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5 Ways to Sharpen your Teaching Skills over the Summer

Written by Jason Ribeiro

With the emergence of flipped learning, Makerspaces, and other innovations in K-12 teaching, there is a growing need for educators to take ownership of their professional learning. Many teachers, myself included, take the summer to reflect on our performance the previous year and determine how we can improve our practice in the year to come. It’s a myth that professional development is something that needs to be organized by the administration and regulated to a few days during the school year. Professional learning is innately tied to a teacher’s actual practice and there is no better time than the summer months to sharpen your skills. Below are five easy tech-niques that teachers can use to make sure they come back to the classroom in September stronger and more reflective than ever.

  1. Conduct Your Own Exit Interview

“I’m reflective only in the sense that I learn to move forward. I reflect with a purpose.” –Kobe Bryant

Exit interviews are an uncommon technique in K-12 education, but I firmly believe that they can help teachers reflect back on their practice. Usually used for departing employees, exit interviews are often conducted in corporate settings so that the employer and employee can analyze their time spent together. Getting an administrator to help you with this may be difficult and given that you will be returning to the classroom (hopefully) you should be able to handle this on your own.

Now that you have had nearly a month away from the hustle and bustle of school, take an afternoon to sit down and write down/type your answers to the following questions:

a)    What was most satisfying about the school year? What was least satisfying?

b)    Do you feel you had all the resources and training necessary to teach your students effectively? If no, what areas can you explore over the summer?

c)    Did your efforts this school year move you closer to your broader teaching/education goals? If no, why not?

d)    How did you balance your teaching practice with your personal life this year (i.e. family, health, etc.)?

e)    Write down 2-3 moments you noticed your colleagues doing exciting things in the classroom. Brainstorm how you can tap into that excitement and make it relevant for your students.

f)     Rate your overall performance from 1-10. Explain your rationale.

g)    What specifically would you improve to make your teaching practice better next year?

It is very important that you review your answers over the summer and save a copy for your personal records. While your Principal may evaluate you during the year, it is important that you conduct your own evaluations and set your own benchmarks as well. Whether you are just entering the classroom or have taught for over 20 years, reflective teaching practices are essential for good student learning outcomes. For more on exit interviews and reflective teaching read the work of Dr. Jack C. Richards by clicking here.

  1. Join a Twitter Chat

“Conversation about the weather is the last refuge of the unimaginative.” – Oscar Wilde

It can be very easy to slip into the comforts of summer and forget the work that lies ahead in the upcoming school year. Conversations surrounding vacations, home renovations, and your children’s sports teams can take up much of your chatting time with friends and colleagues. However, one of the ways to make sure you are still on your toes is to engage in important education conversations on Twitter.

I am still astounded every time I log into my Twitter account to see the overwhelming presence teachers and education partners (i.e. district leaders, vendors, researchers, non-profits, etc.) have on the platform. The site houses broad and focused education chats that provide peer-based professional learning opportunities on a daily basis. Talking casually with colleagues (some you may know and some you may never meet) about education topics may just be the refresher you need to keep sharp for September.

For a complete listing of the education-related Twitter chats consult the Education Chat Calendar here via Jerry Blumengarten (@cybraryman1).

For those who are new to Twitter and need some guidance before they jump into chatting, check out the “Teacher’s Guide to Twitter” via Edudemic and “A Guide to Getting the Most Out of Twitter for Teacher Candidates & New Teachers” via Dr. Camille Rutherford.

  1. Master an Educational Technology

“Technology is just a tool. In terms of getting the kids working together and motivating them, the teacher is most important.” – Bill Gates

The key here is to remember that there are two very distinct components to educational technology: a) the pedagogical insight teachers need to connect the device to student learning and b) the technical knowledge of the device itself. Both are equally important and require a great deal of thought before confidently implementing a new technology into the classroom environment.

So where do you begin? First, think about the technologies your school or district are acquiring or have acquired in the past year and whether or not you feel fully comfortable using them as a part of your regular teaching. Second, reflect on what you wrote down in your exit interview and see if technology can help bridge any of the gaps you outlined. Once you have the device or software pegged, give it an hour of your attention each week. Play. Learn. Experiment.

Now seeing that this may be overwhelming for some, the key is to remain focused on only what you can handle. Free online videos and tutorials are all over the Internet and can be incredibly helpful in your quest to master an educational technology. For example, if it takes you all summer to get comfortable using Desire2Learn and completing their online tutorials, that’s okay! Learn at your own pace and don’t be afraid to ask for help.

Tap into your existing network of teachers and find mentors who can help you increase your tech and pedagogical knowledge before the pressures of the school year begin to pile on. The more we can do as educators to ensure that our instruction is engaging and relevant for students in the 21st century the better.

  1. Get Theoretical

“The more I read, the more I acquire, the more certain I am that I know nothing.” – Voltaire

Now this one might seem out of left field but run with me. It’s fascinating how in the early years of our education career we review the theoretical foundations of education and engage with the works of John Dewey and Sir Ken Robinson…but once we begin teaching those names rarely ever reappear in our lives. Why is that? Did we really absorb every ounce of knowledge offered to us in our B.Ed. programs? After ten years are we still approaching these texts with the same life experience and philosophical values? I hope the answer to these questions is ‘no’ as it would deem lifelong learning no longer necessary. But that still leaves us with a big disconnect from theory and practice in our teaching lives.

While rest and relaxation may reenergize most educators during their summer vacation, perhaps the energy some may require is of a theoretical and intellectual persuasion. Maybe it’s good to remind yourself why you chose this career path to begin with. The easiest way to do this is with a little summer reading. If anything it will give you clarity and perspective as you enter into another year of teaching in September. While there are many books that may reaffirm your previously established notions of education or a tech tool, going back to the basics may be more exciting than you previously thought.

Check out this Amazon list of education theory bestsellers here.

  1. Complete a Course/Workshop

“It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.” – John Wooden

How can we talk about professional learning without courses and workshops? Although traditional classes are always a fantastic option for refining your skills and adding to your teaching expertise (i.e. Additional Qualifications), there is a wealth of innovative and inexpensive courses available for teachers in-person and online.

The Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario (ETFO) has been in the headlines recently for their “Summer Academy” offerings that introduce practical courses on a variety of topics to educators looking to sharpen their skills for September. CBC News covered the success of the course on Google Apps for Education in Sudbury. You can listen to the audio report here.

If you’d like to hang by the pool while you learn, Learning Bird has webinar offerings on a variety of topics including an “Extreme Pedagogy Makeover” on July 30th. Click here to save your seat or check out the Digital Educator edWeb community for many more free webinars and opportunities for professional development.

About the author

Jason Ribeiro

Jason Ribeiro is a guest contributor to the Learning Bird blog. He is a Ph.D. student at the University of Calgary in Alberta, Canada specializing in Educational Leadership. Jason is also a K-12 teacher and EdTech consultant dedicated to working with districts wishing to tap into the relevant educational technology research to guide their decision-making. Follow Jason on Twitter at @jason_ribeiro.

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