Advancing Professional Knowledge & Practice in Middle School Education

Instructor: Rachel Tustin

Dr. Rachel Tustin has a PhD in Education focusing on Educational Technology, a Masters in English, and a BS in Marine Science. She has taught in K-12 for more than 15 years, and higher education for ten years.

Professional development is a critical component in improving the quality of teaching. Many teachers, however, are unclear about the various ways to access the professional development we need. This lesson will look at how educators can access and apply professional development to improve their teaching practices.

Professional Development for Educators

Many of us think of professional development as long spans of time spent watching endless presentations in a windowless room that is too hot or too cold, while sitting in chairs that make your back hurt. Educators sometimes even view it as something inflicted upon us by our administrators or school districts. Professional development, however, can be a very positive experience when you take control of your own learning. There are many different strategies educators can use to access professional development and, ultimately, improve their teaching practices.

Types of Instructional Professional Development

The most traditional type of professional development opportunity is in-service. An in-service is when your school, or school district, conducts professional development on designated days during your school year. They could be on a variety of topics, ranging from test scores to reading strategies, based on what your school district has identified as a need in your school.

Professional development can also be obtained through professional associations that offer opportunities such as face-to-face interactions at their conferences and, increasingly, online through webinars. Conferences will offer you a variety of choices in topics for professional development within the scope of the professional association. You will, however, often be faced with the costs of registration and, possibly, even transportation and housing. Webinars, on the other hand, are typically free with association memberships. A webinar is when you participate in, or watch, a presentation on a specific topic via the Internet. If you participate in a live webinar, you are given the opportunity to ask questions. If you are watching an archived copy, you may be limited to just seeing the questions and responses of others.

A third type of professional development is continuing education. Continuing education is when you take courses in which you will earn college credit. Sometimes, they may be offered through your school district or professional association. At other times, they may be taken directly through a college or university. In either case, your course is sponsored by a university that will ultimately award you college credit. Typically, you will be expected to pay for your continuing education classes.

Types of Professional Development
Types of Professional Development

Self-Reflection as Professional Development

As a teacher, it is important that you stop and reflect on your teaching practice. Just like we emphasize with our students, self-reflection is a key component of learning and will help improve our practice. Unfortunately, teachers struggle with having enough time to do what is required of us as professionals. Unless it is forced on us as part of our annual evaluations, self-reflection is often pushed to the side.

Self-reflection in teaching is the process by which you collect artifacts, record data on student behaviors and performance, and analyze your artifacts and data from a particular lesson to improve your teaching methods. Typically, you would choose a specific focus for your self-reflection. It may be classroom management strategies, or it may be the effectiveness of your teaching methods for a particular concept. Your analysis should reflect upon your overall effectiveness in the chosen focus area and target what changes you want to make in your teaching practices moving forward.

Your analysis can take a variety of forms. For example, you might record the lesson and watch it yourself. The advantage of this is that it is unaltered, and it will show you an unbiased look at what happened while you were teaching. In all likelihood, the video will catch things about your teaching and your class that you may have not even noticed. Videos are a method that teacher preparation programs often use with beginning teachers to help them improve their methods.

Another strategy for self-reflection is peer observation. Peer observation is when you invite one of your fellow teachers into your classroom to observe a particular lesson. Unlike the possible stress involved when an administrator comes to watch your lesson, having a fellow teacher observe your lesson can be a much more comfortable situation. The teacher you invite may or may not be in your content area, and that is fine. You just need a teacher who will be able to give you honest feedback and with whom you feel comfortable discussing your teaching.

Self-Reflection in Teaching
Self-Reflection in Teaching

Strategies for Professional Development Within Your School Community

While working in your school community, there are several strategies you can implement to improve your teaching practice.

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