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Take Charge of Your Own Professional Development

Jordan Catapano

When you get down to it, the only true way you’re going to get better as a teacher is if you try.

If you have the desire to improve, and you take action on that desire, then you will get better. If you have no desire to improve, then it doesn’t matter what supposed actions you’ll take – you won’t get better.

I firmly believe that there is a better version of ourselves waiting for us in the future. To realize this better version we need to be devoted to taking consistent steps towards self-improvement. Unfortunately, it’s all too often that our schools don’t necessarily help us toward those better versions of our teaching selves. Instead, a lot of opportunity for professional development is squandered talking about things that do little to serve us or serve students.

So are you interested in getting better as a teacher? Are you interested in designing your own forms of professional development?

If you answered yes to both questions, then take a look at the following list. It’s designed to show you the wide array of options you have for moving forward with your plans to better yourself as an educator. Take a look at all the options, and select the ones that seem most appealing to you!

Take courses. It’s common for teachers to return to school and earn extra degrees or additional endorsements. You can further study your specific field, or you can take courses focused on education. Either way, having access to knowledgeable professors, relevant textbooks, and like-minded classmates goes a long way in improving your impact on students.

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Read books about teaching. Why spend mega-dollars on a degree when you can just buy the books on your own for far less money? Get yourself to a bookstore or check out Amazon.com, where you can gain access to all the latest books about how to teach a little better.

Subscribe to journals. There are dozens of publications out there related to teaching and to your specific field. Subscribe to these education journals for a regular dose of the “best ideas out there.”

Write and publish your own ideas. We all know that the teachers learn way more about a subject than their students. So if you really want to improve, become a teacher for teachers. Instead of just reading others’ ideas from publications, why not write your own materials based on your mastery of certain areas that others can benefit from?

Attend conferences. Books and publications are great ways to access top-of-the-line ideas about education. But you can also go directly to the sources and personally interact with talented educators at conferences. Find the state and national conferences that relate to the topics you teach and connect with the people who are there!

Speak at conferences. Just like you should try publishing your own materials, why not also try to be a speaker at a conference? Putting yourself in such a position challenges you to master certain concepts.

Subscribe to education blogs and websites. There are lots of teachers who have their own blogs. There are also lots of educators doing amazing things and writing articles about it (look at our very own TeachHUB.com, for example!).  A few simple searches will help you find some superior web resources created by teachers for teachers.

Start your own website or blog. Know what I’m going to say next? Do it yourself! Create your own blog or website contributions. Like publishing or speaking, it helps you clarify your own ideas to yourself, and also gets your best ideas out there for others to benefit from too.

Join professional organizations. There are many professional organizations for teachers to join. These organizations range from subject-specific ones, to age-specific ones, to generic “teacher” organizations. Find a few operating in your area or state, or even take part in national organizations! Being a part of a professional organization connects you to people, ideas, and resources that you might not normally have access to if you remained in your small teaching sphere.

Utilize social media and create your own PLN. Social media – namely Facebook and Twitter – offer fantastic opportunities for connecting with educators throughout the world. From the comfort of your jammies and couch cushions, you can communicate with all kinds of interesting educators. Social media is great for personally crafting the list of people from whom you receive information, updates, and links.

Pursue a relatable hobby or talent. Becoming a better teacher doesn’t necessarily mean just focusing solely on teaching. Focus on an area you are personally passionate about. The development of your own talents and interests helps in numerous intangible ways to make you a more well-rounded person. If you’re a better person, this is reflected in your teaching and interactions with students.

 

Create goals for yourself. Don’t wait for some administrator to tell you where you need to improve. Examine your own teaching and decide for yourself where you want to focus on. Write your goals down, as well as the steps for achieving them.

Join a Master Mind group. A Master Mind group is a group of hand-selected people who gather together regularly (once a week or so) specifically for the purpose of helping one another reach goals. Every individual in the group might have a different goal, but everyone in the group is interested in the success of every other member. Gathering together to share ideas, ask for advice, and mutually inspire one another goes a long way in making you a more proactive individual.

Observe other teachers. I love watching other teachers teach. It reminds me of the infinite array of personalities and techniques one can utilize to teach students. Spend time throughout each year within the classrooms of teachers you know are good. Examine how they design lessons, implement instruction, and interact with students. Then adapt what you witness to suit your own needs!

Get observed by others. Openly invite feedback from others. If you’re confident as a teacher, then you’re confident enough to invite other professionals into your classroom to provide you with feedback and suggestions. Having trustworthy colleagues willing to help you is an enormous resource toward your professional development.

When Do I Have Time for This?

Well, if this is your own professional development, then you have two options: do as much of it as you can during the summer, or chisel out some time for yourself somehow during the school year.

Summertime is the prime time for taking advantage of professional development opportunities. But it only comes – well - during summertime. What about the rest of the year?

As they say, you are always able to make time for what’s important. So if your own professional development is important to you, then you can find a way to make it happen during the school year. Some of the items listed above – like attending conferences or taking classes – happen at specifically prescribed times. So you’re at the whim of the schedule as to when you participate in those. Other ideas – like reading books on your own or using social media – happen when you make them happen.

What some teachers have done is allotted a small, consistent portion of their day to professional development. Sometimes they take the first 20 minutes or last 20 minutes of their day and devote it to reading books on teaching. Sometimes they find a few minutes during their lunch period to chatter a bit on social media. Whatever the case may be for you, try to select a convenient time for yourself where you can consistently pay attention to you!

Are you going to take the professional development challenge? Through which of the ideas above are you going to actively improve yourself this year? Share your thoughts in the comments!

Jordan Catapano is an English teacher at Conant High School in a Chicago suburb. In addition to being National Board Certificated, he also sits as the District Leader for the Illinois Association of Teachers of English and serves as a school board member for a private school. You can follow him on Twitter at @BuffEnglish, or visit his website ACTWritingTips.com