Applicability of Professional Learning Conversation in the Chinese Educational Setting


The field of education is the subject of continuous improvement and advancement in any country of the world; every state realizes that education of the growing generation at all levels assists in building the competitive advantage of the future labor force of the state. Therefore, there has always been agile interest and attention in the ways that can help the state education system develop and improve, providing both teachers and students with increased opportunities and resources for studying. There are multiple approaches to advancement in education, but the need for it is always evident at any stage of its progress. Educational research offers numerous ways of improvement and introduction of change and reformation into the very educational process. Various researchers have varying approaches to the roles given to teachers and students in this process, as well as much controversy exists about the roles of policy-makers and administrators of educational establishments in the provision of reforms. However, the role of data and research evidence seeks unified agreement on its exceptional importance; there is no ability to generate a change in any field in case no benchmark data are available, and the directions, objectives, and priorities of the change are not stipulated.

Therefore, the evidence-based research and improvement introduced by Day, Sachs, Earl, and Timperly (2008) may serve as a wonderful contribution to the educational process’ improvement in the Chinese settings. The need for a change is dictated by the low achievement levels, low competitiveness of students, and the prevailing conservative culture of learning characterized by conformity and collectivism typical for the Chinese settings. Therefore, the change should be comprehensive and over-grasping, provided the deep nature of the Chinese culture of learning that will be very hard to change in case some stakeholders do not get involved.

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The professional evidence-based conversations are likely to introduce the improvement of perception by teachers and administrators; however, they have a much wider potential for application. As one can see, the professional conversations may lead teachers to realizing the ways for their self-improvement, and may show how they can interact with students in a much better and more efficient way. Thus, teachers will first address their internal imperfections, dealing with the change in the classroom afterwards. The present approach is quite revolutionary since it makes the teachers have a deeper, critical look at what they do and how they do it, understanding whether they do everything right. The peer support and collective analysis of tasks as well as its result seen in the finished works of students are likely to provide the comprehensive analytical viewpoint into the current work done for students.

Sometimes one can realize that it is not the standard of teaching that needs reforming, but the understanding of this standard by teachers, and consequently by students, is wrong and non-compliant with the objectives. Therefore, the professional conversation approach promises to become a viable alternative for improvement in the Chinese educational settings. Some potentially beneficial traits of the present approach will be discussed in more detail in the present argumentative paper.

The Role of Professional Learning Conversations in the Chinese Educational Setting

The pieces of advice provided by Day et al. (2008) are highly persuasive as to the role of professional evidence-based conversations in the improvement of the learning process. However, upon a thorough investigation of the offered text, one can arrive at a conclusion that all research findings pertain to the schools of the USA, Canada, and Europe, thus requiring some allowances and alterations once applied in China.

One can note that the Chinese educational system is centralized and highly unified, but at the same time there are many differences between the northern and southern, rural and urban school settings that have to be considered when planning a change. More than that, the authors themselves emphasize the need not to accept the external change recommendations slavishly, but to assess them critically, and tailor them to every unique educational setting (Day et al., 2008).

Patterns of the Chinese learning process. There is much useful material that can be taken from my personal experiences, interactions between teachers and students, and the culturally specific gaps cause discrepancies between the stipulated educational goals and the real-life outcomes. First of all, one has to remember that the Chinese classroom feels the deep influence of the socio-economic situation in the country. The urban families are allowed to have only one child due to the critical demographic situation and overpopulation in the country. Therefore, children mostly grow alienated as they have no brothers or sisters; parents want the best for their only child, making Chinese children spoiled and whimsical. For this reason the Chinese schools place so much emphasis on discipline, conformity, attention, and respect. Collective work is also of central importance in the Chinese educational system, making a deep influence on the consecutive life and work of all Chinese, making them a deeply collective nation without any roots of encouraging individualism.

These trends have to be taken seriously when discussing the potential of professional conversations’ implementation in the Chinese classrooms. In addition, the high competition of Chinese employees in their own labor market calls for extreme obedience and hard work in the educational period. Only the best will find good, respectable workplaces, which means that the children should receive the best education and should take the most of it in order to succeed in further life. Thus, the teacher takes a central position in the classroom, instructing from his/her careful and clear models, showing how to learn and what to learn, and attracting uniform attention and concentration – these are the basic requirements to students during the instruction process. The conclusion can be made that the difference in progress may be caused by the individual characteristics of students, and not the approach to studies. The present observations and reflections about the Chinese system of education may reveal some issues in which additional attention towards professional conversations can be brought. It is obvious that discipline is appreciated above all in the classroom, and the students rarely engage in conversations or ask questions as there is lack of interactivity in the Chinese learning environment. The main demand from a teacher is to respect, obey, and pay attention, while students are mostly concerned with having a teacher knowledgeable in the subject and representing a good moral example.

The present overview of the specificity the Chinese classroom has in contrast to American and European educational settings, one can make several conclusions as to implementation of Day et al’s (2008) suggestions regarding the professional conversations and their effect on the educational process. One cannot disregard the fact that usage of relevant accurate data for making decisions on the educational change, and the critical insight into the evidence collected are indispensible in any settings. However, the emphasis on individual help for students experiencing challenges in education is quite irrelevant for the Chinese system of collective approach (Day et al., 2008). More than that, it is highly improbable for the students of China to adopt a critical, communicative approach to studies. The reasons for pitfalls in education have to be searched for primarily in the teachers’ field since the change derives from them, and never from the students who mainly act as passive consumers of the educational process.

The elements of professional learning conversations applicable for Chinese teachers. The first major advantage offered by Day et l. (2008) is the opportunity to generate innovative solutions from the combination of explicit and implicit knowledge in response to authentic problems in education. The evidence-based conversations represent a continuous mental inquiry process that examines evidence and its meaning in the definite context (in this case – the educational situation). Hence, the educators in China can follow the path proposed by the authors – to collect data, to interpret evidence, and to generate conclusions in the peer discussion thereof (Day et al., 2008).

More than that, the critical evaluation and discussion may help understand what is wrong about the teacher’s style of instruction, perception of materials etc. These reviews may help initiate an internal change that may be more effective than attracting any external change standards and recommendations. The main constructive proposition that Day et al. (2008) have for educators engaging in improvement is to use relevant data. This piece of advice seems highly helpful for any educational setting, since the data-based change is much more effective.

It is possible to collect data on a continuous basis (for several years, as it has been shown on a practical example in Chapter 4) (Day et al., 2008). Identification of the problem and purposes connected with its solution that is sought in the process of improvement, determination of the data needed for the generation of solution, and the detailed analytical discussion of alternatives with the consideration of the target audience – this is a potentially effective tool for the improvement and advancement effort for any student group, any audience, in any socio-cultural context (Day et al.

, 2008). It is not the audience, but the very improvement process that becomes the subject of concern under these circumstances. The professional conversation arranged in a systematic basis (i.e.

a protocol-based conversation) for educators in a particular school has a practically unlimited potential for Chinese policy-makers and administrators. As one can see from Chapter 3, the protocol-based conversations instigate educators for the critical appraisal of each other’s work, for the collective discussion of certain criteria, explanations, guidelines, and models that teachers utilize in their instruction process. As it comes from the idea of day et al. (2008), the teacher’s requirements, in case they are insufficient, lead to the insufficient level of task completion by the students. Therefore, the core problem in the current teaching process is the level of competence, clarity of materials, and explicit instruction that teachers provide for students (even if it is not the main problem current education faces nowadays, it is still one of the dominant causes thereof). More than that, the protocol-based conversation is practically the only way to receive data about the connection between low student progress and the quality of instruction.

As it has already been mentioned, one of the aching problems for Chinese education is that students did not ask questions, and were non-responsive, obeying and respecting the teacher but not getting involved in the communication process. Therefore, teachers can assess their instructional materials, correlate them with the students’ works, and clarify whether they have provided students with maximum clarity and transparency of requirements, or they have to improve their tasks first, and then put reduced marks for non-understanding or non-compliance with them. The essence of leadership in establishing the professional communication flow in the Chinese settings. Establishing leadership in the introduction of professional communication models such as the professional conversations discussed by Day et al.

(2008) is also highly important for China. The reason for this is that Chinese schools have to comply with the tough standards imposed on the nationwide scale, and any non-compliance is regarded as inability to meet the national standards. Therefore, the engagement of administrators and policy-makers in the process of organizing and conducting the professional conversation meetings is likely to have a much higher effect on the productivity of this method’s implementation.

Proper Usage of Data in the Chinese Settings to Introduce the Evidence-Based Change and Improvement

As Day et al. (2008) indicate, education of the 21st century is full of uncertainty, surprises, and rapid changes that determine the need for improvement and alignment of educational goals with the cultural, social, economic, and individual needs of students as well as other stakeholders of the educational process. To effectively meet the challenge of uncertainty, educators engaged in the educational change should indeed collect relevant data and statistics. It is true that there is always a danger of misinterpretation, but special attention should be paid to this research-related issue, as only statistics and pure data can enable researchers to make correct decisions.

There is much data on the Chinese students’ progress, their scores at schools and the entry scores for colleges and universities; therefore, there is a great body of evidence to implement the relevant data analysis for the consequent analysis will peers during the professional conversations. Surely, the presence of a leader, an outside expert or an administrator is essential in this case, as outside data may well be outside the scope of a regular educator’s understanding. Here assistance in correct interpretation may be necessary and helpful.


As one can see from the present paper, the approach to change and improvement in education is quite accomplishable for the Chinese urban educational settings. Teachers and students correlate and communicate with each other on a different level in China than in American and European countries, as here much more emphasis is made on subordination, respect, and obedience, while Western countries cultivate the communicative approach and multi-faceted collaboration between educators and students. However, the findings of Day et al. (2008) about the usefulness of professional conversations, the application of protocols for peer staff meetings, and the involvement of leaders from the administrative staff seem highly valuable for China as well as for any other country.

The revolutionary content of the professional conversation approach to change is that educators are encourages to assess their own success critically, and interact for the sole aim – to give the best to their students, to achieve the highest level of competence in teaching, and to exercise instruction as clearly ad transparently as they can for their students to achieve educational goals. Speaking about these contributing powers the professional conversations bring to the peer communication of educators, one may state that the approach is truly innovative and potentially beneficial. There is obviously a risk that teachers will not be as eager to confess in their imperfection as to accuse students of non-compliance with their standards. Nonetheless, the approach seems to bring effective changes for both teachers and students, which should be tried on a comprehensive, continuous basis for the sake of overall advancement.


Day, C., Sachs, J., Earl, L.M.

, & Timperley, H. (2008). Professional learning conversations: Challenges in using evidence for improvement, Chapters 1, 3, 4 & 10. Dordrecht: Springer Netherlands.


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