The third annual Teaching and Learning Forum brings together around 1,000 teachers from around the nation to share their experiences and pass on their expertise
The importance of continuous professional development in teaching was recognized by the Educational Development Institute (EDI), under the umbrella of Qatar Foundation’s (QF’s) Pre-University Education, when hosting its third annual Teaching and Learning Forum at Qatar National Convention Centre on 30 April 2016.
The event was a valuable opportunity in affording K-12 teachers and educators from across Qatar’s diverse schools the chance to meet, share their experiences, and discuss new methods.
It enabled educators to update their knowledge and skills, keep acquainted with the latest thinking in education, and reflect these ideas in their own classrooms.
Aside from networking and collaborative opportunities, the forum’s keynote speakers – Professor Andy Hargreaves, Thomas More Brennan Chair in the Lynch School of Education and Professor in the Carroll School of Management at Boston College, and Dr Simon Breakspear, Founder and CEO of LearnLabs, a global learning research and design agency, addressed topics such as leadership in teaching, innovation, and developing literacy and language skills.
Sheikha Noof Ahmed bin Saif Al Thani, Executive Director, EDI, highlighted the importance of the event, saying: “The overarching aim of the annual Teaching and Learning Forum is to encourage teachers in Qatar to share their knowledge and expertise with other educators.
"We hope to empower teachers, and help them to reach their full potential, while simultaneously nurturing excellence and unlocking the capabilities of the young men and women of tomorrow.”
Nasser Al Khouri, Partnership Coordinator, EDI, explained: “The event now attracts around 1,000 educators from all different schools in Qatar – QF schools, government, and private international.
“We collaborate on an ongoing basis with the Ministry of education, Qatar University, and the different schools to determine their needs for the annual forum, the challenges they face, and how the themes of the conference can help to address and relate to these.”
Developing educational collaborations
“EDI activities try to bridge the different systems, across Qatar,” said Al Khouri. “The conference is just one of our collaborative efforts. For example, we have a number of K-12 schemes set up within QF’s Qatar Academy (QA) schools and early education centers that are highly successful. During the Teaching and Learning Forum, teachers presenting in both Arabic and English, share these with their peers.
"We also have specific schemes in other schools and, this year, we have educators from QA schools, private international, and public schools talking about Qatar-centric pedagogy, and the successful models and practices they are mentoring in their own classrooms. We’re creating a dialogue between the teachers of different systems, which benefits students.”
The significance of the forum was echoed by Dr Breakspear, who said: “I don’t think you can overestimate the importance of an event such as this, particularly for the mixed Qatari system, in which many schools are doing excellent work but they are also isolated. The systems that are getting better around the world are those that really focus on learning and sharing that knowledge.
“By bringing together the real experts in the room – the educators themselves – and by also having some outside messages means that they can come together around a common language and agenda for learning.”
He added: “Some of the most important times, however, are the breakout sessions and those serendipitous interactions between people who are working on very similar challenges in different contexts – that’s the real point of this event – in which individuals can exchange experiences and share ideas.”
Innovation in best practices
A key theme for the 2016 forum was innovation in leadership, and how teaching can continually adopt and instigate best practices. Dr Breakspear was keen to highlight, however, that innovation cannot be the goal. “It is actually the process,” he said. “Many systems get caught with wanting to drive innovation. They say 'we want to be innovative', but this has to be the process. The question should follow: what do you want the outcome to be?
“And, really, the outcome has to be better teaching that leads to higher quality learning,” he emphasized. “So, rather than starting with innovation, we actually need to start with what do we want young people to know and learn?“What is happing here in Qatar is that we want higher aspirations for young people in the broadest sense.
We want them to develop the skills that are required for the knowledge economy.“We therefore need to innovate teaching practices, and the environments of learning, to create these outcomes for young people.” This, Dr Breakspear determined, involves educators, government support, system support, and all levels of the community to facilitate and encourage young people on their individual journeys.
Literacy and learning
As a country undergoing change, Qatar – like many – is facing a responsibility to nurture traditional linguistics while empowering students as global citizens.
Professor Hargreaves explained how schools in all sectors must adapt to modern teaching requirements yet still instill knowledge of what is regarded as basic subjects.
“Important challenges need to be addressed in terms of both Arabic and English languages, and how to motivate all students in terms of wanting to engage with their learning and to be successful,” he said.
“We really need to figure that out because literacy is a basic requirement. It doesn’t necessarily require a traditional, basic, kind of teaching. Even literacy can have innovation.
“We want to connect with the way children learn. With boys, for example, we need to know how to engage with their reading, with literacy, and with other aspects of learning.” The solution, he believes, is in making learning exciting and enjoyable. Technology, he believes, can be a useful tool but it is not something that should always be relied upon as a way of disconnecting boys from the outside distractions that are suggesting school is not as important as it should be.
“We can connect with schools from across the world,” Professor Hargreaves said, “perhaps go outside of the classroom to places they view as exciting as others parts of their life, and in many cases more exciting.”
The EDI works extensively on different programs between its annual Teaching and Learning Forums to ensure professional development opportunities are maintained and developed for teachers.
As Dr Breakspear highlighted: “The real work has to happen in the classroom. The impact of professional learning is inversely proportional to the distance it comes from the classroom. “These events spark interest, re-inspire educators, and form new connections. The real work happens daily as educators work with their teams, with their instructional coaches, to improve teaching for the students that they serve. It is this broader calendar that EDI is bringing – that is where the real work happens.”