Teapot Time: Innovative Teachers Embrace the Spirit of Community
Our close-knit community at the Yew Chung International School of Beijing has long been a main point of attraction for parents looking for a familial school atmosphere, which is being enhanced even further by our new Learning Community spaces. Our teachers have fully embraced this spirit of community as well, implementing the Teapot Time initiative to further encourage the sharing of best teaching practices and mutual growth. Secondary School teachers Sharee Hebert and Alana Martin, the two founders of this initiative, explain below the noticeable impact this new project has had on faculty and school culture in just a few months’ time.
Please introduce the Teapot Time Concept.
Sharee: Teapot Time is based around the idea that our classrooms are open and that we should take every opportunity to learn from one another, even across disciplines. As a math teacher, I can learn from non-math classes to see how my students interact in those classes to gain further insight into improving my own teaching methods.
The idea was inspired by education professional Jennifer Gonzalez and her Cult of Pedagogy blog. One of her central ideas is a pineapple chart, a sort of “welcome mat” that lets teachers let other teachers know when they’re doing something worth watching or observing. “Teapot Time” is our conception of teachers sharing their ideas over a cup of tea! Teachers are invited to host specific lessons or just request feedback on specific teaching points.
Why was this initiative introduced at YCIS Beijing? What inspired its implementation?
Sharee: We felt like there was a need there for increased voluntary staff feedback and sharing. While part of our professional appraisal process is paired observations, it’s often felt forced in the past and seen as more of a box-checking activity rather than a true opportunity for professional development. Teapot Time is a much more natural and authentic exchange that teachers are already starting to value.
Alana: This new initiative also goes hand-in-hand with the new Learning Community philosophy that is being implemented. The spirit of learning from one another and sharing is very important in this model, especially in Secondary which can be very subject and topic specific. We’re already seeing many teachers speaking much more with one another and sharing many more ideas even in just the last couple months.
Sharee: In the last month we’ve had 28 offerings of teachers inviting others to come to their classrooms to observe. Beyond teachers, we’d also love to see visitors and prospective parents visiting classrooms that are marked as open to observers.
What are the most common topics of discussion? What is normally shared during these sessions?
Sharee and Alana: They’ve been very varied so far. Some of the more “trendy” sessions have been on gamification, visible thinking strategies, i.e. different activities that encourage kids to literally make their thinking visible, assessment strategies, learning community observation, and much more.
One aspect of this initiative that we didn’t even anticipate is teachers hosting after-school sessions focusing on specific areas of expertise. It’s been an entirely organic evolution; teachers have voluntarily begun offering mini-PD in 20-30 minute sessions. It’s been a welcome development and a truly fantastic display of our teachers’ enthusiasm!
Have you hosted or attended any Teapot Times this year? How have they benefited yourself and your colleagues?
Alana: I think my favorite aspect of this initiative is being able to engage in conversation while knowing that your colleague has come and listened to your class, which makes the conversation that much more meaningful and productive. There was one great example where I was discussing reading strategy with my students and had Chinese teachers come and watch my class. They took some of the methods from my class and applied it in their Chinese classes. The ensuing conversation about what did and didn’t work was fascinating and was beneficial for both of us as we were able to give mutual feedback. We’re kind of obsessed about what we do and so many times you do it alone, so being able to talk about it is really rewarding!
Sharee: We have a sharing time in every Secondary School faculty meeting we have thanks to [Secondary School Vice Principal] Mr. Collins has really emphasized sharing best practices this year; with this initiative, someone’s often in your class actually observing your practice. This gives teachers a great resource to talk through what happened, good or bad. It’s a great way to learn and grow as teachers, not just show off our best face!
In what ways does this activity align with YCIS Beijing’s core philosophies?
Alana: I think that it aligns well with our newest Learning Community philosophies. The opening up of everyone’s doors and sharing practices and feedback among all staff has been the biggest success so far. This focus on best practice as well as caring for one another, making sure we’re opening up and bringing people out of isolation, is in line with the holistic experience we create for our teachers. Most importantly, this results in the kids then getting the best from us as we’re continually improving.
Sharee: The initiative also helps to further join Eastern and Western teaching philosophies, as we get to share across Chinese and Western classrooms and learn from one another.
How do you hope this activity will affect the culture of the school?
Sharee: I love the direction the school’s been heading. I hope it continues to become a place we can learn from each other and where we can continue teaching and learning from one another. I hope that as we move into a Learning Community model, we all become even more open about what we’re doing, and therefore much more open to feedback and self-improvement.
Alana: From a Learning Community perspective, we need to be able to share with each other and inculcate the spirit of generosity between teachers to be successful, so I think this is a very significant step in the right direction.
Sharee: We also hope this will improve teacher training sessions, as we’ll hopefully have even more colleagues willing to step up and lead workshops or activities. They’ll realize it’s not that scary or intimidating to lead their colleagues!