One of the big myths about pursuing excellence is that professional development comes from comfortable, planned experiences. I took a big step forward in my growth as a teacher when I realized the fallacy of that mindset. My greatest opportunities for growth as a teacher have almost always come from challenges and adverse conditions. It’s contradictory to expect to get better without effort.
Problems = Professional Development
How would I react if my students grumbled about having to work hard in order to learn and grow? How can I, as a teacher pursuing excellence, hold myself to a less rigorous standard? So let’s flip the perspective. Now, difficult students become opportunities to grow my classroom management skills. Technology that doesn’t work gives me a chance to be creative. On and on I could go. Constant opportunities for professional development…disguised as problems and challenges.
Questions to Ask
It’s easy to expect all of our professional development opportunities to come in familiar forms – workshops, meetings, trainings, graduate courses, books, etc. However, the most effective teachers are those that know how to look for the valuable lesson to be learned in every situation. Being a reflective educator is not limited to planned experiences. Use your time at the end of the day (the commute home perhaps) and reflect on the unexpected, small moments throughout the day.
* What did you do right? Start with the positive! Even if the only right you can find in the situation is that you are reflecting on it in order to not make the same mistake twice. Anything you did right in a particular situation is not only a cause for celebration (hey – teaching is not for wimps. Celebrate the good stuff!) but also the basis for a new skill or principle that can be used again in the future.
* What would you do differently if you could relive that moment? Nobody knocks it out of the ball park on the first try. Be honest with yourself. If you have a trusted colleague, ask for their input. Consider writing your insights down in a journal, or use technology to record your spoken thoughts. Telling yourself that you will remember the insights gained without recording them in some way is probably not going to happen, simply due to the sheer volume of interactions and events.
* What did you learn? Here’s where you consider generalized principles that could be applied to more than one student or setting. Truely effective professional development should lead to applications beyond a single lesson or student.
Grateful for the Challenge
I remember when I had a particularly challenging student who needed a lot of modifications and accommodations in order to learn. At first, I lay awake at night worried about how I was going to be able to deal with the situation. Then, I made the decision to stop thinking of him as a problem and start thinking about him as a unique opportunity to grow as a teacher. It worked…but definitely not easy or comfortable! I knew that if I wanted to become a teacher of excellence then I had to “suck it up” and move out of my comfort zone.
Reject the “It’s All About Me” Mindset
When did we fall into that mindset, by the way? That all our decisions as educators should be motivated by what is easiest for us? Reject that thinking! Challenge yourself to grow, embrace the problems as opportunities and become a teacher of excellence. You will empower yourself to get better, feel more fulfilled in your profession and – best of all – your students will benefit from being in your class…and isn’t that why we became teachers?