Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Professional Development in East

A Life Long Learner...  It caught my attention in the textbook at college.  Sadly, as a sassy teenager, I cunningly passed the test, then let go of its importance.  Shame.  It is also true that many teachers tend to show "I- know-it-all" attitude. Their long time teaching experiences and dedication should be highly respected, however, learning should never end under the reason of having long years of experiences.  Whether if you are a teacher or not, your leaning opportunities will happen until your last day.  How many educators would think in this way?  I observe a lot of grumpy, obnoxious, exhausted teachers here and there.  I know the reasons.  But instead of complaining, why don't we focus on creating the learning culture together?  If we want to promote this concept, a life long learner, to the students, teachers must be proactive and responsible for their own learning.

When I was teaching in Japan (I assume it's still the same) the professional development was designed by a teacher who is the highest seniority, ready for the assistant principal exam in a few months.  The professional development/school improvement are all teaching and learning based on the school's annual educational goals, for example, the effective instructions that  promote students' individual needs in mathematics.  There is no lecture style one-man- show of  research and pedagogical studies like we often do here.   Their focus was purely evident on the improvement in teaching and effective lessons for students.  Each grade level teachers are assigned the month they show the presentation.  Prior to your presentation month, the grade level teacher would gather and discuss about things like who would be the main presenter for the sharing, who would test-run before the presentation day, what kinds questions would promote student's participation and achievement, and which students would be the best study sample in this particular unit.

A Japanese citizen is known to be respectful to older individuals which include even only one year older than you.  I was 24, another teacher Mr. Tamagawa was 24, and the lead teacher, Ms Fukuoka was 41.  This particular year, our group was so connected because we all graduated from the same college.  The teamwork started very naturally, although, needless to say, everything the lead teacher said is what we had to do.   Another interesting fact is that though another teacher and I were the same age, I was one grade level senior than him because he failed the college exam one year.  At school, he did everything for us from serving tea to making copies just because he was youngest.  Mr. Tamagawa volunteered for the main presenter, I did the jump start teacher.  With Ms. Fukuoka's lead, we developed the unit lessons, which was not hard at all.   The Japanese standards and text books are well designed together under the government inspection.  We tweaked the questions and developed some graphic organizers for students to understand clearly.  During my lesson, Ms. Fukuoka and Mr. Tamagawa observed our lesson so we could tweak the precise questioning and teaching techniques.  Also, we discussed about more and better strategies that help target students, high, middle, and low.

On the presentation day, all teachers from school visited Mr. Tamagawa's classroom.  This afternoon was no school for students.  After his lesson, all teachers were at the table with green tea and snacks, discuss about his lesson, the lesson development, the process, and reflective through to the next lessons and units.  This is another part of Japanese culture, while younger ones must respect older ones, older ones are allowed to criticize younger ones.  Ms. Fukuoka and I, though, successfully defended Mr. Tamagawa because lesson he showed was the one we all planned together.  The acknowledgement empowered me in the early teaching carrier.  That was the day, too, paying off for Mr. Tamagawa of serving tea and making copies.  After 5 pm, teachers went out for the celebration party with Sake.  After party was another Karaoke party.  Japanese teachers' bond is created by lots of parties.  In addition to the school sponsored professional development, Ms Fukuoka was willing to mentor us.  She brought the theater project.  She was the lead, I took the music, and Mr. Tamagawa took the props.  Our play, Wizard of Oz was recognized in the Tokyo Theater Contest. 

I like this school wide approach because it makes sense.  Teachers must learn from other teachers by sharing ideas, observing, being observed, and designing lessons. If you are the life long learner, your students will sense it.  You can convince to your students to become a life long learner if you are the one.  I would like to be humble as I used to be.  And I would like to be proactive as an experienced teacher.  I choose to be a life long learner.