An experience that left a strong impression on me as an educator was an educational visit to Japan during which I had the opportunity to visit schools and corporations, and also engage in a homestay experience. At the end of The Keizai Koho Center Teacher Fellowship, I spoke at a symposium and publicly shared best practices from my school relating to my reflections with the teachers we visited throughout our time in the program. What resonated with me the most was the culture’s emphasis on improvement. This was visible in multiple areas. For example, I visited Toyota factories that integrated assembly line protocols to encourage feedback and revision of bullet train managers’ reviewing videotape of cleaning crews to identify time-saving procedures. I also attended High Schools that prioritize teacher to teacher feedback and improvement science through teacher led lesson study sessions.
During trips to schools, as I visited classrooms, sat in on department meetings and spoke with parents, teachers, administrators and students, I noticed that Japanese schools prioritize collaboration by ensuring teachers have time to identify problems of practice and work together with other educators to reflect on various pedagogical strategies. In this way, all teachers, novice and experienced alike, are perpetually learning and increasing their capacity to serve students. I learned that the process of observation and feedback in Japan is inverted, as the majority of feedback for teachers comes from their colleagues as opposed to just from administration. And the amount of feedback greatly exceeds the frequency received by educators across America. In speaking to Japanese teachers, I also learned they work a full calendar year, using time over the summer to collaborate and refine lessons for the following school term.
Since visiting Japan, I have helped implement teacher led professional learning that is grounded in the premise of growth mindset and the processes of collaboration, inter-visitation, and reflection. Currently, as the lead teacher of the Social Studies department, I have worked closely with my colleagues to improve student engagement through inter-visitation and reflective debrief. Every Wednesday, we meet as a team to identify a period that we will visit a fellow teacher’s classroom. During the visit, we sit with students and observe their learning, and we take low inference notes that we share with the facilitating teacher(s). We develop patterns and trends across the classroom, look at student work to identify understandings and misunderstandings related to student learning and encourage the facilitating teacher to identify their instructional next steps.
Additionally, my participation helped inspire students to form The Academy For Software Engineering Tea Club. Tea Club came out of the need for students to have a safe space to hang out and congregate before school started. The school is part of a campus school with limited space and is co-located with 8 other schools that share the same cafeteria. Since the school draws students from all over the city, and all 5 boroughs, students often get to school significantly early and lack before school supervision and engagement. Students would often wander the halls looking for classrooms to hang out in and often get into arguments with students from other schools.
When some of my sophomores came into my room and saw me drinking some tea before first period we got into a conversation about the benefits of drinking tea, how tea has played an essential role throughout world history and then asked if I could pour them a cup. It was a greatly appreciated gesture, which led to more students coming the next morning, which then ultimately manifested into more students coming to my classroom before school for tea, which ultimately manifested into tea club. Students now have their own mugs and "tea shirts" and have roles and responsibilities within tea club. The first rule of Tea Club is that it is a safe space and whatever is discussed in Tea Club stays in Tea Club or is discussed with the other person privately.
Tea Club has served the purpose of a before school advisory in which students share their frustrations and accomplishments in a manner that they facilitate largely by themselves. This simple morning ritual has inspired other teachers in the school to think about the socio emotional support we provide to students and to reorganize our advisory program to correspond to clubs and specific interests. It is hard to group a bunch of students into a classroom heterogeneously and then demand that they bond and collaborate. AFSE is now working to combine advisory like support with clubs in which students have choice and ownership over the focus, activities and conversations.
Tea Club has also influenced instruction in my classroom as students are reading the book The History Of The World In Six Glasses. I brought home an authentic tea set, which will be used to practice the tea ceremony to formally induct students into tea club. I am also trying to get students a formal invitation to the tea and coffee festival, which is held every year in New York City.