Gathering educators from across the Bay Area for our in-person summer institutes on East Asia and the Asian American experience has always been a highlight of our year at SPICE. Teachers soak up content lectures from Stanford faculty and other experts and discuss pedagogy, and, most importantly, form a meaningful learning community in which diverse ideas and varied perspectives are encouraged and shared. Teachers also gain valuable insight and feedback from SPICE curriculum specialists. Sitting eye-to-eye with like-minded educators seeking deeper content knowledge and authentic voices is a special experience, and it’s one that we look forward to every year.
The COVID-19 pandemic, of course, necessitated a change of plans. We moved our middle school and high school teacher professional development programs online amidst concerns that the deeper person-to-person connections that we valued would be lost. Much to our surprise, these fears proved to be unwarranted. After 18 months of teaching under the most challenging and exhausting of circumstances, teachers were eager for a safe space to connect, share, empathize, listen, and learn. Perhaps we had all become used to interacting as little squares on a Zoom screen.
Moving to an online model enabled us to broaden our reach considerably, engaging teachers from all across North America and beyond, with participants joining from as far as China and India. This geographic diversity—as well as the wide range of subject areas taught by the participants—enhanced the learning experience of these summer institute cohorts in surprising ways. Rich curricular and pedagogical resources were shared generously in the discussion boards on Canvas, our online learning platform. One of the most rewarding aspects of the posts was to hear about the diverse communities of students with whom the teachers work—from inner city schools on the West Coast to rural schools in the Midwest and suburban schools in the South.
Seventeen educators gathered online from June 28 to July 1 for the 2021 Virtual East Asia Summer Institute for Middle School Teachers, deepening their content knowledge on Asia and considering new perspectives and pedagogical approaches for the upcoming school year. The first three days focused on the Silk Road, Chinese dynasties, and Tokugawa Japan respectively. On the final day, teachers explored and discussed ways to incorporate more authentic Asian American voices in their teaching, culminating in a panel discussion with Asian American authors of YA fiction and memoirs.
During the final week of July, the 2021 Virtual East Asia Summer Institute for High School Teachers engaged 20 teachers with content lectures, small group discussions, and curricular resources highlighting the geography, cultures, politics, history, and literature of East Asia, with a special focus on the Asian diaspora in the United States and the diversity of the Asian American experience. Teachers absorbed subject-matter content from a range of guest speakers and collaboratively discussed ideas for implementing the content into their classrooms.
“I gained so many valuable takeaways from this summer SPICE seminar to be able to adapt meaningful content points and activities,” noted Kelly McKee, a social studies teacher at Lake Forest High School in Illinois. “It is such a challenge cultivating an effective online learning community. This summer I participated in several online PD [professional development] programs, but the SPICE seminar was certainly one of the most engaging and worthwhile.”
With the fall 2021 academic term under way, the teachers now face the challenge of taking their newfound knowledge and finding ways to incorporate it into their classrooms. Mike Vazquez, a history teacher at Brenwood Academy in Nashville, Tennessee, commented that he appreciated the opportunities to interact with other educators, and that “it is up to us to continue those relationships in the future.” With this in mind, we hope to convene additional virtual gatherings with these two cohorts later this year, and to continue strengthening this learning community as educators continue to face new challenges brought about by the pandemic.
SPICE’s teacher institutes are offered in partnership with the National Consortium for Teaching about Asia, which is generously funded by the Freeman Foundation. For more professional development opportunities for educators, visit our Teacher Programs webpage, join our email list, and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.