In my recent post on teacher training programs, I discussed what I believe to be the characteristics of a high-quality teacher training program—qualities that helped me to best prepare for my first day of school. However, learning doesn’t stop there! With the continuous, nonstop changes in education, teachers are constantly learning new strategies, ideas, and research throughout their career.
Sometimes we are sent out for Professional Development (PD) workshops, while other times we attend required school-based or online sessions. In addition to PD workshops and sessions, teachers may choose to formally continue their education by receiving master’s degrees or a PhD, or by taking individual courses to receive credit.
What if the PD you are receiving doesn’t necessarily meet your needs and professional goals? What if attending graduate school isn’t the best option for you? What if you just don’t have the time to take classes? I believe that it is our job as teachers to be accountable for our own learning by seeking out the information we want to know. This is precisely why back-to-school is the perfect opportunity to think about your professional goals. I appreciate and understand that our time as teachers is valuable, so I present to you my favorite quick and efficient tips to “learn more,” without stepping into a classroom, workshop, or meeting.
I’m going to be honest and admit that I’m a bit of a social media addict. I love to keep up with my friends, favorite cities, restaurants—you name it! However, I recently began to use social media for my teaching career. I primarily use Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. Through these social media outlets, I am able to connect and network with teachers, schools, organizations, educational applications (apps), and educational companies across the world! I enjoy evaluating and reviewing posts and pictures to gather ideas for my classroom. I also am able to stay up to date with the most current research and practice by reading articles that I see posted on these sites, which helps me to quickly reflect and make connections to my own teaching practice. I’ve found articles on almost anything: new lessons/projects to try, classroom management ideas, organizing classroom space, etc. As you begin a new school year, perhaps you can take a few minutes to build your online educational network!
There is a plethora of educational blogs out there! You can find a blog about practically anything education-related. I have a love for literacy and technology, so I choose to follow blogs specific to those topics. What do you want to learn and what are you passionate about within the field of education? Once you answer these questions and find something that sparks your interest, combined with some googling, I guarantee you can find a blog to subscribe to—including this one!—and this is a great opportunity to personalize your learning. Most blogs have a place to comment, which means you can create a dialogue and connect with another person who shares your interests. You can quickly skim through some of your favorite blogs over coffee in the morning, at the gym, or during your morning commute. With modern technology’s flexibility and accessibility we’re always connected—it isn’t too hard to squeeze in a few extra minutes of learning.
Join a book club—or start one!
At my previous school in New York City, I was in a book club that centered on the text Teaching Children to Care by Ruth Sidney Charney, a book about "Responsive Classroom Strategies." The book club, led by my fabulous colleague, was completely optional and we met outside of school hours for about 30 minutes, every few weeks. We didn’t really consider this “extra time” because it was something we all genuinely wanted to learn about. It was no different from friends discussing a common interest, and together we enjoyed trying new classroom strategies and then reflecting on our experiences. It was also a great opportunity to connect with colleagues on different grade levels, as well as colleagues I didn’t know too well.
Intervisitations are one of my favorite means of PD, as they are a chance to collaboratively learn from one another either by hosting a colleague in your classroom or visiting a colleague in his or her classroom. You can also use this as an opportunity to give and receive constructive feedback. For example, you may invite a teacher to observe you while teaching in your discomfort zone. On the other hand, you may choose to visit a teacher who’s an “expert” at something you wish to learn more about. Whatever the case, intervisitations remain an excellent chance for a more personalized PD experience.
This is especially helpful for new teachers or when you decide to learn a new curriculum or teaching strategy. Observing colleagues in action, while they are illustrating whatever it is that you may be learning about, is a terrific supplement to simply reading about it or attending a workshop about it. You can spend a whole lot of time learning about something, but it really does click when you see someone do it.
What if you don’t have time for an intervisitation for PD? The solution is simple: film yourself and share it with a colleague (and vice versa) to satisfy the same needs as an intervisitation. This provides the chance to observe a colleague/be observed without having to physically step into another teacher’s classroom. Additionally, you can search for educational videos on the Internet. Most curriculum programs have an online platform that includes PD videos. You can even find videos on school district websites. There are many PD videos out there. Filming or searching for videos is extremely convenient because it can be done on your own time and you don’t have to worry about scheduling.
During these precious first few months of school, be sure to ask yourself the following questions:
What are my professional goals?
How can I start achieving them now?
What will I continue to do throughout the school year?
Perhaps you will look at a teacher’s Facebook page, subscribe to a blog, or visit a colleague’s classroom. The possibilities are endless! We are responsible for our own learning and for seeking out opportunities that encourage us to think, “Wow, I can try that tomorrow!” We can learn from little tidbits here and there—learning doesn’t only come from formal workshops, meetings, and classes. Our time as teachers is valuable. But when you are taking your time to learn about something you want to learn about—it’s worth it!