Current educational research concludes that the teacher is by far the most important factor in a student’s academic progress. In Thailand the overall student academic performance ( according to PISA and other standardized measures) has fallen over the past decade. So, the burning question for Thailand’s educators is how to improve teacher performance.
SCLThailand continues to hold the position that there must be a paradigm shift in the way Thai teachers approach the art of teaching. Of special concern is how to stimulate that change in those who are teaching in rural , economically disadvantaged areas. It is in these areas that academic performance rural students on average falls dramatically below their urban counterparts.
How can we reach these rural teachers who are often undertrained and underpaid? We hope that the Ministry of Education will take a more forceful lead in encouraging underperforming rural schools to establish what educators now commonly refer to as Learning Communities. These communities are groups of teachers that meet before or after school to discuss their individual lesson plans with an eye to coordinate subject matter with their colleague’s lesson plans. The group of teachers concentrate on what they expect students to learn in all subject areas and explore ways to link their lesson plans together to share a common thread of learning where possible. Thus , for example , a math teacher will be teaching algebra and the history teacher in her lesson may discuss how algebra was discovered in a particular moment of history and what its significance was in subsequent historic events. The language teacher might include some algebraic terms in her vocabulary usage lessons.
The Learning Community would also problem solve to ensure the success of every student and decide jointly how they can help those students who are struggling. There would be a sharing of how individuals in their classes different in how they learn and also what personal problems students have that might shed light on ways to help them.
In sum, a given rural school can form, for illustration, Learning Communities for each grade level centering their discussion on :
1. What they want each student to learn;
2. How they will know when each student has learned it; and
3. How they will respond when a student experiences difficulty in learning.
My experience as a teacher trainer in South Florida indicates that many schools who want to start Learning Communities do better when they have a master teacher/trainer to help start the newly formed group of teachers for the first four weeks. The master teacher helps the group to address the issues of how the teachers will change their approach to teaching collectively and how they will help each other to focus on student learning and necessary changes in their collectively thought out lesson plans.
It is our conclusion that the Ministry of Education could provide a valuable service by providing master teacher trainers to help newly formed Learning Communities . After an initial four weeks of helping the Learning Community of a school , it would be desirable if the master teacher would follow up periodically with advice and news of new training opportunities.
Peter J. Foley