“When I see our country’s O-NET and PISA scores, I know that we have to improve,” said Rattanasak Thongpanya, a science teacher at Wat Laemfapah School in Samut Prakarn province.
However, teachers, particularly those in smaller schools outside of urban centers, have few opportunities for organized professional development—especially guidance translatable to highly varied school contexts. In an education system with as much regional inequality as Thailand, discussions are most effective if they are localized.
The Ministry of Education has declared teacher development a key priority, and sees Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) as a solution to reduce educational inequality and bring teachers together to solve unique problems. In 2017, it mandated that all teachers must attend 50 hours of PLCs each year for five consecutive years as a step toward career advancement.
However, without a structured roll-out, PLCs would become a non-value-added administrative requirement rather than a transformative process. Systematic implementation is necessary to guide teachers on how to organize and facilitate an effective PLC. So how can the education sector maximize the potential of PLCs to help teachers build their skills?
Over the last four years, Chevron Enjoy Science has built extensive university networks and practices for professional development, especially for STEM school teachers. Hoping to leverage and expand successful processes, the Teachers’ Council of Thailand signed a partnership with the project to strengthen the PLC networks across the nation on May 7.
Over the last four years, the Enjoy Science project has refined the PLC into a step-by-step process with clearly defined roles for all parties. As classrooms shift toward inquiry- and problem-based learning, in which the teacher serves as a facilitator of student-directed learning, Enjoy Science’s “open classroom” PLC focuses on creating communities of practice among educators.
Here’s how it works: To begin, a group of educators identifies learning objectives around a curricular concept and student skills, and collaboratively designs a lesson plan. Next, an assigned “master teacher” delivers the lesson to a classroom of real students. During the lesson, each group of students is accompanied by observers, typically other teachers, school leaders, or academic experts.
When the lesson concludes, the group identifies and dissects points at which students were confused or excited, and what strategies could’ve been employed to clarify a concept or engage students more. Classroom realities emerge: Slow learners, shy students, and so on. Much of the attention goes to immediately applicable suggestions for specific contexts to maximize learning in day-to-day practice.
“Now that I’ve had the chance to actually experience a [Chevron Enjoy Science] PLC, I see that they can be much more than what I had thought,” said Kongsith Itthiyophasakul, a math teacher at Saithong Uppatham School in Chachoengsao province. “It teaches us to see how students think and analyze from their perspectives. If we are willing to accept other opinions and receive feedback, we can make our pedagogy ‘work’ for the students.”
The Chevron Enjoy Science project has organized over 108 PLCs across the country, working with 504 schools and 15 universities to date. With a newly-announced fund of 6.5 million THB from the Teachers’ Council and 5.5 million THB from Enjoy Science, grants will be disbursed over the next year to strengthen PLC networks across the country to convene at three scales: teacher networks, school networks and provincial networks.
“Under this collaboration, Chevron Thailand, Kenan Foundation Asia, and the Teachers’ Council are working closely to plan, fund, follow up and assess PLC projects,” said Wattanaporn Rangubtook, Secretary-General of the Teachers’ Council.
PLCs are facilitated through a growing ecosystem of School Improvement Networks composed of teachers, principals, superintendents working for Educational Service Area Offices or educational units under Local Administrative Offices, and academic experts.
The multi-stakeholder approach to educational improvement is based on the concept of Networked Improvement Communities (NICs) in education. Renowned educators Bryk, Gomez, and Grunow (2010) propose that NICs bring diverse expertise from participating stakeholders to address specific problems of practice, which can be tested, refined, and replicated in other contexts.
With the Chevron Enjoy Science project and the Teachers’ Council of Thailand leading the charge for the creation of PLCs and School Improvement Networks across the country, the vision of the educational sector grows increasingly unified: Empowering teachers alongside local stakeholders to collaboratively hone their practice for improved student learning outcomes.
“New techniques I’ve applied in my classrooms have helped me reach ‘aha’ moments with my students,” said Kongsith of his math classroom after returning from his first “open classroom” PLC. “If we can challenge ourselves and overcome our trials, I believe we can also challenge and guide our students to achieve greater success.”
May 31, 2019