Teaching and Learning Across Cultures

By Laura Ross, Head of Upper School

In the Upper School, we recently concluded hosting our second exchange with Minglun High School in Taipei, Taiwan. The 15 students all lived with Upper School families and the two teachers with Upper School faculty. In the spring, we will send 15 students to Taiwan for the second time and we hope to continue to do this every year.


Watching our visitors interact with Greenhill students made me think about what it means when we say “Teaching and Learning.” The image that is conjured in the mind, in my mind at least, is of a teacher, in a classroom, talking to students in a traditional classroom setting. Teachers do the teaching and students do the learning. End of story. However, this exchange reminded me that the stereotype in my mind is so very narrow, and, at least at Greenhill, wildly inaccurate.

What are learning opportunities? Who are teachers? What is knowledge? How is it shared? The risks these kids took while they were here were remarkable. Their English was imperfect, their knowledge of our culture was partial, and their reaction to the peacocks was priceless. They were tired from jetlag and generally overwhelmed. Even with all that, or maybe even because of it, they were remarkably open. Their defenses were down, and they didn’t have any idea of what to expect. In short, they were ready to learn. And in being so ready to learn, they ended up being teachers. Our own students watched these kids laugh, dance, go to PE classes with little kids, talk to anyone who would listen, and generally absorb everything around them. While our students certainly took away nuggets about the culture in Taiwan, what they were more impressed with was the openness of the our visitors. Seeing them treat every moment as a learning opportunity, reminded our students, many of whom have attended Greenhill for years, that learning opportunities extend beyond the classroom. We simply need to be open enough to recognize them when they occur.

So who are teachers? Who are learners? It’s incumbent on us as a school to remember the lessons we’ve learned from participating in this exchange. It’s important to remember that the lessons to be learned don’t require traveling half way around the globe. The lesson is that people learn when they are in a safe space to let down their guard and when they are open to whatever comes of sharing themselves with others. It’s something we try to do every day on the Hill, but sometimes it takes 15 strangers to help us remember its power.

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