Every great teacher knows that there is no one method that always works in helping and supporting the development of a child. Just as every child is an individual, so is every teacher, every school, and every country. Even within one country, what works in one school may not work in another. There is no straightforward magic formula that each school could apply in order to reach desired results. Flexibility is critical—and when America looks to other nations for effective policies, it would be wise to keep this in mind.
Virtual, Cross-Cultural Communities
Establishing mutual interests and setting mutual goals with students from different schools, countries, and cultures takes cooperation to a new level—and is eye-opening for students and teachers alike.
For example, more than 114,000 schools and twice as many teachers in Europe have used the e-twinning community to create about 30,000 projects. Using the Internet to overcome distance and financial concerns, students and teachers connect and integrate various subjects to work on projects like preparing food by using the ingredients chosen into a shopping cart by students in another country, comparing the headlines and articles of newspapers of the same day for mapping topical issues, or discussing the properties of an ideal city.
Taking part in this virtual community gives students the chance to use their skills in real-life situations and tasks, to be more motivated in their efforts, to find new contacts, to be exposed to new solutions and questions, and to let students’ voices be heard. This border-crossing, collaborative atmosphere puts technology to its best use and often inspires teachers to create programs and strategies that transform the way we think about learning.
But again: Flexibility is key. E-twinning would not be as successful if every teacher were required to do it.
Continual Professional Development
Ideally only the best would be selected into the teaching profession, as is the case in Finland and Singapore.
While not every country has such policies for entering the field, teacher development is an ongoing process. Sharing effective methods with colleagues is a helpful way to avoid reinventing the wheel. When teachers have ongoing learning opportunities—as opposed to just attending in-service training courses for credit hours—they understand their students more deeply, keep up-to-date, model collaboration for students, and are better equipped to promote a positive image of the profession.
Singapore supports professional learning communities. Estonia has established mentoring systems for supporting teachers during their first year in the classroom, in which new teachers receive dual support from mentors in the workplace and from regularly organized group-based discussions at the universities.
Of course, every teacher has different needs at different points in his or her professional life, so I want to emphasize the importance of making sure teachers’ professional-development options are flexible (as is the case for other professionals). One size doesn’t fit all.
I’m curious, American teachers:
How do you help students see a broader picture and work together within a school, community, state, country, and beyond?
How flexible, continual, and well-supported is professional development in your area? What policies need to change to better meet more teachers’ needs?
Margit Timakov is an English teacher in Estonia. As a participant in the Teaching Excellence and Achievement program, she spent two months at the University of Nevada, Lincoln, and local public schools, also visiting schools in Virginia and New York.
The opinions expressed in Teaching Ahead: A Roundtable are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.