What is the most important factor in improving student achievement? Research often points to teachers as the most critical link to student success, so time spent on quality professional development is well worth it. But how do teachers improve?
At LAS, we are fortunate to have supportive leadership that recognizes the value of professional learning for teachers. To get the best from students, we need to get the best from teachers. With time and money from administration, we cultivate our talents based on a few key research-based principles: ongoing collaboration, reflection, and autonomy within one’s classroom context. Our professional growth becomes a continual cycle of improvement, which includes time to work with our peers and to think about our daily classroom practice. We complement our professional development at school with external opportunities to grow as professionals from experts in our fields so we can, in turn, serve our diverse student body better.
Many if not most of our learners, like at other international schools, are multilingual students. LAS embraces diversity because we know through nearly 60 years of international education experience, bringing students together from different backgrounds fosters international understanding, an important trait in the 21st century. But this also poses challenges in providing access to the curriculum for multilingual students whose first language is not English. So how has LAS been so successful in distinguishing itself by creating the curricular infrastructure and implementing instructional strategies to make sure all learners achieve at LAS?
LAS has both cultivated expertise amongst our teaching staff and maintained long-standing relationships with professional organizations, researchers, and other experts in the field of second language acquisition. This means we stay current with the most recent educational evidence-based trends to better-train teachers at LAS—and beyond. Embracing the multilingual nature of our students and the world at large, LAS has also had particularly close ties with the ECIS Multilingual Learning in International Education (MLIE, formerly the ESL and Mother Tongue) Committee for many years. Kim Oppenheim (IB English teacher & LAS Mother Tongue Coordinator) and I have both been committee members—Kim was chair twice—and we have organized several conferences in Rome, Copenhagen, Dusseldorf, Amsterdam, and most recently London, not to mention Leysin (2002). It is no wonder that our English language acquisition program has long been a central and highly-regarded component of the overall LAS academic program.
At this year’s ECIS MLIE London Conference this March, nearly 500 participants from 50 countries came to learn from world-renowned researchers and expert classroom teachers. My colleague Julia Bach (Associate Academic Dean of Savoy) and I learned about embracing the multilingual identities of our students and several cutting-edge classroom practices. We were particularly proud that so many presenters have close ties to LAS and our professional learning program. In no particular order (and to name only a few with connections to LAS):
Jim Cummins, professor emeritus at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education of the University of Toronto; twice presenter at LAS- SGIS annual conference, ECIS ESL Mother Tongue Conference (2002)
Liam Printer, former LAS teacher and doctoral candidate at University of Bath
Many of the ideas discussed in the conference workshops and lectures are central to our language acquisition program. Seeing these noted speakers and ideas featured at such a renowned conference underscores how LAS is ahead of the curve. That is, we cultivate close ties with these experts who are leaders in the field and recognized as such. We sustain a mindset of action research through our own school-based research center with resident classroom trainers. And perhaps most importantly, we provide time in the weekly timetable for teachers to work with peers and reflect to ensure continued growth and excellence in teaching and student learning. We are also actively demonstrating to students that life-long learning doesn’t stop after high school or university. We, teachers, are also learners.
Aaron Deupree teaches English B for the International Baccalaureate Diploma Program, is the ELA department chair, and coordinates various programs for professional development at LAS. He recently co-authored an English B course companion soon to be published by Hodder. In addition, he is former a member of the ECIS ESL & Mother Tongue (now MLIE) Committee.
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