Having just completed my sixth year of teaching, I am noticing an interesting trend among my teacher friends who are at similar points in their careers. It has to do with a shift in what we want from professional development experiences. One thing many of my teacher peers and I are looking for is valuable feedback on our teaching.
As I trace my own development, I see distinct changes in what I felt I needed from other people to be successful. I can look at it in these stages:
1. In my first and second years of teaching, I was looking for a blend of practical support and permission to experiment from mentors, supervisors, and more experienced colleagues. I was looking for inspiration from traditional and untraditional sources for things to try immediately, like the next day, in my classroom. I also sought out empathy and moral support from anyone who understood the serious ups and downs of beginning teaching.
2. Once I began to know my way around my classroom and curriculum, I wanted to be left alone to work creatively and develop independently. I read a lot about teaching on my own, and occasionally took courses of my own choosing. Eventually, I wanted opportunities to share what was working in my classroom. At the same time, I was extremely wary of anyone who wanted to tell me how to teach, especially by individuals who did not know my school context and had the potential to take a bulldozer approach, or who did not share my desire to educate my students to think critically. I developed camaraderie with my colleagues. We listened to one another, offered advice, and shared resources; at the same time, we held protective attitudes toward our own practices, not wanting anyone to come and tell us what and how to teach or bulldoze the progress we’d already made.
3. Now, I’m reaching a new place. I’ve had ample time to develop more or less independently. Now I’d like to know what someone else thinks and sees in my teaching; I’m open to someone pointing out things that I might never notice on my own, or asking questions I might never ask myself.
If I could imagine the ideal person to give me feedback on my teaching, he or she would have these qualities:
- an experienced and effective teacher–preferably with at least ten years of experience
- ideally an English teacher, so I can get discipline specific feedback
- able to give feedback with the understanding that I am a professional who takes pride in my work; that the choices I make in my teaching are informed decisions with rationales behind them; I want to be questioned, but in a way that values the experience and knowledge I’ve gained thus far
- values a student-centered approach to teaching; committed to helping me develop this
- asks good questions
- believes that there is not one right way to teach; not trying to clone him or herself; able to adapt his or her valuable experience to different classroom contexts
Off the top of my head, I can count five of my teacher peers who are moving from positions where they received little feedback and little support as teachers, to positions where their classroom practices will be monitored more closely and they will be given more feedback. There seems to be a fair tradeoff–give up some freedom, get more support.
At the school where I’ll be working next year, a National Board Certified English teacher will observe me and the other humanities teachers in our classrooms and debrief with us individually every two weeks. A few years ago, I might have run the other way. I wanted freedom and placed little value on support. Now it sounds just right. I feel confident enough in my identity, values and practices as a teacher, but also clear enough on my need to grow and improve, that I welcome someone else’s perspective and advice on my practice toward a common goal of increasing and deepening student learning.
[image credit: http://www.fergusonmoving.com/contact-us/submit-feedback/]