A Year of Continued Growth for TAS Professionals

By Amanda Jacob, Academic Dean 

Taipei American School strives for excellence, and one of the places where this is most evident is in the professional development offerings provided to employees. Our faculty have attended over 98 individual professional learning events this year with more planned for the summer. In addition to individual events, the school has provided divisional and cross-divisional PD for all faculty to ensure that our teachers, counselors, and administrators are up to date on the latest pedagogical research and have the skills necessary to make our strategic plan a reality for the children we work with. 

Professional learning is critical for the successful implementation of the Strategic Plan. 

One goal of the strategic plan is to develop the capacity of our students to be resilient, adaptable, and curious about the world and their place in it. To this end, many KA-12 faculty attended a variety of institutes and conferences this year focused on developing children’s social, emotional, intellectual, and physical well-being, including: 

  • Teachers College Reading and Writing Project institutes 

  • Responsive Classroom training 

  • Suicide Prevention Strategies 

  • TCDS Self-Defense workshops 

  • STEAM certification 

  • Dalai Lama Center’s Online Heart-Mind course 

  • Health Education for International Schools workshops 

  • RULER 2022 Implementation: Caring, Connecting, and Collaborating workshop 

Another goal of the strategic plan is to adopt information literacy standards that lay out how teachers can better help children find, evaluate, and learn from digital and print resources. The faculty attended events that explored how to help children access and evaluate information from online sources. The eighth-grade English team attended the TCRWP institute Digital Reading: Providing the Space and Tools to Teach New Skills and Foster Deep Engagement. Digital literacy was woven throughout other sessions attended by faculty, including the high-school section of the TCRWP Summer Institute on the Teaching of Writing. The upper school librarians attended a course titled Teaching Students to Ask Their Own Questions and have been very active in supporting student research at all grade levels. 

Building opportunities for professional learning communities to thrive within our building is another goal of the Strategic Plan. The lower school literacy coaches, inspired by their yearly participation in TCRWP’s Coaching of Writing and Coaching of Reading Institutes, offered another four study groups this year, focusing on supporting conversations in student book clubs, building effective partnerships, planning phonics small groups, and leading small groups for writing. Professional book clubs in the Lower School and Middles School brought teachers together to discuss anti-bias education. Middle School teachers John Helgeson and Liz Reale led a professional learning group that focused on conducting learning walks, reading a professional text together, and discussing observations and next steps for teaching children in technology-rich environments. Department chairs are beginning to take advantage of courses from the Principals’ Training Center to help them better lead their departments with a focus on teaching and coaching. These sessions included Coaching and Supervising Your Team and Instructional Supervision and Evaluation. Teachers in the lower school English as an Academic Language program are participating in WIDA’s Global Community of Practice to learn more about multilingual learners and to connect with other teachers in their field. A cross-divisional study group looking at supporting children with challenging behaviors had its first meetings in mid-April. 

Meeting the needs of a diverse group of learners requires teachers to effectively differentiate their instruction. Faculty, counselors, and administrators attended many professional learning events that help them meet the needs of all children. Some of these events include: 

  • The KA team’s work with Matt Glover on developing appropriate reading and writing units for four- and five-year-old readers and writers 

  • TCRWP Tailoring the Writing Workshop to Meet the Needs of Multilingual Students 

  • The Special Education Network and Inclusion Association conference 

  • Lindamood Bell Lips workshop 

  • TCRWP Tap the Power of Language Goals and Speaking and Listening Skills in the Reading Workshop for Multilingual Students 

  • Harvard Graduate School Project Zero institute 

  • BrainFrames workshop 

  • National Council of Teachers of English conference 

We are also committed to ensuring that our curriculum represents a broader range of diverse voices and helps children take a stance toward making the world more just, equitable, and inclusive. The faculty have attended many workshops and institutes to help them develop a better understanding of social issues, their own biases, and how they can bring this lens to their teaching. These workshops and institutes include: 

  • Jazz and Social Justice 

  • NAIS People of Color Conference 

  • TCRWP Equity Institute: Advancing Equity in Education 

  • Street Data Fundamentals: A Path to Equity and Antiracism 

  • Becoming a Warm Demander: Addressing Microaggressions in Schools 

As the digital landscape continues to evolve, we recognize the importance of helping our children be safe and responsible when engaging in digital environments. Incorporating more digital citizenship lessons in all divisions has been supported by certification for faculty by the International Society for Technology in Education, the Digital Citizenship in Action workshops, and the professional learning group’s study of Classroom Management in the Digital Age: Effective Practices for Technology-Rich Learning Spaces. 

Strategic Area 5 of the Strategic Plan sets out the goal of strengthening the TAS community. One part of this includes improving our communication to align with our mission and build a greater sense of community. The advancement team has been working with consultants from the company that hosts the TAS website and portals to create a new digital app, redesign the parent portal experience, and design new protocols to streamline the parent-school email experience. One result of this work is the newly launched Parent Post, which all families will receive each Friday. Three advancement team members pursued additional learning opportunities from Finalsite and earned administrator certificates. Advancement team members have attended conferences hosted by Finalsite and CASE with one team member presenting at two conferences about the work the team has been doing at TAS. The Advancement team has also pursued additional professional development for strategic branding, marketing, visual identity, and internal communications as part of the school’s larger rebranding work with outside consultants from Mission Minded. 

Although we are in the midst of a worldwide pandemic and travel has been severely limited, faculty participation in professional learning is at its highest level since the 2016-2017 school year. Organizations that offer professional development have figured out how to effectively move that PD online so that our teachers can be part of learning anywhere in the world.  

In addition to individual PD opportunities, the school also organized full-faculty learning within each division and cross-divisionally. Anti-bias PD was scheduled for every division on four of ten PD days and continued throughout the year during faculty meetings and divisional book clubs (in the Lower School and Middle School). The entire faculty spent time with Jessica Minahan and Sarah Ward, learning how to better support learners who experience anxiety, depression, social and emotional challenges, and learning difficulties. The Lower School has devoted many PD days and faculty meetings to RULER training to help teachers and teaching assistants better support children’s emotional learning. The Middle School offered a Responsive Classroom refresher to help teachers support children during advisory and regular classes. The Upper School faculty have spent their PD days working with Ellen Mahoney of Sea Change to develop a more thoughtful advisory program that meets children’s social and emotional needs. The middle and upper school PE departments continued their work with Ted and Carolyn Temertzoglou on building a more robust health curriculum.  

The school also hosted two virtual professional learning conferences. The Early Years Exchange offered 107 participants (34 from TAS) workshops, Q&A sessions, and virtual job-alike opportunities. The keynote speakers featured Debbie LeeKeenan, an anti-bias educator focused on early childhood education, and Dr. Douglas Clements and Dr. Julia Sarama, early childhood math specialists. Other presentations were led by TAS faculty and teachers from around the world. The Chinese Literacy Symposium welcomed 135 Mandarin teachers from international schools around Asia and in the United States. Lower school Mandarin teachers, classroom teachers, and literacy coaches shared how they are using balanced-literacy components to lift the level of language learning while bringing joy and conversation to language classes. The funds raised from the CLS are used to provide additional professional learning opportunities for the lower school Mandarin team. 

Even though travel has been limited, the faculty, staff, administration, and board have shown a commitment to professional learning. The wealth of opportunities offered at Taipei American School is a big draw for new faculty and helps retain current faculty while ensuring that our children experience the best possible education.