Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Teacher Professional Development - Four Tips for a Topnotch Year of Learning

Teacher professional learning is a key element in providing quality daily instruction for students. When you are well-informed and have a strong network of colleagues with whom to share and refine ideas, you will be better equipped to meet the diverse learning needs of students. Whether you have just begun your teaching career or are a highly-skilled veteran educator, it is important to make professional learning a personal priority. Don't wait for your school or district to provide the learning opportunities you need--it's time to take your professional learning into your own hands! Take charge of your professional growth and development by following the four tips below:

1.Make Time for Professional Learning

Today, school life is busier than ever and--if you are like most educators--there are always at least fifty things on your "To Do" list. When you have your nose to the grind, it is often difficult to find time to read professional literature, collaborate with colleagues, or implement an action research project. Thus, you must make a conscious effort to devote time to professional learning. When you build this time into your daily schedule you'll be more likely to keep your commitment. You might designate an hour for collaborating with colleagues or determine to read professional blogs and literature for 15 minutes every day. You'll be surprised how short periods of daily learning can help you stay abreast of current trends in the field or generate new ideas to impact instruction. Make professional learning a daily priority, and reap big benefits for yourself and your students.

2. Identify Varied Learning Opportunities

Some learning opportunities are built into the workday--things like team meetings, studying teaching materials, and casual conversations with colleagues. However, you will need to further vary your learning experiences in order to make the most of your daily learning time. Professional and content-related websites, teacher blogs, online discussion groups, educational journals, and webinars are just a few of the informal learning tools that, when used consistently, can greatly inform your practice. Select a focus topic and then seek out related learning opportunities in various formats. Before long, you'll be the resident expert--a powerful and informed voice that will impact campus and district instructional practices. Also, take advantage of other opportunities to learn--attend a board meeting, give a presentation for colleagues, or lead a parent meeting. Each of these activities provides an opportunity for learning and will help you grow professionally.

3. Record New Ideas and Reflect on New Learning

During your daily learning time, you will hear and see many new ideas that, if utilized, could enhance your instruction. Keep track of key ideas by noting them in your preferred written or electronic format. Your notes will provide a handy reference you can come back to in the future. Additionally, immediately following each learning experience, stop and spend 3-4 minutes thinking about what you have learned. Consider the implications for your daily work and jot a few notes on the ideas you'd like to try or the strategies you can implement. Your moments of reflection will help cement the new ideas in your mind and will give you a concrete "next step" toward implementation.

4. Immediately Apply and Share One Thing You Have Learned

The main goal of continuous professional learning is to provide you with information that can be used to refine your teaching craft. This refinement will only occur if you actually put into practice what you have learned. After you hear a new idea or are exposed to a new strategy, make plans to implement it right away. As you try out new techniques with your students, you will begin to discover what works best and will build a strong instructional toolbox. For best results, apply what you have learned as soon as possible and be sure to share with at least one colleague. As you discuss your learning experiences with others, you'll generate more ideas and discover what works best for your students.

Setting aside time to engage in high-quality professional learning every day will equip you with the information you need to make informed instructional decisions that move your students to high levels of achievement. Start your own program of learning today--and stay with it! Your efforts will make all the difference for your students and for you as a professional educator.