OKTOY Blog: Focus on the teacher (Part 2)

Last week I promised to share a few of the practices that I have found the most effective in furthering my development as a teacher. My goal is to focus on three areas: personal reflection, collaboration and peer coaching.

Collaboration word art

The National Board certification process made the most direct impact on my classroom. Throughout the task, I learned how to personally reflect on every aspect of what I was doing within my preparation, delivery and follow-up of a lesson. Taking the time to become better at reflection can and will pay huge dividends for any teacher. Too often teachers can get caught up in the craziness of the school year and subsequently not take the time to reflect on the effectiveness of his or her efforts. When new and seasoned teachers alike ask what I recommend to improve their impact, I always respond to “be intentional about reflection.”

One of my favorite ways to reflect on my practice is through the use of video. If you haven’t recorded yourself teaching in a while, I strongly encourage you to do so. Video does not lie. You can clearly see the high and low points of your work. You also get to see your students’ reactions and engagement levels. 

When I am working with pre-service teachers, I use video to get certain points across to them. New teachers often struggle to connect with their audience early on. They get so focused on delivering the material, they wind up addressing the back wall and frustrated that the class still doesn’t get the concept being explained. When I record the lesson and play it back for them, however, the teachers can see for themselves how robotic and disengaging they are. From here they grow.

The benefit of learning via video is worth the effort, but imagine going through the entire prep, teach and reflect process with a peer group. In many other countries, teachers work collaboratively to prepare a lesson; one of them then delivers the lesson while the others observe, and afterwards they gather to critique with a shared goal of refining the lesson further.

Most teachers in our country don’t have the freedom in their day to do that fully, myself included. Even with time limitations, we can still find ways to harness the power of peer collaboration that go beyond just the sharing of materials and/or worksheets and lesson plans.

As a coach, I have worked with new assistant coaches in a mentoring/collaborative role. There have been numerous occasions when I have wanted to try something new, so I have recruited my assistant into the research by the sharing of books, seminars and video. Together we work out a plan that has potential with our group and then bring it to the practice field for implementation and ultimate judging on the day of competition. At the conclusion of the season, we are critical of how our plan met the intended goals. Honestly, I feel that on the athletic field I do this well, though I can improve my collaboration within the school walls.

Growing up, coaches were often a part of our lives — in athletics, in the classroom, in our music lessons. As we grew older, however, many of us in “professional settings” ceased seeking coaching. The fact that experts such as professional athletes, actors and singers have coaches should be evidence to the power of coaching.

I wish all teachers had a coach as well, someone to stand on the sideline to yell not only encouragement but also advice on what that teacher could do better.

I have sought out such sages in my personal and professional life. Most districts do not have “teacher-coaches,” but they are all equipped with great teachers who are more than qualified to coach. I regularly correspond with teachers about my struggles within the classroom. I am blessed to work with colleagues willing to troubleshoot, allow me to observe in their class and work together to prepare lessons. Teachers have to be intentional about forging mentor relationships with others, regardless of how long they’ve been in the game.

I know that my potential as a teacher will continue to evolve. In order to make an impact, I know that it must. I am a human being and my life experiences are continually changing me. I am a different person today than I was a year ago. My objective is to utilize those new experiences to make me stronger in the classroom. I hope you, too, are continually looking for ways to become even more effective with your students.

If you don’t know where to start, I recommend starting with your strengths and making them greater. Of course we should all work on our weak areas, but the potential for one of your strengths to become extraordinary may be closer than you think.

By: Jason Proctor
2015 Oklahoma State Teacher of the Year

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Last updated on March 11, 2015