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Thursday, June 26, 2014

Upon the Right Place

Upon the Right Place
A Cross-Cultural Perspective on an On-the-Job Focus in Education

By Dr. Fenfen Zhou
Visiting Scholar and Associate Professor, Shanxi Normal University, China
Department of Educational Leadership
Bayh College of Education
Indiana State University

I enter into the meeting room, look around, and notice that tables were situated in a boardroom style, chairs arranged adjacent to one another, one-by-one. The tables provide a space in the center of the room.  My curiosity was aroused when I noticed white, round, little cards on the table. Those little, round cards were confusing to me, a mystery haunting in my mind.

Sometimes the card took the form of a square ceramic plate, with a similar function: to put one’s bottled water or coffee cup upon it.

Is that necessary? Or just something distracting? I thought further and decided, “Let me just watch!”

Dr. Ryan Donlan looked around his table for the card, and upon finding one, put his bottled water upon it. Dr. Steve Gruenert entered with a drink; I neither cared nor knew what it is.  I was just interested in how he dealt with the square ceramic plate.

Ha, he sat his cup on the plate as well, and so naturally. Noticing that everyone always kept his or her cup upon on the card, I saw that during the course of the meeting, the card was moved a little at times, but most of the time, it just stayed on the original point. People were not distracted by their protocols of keeping their bottles on the cards; they just put them back after drinking, very naturally.

The knowledge that this was the right place for one’s cup was built through habit!

This reflection let me think more openly, as one would look at a kitchen. The island board, the dishwasher, the thoughtfully divided drawer for silverware, and so on; all that lends itself to a fine division of clear responsibilities.

That is the answer!

I remembered a point of confusion that always hung around me upon arrival in the United States. When I went different offices, most American offices were clean and well-organized. And when I would arrive at someone’s door, I would be greeted by a very pleasant response. As a visitor, this quick and kind treatment was a surprise.  It also showed me that Americans loved their jobs and held a positive attitude! BUT, how can they develop the positive attitude about their jobs, I thought? That question confused me a lot.

I even asked the local school leaders whom I was job shadowing, but they looked like I just confused them with my question!  It appeared that my American friends and colleagues have been used to enjoying their jobs with the same manner as they put drinks upon cards.  It is such a routine perspective that they don’t even realize the uniqueness of their doing it.  But for me, it was a miracle!  That is a good deal of why I tried to find out the answer.

Now, back to the card in the meeting. The card symbolically gives me the answer!

If we think of ourselves as the bottle, and the card, our direct responsibilities in our jobs that we place ourselves upon, with items on the table being other aspects of our jobs, or as Americans say, the many hats we wear, the metaphor seems to make more sense.  If we always do the job we’re supposed to be doing, just like having our cups rest upon a coaster in the right place, it reduces the chaos in our work.  This focus allows us to use our own jobs to bring out the best in other people, resulting in its own positive feelings about what we are doing. 

I am better understanding that if we concentrate on the human element of doing our jobs – the person-to-person relationships – and always keep in mind that people are our most important responsibility when entering our offices, we’ll in turn will get used to it, and we will find even more amusement in what we are doing professionally. 

Further, if everyone can easily come to this point, office work can be easygoing, and organized as well!


Dr. Fenfen Zhou from Shanxi Normal University is spending a year in the United States to collaborate with Dr. Ryan Donlan in the Department of Educational Leadership at Indiana State University. She is actively involved in scholarship regarding schools and teacher preparation and is keenly interested in furthering her understanding of western culture and its implications for teaching and learning.  Dr. Zhou can be contacted at 

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