Dr. Daniela Vasile, Director of Learning and Teacher of Mathematics at Avenor College, talks in this interview about learning, but from a different perspective – the continuous learning of the teacher and the impact of this lifelong learning process on students and on school.
You have over 20 years experience in international education, you have a PhD in mathematics, you have extensive experience in teaching&learning, in many school systems around the world. Even so, you enrolled in the QTS course (Qualified Teacher Status), the first qualification for a teacher in the UK. What was your motivation?
In none of the schools where I worked before I needed this particular qualification and I do not need it here as well. However, in the Avenor teaching body we have a significant number of Brits and I decided that, due to respect for them, I want an UK qualification.
There were times in international education when qualifications were not too important – it was very important to cater for the students’ cognitive, emotional and social developments. Now these are equally important, but qualifications matter as well. Additionally, I really wanted some of my younger colleagues to follow my example – QTS will give everyone a time of reflection into their own practice to become better for themselves and, as a result, for us to become an even stronger organisation.
You are the Chair of Evaluation Teams for CIS (Council of International Schools) – you have inspected many schools around the world so far. How does this experience of working help you as Director of Learning?
Once or twice a year, depending on how busy my schedule is, I lead a team of 6-10 evaluators with the aim of evaluating a school on the following domains: Purpose and Direction, Governance, Leadership and Ownership, the Curriculum, Teaching and Assessing for Learning, The students’ Learning and Wellbeing, Staffing, Premises and Physical Accomodation, Community and Home Partnerships, Boarding (when there is one), practically, all areas that a school needs to cover.
First 3 days of such an evaluation visit reminds me of a giant puzzle, with all pieces mentioned that my team needs to put together to form a common understanding of the school’s strengths and needs with respect to the direction that they define for themselves. Next days are about zooming in in areas that are either outstanding or that require improvement.
The Chair’s role is to bring the team of evaluators that never worked together to coherence and to writing a report of evaluation that helps the school move forward in its development. I meet new colleagues (from the team and from the school evaluated).
Every time I bring back home ideas and more experience. It is recommended to look outside in order to get better inside and this is what it is all about.
At Avenor you have decided to sign up for Titularizare, an exam in the national education system. What was the reason behind this decision and how will you help the school, in the medium and long term, having this qualification?
One of the metrics that schools are assessed against with regards to the ARACIP accreditation is the number of teachers with the status of “titular”. I am grateful to be a member of the Avenor community, so it is my duty to give back to the organisation. With this in mind, I decided to sign up for “titularizare”.
It does not really help me at all, but helps the school and this makes me feel better. The process also helps me understand the challenges of my colleagues that are exposed to the same.
It is time-consuming, one needs to fill out lots of paperwork – not a joy.
The written examination is 4 hours long – I see this as an opportunity to remember how our students feel during the high-stake exams. I guess that I am just trying to find some positives.
If we must do something, let’s do it with grace even if we don’t like it.
Of the many courses you attended this year, which one did you find most interesting?
Each of the courses that I took were interesting and useful – this must be the case, when our Professional Learning programme is based on choice. It was my choice of what to do.
I am half-way through the UK National Qualification for Headship, an 18 months long course based on independent study, getting up-to-date with the latest research in education, group discussions and reflection on challenges of leading a school. It ends with an 8 days long assessment – we will be given a scenario of a school and we need to evaluate it and write suggestions and recommendations. In a way, the final assessment is similar to my work for CIS.
I learned a lot from a one week intensive course on Curriculum Leadership that I completed last summer.
Even though courses are nowadays online, they are structured in such a way that allows collaboration between participants from various schools. Learning together is always better!
What courses did the Avenor teachers attend this year?
Each Avenor teacher signed up for one of the four choices, offered as an one year long learning experience:
- Teaching Enhanced by Technology
- The Art and Craft of Teaching
- Teaching with Love and Logic
- A personalised pathway
Except for this, teachers signed up for various conferences and courses, some leading to qualifications, such as: definitivat, QTS, CRED courses, grade didactice, trainer, Google Certified Teacher.
This year, about ⅓ of the staff followed a course that finalised with a qualification – I am so proud of our teachers, who are modelling longlife learning. If we want students to be enthusiastic about and engaged with their learning, we need to model this for them.
Addittionaly, we had a team of leaders that went to London for the COBIS conference, one collegue went to BETT, the global community for education technology, some leaders joined The Inquiry Education Summit (Toddle) and many others taking part in various workshops.
We subscribed to three platforms: The National College, The National Safety Online and The PSHE Association, and teachers access workshops according to the subjects that they teach or according to the projects that they run.
What is the impact of teacher continuous learning on Avenor’s development as a school?
Firstly, every learning experience makes us better professionals. It is what I always tell my students – opportunities come and go, you need to keep your eyes wide open and grab them.
It is not easy, given the very busy schedule of a teacher and I was amazed and so happy this year to see how my colleagues embraced learning. Only think about the use of technology two years ago and now – what a steep learning curve it was!
We know that we are outstanding when our expertise transcends the walls of our school – one such example is our collaboration with Aspire teachers, an NGO that helps the state schools in Romania.
We are organising workshops for them and I want to thank here to all my colleagues involved. We have quite a number of Avenor teachers who are qualified to deliver adult training and we hope that opportunities to do that will only grow towards what is in our strategic plan as “Avenor Professional Centre”.
We learn from each other, we learn from research, from the books that we read and discuss, from courses, workshops, webinars – this learning is translated in the class, for students’ benefits.
Additionally, professional learning brings joy and energy that again translate in the enthusiasm with which we enter the class. Research says that one of the biggest motivators for students is the energy and enthusiasm that the teacher brings to class – it goes back to modelling it for them and with them.