At Yew Chung International School of Beijing, along with a focus on traditional learning objectives (such as a mastery of maths, languages and sciences), emphasis is also placed on the development of soft skills as a way to better prepare students for the world that awaits beyond graduation. The ability to collaborate and to communicate effectively is a skill set that will be increasingly valued during the 21st century.
But while these soft skills are being taught to our students, how can they be utilized by teachers as well? At YCIS Beijing, collaboration between members of the academic team is encouraged and facilitated through shared office spaces, Teapot Time gatherings, and this year’s new initiative, Sharing Our Practice, during which teachers from various year levels and disciplines gather together to exchange ideas about how to improve student outcomes.
Anne Dwyer, an experienced educator with more than 30 years of experience in roles as teacher, head of school, and professional development coordinator, explains the process and purpose of the initiative as an example for teachers looking to introduce collaborative sharing to their schools as well.
Show and Tell for Teachers
Sharing our Practice consists of afternoon meeting sessions, with presentations from ECE kindergarten, Primary, and Secondary teachers. Each presentation lasts for 3 minutes, with an additional minute set aside for questions and answers. Presenters are asked to focus on an external professional development opportunity they’ve attended, and to share how they’ve embedded new learnings, understandings and skills into their teaching practice, noting the impact this is having on student learning.
Through this forum, teachers are provided with an opportunity to share, acknowledge and celebrate what others have to offer. Such an approach aligns with a belief in the power of learning communities: recognizing the importance of finding ways for teachers to learn with and from each other in order to have a positive impact on student learning.
T.E.A.M. – Together Everyone Achieves More
As an outlet for teachers to ask questions of their peers, some of the most valuable learning occurs after the sessions. Staff will approach each other, asking to be shown how to incorporate a technique or strategy, thereby assimilating and reinforcing the new ideas in their own mind. They might share existing resources, or work together to create new resources, or identify something they would like to share in future sessions.
It’s useful to learn about the way that teachers encourage students to understand and explore the learning styles that suit them best, since educators are all motivated to encourage students to get the most out of learning and recognise that individuals lean towards different learning styles.
School communities can build upon the strengths of individuals to develop a cohesive approach within and across learning communities. Both teachers and students are winners with this model, as everyone is working together to provide enhanced learning experiences for students.
Multiple Methods for Maximum Benefit
There are multiple ways in which teachers at YCIS Beijing “share” their practice. Digital portfolios have been introduced into the Secondary teacher repertoire of practice, and staff elect to visit other classrooms and observe different teaching strategies through Teapot Time. Shared teacher collaborative spaces have also been incorporated into newly designed spaces at YCIS Beijing, moving teachers away from a model where they work independently for much of the time. Each of these methods not only provides the opportunity for teachers to share with others and to plan in a collaborative manner; it also encourages teachers to identify and articulate how shifts in practice are impacting student learning outcomes. When teachers share, teachers and students win.