We want to make sure that you maximise the opportunities for your own professional development. We know that teaching can leave you with very little time and energy, so I thought I’d send you some tips that will help you focus your attention where it will be of most benefit to you.
It is no exaggeration to say that if you follow the steps in this email, it can significantly improve your teaching performance and shrink your classroom gremlins. Having provided a vast amount of professional development and support to teachers during our 12 years as a training company, we know what works – and what doesn’t. Here are the five most important steps you can take to make sure you are getting the most out of your professional development.
1. Hold up the mirror. Be honest with yourself about what your strengths and weaknesses are. Don’t rely on how it ‘feels’ to you, get a more detailed view of your own performance. Film yourself teaching and watch it back. Watch the students and deconstruct their learning experience in the classroom. When are they engaged? What are they learning? When does the lesson lose focus or pace? Do you talk too much? Are there any groups that are less engaged than others? What are you doing well? What do you need to work on? Ask a colleague that you trust and respect to watch you and give their honest opinion about your teaching. You may even choose to ask the students by getting them to write what they liked best and least about the lesson at the end and posting it into a box on the way out. Once you know what you have to work on, you can look for specific support and training opportunities that fit your needs. Don’t stick your head in the sand – look around you and look in the mirror.
2. Don’t rely on traditional training methods. Long gone are the days where teachers were released several times a year to go off on jolly away-day courses in pleasant hotels with buffet lunches. You may be lucky to be released for the odd training course, but don’t rely on it for your only source of professional development. There is a huge range of support and training that you can access in your own time and when you most need it. Get digital! You may feel like online training is not for you, but don’t knock it until you try it. Some online courses (like the Pivotal online behaviour courses) are multi-media, user friendly, self-paced courses that focus heavily on practical skills that can make a real difference to your teaching.
3. Talk to others. Don’t be afraid to develop ‘professional learning networks’ (PLN) with other teachers. You can do this face to face on an informal basis with other teachers from your school, or in the local area. Alternatively you can develop your PLN online. Hundreds of thousands of teachers across the world are ‘meeting’ online – via twitter, linked in or numerous teaching forums – offering ideas, asking for advice, calling for help and sharing good practice. Surround yourself with your own, personalised support group by getting chatting about your disappointments and failures in the classroom. Use the community as an integral part of your own professional development.
4. Create a working portfolio. Document everything. Your professional development folder shouldn’t just be a dusty file on the shelf with one or two ageing certificates inside. It needs to be a working portfolio that reflects your current focusses as a teacher who is learning and developing. I’m not talking about spending precious hours writing up what you are doing; no teacher has time for that. But make your professional development folder the one that is easiest to reach – take it everywhere. Add cuttings from newspapers that are relevant to your practice, print out conversations you’ve had with your PLN online, include emails from colleagues that have observed you teach, add your targets, include post it notes that document relevant things students have said to you. Complete action research tasks and experiments with your teaching style – note down the outcomes and add these. Some online courses, like the Pivotal online courses, allow you to create a portfolio of professional development evidence as part of the course. Add these to the folder. This is your most important file – a working portfolio with a real purpose. Think how impressive it will be when you present it as evidence at your next job interview!
5. Free doesn’t mean worthless. Don’t discount free resources and tips just because you haven’t had to pay for them. There are many wonderful and brilliantly useful resources available completely free of charge. Seek them out, use them and share them with others. The volume of free stuff can be daunting, so rather than just browsing endless resources, dive in with purpose – look for something specific. The largest site is the TES resource site, which is jam packed, but other smaller sites hold gems too. Don’t forget to have a good look at the Pivotal resource area…