By LeeAnne Lavender, PeerSphere Storyteller
Nanjing International School (NIS) has more than two dozen staff members involved in PeerSphere learning communities this year, and this school’s approach is an excellent model of how peer learning can fuel an all-school professional learning plan.
According to Kasson Bratton, Deputy Head of School at NIS, the benefits of having teachers learn from each other within schools are well-known.
“In schools, we often encourage teachers to step into each other’s classrooms and learn from each other,” reflects Kasson. “Sometimes, though, because of full schedules and day-to-day issues, this can be challenging. We have found that the virtual approach to peer learning with PeerSphere has been a great solution to providing time and space for our staff members to engage and learn from others.”
Last year, Kasson himself participated in the PD (professional development) Professional Learning Community (PLC) facilitated by PeerSphere co-founder Ewen Bailey. Reflecting on the experience, he notes the significance of collaboration, especially during a session on AI co-hosted by Stephen Taylor from Western Academy of Beijing (WAB). Bratton highlights the benefits of being able to “collaborate on the side and step in sometimes,” a feature that enhances the overall learning experience.
“When ChatGPT 3.5 launched, Stephen Taylor from WAB (Western Academy Beijing) and I collaborated and ran an AI session for our PLC,” reflects Kasson. “I got to hear from Stephen about what they were doing at WAB and he got to hear about what we were doing at NIS, and then we co-facilitated for our group. That was so helpful and is a nice example of a dynamic PLC.”
Last year there were about a dozen NIS staff members (teachers and non-teaching staff) who participated in the PeerSphere PLCs. This year that number has doubled.
“We shared information about the PLCs to our whole staff and asked who would like to participate, and the response was widespread,” says Kasson. “We used to tap people to see if they were interested, and this year we just put it out there and we had more people respond.”
NIS participants this year span several communities and a number of NIS staff are serving as leaders or hosts (for example, in the tech directors, teaching assistants, and college counsellors PLCs). This leadership opportunity has proven valuable for the team, with positive outcomes surfacing during in-person conversations and workshops at school.
In the context of the broader challenges posed by the Covid and post-Covid stages, online professional learning has become an integral part of PD for teachers and non-teaching staff. Kasson acknowledges that while face-to-face learning is preferred by many, there is a sustained interest in high-quality online learning. PeerSphere, along with other online platforms like the Global Online Academy (GOA), has been integrated into the fabric of NIS’s professional development strategy.
Reflecting on the evolution of professional development, Kasson compares PeerSphere PLCs with traditional job-alike models. He notes that while previous models had limitations, PeerSphere’s structured approach ensures effective and excellent moderation, making sessions enjoyable and manageable for all participants.
As the NIS community delves into this year’s PeerSphere sessions, positive feedback from participants is clear and Kasson notes that “the networking component is still the best feature.”
Kasson also feels that the flexibility of PeerSphere to listen to participant feedback and adjust accordingly has increased engagement. This year there are shorter and more frequent online sessions, along with an increased number of community topics and types; this, he feels, is a result of PeerSphere leaders really absorbing feedback and responding quickly.
Nanjing International School’s journey with PeerSphere exemplifies a forward-thinking approach to professional development. By embracing the virtual realm and fostering a culture of collaboration, NIS has created an excellent model of how peer-to-peer learning communities can thrive, not only during challenging times but as a permanent and integral component of the school’s professional development landscape.