Saturday, 04 June 2011 17:45

Tip #38: Summertime Improvement

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In this final Teaching Tip of the 2010-2011 school year, I would like to focus on one of the foundational components of a quality classroom: an emphasis on continuous improvement.  As teachers, we spend countless hours helping our students get a little bit better at everything they do.  Helping students improve involves various strategies and techniques, but more than anything else, continuous improvement is an attitude, a mindset.

In this Teaching Tip I describe how the spirit of continuous improvement applies to us as educators throughout the length of our careers.  Since I think, talk, and understand the world via sports, I begin with a basketball analogy.  

Many fans consider Michael Jordan to be the most outstanding basketball player of all time.  (These people would be right.)  It’s difficult to argue with his credentials.  He earned two Olympic gold medals, led the league in scoring 10 times, won five Most Valuable Player awards, participated in 13 All-Star Games, and took the Chicago Bulls to six NBA Championships.  

Though he excelled as a player during each of his professional seasons, Jordan at the age of 32 was far superior to Jordan at 22.  In no way did he arrive in the NBA as a finished product.  Of course, natural talent played a large role in his success, but hard work played an even larger one.  

Every summer, during the league’s off-season, Jordan committed himself to improving specific aspects of his game.  One summer, he would focus on his three-point shooting, another on his defense, still another on his free throws.  By purposefully working to develop into a complete player, Jordan made the most of his vast potential.

Similarly, as teachers, we have the opportunity and, I believe, the responsibility to develop our skills over the course of our careers so that we may maximize our potential as educators.  Of course, instead of basketball skills, our focus lies in developing our pedagogical skills (our ability to employ a variety of instructional approaches that give students their greatest possible chance of academic success) and our management skills.  

In some cases, our schools and districts take the lead in providing consistent, thorough training in these areas.  For those of us who aren’t as lucky, we take it upon ourselves to build our repertoires - we read, reflect, plan, attend conferences, connect with colleagues via social media, and participate in continuing education.  Ultimately, responsibility for our own professional development lies with us as individuals.  

Over time, our hard work pays off.  All of our professional reading, discussions with students, and efforts to build a culture of quality and improvement will yield substantial dividends.  We will know more about how to do our jobs better.  We will be more familiar with a wider variety of pedagogical approaches and have a better sense of how to use them for the greatest instructional benefit.  We will know more about what works, what doesn’t, and why.  We will get a little bit better every day and significantly better every year.  As a result, more students will demonstrate proficiency with the standards.  More students will enjoy more subjects.  More students will demonstrate the habits of mind and character that distinguish them as quality learners.  The progress will not come right away, but it will be steady and consistent.  In the end, we will all be able to take pride and satisfaction in a job well done.

So, this summer I encourage all of you to enjoy the relaxation time you have earned and fully deserve.  To the greatest extent possible, however, try to find time to identify aspects of your teaching practice that you would like to improve and invest the time to make it happen.

Happy Summer.

New Teaching Tips appear every Sunday of the school year.