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Maintaining Strong International Partnerships: Five Lessons

Donna Podgorny returns to tell us how her school has grown from one partnership with Nanjing, China, to a mature program where over 100 educators from her North Carolina district have traveled and taught over 7,000 Chinese students. And that's just one part of this inspiring program. Read on.

By Donna Podgorny

Thomas Friedman has told all of us that the world is flat and that we need to be more globally minded--but we weren't sure what that meant.

In an earlier blog post, I described how Marvin Ridge High School in Union County, North Carolina and Jiang Ning Campus of the High School affiliated with Nanjing Normal University forged a school-to-school partnership. From the beginning, we set the course to listen and ask many questions.

Over the years, the communication improved as we came to understand each other better. Now there is increased planning between the two schools prior to any visits both by phone and email. Many of the key players have changed over the years. The desire to be in the sister-school relationship has not ended and the relationship is still of mutual benefit.

Five Tips on maintaining a school partnership

  1. Face-to-face encounter: Maintaining a relationship thousands of miles apart is difficult, so it is essential to make opportunities for representatives from each school to visit one another to deepen the connection. Each party should have mutual understanding of the specific goals of each visit.
  2. Constancy: A constant mediator between the leadership at both schools is vital to the livelihood and continuity of a solid relationship. Such person can be the Director of Foreign Relations from the Chinese school.
  3. Commitment: Relationships don't have to end due to personnel change. Proper introductions need to be made with personnel change, and each school should be committed to inform the new personnel of the importance of this relationship to carry the relationship forward.  Whole school and community involvement, from administrators, to teachers, to students and parents, will strengthen the ties and deepen this friendship.
  4. Building groundwork: Prepare teachers, students, and principals that will travel to sister school with updates, progress, and goals of the visit.
  5. Letting go: When planning a visit to the Chinese schools, Americans tend to want to know everything in advance, but the Chinese representatives don't want us to worry about the details. It was an "a-ha" moment when we learned that we just had to trust and let things go.

The relationship between Marvin Ridge High School in Union County, North Carolina and Jiang Ning Campus of the High School affiliated with Nanjing Normal University has come to great fruition. By July of this year, close to 100 Union County Public Schools teachers will have been able to experience Nanjing, Chinese education, Chinese students, and the kindness of the sister-school. The U.S. teachers will have taught English to more than 7,000 Chinese students. Six American and four Chinese principals or assistant principals have visited each other's schools. Four small groups of chaperoned high school students will have visited their sister-school counterpart staying in local homes and attending local schools. Innumerable photos, business cards, emails, and so much more have been exchanged. Above all, the personal relationships and connections that are made and continue to be made on all levels will be long lasting and be the momentum of better relationships moving forward.

Donna Podgorny is the World Languages Curriculum Coordinator in Union County Public Schools, North Carolina. Follow Donna and Asia Society on Twitter.

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