When I first moved to Macao in 2010 from a public system in Alberta, the first thing I noticed was how collaborative TIS is. While I previously had exchanged ideas here and there in the workroom or staffroom with my peers (often because we would see something someone else was preparing and ask about it), at TIS we had weekly meetings to plan together. This was very strange to me-I was used to coming up with ideas on my own, creating resources on my own, and reflecting on my practice on my own.
My very first team here (Grade 4) was composed of myself, Mr. Boisjoli and Mrs. Fundytus. They taught me what collaboration truly is and how it can benefit students and build capacity. We developed cool projects together, talked about how we could better support our students according to their needs at the time, and reflected on our assessment pieces together. For someone who was used to doing everything on my own, this process made me a little uncomfortable at first. I had to be vulnerable and share my ideas-knowing that they might be shot down. I had to be assertive with my opinions-knowing that someone may not like that I was saying I didn’t necessarily think one of their ideas would work. And I had to learn to trust the process and my team. But, as I did that an awesome thing happened-I became a better teacher because I was learning from other teachers in a consistent and structured way.
My teams changed over the years and I continued to get more and more comfortable with collaboration. Ms. Elsa taught me that it’s actually easy to passionately disagree with one another about how to best address a learning outcome, and then end up coming to a consensus through some healthy dialogue. Ms. Yu taught me how to extend each other grace and ensure that everyone on a team has a voice. Mr. Poole and Mr. Beck taught me how important it is to have a well-balanced team that plays into each other’s strengths. Ms. Cheung taught me how sweet true collaboration can be, and how important it is to have fun with your team, and more importantly-your students. And Ms. Jazz has taught me that you can approach things from very different places and disagree about a whole lot of things, but if you manage to not take things personally, you will see things through a whole new lens and learn a lot about other perspectives and why those are important too. These teammates (and all the other ones I’ve had during my time here) have helped shape me as a teacher, as a leader, and as a person. They’ve also resulted in some pretty amazing life-long friendships/family.
During my first year here, I realized that TIS was a very special place where best practices are critically examined in order to make them even better. And in the almost nine years since-we’ve somehow managed to get even better at the collaborative process.
Each week our grade teams in Grades 1-6 meet for eighty minutes to plan the coming week together. Led by our exceptional grade team leaders, our teams look at ideas and unpack them. They create common assessments, and they take risks together in order to further benefit the learning that happens in their classrooms.
Each grade team also meets for an additional 40 minutes each week to spend highly structured time with their PLC (Professional Learning Community). During this time the teachers analyze the writing process at TIS and learn about the TCRWP (Teachers College Reading and Writing Project) units of study that we have recently adopted. The grade teams examine student work and decide on next steps. Student achievement is at the heart of this process and as a result, the writing stamina of our students has improved dramatically in the last two years and so has their ability to express themselves.
On top of all this, the grade teams also sometimes meet an additional block each week with our various specialists. They meet with our ELL team to have a better understanding of how their department can support every student with his or her learning in the coming week. They spend time with our Technology Coaches learning about cool ways to teach concepts like coding to their students. Our Arts Coordinator helps teams plan lessons that celebrate the arts and teach the elements of design. Our Curriculum Coordinator plans provocations and unique learning opportunities that address the outcomes in our Program of Studies...and don’t even get me started on his exceptional teepee building skills. And our dedicated Student Services team meets with grade teams to discuss student needs and make plans to support those students who need some extra help.
What’s going on in Elementary School at TIS? A whole lot of collaboration. An increase in student achievement. A great amount of capacity building. And none of this is possible without our exceptional teachers who have dove in head first, who trust each other enough to take real risks, and who continually strive to push themselves to be better every day. Our new Head of School, Mr. Lockwood talks a lot about incremental self-improvement and its importance, and I’m proud to say that I’ve witnessed a whole lot of that over the 9 years I’ve been here. And our highly collaborative culture has been instrumental in ensuring that this happens.