There is no end to learning – more so for those who teach. The recent Teachers’ Conference 2016 focuses on how teachers might learn with and from one another on a lifelong journey to provide a better learning experience for their students.
To deepen knowledge and to re-examine one’s perspectives about education – this is an ongoing process for every teacher in Singapore. In other words, teachers are constantly looking at bettering themselves in their profession. But why is this important?
As Director-General of Education Mr Wong Siew Hoong mentioned during his opening address at the Teachers’ Conference 2016: “The good work of our teachers is a key national asset, and also a reason why we are able to move from the third world to first world in such a short time. Through this good work that we do, we can help shape our students.”
As with the previous conferences, this year’s Teachers’ Conference, with a focus on Maximising Learning: Collaborate, Engage, Inspire, aims to support teachers in their professional learning by offering a wide range of learning platforms – many hosted by teachers for teachers.
“Whilst the focus of the conference was on achieving broad and deep learning for our students, it also highlighted the importance for participants to learn maximally from the proceedings and from one another during the conference,” explains Mdm Nadarajah Viyaya Rani, Master Teacher at the Academy for Singapore Teachers (AST).
In doing so, Mdm Rani also hopes that teachers can apply their learning to promote a collaborative, engaging and inspiring classroom culture for their students, who are at the heart of all professional learning of teachers.
“Ultimately, whatever we do as teachers, the goal of any professional learning is really to help our students learn better,” explains Mr Chan Yew Wooi, Director for Professional Development at AST. “So we hope that both our presenters and participants will be able to learn as much as they can at the conference.”
Learning from One Another
With more than 3500 participants and approximately 100 presentations (for both the pre-conference and conference from 30 May to 1 June 2016), these teachers had the opportunity to meet like-minded educators from different schools in Singapore and overseas. This allows them to interact with and learn from each other professionally.
At the conference, they had the opportunity to explore broader issues together. For example, at the 2-hour World Café Conversation session, local and foreign participants from diverse backgrounds were grouped together to discuss the concept of global citizenship and what it really means to be a global citizen. At the end of it, a facilitator collated their ideas for discussion.
“There was a lot of critical re-examination of the thinking behind Character and Citizenship Education”, says Mr Chan. He noted that the participants explored the concept of inclusiveness in Singapore schools.
Teachers shared what their schools are like in this aspect and examined the facts with a critical lens.
“I thought that was useful because they were asking each other questions like, why, or why not. And that was really the whole purpose of the critical conversations. It was a mind-opening experience for the teachers who participated,” Mr Chan notes.
Whilst the focus of the conference was on achieving broad and deep learning for our students, it also highlighted the importance for participants to learn maximally from the proceedings and from one another during the conference.
– Mdm Nadarajah Viyaya Rani, Academy for Singapore Teachers
Showcasing Local Expertise
A new feature at the Teachers’ Conference was the pre-conference programme. The programme was designed to accommodate the increasing number of teachers-participants who wanted to be part of the signature learning event. But more than that, it allows teachers to learn from some of the most experienced teachers in Singapore.
“This pre-conference created the opportunity for teachers to attend presentation sessions led by our Master Teachers and learn with and from them,” Mr Chan says.
“As a Master Teacher, I feel that for the first time, we were given the space at the pre-conference to share as local pedagogical experts,” says Mdm Rani. “So it was also recognition of how we have grown in terms of our own teacher-leader expertise.”
Aside from that, Master Teachers also worked with teacher-presenters to hone their presentations for the conference. The presenters “deepened their professionalism because they need to put together a presentation, facilitate discussion with colleagues and help them distil their key learning points and how they can apply them in their classrooms,” says Mdm Rani. She now feels that there is a greater sense of teacher ownership in their professional learning as more teachers are coming forward to lead professional excellence at different levels.
With Master Teachers as pedagogical leaders in their subject disciplines, both teacher-presenters and participants were also provided opportunities to re-examine their own mental models and assumptions about teaching and learning.
A Holistic Experience
Be it a concurrent session or a keynote, Mdm Rani feels that the conference itself was a holistic experience for everyone.
“The conference was effective in engaging the participants and presenters through the varied modes of presentation and engagement, including keynote addresses, concurrent sessions, a World Café discussion, spotlight lectures and interactivity at exhibition booths, not to mention the free popcorn and ice-cream for participants!” These activities helped to foster a sense of camaraderie and opportunities for informal networking among participants.
To her and Mr Chan, it is these little things that contribute to the positive experience of the teachers at the conference.
But most importantly, it was how the conference facilitated the professional growth of teachers, and the networking within the teaching fraternity. Participants were seen exchanging contact details, so that they may continue their conversations.
“We hope that these informal connections that they made will crystalize into something more fruitful in future,” says Mr Chan “By interacting with colleagues from different schools, we expand our network and our spectrum of possibilities.”