This content originally posted here: Educators Tell Us – Meaningful professional development designed to match educator interests and needs.
As many educators across North America get ready to start another school year, it’s a great time to think about ways to improve our teaching practice and things that we can ALL do to better serve our students and the school communities we support. When we’re able to improve as educators, we add value to the contributions we make to our classrooms and our school communities. Here are five ways to grow this school year:
Find a Mentor
Perhaps some of us think that finding a mentor means we need to find a guru who can teach us their wise ways. But, while we can all learn a lot from our more experienced colleagues, we don’t necessarily NEED to find someone with more experience than we have when we’re looking for mentorship. This year, find someone who has a skill set or knowledge base that you think will be helpful to your practice and allow yourself to learn from them. Even more importantly, find a mentor who can help you with methods and approaches that will best serve your learners. Your learning should find its way into your teaching and when that happens your students will ultimately learn more.
Be a Mentor
This one flows pretty easily from the previous idea; of course if we’re all looking for mentors, some of us need to also BE mentors. Similarly, you don’t have to be the Yoda of education to mentor a colleague. If you have strong tech skills, maybe you can support a colleague who isn’t as well-versed as you are. If you have a real handle on inquiry or project based learning, maybe you can work with a colleague looking to get his or her feet wet with the approach. When we are thinking about being a mentor or finding a mentor we simply have to make sure that learning and growth can take place. That’s the beauty of these kinds of arrangements; we often find that the relationship becomes reciprocal almost accidentally. In this way finding a mentor sometimes also equals being a mentor; we all have something to offer each other and that’s really what collaborative relationships are all about.
Reinvent the wheel for some of your lessons
This one is especially important for those of us who are in the same placement for the third, fourth, fifth or fifteenth year. Maybe you feel that you have amazing units that cover the content of your grade level curriculum very well. Maybe you have received compliments on how wonderful your lessons and units have been. If that’s the case, well done! Now, do something new. Even if your lessons seem to have been amazing, let’s remember that every year you are teaching a new group of learners and, almost as importantly, the ways in which you can reach your learners are changing almost daily. Take the brilliant ideas, content and approaches that made your previous units amazing and use them in new and exciting ways that fit the needs of this years’ learners. Technology may play a big role in your innovation, but it doesn’t have to. Again, don’t think of it as scraping lessons that are “still good”, think of it as improving your already-good material to match the needs of your learners.
Connect with educators outside of your workplace
Mentorship requires that in-person touch, so when we talk about finding and being a mentor, we’re thinking about colleagues that you have consistent access to. We all can and should, however, connect with educators who don’t teach at the same location we do. Educators at other schools within your board can be quite helpful but to really get a wider perspective and “learn something new” we might want to consider expanding our professional learning network (PLN) well beyond our board, district and maybe even country. When we open ourselves up to a wide range of experiences, opinions and practices, we gain a greater sense of perspective and can’t help but learn something worth learning. Several communities already exist and we’d like @educatorstellus to be one of the communities you consider being a part of! But, to be fair, you can easily find a number of learning communities on twitter and other social media that will help you begin your perspective-widening journey.
Read books that AREN’T about education
So, this one definitely sounds counter-intuitive, but it makes a lot of sense. A lot of books have been written about ‘good teaching’ and related topics. Some are great, some not so much. Regardless, many of us fall into a bit of a trap when it comes to our reading. Professional reading is a must for all of us who wish to improve, but we simply have to read books that nourish the OTHER parts of our identities. When we forget to feed our own interest and curiosity we run the risk of narrowing our creative vision. Ironically, reading about education too much can make us less effective as educators (at least in my opinion). Every novel we read, every biography, every collection of short stories or science-theory text has the potential to impact us as individuals and as educators. When we live our lives as actual ‘life long learners’ we’re a lot more likely to instill this kind of attitude in our students. When we read texts out of sheer interest we expand our knowledge base and build our perspective-taking and critical thinking abilities. When we “do it right” our personal reading can improve us as educators.
When we grow as educators we stand a greater chance of reaching our students and helping them to grow as well.
What are your plans for professional and personal growth this year?