I’ve spent almost two decades working in education at various types of schools. First, I was a teacher and now, I train teachers. I’ve seen schools where teachers are growing rapidly by transforming their teaching methods and deepening student learning. I’ve also seen schools where teachers are stagnant and complacent. What makes the difference? Why do teachers grow in some environments and not others? Here are four keys I’ve discovered for promoting positive growth in teachers.
1. Give Teachers Choices
Adults don’t want to be told what they have to learn. They need to believe that whatever they are learning is relevant to them personally and will help them solve a challenge they have. But not every teacher has the exact same challenges. Some teachers are first-year teachers, possibly struggling with classroom management. Others are veteran teachers who might be struggling with implementing new technology in their classrooms. Since teachers are different, it’s vital to allow teachers to choose what it is they want to learn and grow in. Allow them to set goals for themselves and sign up for the professional development opportunities they think will help them the most.
2. Provide Different Levels and Options for Receiving Support
Along with giving teachers choices, you must provide them with a variety of options and methods to receive support. A professional development workshop isn’t the only way teachers in your school can learn and grow. Throughout the year there should be options to learn in a group, learn on your own, learn from a mentor, etc. A school that sets the right environment for professional growth provides a range of opportunities, some that require a lot of time and commitment, and other growth opportunities that require very little time from the teacher. Adults are individuals and they learn in different ways. They have different amounts of time they can dedicate to learning professionally. If you only provide learning opportunities in one way, you won’t be able to support all of your teachers.
3. Develop a Trusting Relationship Between the Teacher and Coach
Supporting teacher growth must start with creating a trusting relationship with them. Adults don’t automatically believe everything someone says. They also don’t accept help and support from people they don’t know and trust. If you want an adult to take what you say to heart and actually implement it, you have to work on building that relationship with them first.
4. Provide Support Throughout the Implementation Process
Teacher growth takes time and requires follow-up throughout the process. I can’t say how often I hear teacher friends of mine talk about a professional development workshop they attended for a new program, curriculum, or teaching strategy the district wanted to implement but, after the workshop, there was no more support. Teachers had all kinds of questions and no way to get them answered. Those are the programs and curricula that tend to get discarded the next year because no one used them.
No matter which type of professional development opportunities you provide, someone must follow up on how the new information is being used in the classroom and what the real effects are for students. Sometimes, I follow up by telling teachers a month later that I’m going to come into their classroom, and I want to observe them trying out whatever strategy I taught them previously. Other times, I follow up just with a conversation between the teacher and me, asking them how they have been using what they learned. Following up later gives the teacher an opportunity to ask more questions that they might not have thought of before. It also holds them accountable for doing something with the information they learned. When given the right environment, I believe all teachers love learning and doing new things.
Monica serves as an instructional coach in her current role as vice principal of primary at Green Hills Academy in Rwanda. She has a passion for equipping and mentoring educators around the world.