We know that teachers learn best, and are most motivated, when learning about a topic that is of high interest to them. Some trainings are required for all teachers and there isn’t any way around that, but much of what we do with professional learning tends to be “one size fits all” with little choice provided.
If we believe that teacher learning should be directed by teachers as much as possible, this article will help to “put our money where are our mouth is.” At the start of the school year, principals and teachers will write professional learning goals for the year. By allowing teachers to direct their own professional learning, better learning will occur and better outcomes will be had for students. Some may be skeptical about letting teacher pick anything to learn about for the year, but trust me, this is a process that will be very fruitful.
Here are some things for teachers to consider as they work through the process of setting professional learning goals for the year:
- Think SMART: Smart goals are specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and timely. It’s easy to set goals, but these can often be vague and nondescript. A goal like “I want to improve my math instruction” doesn’t have any of the SMART characteristics. It needs to be more specific. It needs to be measurable in some way (i.e. how you will know when you’ve achieved your goal). It needs to be attainable and be able to be completed by a certain specified time period. The “R” in SMART is kind of assumed because the teacher has picked the goal for him or herself—it would naturally be relevant if it is self-selected.
- Find Resources: There are so many learning options for teachers today. Here are a few inexpensive ways for teachers to get started on a new topic they are learning about:
Books: This could be a “traditional” approach, but after reading a book, teachers can use some of the following options to deepen their understanding with a network of other teachers.
Twitter: By connecting with other educators, creating a professional learning network on Twitter leads to a lot of great learning.
Self-paced classes: These could be online courses for college credit or other online learning opportunities. Some of these are free or cheap—look for open education resources or MOOC opportunities.
Visiting other classrooms: This is one of the richest and most fruitful learning opportunities for teachers. Seeing others who teach the same content in action is invaluable.
- Allocate Time and Create Deadlines: Teachers need time to learn. Because there are so many options now, time can be very flexible, but it is still important to allocate that time. Part of the SMART goal is that it is timely, so deadlines are necessary. The other time factor is when will the learning take place—teachers must have a plan to make it happen.
- Create Accountability: Whether it is other teachers in a book study, the deadlines of a professor’s class, or the principal’s coaching, make sure there is a plan for who will hold the teacher accountable. For some, accountability may have a negative connotation. It might feel like something that others do “to us” instead of us directing it ourselves. But remember that this is a self-driven process, so the accountability can be self-driven, too. Keeping ourselves accountable simply means we follow through on what we are planning on learning.
- Develop a Support Group: This helps with the accountability and the resources. A group helps us to make sure we follow through and can help with finding the right resources. It also makes learning a lot more fun. The perspective of others helps to broaden ours, so find a great network either within the district or online.
- Share: After the learning has taken place, it is time to share with others what was learned. This is helpful to others, but also deepens the teacher’s own learning. When we passively learn something, we learn it at a basic level. However, when we teach others about it, we deepen our own understanding of the concept.
- Join an Online Educator Community: A supportive community can help you stay inspired and learn new skills. The MimioConnect interactive teaching community has forums on education and tech topics, expert advice to EdTech questions from Mimio Masters, and lessons and activities shared by other teachers.
In the end, this process is for all teachers. A low-efficacy teacher may think to themself, “My principal doesn’t require or support this, so why should I do it?” Every teacher should work to improve and learn. It is a great model for our students and helps us to improve our practice. It is also more fun when we learn what we want, when we want, and with the people we want to learn with. Who would pass up an opportunity like that?
Stay connected and inspired all year long with other educators on our online educator community, MimioConnect.>>