By Teachers, For Teachers
I firmly belief that the most effective performers in any field, including the teaching profession, are the ones who possess the discipline and bravery needed for self-reflection. While we might continue to work hard at our jobs and grow in our skills and knowledge, it is essential for those in the teaching profession to consider how they can continue to get better at their craft. As the teaching profession is both an art and a science, refining one’s technique requires careful self-examination and a commitment to doing the things that help you grow. Here are a few tried-and-true techniques you might try to become an even more effective educator for your students. As we venture into a new calendar year, consider which of these best suits you. I challenge you to try them all!
This is so awkward, but so meaningful. Borrow a camera and a tripod from your school’s AV cache. Your own phone or tablet could also work, in a pinch. Pick a lesson that you want to film yourself, set up the camera, and hit record when class begins.
It will be awkward for a few moments, but soon enough you’ll forget about it and groove into your normal teacher self. If you’re moving around the room, it might be worth it to ask a student to film you. Students will ask what the camera’s for, so be honest with them: “I’m filming myself so that I can watch what I’m like from your perspective and get better as a teacher!” This is a good opportunity to model to your students your commitment to continuous improvement.
Once you record the lesson, give yourself uninterrupted time to watch the recording. I recommend watching the lesson at least two or three times. What do you see? This is a prime opportunity to truly see yourself from your students’ point of view, and you can learn a lot about how you really facilitate class time.
Consider composing a list of questions you want to know about yourself before viewing your video. Questions like these might be worth asking:
Sometimes we don’t know what we’re thinking until we give ourselves permission to put it into words. Keeping some sort of professional journal helps us process what we’ve experienced and make plans for how to grow. The process of translating our thoughts and feelings into words adds a clarifying perspective to our life as a teacher. We can see the trends, wrestle through our difficulties, and wrap our minds around our experiences.
A reflective journal doesn’t have to be a drawn-out, one-more-pain-in-the-neck chore to cross off each day. Keep a journal in a way that suits you. For some of us, we like taking a serious amount of time to thoroughly compose detailed journal entries. For others, maybe all we need are five minutes to reflect on our day and prepare for the next.
When keeping a professional teaching journal, consider some of these questions to help guide your reflection:
Reading makes us smarter. Reading fiction helps us step into someone else’s shoes in a different time and place, developing our perspective and our powers of empathy. Reading non-fiction teaches us about something new or coaches us into a stronger version of ourselves. While our free time might often be spent relaxing, watching something on TV, scrolling through our social media, or falling asleep, it might be better spent exposing ourselves to the important cognitive task of reading.
There are thousands of books about education out there, any one of which might impact your teaching and growth as a professional. Pick one that suits you and dive in! Ask your colleagues for recommendations, or tap into your media center’s staff resources for ideas on where to start. It’s essential that you ultimately pick a book that you like and that you spend consistent time reading every day.
Pat Flynn – all-around self-improvement guru – tells us how he read 45 books in 2017 and gives some helpful advice for anyone looking to increase their reading. Here are some of my own recommendations for education books that impacted my perspectives on teaching:
“Teach Like a Pirate” by Dave Burgess
“Teaching With Poverty in Mind” by Eric Jensen
“Grit” by Angela Duckworth
“The End of Education” by Neil Postman
“What Connected Educators Do Differently” by Todd Whitaker
“The One World School House” by Salman Khan
I’ve seen many interviews of celebrated actors and musicians, and one common question is: “So who inspired you?” These artists never fail to rattle off the names of fellow artists from the past and their contemporaries whom they admire and seek to emulate in various ways.
Teachers, too, can often share the names of their own childhood teachers who inspired them. What’s important, though, is that we don’t allow our list of “Teachers we admire” to end when we graduated from school. That list should keep growing well into our years as a professional. Who are the teachers in your school and beyond whom you admire?
When looking to grow as a teacher, spend time with those educators you admire. Go into their classrooms and watch them do their thing. Learn from their example as they interact with students and unfold their lesson plans. Talk to them before and after the lesson and glean how they chose to craft their plans, what they think about as they prepare for their day, and how they reflect on their daily classroom experience.
Like a true artist, you don’t have to become a duplicate version of someone else. Peer observations help you see how others approach their task, and it will give you inspiration for the techniques and styles you could adopt in your own way. It’s OK to be a fan of other teachers and let their example inspire you to reach the next level of your craft!
Students receive feedback from us all the time, and we know it’s an important part of the learning process. But how often do we solicit feedback ourselves and use it to contribute to our own growing process?
First, prepare yourself to be an accepting recipient of feedback, for better or worse. Don’t close yourself off to unwelcome feedback, but prepare yourself from now to embrace it. Once you receive feedback, use it to enhance your strengths and dampen your weaknesses.
Here are some suggestions for becoming an open door for meaningful feedback:
Survey your students with precise questions. Make it anonymous so they can answer honestly without fear of offending you. Go over the results of the survey with students in class and openly self-reflect on both the positives and the negatives they share, without getting defensive.
Ask colleagues for their input. Have trusted colleagues observe you in class, or ask intentional questions that teach you more about who you are as a professional.
Embrace the evaluation process. Sometimes the evaluation process can feel like an obligatory set of documentation or a threatening do-or-die scenario. Treat it rather like an opportunity to have a genuine dialogue about your teaching and invite feedback and suggestions that will help you make a bigger impact on your students.
Look for the informal feedback. We get feedback in various ways every day, so attune your sense to it. How do students respond to certain activities? How effective are the lesson plans you crafted? How well did students perform on assessments? How did colleagues respond to your idea? Use each interaction as an opportunity to learn and grow.
While you might be inundated with ideas from your state, your administration, and your colleagues about how to best improve your teaching methods, there is only one person who can actualize the opportunity for growth: You. Take advantage of these easy-to-do, self-growth approaches. No single method is the miracle that will transform your practice overnight, but your dedication to even just one of these tools will ensure consistent day-by-day growth that contributes to an ever-increasing impact on your students.
Are you up for strengthening yourself in the teaching profession with one of these challenges? What have you done that has helped to improve your teaching? Add to our list and give some recommendations of your own!
Jordan Catapano taught high school English for 12 years in a Chicago suburb, where he is now an assistant principal. In addition to being National Board Certificated and head of his school’s Instructional Development Committee, he also has worked with the Illinois Association of Teachers of English and has experience as a school board member for a private school. You can follow him on Twitter at @BuffEnglish, or visit his website www.jordancatapano.us.