by Valentina Gonzalez
Mostly likely, since you are reading this, you are probably a “craver,” an unstoppable learner. You have a desire deep within you to learn all you can.
As educators, we are in the business of learning. And to be effective educators, we, ourselves, must always be willing to learn and expand our knowledge. So how do you plan to grow in your specific area of expertise this year?
When I was a younger teacher, somehow I was under the impression that my professional learning was not under my control. I waited patiently for my campus or district leaders to let me know which professional development opportunities I needed. And like a good student, I went to them. One thing I learned over time was that there was more to professional development than just attending required trainings.
To really grow as an educator, you have to be your own leader. Set out to make yourself better than you were yesterday. Here are eight ways (plus an additional two, in case you’ve done all of these):
- Record yourself teaching, and then watch yourself. Have you ever actually seen what you look like to the students? Watching yourself teach is an eye-opening experience. It can help you to understand where you might need to tighten up your lessons and instruction. As you watch, think about these questions:
- What do you sound like to the students, and what type of vocabulary do you use?
- How much talking do you do versus how much time you leave for student talk? How many questions do you ask?
- What are the students doing?
- What are you doing while the students are working?
- Build a network of professionals that you follow, and learn with/from. Online platforms like Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram have created spaces where educators like us can meet at any time and anywhere to discuss, share ideas, and enhance the work we do with students and staff. There are numerous benefits to these online platforms: free access, anytime access, online learning, no travel, no commitment, etc. For an educator starting out on one of these platforms, my suggestion is to:
- Select one platform, such as Twitter
- Create a professional account (where you will only post educational material)
- Follow people and educational organizations that are relevant to the areas that you are interested in
- Like and retweet/repost materials that resonate with you
- Make comments on posts/tweets
- Post questions you’d like answered, highlights of lessons, or ideas you’d like to share (add relevant hashtags to them such at #reading #ESL)
- Join a book club. Reading professional books can help us learn so much about a topic, but reading and discussing with a group of colleagues bumps the process up a notch. When we discuss with others, our comprehension deepens. Book clubs also hold us accountable for our reading. When we read on our own, it’s easy to get caught up in life’s day-to-day distractions and forget about the book we’re supposed to read, but book clubs help keep us on track. The positive interdependence of a group reminds us that we can do it! And it doesn’t always need to be a professional book. Change it up and read a novel occasionally!
- Seek out professional conferences. If there’s a specific topic or content area that you are passionate about, look for conferences that you can attend to feed that love. Google them or search for them on Facebook or Twitter. They are out there. Some of my favorites are NCTE, ILA, TESOL, SIOP, Seidlitz Education, WIDA, ASCD EMPOWER, What Great Educators Do Differently, ISTE, and others! Online learning has many benefits; however, meeting your professional learning network (PLN) in person and having face to face conversations is irreplaceable. Once you’ve found a conference you’d like to attend, see if your campus will send you. Sometimes if you ask administrators, they are able to fit it into their budget, especially if you explain how your attendance will benefit students and staff. You can even volunteer to bring back the information you learn and present it to teachers on your campus. I’ve also had luck with asking a PTA (Parent Teacher Association) or PTO (Parent Teacher Organization) covering the cost of registration for conferences, so if the campus can’t help, ask your principal if that’s an option.
- Present at an educational conference or to your staff. You have valuable experiences that others can learn from. Share what you do! If you have attended educational conferences and read professional books, it may be your time to shine! Take a topic that you feel passionate about and propose presenting it to colleagues. Some like to start small and present to their team or to their campus staff, while others I’ve heard feel more comfortable presenting to people they don’t know. Either way, take the leap! Presenting enables us to grow because as we plan a presentation, we deepen our own knowledge of the topic.
- Lead a Twitter chat or book study. There’s just something powerful about reading and discussing a common piece with a network of professionals. Reading alone is one thing. But when a group of individuals read a text and discuss it, the conversation deepens our understanding and helps us to internalize what we have read. I’ve done this a couple of ways: through traditional book study and through Twitter chats. They both have pros and cons. The traditional book study is nice for those who like face-to-face gatherings and prefer low tech. The group meets, decides on a book, comes up with a plan for reading, and selects meeting dates to discuss. Those that enjoy a little more flexibility and less face to face and are okay with technology might like a Twitter chat. For a Twitter chat, you can invite teachers to join you on Twitter at a designated date and time using a specific hashtag to discuss a given topic, article, or book. The chats can be slow chats (throughout a day), thirty-minute chats, or hour long chats. You can come up with questions in advance to drive the discussion. For more on how to hold a Twitter chat, click here.
- Set a goal to read professional books. Perhaps you haven’t read a professional book in a while, or you’d like to bump up your reading! Set a goal to do more reading this year. Think about about how many professional books you read last year, and increase that number. Aim high, but don’t overextend yourself. Remember, this is a goal. And log your reading to hold yourself accountable. Let others know what you’ve read and what you’re currently reading. Some people like to add a little note on their email signatures: “I’m currently reading Pathways to Greatness for ELL Newcomers by Dr. Michelle Yzquierdo.”
- Join or start an Observe Me group on your campus to learn with your colleagues. Of all the different types of professional learning opportunities I’ve had the honor to experience, I have to say that co-teaching and working with other teachers in the same classroom space made the greatest impact on my own teaching. As a co-teacher, I had the ability to go to classrooms and work beside other teachers on a daily basis. Watching other teachers allowed me to sharpen my own skill set. I saw different ways to approach classroom management, various teaching styles, new techniques for working with students, etc. And the relationship was symbiotic. Now, I realize that not everyone has the luxury of being or having a co-teacher, but what you can do is open your doors and invite your peers to learn with you. Robert Kaplinsky founded the #ObserveMe movement, through which teachers place an invitation on their door letting colleagues know that they are welcome to come in and observe. The invitation also indicates specific areas that the teacher would like feedback on. Is it a little scary? Maybe…but is it worth it? YES! Another option to starting something like this would be to begin an #ObserveMe-style relationship among colleagues that you trust and value.
Did you read all of this or look at the visual and say to yourself, “I’m good. I already do all of this.” Well then here are two more things you can try!
**Start a BLOG! I’ve used Weebly.com as a free platform for blogging and found it user friendly. Others use Edublogs.org or WordPress.com. No matter the platform that you select, use your blog as a way to dig deeper into your craft and your niche. Blog for yourself. Don’t worry about impressing others or what others will think about your blogging. This is for you.
***Encourage a colleague to grow! Share the list of growth opportunities with a colleague who could use a little push. Sometimes we all need a little tap on the shoulder. Someone to say, “Hey, you can do this!” Or “Let’s do this together.”
Don’t forget to share with us your plan for growth this year in the comments below. We can’t wait to hear from you!