SCMP Saturday, December 9, 2000

Wanted: a caring teaching culture


The word "collegiality" has been batted around like a ping-pong ball, so much so, that we have begun to lose the essence of what the word truly means within an educational context.
Renowned American educator Arthur Costa stated that when "conditions in which teachers work signal and promote and facilitate intellectual growth, teachers will gradually align their classrooms and instruction to promote students' intellectual growth as well".
Such a thoughtful climate makes all the difference. Collegiality means something different from congeniality. It is not just telling good jokes in the teachers' lounge or discussing the latest sports scores, but rather an atmosphere where the "practice" of one's profession is talked about.
A truly collegial school is one where teachers observe each other working, work together on the curriculum and teach one another. A school that serves as a dwelling place for a teacher's mind is much more likely to become a home for students' minds as well.
How can we turn the tide and make a difference? Workshops and directed experience from experts are helpful, but what is more helpful is the listening ear to visions and responsiveness to questions that teachers have when they begin collaborating and sharing their profession with one another.
In a city such as Hong Kong, where the pace is frenetic, we all need time to think. Research has shown that in Asian schools, where students perform at a higher level than in US and British schools, class sizes are higher, but teachers spend less time in the classroom and more time with one another.
This doesn't mean a shorter work day for teachers, but a different way of investing their time. Contrary to much current thinking, class size - once it is over 20 - has little if any measurable difference in student learning outcomes. If we have larger classes but more time to think as a result, then everyone benefits, students and teachers alike.
So what do we think about? What do we do with added time together? Teachers can plan lessons together, share plans with one another, get critiques of each other's work, attend workshops, observe other teachers teaching and watch video tapes of other teachers teaching. As the shared craft of teaching becomes just that, we grow and develop with new ideas, which help keep us fresh and keep our students interested and keen.
To further support what I believe to be some of the essentials for today's teachers, I include a list that is by no means complete, nor a manifesto for a mandated policy. The following highlight some of the professional techniques that collegiality fosters: co-operative learning, peer collaboration, peer mentoring, peer tutoring, alternative forms of assessment, metacognition (thinking about thinking) and higher levels of cognitive thinking.
Robert Morgan is head of the International Christian School Hong Kong.