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Supporting Teacher Development
This interview was conducted with Ms Mantariga Witoonchat, the headmistress of a private school in Thailand with 1,500 students and 80 teachers. The school covers all grades Kindergarten through secondary.
What opportunities for personal development and growth are available to teachers at Minprasatwittaya School?
I believe that teachers can learn, that learning is a lifelong process and that each teacher has different potential which can be developed to its fullest if given the opportunity. As a result, we try to open up opportunities to develop teachers' full potential as much as possible. The things that we try to offer are:
These activities attempt to involve the whole school and all teachers as much as possible. We believe that it is impossible for one teacher to make a lasting difference in isolation, but if all teachers mutually grow and support one another, the school will develop well.
How have such opportunities benefited the teachers and students?
By living in an environment of constant learning, teachers have learned to appreciate the value of this and the importance of impressing this on the students. Teachers have learned the real meaning of lifelong learning and the fun that this can be.
Teachers have learned to believe in themselves and in their students. They understand from their own experience that everybody can be successful by reaching his or own potential but that the way in which one person may succeed is not the same as for another. In other words, each person can reach his potential.
At the same time, teachers have become more broad-minded. They listen more to new ideas and are prepared to experiment with new ways without being afraid of making mistakes. As a result, teachers have evolved to become experiential learners themselves, with more problem solving capability and creativity. They now no longer view the school as their place of work, or a place where they come to teach, but rather as a place where they themselves come to learn. Hence now they are beginning to grasp the idea that the whole environment, as well as the students around them, can become their teachers.
Teachers have also adopted a teamwork approach. They now no longer view grade 1 students as separate from grades 2-6, but rather see education as a continuum and hence can see the development of children as a whole throughout their student life. Thus they work together to introduce an element of continuity to studies.
And as the teachers have learned, so too have their students. As a result, the students have benefited from the teacher's own self exploration and active learning, their approach to learning being one of constructing their own knowledge. Students also feel that they are able to accomplish something. This is as true for the special students (handicapped, slow learners, autistic, Downs-syndrome) as for other students. This group in particular now no longer feel that they are slower than their peers, or a drag on the rest of the class.
What methods/strategies do you feel are most valuable in helping teachers to develop their skills?
The most important thing is to be open to new ideas and to be prepared to try these out without fear of making mistakes. This means that the management must believe in what they are doing and the potential of human beings. You must be prepared for a struggle at first. When you set out, you have to realise that it will not be easy or a short process.
The second essential element is to allow teachers to approach this new way of child centred learning at their own pace. We cannot force teachers to change, and we have to make it as unthreatening as possible. At first, overcoming the resistance to change may seem overbearing. But it is essential to keep fighting for change. Even though interest may be relatively muted at first, you have to keep offering training courses, keep bringing in new trainers, keep organizing school visits, until the sheer force of the resistance is overcome. And after a while, a momentum will be built up that is irresistible to even the most entrenched teacher so that even that person will be caught up in the joy of learning and creativity.
A third element that will help, once the momentum has been built up, is to promote a team approach that involves both peer groups of teachers and management. This means whenever teachers attend outside training they come back and train the others. It means planning lesson plans and the curriculum together. It means peer evaluation. It means peer evaluation and cross observation of classes. It also means that the traditional gap between the headmaster and the teachers is eliminated and that management get as involved in all these exercises as the teachers.
Finally, the environment that these changes effect lead to a change within all of the parties concerned including the students themselves. Students eventually begin to take the lead in their own learning and plan what they want to learn. All the players realize that learning is a lifelong process that is not limited to the school grounds.
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Last revised September, 1999
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