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Resolving to Grow Professionally
As educators we’re fortunate to have two starts to the year. We begin each school year with optimism and enthusiasm which may wane a bit as winter break approaches. We can refresh those commitments made in August by resolving to make the coming year one focused on growing as professionals.
Often we hand over the responsibility for planning and delivering our professional growth to others. The question that we must ask is, “Just what is professional growth and who is responsible for it?” As teachers we talk with our colleagues; does that promote professional growth? We attend conferences and seminars; do they help us grow professionally? We read books, articles and blogs; is that growth? We submit professional growth plans as required by our schools and districts. We take graduate courses. And the list goes on and on.
While each of these activities can contribute to professional growth, this will only be true if we are reflective, responsive learners willing to undertake the rigors that true professional growth demands. We must be willing to consider our practice while working to learn and adjust to the changing demands of our profession. In other words, professional growth begins with you–your attitude, your willingness to grow and your desire to grow as a professional are major factors in how successful your quest will be.
I, like many of you, have always considered myself a learner. Only a few years after graduating from college with a double major, I realized that I really wasn’t prepared to meet the needs of my students. I needed to know more about how to reach those students who were struggling readers so I entered graduate school to obtain a M.Ed. in Reading. I grew as a professional during this time because I was actively seeking answers to the dilemmas I faced in my classroom. I examined my practice and saw the areas of need and worked diligently to address them in order to provide a better education for my students.
In the years after receiving this degree, I settled into a routine of reading professionally and attending state and national conferences. I completed our districts’ individual growth plan that identified an area for growth. I attended seminars and met with my colleagues to discuss best instructional practice. I felt that I was continuing to grow as a professional. And then thirteen years ago, after teaching for twenty years, I realized that my growth had slowed. I found myself teaching the same lessons, putting up the same bulletin boards, and having the same responses to the learning obstacles my students faced. It was time for a change!
I applied to the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards for certification in the area of Young Adolescence English/Language Arts. During the following year, I truly became a reflective teacher. I analyzed ever decision, every lesson, and every plan. I ended each day by looking back and reflecting on what I could or should have done differently. I questioned many of my long-standing practices. I watched videotapes of myself which helped me consider my questioning practices, my body language and so much more. While exhausting and sometimes daunting, the rigors of completing my portfolio for National Board Certification energized my teaching and helped me find anew my passion for learning and growing as a professional.
While seeking National Board Certification was my avenue to renewed professional growth, it isn’t the only path. Start by making sure you’re really ready to be reflective and critical of yourself. Make sure you’re open to new practice and eager for constructive criticism. Look for paths to grow as a professional. Maybe you could benefit from enrolling in a graduate program or by seeking additional areas of certification. Perhaps you have colleagues who would join you in professional book studies. Maybe there’s an on-line professional learning community you can join or you could create your own blog. Perhaps taking a step outside your comfort zone and submitting a proposal to present at an upcoming conference will help you grow. Join a professional organization. Establish a practice of reflection regarding your weekly lesson plans. Find a trusted colleague who will join you in searching for knowledge. Don’t be afraid to have difficult conversations with your colleagues. The opportunities for professional growth are varied and many but each requires you to be an active participant.
Aren’t we lucky to have two beginnings to every school year? Our students deserve teachers who are the best they can be. Resolve to grow as a professional in the coming year and give them what both they and you deserve.
Theresa Hinkle is a retired middle school teacher, literacy facilitator, and an active researcher who conducts workshops on literacy.