We’re Not So Different After All
Eula Monroe presents at East Asia Regional Conference in Thailand
A chance conversation with a stranger resulted in the opportunity to give presentations in Thailand for Eula Monroe of the McKay School’s Department of Teacher Education. In June 2010, on a plane to Montana, Monroe chatted with an American elementary school teacher working in Shanghai, whose father is the director of a large teacher and leadership development organization. Weeks later, Monroe was invited to attend the organization’s 2012 teacher development conference in Bangkok, Thailand.
The conference was the annual teacher/leadership development event for The East Asia Regional Council of Schools (EARCOS). This organization serves 130 independent schools (more than 92,000 students) by providing professional development for its members and by building regional and worldwide partnerships.
Monroe gave one full-day workshop and presented four shorter sessions. Her day-long workshop, Helping Leaners Develop Mathematical Practices that Yield “Uncommon” Understandings, focused on the new Common Core Standards for Mathematical Practice. “These practices are what characterize good mathematics education,” Monroe said. “They are not necessarily how you teach, but the mathematics practices students should develop while they’re in the classroom—what they need to be able to do as learners of mathematics”
Monroe observed that many high-achieving nations throughout the world share similar ideas about student mathematical practices. “Although we do not consistently get the results that high-achieving nations do, many of our good ideas are synchronous with theirs as well,” she said. “Of course, there’s not complete unity or agreement, but I thought we’d start with Standards for Mathematical Practice (SMPs) for students—organize around them and look at some tasks that demonstrate these standards well. They could learn the SMPs from the tasks, evaluate those tasks, and then take the tasks back and adapt them for use in their classrooms.”
Additionally, Monroe observed, “The teachers at EARCOS tended to be of the adventurous, spirited sort—much like Peace Corps volunteers I have known. They seemed so eager to learn and to go back and implement what they learned with their students. One teacher, originally from Alabama but now teaching in an independent school in Bangkok, emailed me the following week to tell me how successful his newfound approach to mathematics was with his first graders; he also requested similar ideas for science and social studies! Another, from Mongolia, requested some materials I had used so that she could prepare a workshop for her school on the same topic – the role of discourse in mathematics instruction. They are a very interesting and delightful set of people.”
The energy and commitment Monroe observed at the conference inspired her. The teachers shared with her that many of the independent schools in East Asia do not emphasize student test scores as a metric for success, so they are free to innovate more. The motivation to excel and push their students to achieve is strong, as parents, communities, and school leadership are heavily invested in the educational process. The teaching profession is highly valued, and teachers are held accountable for student success, but not necessarily with test scores. “I believe this freedom to innovate gave the teachers added zeal and eagerness to do well. It was a great combination with their adventurous spirits.”
The most significant challenge for conference participants will be implementing what they have learned in their own countries and cultures. “They need to be able to adapt and adjust their teaching,” said Monroe. Doing so will contribute to the adoption of universally applicable good practices in mathematics and general education alike.
In the meantime, Monroe eagerly awaits the conference scheduled for year after next, which will take place in Asia or East Asia. “I don’t know yet where it will be,” Monroe said, “but I’m excited to participate!”
June 26, 2012