Open Letter to the Shanghai Education Community

Open Letter to the Shanghai Education Community

Learning means making mistakes, taking ownership for them, and reflecting on what can be done in the future to improve. Learning also comes from engaging with those who have different viewpoints, experiences, and ideals than your own.

At LearningLeaders, this is what we talk about when we talk about diversity - learning from others who do not necessarily share your worldview or prior experiences.

Diversity generally refers to race, class, gender, and sexual orientation and sexual identifi- cation. But we can never forget that diversity is also about thinking differently. Diversity of mindsets allows us to solve complex problems in the world, because as groups and teams we are able to incorporate different mental models, paradigms, ideals, and value systems into our decision-making.

A common thread among many research papers that focus on this topic is that the out- comes of diverse groups of people generally outperform those of more homogenous groups of people. This is because diversity in decision-making and of the decision-makers themselves combines shared experiences and generates results that maximize satisfac- tion for the greatest cross-section of those deeply involved and invested in the results of the decision. A diverse set of viewpoints also allows decision-makers to confront ideas they individually may not have thought of - not necessarily a novel concept, but a powerful one!

In fact, according to an April 2018 study from the National Bureau of Economic Review (USA), “[an] analysis of highly skilled occupations (in fields such as law, medicine, science, academia, and management) shows a positive relationship between diversity and the values of goods and services produced in the United States.” While economic conditions and mindsets of Americans are certainly not the same as those here in China or in other countries, this study is a great indicator of what is possible when diverse minds are melded: progress.

Diversity at LearningLeaders

Our team’s mission at LearningLeaders is to empower everyone to lead, delight, and in- spire.

To us, that means preparing students to succeed in a diverse world. This is not a world of white, American, males with Ivy League degrees. While the hope of many parents or stu- dents may even be to participate in communities that are comparatively homogeneous (be they white, American, males with degrees from Yale, or Chinese BeiDa and TsingHua grad- uates working in ZhongGuanCun), we believe that all of us can do better than to prepare ourselves to interact with a fraction of the world. Influence, a result of improved public speaking and debating skills, is only able to be used when the audience is appreciated and understood. This is among the first lessons we share with our Introduction to Debate stu- dents.

Communication skills are about connecting and bringing people closer together, not dri- ving wedges between them. The closer we can bring ourselves to a world where everyone is heard, respected, and understood, the better. That is what we are striving for at Learn- ingLeaders. These are the values we also want to share with our community. We have se- lected this problem precisely because it is something worth fighting for. Not because it is easy.

The issue that brings our commitment to diversity to the forefront of my mind is that we have heard in the previous days from some parents who are concerned about coaches not coming from the U.S.A. or Western European countries. I’d like to directly address their concerns because others in our community may have similar questions but perhaps more importantly: I feel they are misguided.

Debate is a global activity. Thus, it only makes sense to us that we have a global coaching team. Our team (which represents five continents and thirteen countries) is an immensely gifted, immaculately trained, and delightfully committed group of individuals. They have been asked to join our Partnership from among a wide pool of applicants. Over the last year, our ratio of applicants to full-time hires is approximately 20:1. Statistically, it is as like- ly to be asked to join LearningLeaders after applying as it is to receive an admissions letter to Stanford. Please let that sink in.

At LearningLeaders, we do not take the learning experiences of our community lightly. We have a recruitment process for our coaching team that involves four or more rounds of in- terviews (one of which is a full-day face-to-face interview in Shanghai - if the applicant is not from Shanghai, we will pay to fly them here to meet our entire team face-to-face). Each potential coach will also have to complete a cultural fit questionnaire, submit demo lesson materials, and then complete a coaching workshop in front of our coaching team so that we are able to most accurately assess the ability of the coach to not only delight and inspire students, but also to do so in a way that aligns with our core values. Finally, each coach will undergo six to nine reference check calls, depending on the seniority of the coaching position. Of course, there is also a background check for safety during this entire process.

By the time that we extend a full-time offer to a coach, our team has spent a collective to- tal of over 30 hours getting to know the candidate (at a minimum). We then hold a Part- nership meeting to discuss the candidate’s application so that any red flags or potential issues that might arise are able to be surfaced openly and honestly.

Please note that at no time during this process do we discuss the color of the applicant’s skin or the country of their origin. To us, they bear zero correlation to the cognitive and leadership abilities of individuals!

I understand that the rest of our community may not go through such a thorough recruit- ment and evaluation process when they offer positions to coaches and teachers. Frankly, no one ever knows how the fit will work out. All organizations make great decisions and some poor decisions. However, we believe that it is our duty to be stewards of a delightful and inspiring learning experience - so we are willing to take the time and effort to ensure we only provide our students with the world’s best coaches and mentors.

A World of Homogenous Learning

Let us imagine a world where educators are comparatively homogenous: most coaches are white, American, males who aren’t necessarily the best for the role, but who fit the ‘look’ of a teacher that some have come to expect in China. In this world, parents may feel more immediately comfortable with these educators because they are a known quantity. They are more familiar and thus more predictable. Parents are less likely to challenge or question them because they come from ‘qualified’ backgrounds, although they may be less than qualified to do their work correctly.

Students feel at first they are learning new ideas, but the pace of learning is likely to slow. Each year student remain with the learning program, the students encounter coaches with similar backgrounds, belief systems, and ideologies. The questions and challenges are too similar and the feedback they receive is rooted in the same value systems.

In the future, these students may not be prepared effectively for university education, where the heterogeneity of their learning environment will increase dramatically and the profiles of their professors will be far more diverse. Even less will they be prepared for the future of work, whether that be in the private or public sectors. Cross-cultural collaboration is an imperative and these students only have had limited access to brilliant minds from ‘non-traditional’ educator backgrounds.

This is a world of short-term compromise and long-term consequence.

It is my firm belief that what feels easy - to present students with white faces from familiar places and claim that they are automatically the best at what they do because of these features - is wrong.

If those white faces from familiar places also happen to be the best educators and the best people for those positions, then I have no objection hiring them or having them coach and mentor by children. But never should a gender, a certain skin pigmentation, or country of origin be among the deciding factors in either the quality of an educator or the quality of an applicant for a position at an institution of learning.

Note also that “market realities” are just a construct created by the opinions of those in the community. And to so to other organizations who claim, “our hands are tied,” by what the community wants, then I suggest they find a new community to support or they stop pre- tending that they care about diversity of thought in their learning programs and in their hiring processes.

To other institutions of learning: Please do not tell us what you think and expect it shows us something meaningful about your values. Show us your actions. We’ll know what you real- ly value.

A World of Diverse Learning

At LearningLeaders, we believe that the world we are seeing take shape now is a world that values the diversity of learning methods, resources, and viewpoints. This world is one in which educators and coaches, just like students, are respected for not being identical, but for being individual. In a community of diverse mentors, there are more viewpoints to consider and wrestle with and there is additionally more potential for role model matching.

A student who is exposed to multiple viewpoints from a young age is far more likely to treat everyone they encounter with respect. Students benefit from observing and learning from adults with both similar racial/ethnic/gender backgrounds from themselves in posi- tions of authority as well as those from racial/ethnic/gender backgrounds that do not match ones they have seen before. This is vital in today’s connected age - appreciating the strengths and unique characteristics of everyone is a critical skill for any team-building or leadership role.

Before the age of ‘adulthood,’ students should have opportunities to meet others from non-G7 countries, minority racial backgrounds, and non-cisgender sexual orientations. Students may find their preconceived notions of people who have had experiences far dif- ferent than their own are not valid - just the same, students may find they are valid! What- ever the outcome, it is a now a moment that students themselves have experienced. They are now able to make a more informed decision than in the past - they can make the deci- sion for themselves, rather than relying on generalizations they have heard from others.

This is the world of education that we at LearningLeaders want - a world where everyone is heard, respected, and understood.


At LearningLeaders, we strongly reject the myopic view that educators and mentors need to fit a certain mould. It is not only wrong but also counter-productive to the learning journeys of young adults.

To you educators, students, parents, and administrators who agree with the sentiments on this letter, please reach out to me directly at Let us discuss together how we can best understand the mindsets of others so that we can most effectively communicate the value of diverse viewpoints.

There may be some in our community who feel confidently the opposite. I respect your right to an opinion though I personally may not agree with it.

I am confident that although what we believe is not popular with everyone, we will be on the right side of history.