Know the ropes, learn the ropes


Image: Shutterstock/Viktoria-Kazakova

The school year is here again and I would like to introduce everybody who will read this blog to the outstanding tradition of Latvian teachers – to learn from each other. Hopefully this experience will be, at least, interesting or maybe even useful for colleagues in other countries. As a matter of a fact, mutual learning happens in many different levels and is well received among teachers.

Firstly – each summer, STEM teachers in Latvia start the new school year a week or two before the 1st of September, when it really starts for everybody. This year, the annual Conference for STEM teachers was held on the 21st of August and gathered about 600 biology, chemistry, physics and mathematics teachers as well as other teaching staff from universities, scientists, policy makers and business professionals.

As it usually happens in conferences, there were education policy-makers’ and researchers’ speeches and panel discussions. During the plenary session, most event participants were honored to listen to the president’s speech. During the Conference, teachers are introduced to the latest offer on new technologies, books and teaching and learning materials.  All of that makes the event a very inspiring gathering before the school year starts, but the main value of it is the mutual sharing of experiences. About half of all workshops and „free microphone” sessions are always led by teachers from different schools. This tradition is maintained through the years and works very well, as most teachers appreciate listening to experiences from their colleagues. When authorities are delivering important messages -and very clever ones, sometimes- it works well but it is even better to listen to real experiences from people who „knows the rope”. Some of topics of the „free microphone” sessions and workshops from this year have been the following:

  1. How I am rising the interest in learning Mathematics (and Science, Physics, Chemistry) in my lessons
  2. How I am differentiating the learning in my lessons
  3. How do I introduce real life experiences in my lessons
  4. How the meaningful using of technologies looks like in my lessons
  5. How I am designing the lesson in order to develop the thinking of my students
  6. GeoGebra in my Mathematics lessons
  7. My favorite „toy” – smartphones in Physics lessons

Before the conference, people from the Science and Mathematics Education Centre in the University of Latvia always ask teachers to prepare presentations on interesting educational ideas and good practices. From year to year the response from teachers increases which means that, each year, teachers have yet another opportunity to listen to their colleagues and to get inspired.

Secondly – teachers from schools in the same district are united in communities like the community of Mathematics teachers or the community of Physics teachers, among others.  Communities organize meetings during this time of the year and during students’ holidays in autumn, winter and spring. During these meetings, mutual learning takes place again. Throughout many years, one of my duties has been to lead the community of Mathematics teachers in my region and I can affirm that the main task of the leader is to establish mutual trust and a friendly atmosphere in the community. If it happens, teachers are ready to share not only their success stories but also their failures. I see this as being highly professional: when a teacher is ready to speak about problems and to analize possible solutions together with colleagues. One can not see this very often but it does happens and it helps a lot to grow professionally. Teachers are able to solve different problems together when they have meetings but it depends on each particular community. Each community of teachers independently plans the events for the whole year and commonly decides what are they going to work on at their meetings.

Thirdly – in many, many schools there is a strong tradition that, if a teacher participates in any workshop, seminar or lifelong learning event, he or she organizes a presentation of the essential ideas and information received once the school year has started – in this manner,  the knowledge can be further disseminated. At the same time, colleagues are obtaining a lot of new ideas during these small workshops. Sometimes, teachers plan workshops and lead them not only for colleagues at school but in many other schools in the country.

All in all, I wish a very successful school year for everybody. Maybe, after learning this article, some of the Latvian teachers’ traditions will be transferred to your learning traditions- or maybe you have some of them already. Learning from each other is a great thing, and teachers are and always have been creative enough not to do things like „copy – paste” but to get inspiration and build their own knowledge. Good luck, dear colleagues!

Article written by Biruta Pjalkovska, Scientix Ambassador

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