A Mutual Learning Opportunity

A Mutual Learning Opportunity

Dr Tammy Kwan (3rd from left) and her colleagues of Partnership Office

Schools need teachers who are both trained and practiced. The catch is that schools have to provide opportunities for student teachers to get that practice. Until recently, this has been an uphill struggle.

When Dr Tammy Kwan was appointed Partnership Director for School-University Partnerships in the Faculty of Education in 2007, they were short nearly 200 school placements for student teachers (out of a total of about 500). ''We had to call schools one by one and beg for places,'' she says.

That situation motivated her to find a more sustainable solution that involves collaborating with schools so they can realize the benefits to their own staff of having student teachers around.

''We want them to see it as a mutual learning opportunity. The student teachers get authentic experience and practicum, while mentor teachers in the schools can take it as an opportunity to further strengthen their professional development. This is important if they want to move up the career ladder,'' Dr Kwan says.

Teachers who are paired with student teachers act as mentors and open up their classroom to the student teachers so they can observe lessons and discuss the rationale behind their lesson plans and teaching. Previously student teachers were simply given classes to teach and left to get on with it. Mentor teachers also observe student teachers teaching their classes.

''The mentor teachers get another perspective. Some of them say they'd thought this or that approach wasn't possible, but when they observed our student teachers using more innovative ways of teaching, it opened their eyes,'' she says.

That result has led to ''whole school mentoring support'', which extends mentoring beyond the individual teacher-student relationship to encourage other non-mentoring teachers to open their classrooms and allow student teachers to observe their lessons. This allows our student teachers to see different teaching approaches in subjects outside their majors.

Lock Tao Secondary School was the pioneer in 2007-08. ''The whole school atmosphere has changed,'' says Dr Kwan. ''Before they joined us, they were very conservative and seldom allowed anyone to walk into their classrooms. Now they say, come on in, anytime, welcome.''

The partnership programme has 19 Professional Partnership Schools (PPS) at present which hopefully will increase to 25 in September 2012. Since her appointment as Assistant Dean (School-University Partnerships) in November 2010, Dr Kwan has also formed clusters of PPS to hold professional workshops and seminars related to educational issues such as mentoring. Teachers from nearby schools of the PPS and parent representatives are also invited to join with the intention to expand the boundary of the PPS clusters.   What started as a teaching and learning initiative with placements as the primary objective has now got a strong knowledge exchange element by sharing and disseminating knowledge to different stakeholders or parties.

Dr Kwan hopes interest in supporting mentoring will snowball because in 2014 the double cohort of students in Education will start their teaching placements, meaning more places are needed. ''We have to really plan ahead,'' she says. ''Of course we are looking for numbers but we must also ensure quality of mentoring and we strongly believe student teachers, mentor teachers and schools, and our Faculty will benefit through genuine partnerships.''

Group photo of Dr Tammy Kwan (front row, 3rd from left), her colleagues and school partners at the KE Conference