Hard work simply isn’t enough anymore for a successful career. With the constant changes and demands in education—not to mention student attitudes and technology—teachers have to stay on their toes more than ever.
Gone are the days where teachers stood at the front of the class, reciting knowledge for students to regurgitate later in tests. Now, we want student-centered lessons, active learning and teachers who continue to grow as professionals.
But, how exactly do we achieve that growth? After all, professional development doesn’t happen over night. You might be asking yourself then: Is it really possible to fast-track professional development?
Personal Development Plan
If you don’t already have a Personal Development Plan, it’s time to start working on one. If nothing else, it should include your personal goals as a teacher, but can also include school and district goals. Writing them down and posting them where you can see them makes it more likely that you’ll work to achieve them.
Start with your students and lessons. If you could change just one thing that would improve your lessons and student reception, what would it be?
Personally, I struggle with talking too much in lessons. I try to give my students as much information as possible to help them prepare for tests and essays that I tend to give them too much. I forget that it becomes overwhelming for students. I also forget that students need more time to process the information than I do because it’s still new for them.
What do your students need more of?
Perhaps it’s something as simple as a more inviting classroom or visually appealing resources. Maybe it’s more complex. Perhaps your method of delivery doesn’t work for your students or you need to adjust your classroom management style. Whatever it may be, it’s important that you identify what could be improved upon and/or changed so that you can start moving towards that change.
Depending on where you are, you may or may not be allowed to film yourself while teaching. You’re probably thinking, “Why would I record myself when I’m focusing on teaching?” This can be an extremely valuable tool of self-reflection and assessment though!
Yes, we’re teachers, but we’re people first! As people, we have nervous habits, distracting habits, twitches, itches and more that can affect our lesson delivery and student interaction. Are you aware of how you grimace when you have to repeat instructions five times? What about that sigh before you answer “stupid” questions? The camera won’t sugarcoat things for you.
Similarly, lessons that look great on paper may not work in practice and there’s a reason—a reason that you may not be able to remember after the lesson or think of during it. Filming a lesson (or even a couple of lessons) can help you to identify these issues. You’d be surprised at what you discover about yourself!
Engage Your Colleagues
If it’s not possible to film yourself, ask a colleague to observe a class or two. If you think you’ve identified a potential problem, ask another teacher for your subject area to sit in on a lesson and provide feedback. Give them specific points to look out for.
If you’re brave enough—and it’s possible within your school—consider having an “open class” where teachers from your school can sit in on your class. This can be open to teachers of any subject. Successful teachers are not limited by their content or subject.
Acknowledge That You Can Improve
There’s no shame in needing to improve as a teacher. In fact, a teacher who recognizes and admits that they need help in a particular area is probably a better teacher than the one who doesn’t do so—especially when done for personal improvement rather than because it’s mandated by the school or district.
Once you’ve identified the areas in which you need to improve, you can look for opportunities to start working on your development. If you struggle to develop good student rapport, find the teachers in your school who excel in this area. Invite them for coffee and chat about their strategies. If you already have a friendly relationship with them, ask them if you can watch one of their lessons. If you’re shy, stalk them stealthily and take copious notes!
Lean on Experience
Can’t get your students to participate in class? Maybe they seem disinterested in your lessons. Look at the content that you’re teaching. How can it be changed? Is the content or the delivery of the content the problem?
Ask a more experienced teacher in your subject area to look over your next lesson and suggest changes. After the lesson, reflect if those changes made a difference. If so, how did they improve the lesson? And, can the changes be implemented in more than one lesson?
Create Your Own Learning Opportunities
Follow blogs of other teachers, look for ideas on Pinterest and how other teachers present the same content or manipulate the source/resources you like. Participate in forums, attend conferences, email teachers of the blogs that you really like.
In short, reach out to people beyond your school, district or even state. Find out what works and doesn’t work in schools in other states and even countries. Take the elements that you can use and forget the rest.
Make it Personal
Professional development is not limited to official courses. Anything that helps you to become a better teacher is professional development—whether it’s in the planning, sourcing, lesson development, materials or delivery stage. Skimming through an article online is better than not reading it at all.
Even better, when you find something useful, why not organize a school workshop yourself! Invite your colleagues as well as teachers from other schools. Make it a monthly dinner like a book club, but set specific goals.
Don’t wait for large and anonymous workshops and courses. Keep it small and lively. Keep it relevant. Above all, keep it personal!