On visits to several county schools in recent days, Du Gun was surprised to see principals out of their offices mingling with students and teachers.
She was struck by the fact that teachers and students interact as much as they do. And she was impressed by how special-needs students and other students are taught in one classroom.
Gun, principal of an elementary school in Beijing, is among a group of educators from China who are visiting Howard County schools to learn more about American education. During the two-week trip, she and nine other administrators are visiting several schools to observe classes, view presentations and take part in cultural exchanges. The group will return to China at the end of the week.
"I wanted to learn and have a look at the school campus, the education system and American culture," she said through an interpreter.
The group attended a school board meeting last week and has visited several schools, including Cedar Lane School, Homewood School, Oakland Mills High, Cradlerock School, Centennial High and Wilde Lake Middle.
In addition, the principals have spent time at Faulkner Ridge Center, where they have participated in a series of presentations about the county school system. Last week, the group learned about policies for emergency preparedness, character education and health and physical education.
"We have a full schedule," said Min Kim, the school system's equity assurance coordinator, who is overseeing the visitors.
The group shadowed principals, learned about hiring practices and toured specialty schools such as Homewood and Cedar Lane.
"They are just fascinated because our education systems are so different," she said.
The trip represents the latest in a series of exchanges between the county school system and China. Superintendent Sydney L. Cousin visited China in 2005 and set up several sister-school programs. That visit resulted in student exchanges that included a group of Chinese students that visited Long Reach High in 2006.
"We welcome the visitors from China," Cousin said. "I think they come to Howard County because they recognize us as a high-performing school system."
Chinese educators chose Howard because of its highly regarded reputation, Kim said.
"We are a high-performing school system, and they know that," she said.
The delegation noticed several differences between the Chinese and American school systems, Kim said, including the greater amount of individual attention U.S. students receive from teachers, the differences in work environment for teachers who are part of a union and the interactive learning style teachers use in American classrooms.
Gun said she has been impressed with the inclusion approach, which puts special-needs students and other students in the same classroom.
"Americans pay a lot of attention to the individual students," she said. "That is very good."
School officials say they hope to arrange a trip for Howard County educators to visit Beijing.
"We have a lot to learn from them to help shrink the world," Cousin said.