working with them is so rewarding.” 

You Chen feels it’s important for local and non-teaching staff at international schools to build relationships with expat educators. Not only does this enhance intercultural understanding and communication, but it also opens up doors for collaboration and professional growth. 

“When you have that kind of relationship, teachers won’t hesitate to ask questions and talk to you,” she says. “This changes things at work on so many levels and it’s a huge benefit, in my experience. Since I’ve been more outgoing and intentional about connecting with teachers, my work is more enjoyable and I feel more bonded with colleagues.” 

You Chen wants to inspire other lab technicians in her 2023/24 peer learning community to think about building community and camaraderie in their departments, too. She feels there is much more to the role than staying in a lab and working alone, and she’s excited about the dialogue and sharing that will happen in her community this year. 

“I love meeting lab technicians from other schools because sometimes the job can be quite lonely. At WAB there are only two of us, so it’s valuable to get together and share tips and expertise,” says You Chen. “Peer networking is a very good way to meet, stay in touch and support each other.” 

You Chen was such an active and enthusiastic participant in last year’s PLN that it was natural for her to take on the hosting role this year. Her passion, combined with her interest in intercultural communication and inclusion, make her a natural leader for this community. 

In addition, You Chen is taking on a leadership role at WAB this year in the DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion) realm, and she is looking forward to opening up more opportunities for connection, listening and cross-cultural understanding on her campus in the coming months. 

You Chen facilitating a DEI session at WAB to kick off the 2023/24 school year.

“I have been really impacted by ideas from lab technicians in other schools,” says You Chen. “I connected with staff at ISKL (the International School of Kuala Lumpur) when Henry Wong, the facilitator of last year’s PLN, asked if I could present at an ACAMIS online conference for support staff. At ISKL, they have some excellent practices for connecting local and expat staff through professional development and DEI. This has made a difference in my own practice and I think it has had a direct influence on my new role for this year, too.” 

This conference provided You Chen with her first experience as a presenter and she led sessions about cross-cultural communication in both English and Chinese. She feels this was the spark for changing her career path and leading her towards leadership and facilitation. 

You Chen is also part of a Wechat group of PLN participants from the 2022/23 PLN. This is one of the wonderful impacts of peer learning – a connected and sustainable network where people feel like they belong and can chat about the challenges, joys and questions related to their work. 

PeerSphere has several peer learning communities available for 2023/24 for non-teaching staff, and some communities are available in English, Mandarin or both languages.



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