To paraphrase what has become a very popular saying in education circles, we are teaching 21st century learners, using 20th century teaching practices, in 19th century classroom settings. To put that more succinctly, teachers teach how they’ve been taught. If all a teacher knows is outdated teaching practices, where they stand in front of a classroom and ask students to “repeat after me,” our students will never develop the necessary science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) subject matter and soft skills necessary to survive and thrive in a 21st century career.
So, where do we start to address this challenge? STEM education experts agree, to improve student outcomes, you must focus on quality teacher professional development. Professional development refers to the range of activities around training teachers, and providing ongoing mentorship to help them learn, adjust, and grow in their ability to teach. With all of the work being done today by the government and the private sector to develop teachers and students, it’s worthwhile to take a step back and examine an effective model for teacher professional development that actually develops students’ 21st Century Skills and builds essential 4C skills such as communication, collaboration, critical thinking and creativity.
When seeking a model of teacher professional development for Thailand, it is important to know that the Thai government has recently made significant changes in the professional development requirements for teachers to receive promotions. These changes mandate that teachers participate in 100 hours of professional development over five years, specifically 60 hours of training that combines both teaching practices and subject matter content as well as 40 hours in professional learning communities (PLCs), a new model of group mentoring. While teachers are still free to pursue any professional development opportunity, in practice, teachers are being encouraged through professional and other incentives to engage in teacher training that meets these requirements.
As such, even a successful, international model of teacher professional development that provides great training, hands-on mentoring, and the provision of high-quality teaching materials and equipment, must be adapted to the Thai context.
Professional Development Begins with Great Training
Anyone who has participated in a training program knows that not all training is created equal. The class size, the content, the training materials and the experience of the trainer all affect the quality of the training.
In addition to the need to train both subject matter content and teaching pedagogy at the same time, which is critical for developing soft 4C skills in students, the instructor to teacher ratio and the number of training hours all play a role in training success. The net result of this is that many teacher training programs do not meet a minimum standard necessary to support true teacher professional development. Ideally, training should also be conducted by, or with the support of, trainers who have actual in-class experience teaching kids. Understanding strategies surrounding classroom management in particular requires more than just an academic perspective; it needs an experienced teacher who knows how to address teachers’ questions.
Finally, it is critical to train the teachers directly in the materials they will deliver to their students. This presents a challenge for Thailand, as the government in-class learning materials are not structured to support high-impact teaching practices. As such, a major hurdle to successful education programming is the need to align the materials teachers will use in the class, such as lessons and modules, with the Thai curriculum. If the lesson takes too much time, or does not support the required government curriculum, teachers simply won’t use it in the classroom.
Mentoring 2.0 – Professional Learning Communities
Decades of professional development has shown that training alone is not enough to adopt modern teaching practices in the classroom. A freshly trained teacher will face a number of hurdles in taking this knowledge back to the classroom and applying what they’ve learned. Enter mentoring, which provides teachers with the support they need to overcome classroom challenges and develop confidence in new teaching practices.
Previously, most mentoring in Thailand was very costly, following a one-on-one model. Now, with recent changes in the rules on teacher development, the group-based PLC model has been working its way into the Thai education system. Not only is the PLC model a more cost-effective means of supporting a teacher, but the group-based nature, where teachers share their experiences, concerns and best practices under the guidance of an experienced mentor, has proven to be more effective in improving teacher outcomes and increasing teacher confidence when done correctly. Unfortunately, there is still limited funding for the formation of PLCs, and most training programs do not provide any on-going mentorship, prioritizing the number of teachers trained as opposed to student impact.
Provision of Quality Materials and Equipment
There is perhaps nothing more frustrating to a teacher than completing a training course, returning to their classroom, and lacking the resources to deliver their new lessons to their students. What good is training a teacher in how to deliver an exciting new physics experiment on force and motion without the materials needed for the students to recreate the experiment? Teachers need access to the necessary equipment, teacher manuals, lesson plans, and other resources in order to deliver what they have learned to their students. Without them, teachers will soon grow frustrated and revert back to a traditional rote learning model. Since the training will be used by the teacher for years to come, and it is unlikely the school budget will pay for the materials, replacement costs must also be addressed, or the teacher will quickly abandon the new lessons.
Transforming Thailand’s education system won’t be easy, but with a consistent commitment to empowering teachers through great professional development and by providing high-quality resources that are matched to the Thai curriculum, change will take root and a new generation of students with strong STEM knowledge and 21st century skills will emerge.
Are you ready to join Kenan in empowering teachers to build a better future for Thai kids? Contact us today or find out about our 21st century teacher development program at www.kenan-asia.org/teacher-professional-development.