Some of my former students are now English panel chairs. They often have mixed feelings about this role. On the one hand, it is an opportunity for them to make further use of their experience, insights, and ideas. On the other, the position also entails constraints and conflicts that they have to deal with. Occasionally, a panel chair, after struggling for a few years, will become so exhausted or frustrated that she will decide to return to solely classroom teaching.
I have never been a panel chair myself, but I have always been curious about what makes, or breaks, a good panel chair (and for that matter, a good curriculum leader). At the moment, I am organizing a seminar for primary English teachers, the topic of which is “Achieving Excellence in the Teaching of Reading and Writing”. The speakers will include principals and teachers from the two schools that have won the Chief Executive’s Award for Teaching Excellence 2010. As the award was for teamwork, on top of the substantive issue, the teaching of reading and writing, I also wanted them to talk about how to foster innovation and collaboration within the English department. Thus, I have included a roundtable discussion in the programme for them to share their experience on the topic. The following are the questions I have prepared for them to discuss, and I am looking forward to benefitting from their insights and experience:
1. Schools are busy places, and teachers are busy people. There are tons of routine and urgent matters that school personnel have to deal with, day in and day out: marking assignments, setting test and exam papers, organizing extra-curricular activities, planning special events, communicating with parents, and planning and teaching several lessons a day. This busyness may lead us to focus on getting as many things done and as quickly as possible.
Your obtaining the Chief Executive’s Award is testimony that your school values good teaching. How do you promote this emphasis on good teaching in your school?
2 There are many aspects of the English language curriculum that a school can choose to innovate in. In your case, how did you decide or choose to develop the area for which you won the CE Award (viz., reading to learn and learning to read; process writing)?
3 For a host of reasons, schools cannot ignore the assessment performance of their students. Because of that, some schools may be hesitant about innovating because they are not sure whether it will improve students’ assessment performance (e.g, in TSA). How do you see the relationship between good teaching and innovation on the one hand, and students’ assessment results on the other? Was this ever a dilemma that you had to face?
4 You have won the CE Award as a team. How did you foster this teamwork spirit? In fact, how do you foster a spirit of collaboration within your English Department?
5 While we emphasise collaboration and teamwork, we experienced teachers also know that each teacher has his/her teaching style. We want teachers to be creative, but at the same time, in a curriculum innovation project, and in fact within a school’s English language curriculum, we need teachers to agree to and follow certain department-wide or school-wide policies and practices. How do you handle the need for uniformity on the one hand, and valuing individual teachers’ teaching styles and ideas on the other?
6 The official English curriculum guide (2004) sets out the duties of various curriculum leaders at different levels: principals, vice principals, school curriculum development coordinators, English panel chairpersons, level coordinators, etc. The curriculum guide also spells out the duties of the principal, the English chairperson, individual teachers, etc., in carrying out curriculum leadership. However, a school is not like a disciplinary force. Curriculum leaders cannot say to their colleagues: “That’s an order.” They need their colleagues’ genuine respect and cooperation.
What experience can your share in this regard?
7. Any other things you would like to share with the audience.