As a Deputy Principal in a government high school in Australia, I was very keen to learn about the leadership and management aspects of Japanese government schools. It seems there are many similarities. The principals and deputies would love to spend more time on building capacity of staff and leading innovative learning practices but most of their time is devoted to management issues such as administration, building maintenance and day-to-day operations.
One major difference I have discovered is that to secure a promotional position, candidates must pass an exam. There does not appear to be an interview and application process.
It is also interesting to note that Japanese primary schools have a fully functional science lab for science lessons and that all teachers are expected to be able to teach the science content.
Both the teachers and leaders in the school were very interested in our pedagogy. Using inquiry based learning as a basis for developing critical thinking, is one of the major priorities in Australian and Japanese schools, and we were able to demonstrate the process in action. The Japanese lessons we observed were still very much teacher centred and so our approach generated much discussion. The teachers at the professional learning event also had questions about how to start an inquiry based approach.
One innovation that the Japanese government has implemented to upskill its teachers of science in primary and junior high schools is to introduce a ‘core skills program’, where teachers undertake university certification courses including science communication, active learning in science and gifted and talented education. They then use these skills to build capacity in staff back at their own schools. There has been a high participation rate in this program, which indicates that Japanese teachers are ready and willing to develop innovative practices in their classrooms.