Meet your Local Leader: Christina Chang, Mandarin Seeds

Pre-school Director in Lower Manhattan

February 7, 2024

Please tell us a little about yourself, your background and what led you into educational leadership.

Originally born in Boston and grew up in Taiwan, I learned the importance that environment plays in language acquisition and also the benefits of being bilingual (well… trilingual as I also speak the Taiwanese dialect). 

Growing up in Taiwan, the older children were expected to take care of all the younger ones. Being the oldest child among a bunch of cousins, interacting with children came naturally to me from a young age.

I joined Mandarin Seeds very early on. Watching the program and the community grow drew me into educational leadership.

How long have you been with Mandarin Seeds? Where were you before this?

I started working with children professionally when I was in college when I became a part-time teacher at Mandarin Seeds. During those years, I also taught in diverse classrooms in schools such as Brooklyn International School, Scarsdale High School and The Town School. I also completed my Master’s degree from Teachers College, Columbia University early during my time at Mandarin Seeds. The next thing I know, I am looking back on 10 years at Mandarin Seeds.

How would you describe your leadership style?

My leadership style is very action-driven and hands-on. We are a startup-style education organization, so it is important for the leader to lead by example. I spend a big chunk of my workday inside the classroom rather than in the office. I place myself knee-deep in the most challenging tasks every day, whether the task at hand is an upset child dealing with separation or a burst water pipe. We encourage open communication among team members as we are like a big family (most teachers’ families live in Asia!).

What is your school’s philosophy? Teaching style? How do you encourage that kind of culture?

Mandarin Seeds is a progressive and creative Chinese immersion program. We want to change the image of the prototypical “Chinese School” which children often complain about. Our main focus is to teach children the love of Chinese language and culture through activities that they will enjoy. We know we are doing a great job when children tell their parents and caretakers that they love going to Mandarin Seeds and they show off at home what they learned in class. Some students teach their parents to speak Mandarin!

What advice would you give to a new teacher on his or her first year?

There will be challenges on many fronts due to the foreign language immersion nature of our program. You will encounter many situations you have never had to address before, and that is okay. Be patient and give children time to absorb and comprehend the language if it is new. Don’t be afraid to try out different strategies and suggestions from your team members!

Do you’ll have a separation process for kids entering school?

A lot of preschoolers started in our early childhood programs. They have been taking classes at Mandarin Seeds since they were babies. It is like they grew up in Mandarin Seeds. They tend to adjust very well in the preschool classes.

We also have parents and caretakers sit in for a duration of time. There will be some crying, but we always do our best to keep the parents informed. We also send a lot of photos home. Children love seeing themselves in photos, and that’s super helpful to give them a sense of belonging when they look at photos of themselves in class with their parents at home!

What strategies do you use to manage children with special educational needs?

We do our best with children with slight needs based on our experience, education, and training. However, we are a very language-based program, so we do not have staff on our team dedicated to special needs. In some cases, we refer parents to seek extra support from professionals in the neighborhood.

What steps would you take if you are dealing with a student discipline incident?

We are primarily a play-driven program, so discipline typically involves removing children from the situation and putting him or her in a separate environment such as the reading corner. Children typically wish to be among their peers and within the play-environment, so this is quite effective in eliciting a change in behavior. We work with positive reinforcement constantly. 

How do you recruit and maintain quality teachers and staff members?

This is a difficult task for us as we require native fluency in Mandarin to teach in our full immersion program. That being the case, we place language ability above all else when recruiting teachers and elect to teach the skill that may be needed rather than to recruit based on credentials or experience. Maintaining quality teachers comes down to empowerment. A dedicated teacher will be given the opportunity to exert more control over his or her classroom and relationships with parents, other schools, and management.

What are some of your family favorite events that you host? Do you host any that are open to the public?

Chinese New Year Party is our hallmark event every school gear. This event features so many beautiful traditions, such as Chinese Ribbon Dance by the teachers and Lion Dance by local college students. We also put together activities to create a Chinese Nightmarket experience with traditional New Year snacks and games. The event is open to the public; however, because families in our community purchase many tickets for friends and relatives, we always sell out quickly. 

Please tell us what makes your school unique from others in the area?

We are not a bilingual program like many others in the area. We are so focused on Mandarin that sometimes I feel like I am transported back to a Chinese-speaking city. Our program also specializes in early childhood years. There are very few programs out there that are similar to ours in both of these dimensions.

Strong leaders are constantly learning. What is a great book or resource that has helped you grow and that you would recommend to others?

I read a lot of current articles related to education and parenting around the world. Different cultures have different perspectives and movements in regards to education. It is important to stay informed and open-minded. Touring other schools and meeting teachers from different schools are also great learning opportunities as you get to exchange firsthand experiences and ideas. 

We want to get to know you a little better. Tell us the first thing that comes to your mind:

Where are you originally from? Taipei, Taiwan

Do you have kids? How old are they? Nope! My students give me all I can handle at the moment!

In which Hogwarts house would you be sorted? I just took a test, it says Ravenclaw

Your favorite movie? Usually the most recent Disney movie, same as our students.

Your hidden talent? I have uncanny facial recognition and memory

What is your dream vacation? Southern Spain

What would the students be surprised to find out about you? I can read their minds

What’s a typical Saturday night like for you? Flywheel, followed by a nice dinner 

How do you spend your summer breaks? Have a blast with children in Mandarin Seeds’ summer programs at Mandarin Seeds. Then take a week-long vacation to a fun location

What are your “trapped on a desert island” books or movies? The complete collection of Studio Ghibli films

What is your favorite dessert? Appetizer

What accomplishment fills you with pride? When my former students come back to visit after years away and still carry on a conversation with me in Mandarin.

Do you have a morning routine that gets you ready for school? A cup of black tea

What inspires you? Seeing current students’ photos when they were toddlers in our Mommy & Me class.

What is the best thing about being a principal? I get to have a personal relationship with every family in Mandarin Seeds.

An advice you would like your students to remember, always? Speak languages you know, use that as your superpower to connect with the world!

A gift from your student/s that you value the most? Bracelets and necklaces they made on their own outside of class.

Is there a quote or saying that you live your life by? It’s in Chinese, but something along the lines of “Walking ten thousand miles trumps reading ten thousand books.”

What song do you know all the lyrics to? 50% of all of the songs ever released by Taiwanese pop artist Jay Chou

Please offer some words of wisdom for the rest of us.

Develop a hobby that you are passionate about and use that as a source of inspiration in your classroom. To be an inspirational teacher, you must first be an inspiring individual, and frequently that comes from personal passion.

Thank you!

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