Educators are learners, working in learning communities, with fellow learners. Our growth journeys are very important not only to ourselves, but to the many people with whom our lives intersect. Understanding and constantly activating our growth journeys is an important part of our personal and professional growth. Here are 12 ideas to prompt thinking about our journeys.
- Your professional growth belongs to you. You own it.
Professional development is your journey – your personal growth journey. Your journey belongs to you. It does not rest in the care of someone else. It’s yours. There will certainly be many required trainings along the way, but your growth as an educator, as a learner, and as a person belongs to you. Take hold of it. Activate it. Make it yours.
- Don’t wait for growth opportunities to come. Go get them.
Professional growth isn’t something that you need to wait for. It’s not limited to certain dates on the calendar. It’s not in the hands of someone else who will deliver it at some point in the future. Professional growth is not something to wait for. It is not under someone else’s control. It is your journey. There may be some formal opportunities along the way, but don’t let that limit your definition of professional growth, and certainly don’t let those formal scheduled times define your growth journey. You are a learner. Pursue your learning. Go get it.
- Understand when and where PD really happens.
While some might consider professional development to be limited to those formal, scheduled times such as a state in-service day, when a PD speaker or trainer visits a district, or during a workshop, that is simply not a complete paradigm. Professional development can happen all the time. Some of the most powerful moments of PD happen in surprising locations: in hallways, in conversation, while planning together, at the lunch table, in the parking lot, and in the context of sharing instructional ideas with one another. Professional Development happens when a ready learner, with a burning question, meets an opportunity to grow and decides to capitalize on that opportunity.
- Find your burning question – and pursue it.
What is it that you want to learn? If you could write down one burning question right now, what would it be? That may be what you are most ready to learn right now. That question may define the current moment of your growth journey.
Realize that a question leads to growth, which often leads to another question.
What do you want to know that could launch you into a series of learning questions? It might be anything from how to use Google Apps for Educators to classroom engagement strategies. It could be range from learning more about powerful questioning strategies to understanding the practice of formative assessment. The key is this: Find your burning question. Then pursue it.
- That speaker who comes to town – and then leaves – is never as well positioned to impact your growth journey as the teacher next door.
I am inspired by the motivational speaker, ripe with classroom strategies, who comes to town. Honestly, some of them have made an indelible impression on me. In-service sessions that make me laugh, make my cry, and leave me inspired can be exciting, motivating, and powerful. But let’s face it, that speaker who comes to town also leaves—and usually does not come back. The person who does come back into our learning journey every day is the teacher next door, the teacher who you share lunch with, the teacher that you park next to, the teacher that you share stories about the weekends with. That person comes back. That is the person with a vast wealth of classroom expertise who could propel your personal growth, who can keep you accountable, who can understand how teaching can never be summed up in a 6-hour presentation. That might be the very person who could daily sharpen your professional growth. That is the person to build a learning relationship with. That person is positioned to impact you every single day. Together you are positioned to impact one another.
- Your growth journey will impact your classroom community and your school community.
Your personal and professional growth journeys cannot be detached from your students’ growth journeys. You will stand in the midst of your students, as one member of a community of learners, and have a constant impact on your students, just as they will have an impact on you. If you are on a rapidly-moving growth journey where you are exuding new learning, it will impact your classroom and school communities in a powerful way. A key question to ask ourselves as educators: Are we exuding learning to our learners?
Your growth journey will also impact your school community. As educators, we are on individual growth journeys that are often intertwined, and it all leads back to the same question: Are we exuding learning?
- What troubles us can make us grow.
Understand that the challenges we face – and there are many – may lead to our greatest points of growth. Where we stand bothered, we stand ready to grow. If we stand troubled with engagement, classroom management, feedback, community involvement, multiplication facts, poverty, engagement… and we begin to wonder, then that may be exactly where we will find the questions that will cause us to grow.
- Anticipate the struggles of growth.
Nearly anything worth learning will require some time, some effort, and some struggle. There may be some difficult challenges along the way. We may muddle, we may fail, we may stumble – and that is okay. Growth includes a journey, and journeys include bumps in the road. So, prepare for them. Expect the bumps in the road. Anticipate them. Plan for them. When they come, instead of letting them derail you from your journey, recognize that you already knew they were going to come, and move forward. Draw value from the struggles of growth.
- Growth comes from building multiple vantage points.
Growth happens in the context of exchanges, questions, testing out ideas, thinking about concepts before experiencing them, while experiencing them, and after experiencing them. As we test and as we try, we build new vantage points from experience and we stand on those new vantage points to understand our growth in new ways. Build the experiences that let you see your learning from multiple points of view. Build the vantage points.
- To propel your growth, look for opportunities to help others grow.
Professional development, at its finest, often happens in community and impacts community. So, don’t think of professional growth as something that comes to you. Think of it as something that comes from you. You are both a learner and a teacher. You live in a community of teachers who are learners. You have a powerful opportunity to contribute to the learning of other teachers. Sometimes your most powerful personal learning will not come from what you receive, but from what you give to others. Look for opportunities to grow the educators around you. Those may very well become the times when you learn the most yourself. If you want to grow quickly, then look for ways to help others grow.
- Professional Growth is born from challenges, interests, and the sense of possibility.
There is no shortage of challenges in education. Neither is there a shortage of possibility. Both challenges and possibilities can lead to powerful growth. Keep in mind what interests you. How does your personal craft intersect with those possibilities and challenges? Powerful points of growth may be found at the intersection of challenges, interests, and the sense of what just might be possible if you take a new risk.
- Teaching Together is a Powerful Practice.
Two teachers in one classroom teaching together promotes powerful professional growth. Picture this scenario: A lesson is taking place in a classroom. Looking around the room, it is clear that there are two teachers actively engaged in instruction. For a moment one of them is leading the instruction. A moment later the other is leading the instruction. Both teachers are actively learning from one another and are immediately trying out one another’s strategies. Both teachers have come with the express purpose of learning from each another. Both teachers are growing moment by moment.
While some might say, “This sounds like a good idea, but it could never happen. I can’t find a sub so that I can leave my classroom,” I would respond with “Take your class with you. Combine two classes in one learning space. Teach a lesson together.” Carry your classroom community directly into a community learning experience. Teaching together really is worth it.
You are on a growth journey. Even now your mind is turning. You are wrestling with ideas and possibly forming questions. Take a moment to examine your thinking. What is the question that is beginning to take shape in your mind? Capture it. Take a close look at it. That might be the very question that leads you to a powerful new place of growth. As for me, I am on a learning mission, and I would like to wish you well as you pursue your personal and professional growth. Start with that question that is even now taking shape. That might be the very question that is perfectly timed to propel your journey of growth.
To read more, here is the link to “8 Lessons about Educators.”
If you are looking for an idea to immediately use in your math classroom, try “The Number Concept Map (Video and PDF).”
You may also be interested in “Math Imposter Sets (with Video and PDF).”