Opinion: creating a professional learning community

Opinion: creating a professional learning community
Professional development for our teachers is taken very seriously at Beijing City International School (BCIS) as we believe that we are all lifelong learners and we can always learn, grow and improve in our profession.

Therefore, there are various ways in which we keep the spotlight on professional learning.  For example, during this academic year, all Elementary School staff members have participated in professional development from outside providers – Rob Vingerhoets (maths specialist) and Josh Blue (leadership skills).

In addition, 35 teachers attended workshops/conferences of their choice to further develop their own teaching and learning skills in specific areas.

While we are lucky to have such a generous professional learning budget that benefits all teachers and leaders, as a leadership team, we also asked ourselves the following question: How can we maintain ongoing learning opportunities for teachers and teaching assistants that are conveniently offered onsite and which are both accessible and cost effective?

Here are the ideas we have come up with to date:

October became ‘Observation October’ – all staff members, including teaching assistants, were encouraged to visit a minimum of two other classes for observation purposes. Sometimes these observations helped to fulfil a personal teaching goal and sometimes they were to watch a specific curriculum area being taught.

Whatever the reason, all staff agreed, it was a valuable exercise for both parties. The observer was able to gain new ideas and inspiration and the observed teacher was offered positive feedback from the observer which was usually something along the lines of, “I liked it when you…” or “I’d never thought of doing… like that.”

It was free of cost yet highly valuable to everyone involved. While staff are encouraged to observe each other as often as they like, having a dedicated month to do this had a huge impact – we will definitely repeat this in the future.

We have started our own Professional Learning Book Club. We asked staff for professional book recommendations and a volunteer committee selected 10 of these books. The staff, including teaching assistants, were asked to select which book they found most thought-provoking. Books were ordered, groups were made, and people have started reading them with enthusiasm.

Time will be dedicated during our regular Wednesday staff meeting to small group discussions about their chosen book and talk about how the content could affect the teaching and learning going on in classrooms at BCIS. All staff members get to keep these books as part of their own professional reading library, which can be shared amongst colleagues in the future.

Another avenue we are exploring has been dubbed ‘Professional Ponderings’. This takes the form of a voluntary meeting once a month led by a different member of staff. It is open to all three school divisions (Early Childhood, Elementary and Secondary) which means there is a good cross-section of teaching staff present.

The format is usually a short film clip, e.g. a TED Talk or educational articles, followed by a discussion of how this looks at BCIS, how it could be implemented or action that could be taken. The benefit of having time to “ponder” on short articles or videos means that colleagues have time to chunk some learning and immediately apply it, resulting in immediate outcomes!

Lastly, we must not forget the benefit of teachers teaching teachers.

Our school is full of experts in different areas that are on-site and can offer short training sessions on anything from the app ‘Seesaw’ to linguistics to using the Makerspace. We take advantage of our own expert leaders often but must remember to allow time for this to take place.

Sally Richmond is the Elementary School Deputy Principal / PYP Coordinator at the Beijing City International School.