Have Students Help in Your Professional Development


I have a friend that teaches in Chicago.  She works at a college prep high school.  The students must wear uniforms.  Her school already sounds much different than mine.  But, there’s something all the teachers do that makes it much different.

All teachers  must inform their students of their professional development.  Signs are hanging in every classroom window next to the door.  Anybody that walks through the hallway would be able to see what the teacher is trying to learn or improve.  What a great idea!

Helping students is the number one priority for teachers.  Teachers modeling self-directed learning is a needed lesson for our students.  Helping students help themselves is a teacher’s dream!

Now comes the kicker.  What does this take?  Time!  Do teachers have much of that?  No!  But, what if we incorporate this self-improvement modeling into our classes?  Let the students help you improve.

Here are some ways to get the students involved in our professional development.

How to…

“If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail!”

Benjamin Franklin

First, you must decide what your improvement goal will be.  You choosing is important. According to Clement and Vandenberghe (2000), professional development is most effective when the teacher chooses the development and is able to discuss it openly with colleagues. If you are interested in your development, then discussing it will more likely happen.

Here’s a list of potential areas:

  • Classroom management
  • Organization
  • Lesson pacing
  • Questioning
  • Lessons designed around student inquiry
  • Giving feedback
  • Use of wait-time
  • Movement around the room
  • Deepening content knowledge

Second, you must develop a method for students to help you measure your progress.  To do this, you must be clear with what you want to see.  For example, imagine you are focusing on questioning.  You want to see yourself asking questions to students who need help, not telling them the answer.  Or, you might be focusing on feedback.  In this case, specific comments about student work should be heard or written.  You should not see or hear vague comments like, “Good job” or “Be more specific.”

You will have to teach your students how to give you feedback.  Modeling for them what to look for will be necessary.  For example, imagine you are working on questioning.  You must show students how to keep track of the number of questions you ask and the number of answers you give.

As teachers, we know we must use time effectively in our classroom.  Collecting data on our professional development is no different.  We will need methods to quickly gather data from students.    A simple way to gather data would be for students to give either a thumbs-up or a thumbs-down at the end of class.  Another way would be to use a survey at the end of the week.  Using surveys often is a way to get an empirical measure of teacher improvement (Desimone, 2009).  This is important.  If we fail to measure our progress, then we won’t know if our development is working.

Third, you must keep your goal and progress visible.  This serves two purposes: 1) A reminder for you, and 2) a reference for discussions.  We’ve all had times when we tried to develop a new habit, yet lost track of it.  Professional development is not different.  “Professional development is likely to be of higher quality if it is both sustained over time and involves a substantial number of hours,” according to Garet et al. (2001).

Here are some ideas for tracking your progress.  One way is to put up a calendar.  If you are focusing on keeping an organized classroom, then you can put a smiley face on successful days or a frowny face on unsuccessful days.  A second idea is to put up a graph.  If you give your students weekly surveys with a rating scale, then graphing the average score could be done.

There’s one reason I encourage you to discuss your progress with your students.  It’s to teach them about setting and achieving goals.  We should mention the difficult moments we go through, as with moments of failure.  We need to model grit.  Grit is a skill we rarely get a chance to demonstrate live for the students.

Anything I can do you can do better…

Graph showing Mr. H's average scores from a weekly student survey.

This is a graph showing my average classroom-management-consistency scores from a weekly student survey.

This can be done!  Above, you’ll see the current (as of 9/13/16) graph I have posted on my classroom door.  I’ve been working on removing my emotions from my classroom management and staying consistent.  For example, students talking for a few seconds after I call for their attention.  This has been a problem for me in the past.  The little things turn into bigger things, as many of you may know!

Here is a link to the Google survey I use.  It’s three questions. First, what period are you in?  Second, how consistent is Mr. Hingstrum at giving consequences for rule-breaking behavior?  Third, please leave specific feedback.  I purposely created it so students would remain anonymous.  The thinking is that I would get more honest feedback.  As a side note, this is a great way to teach students what good feedback looks like.  You can refer to their feedback about you!

You have the power…

The world is evolving.  Teaching students how to self-monitor will be a keystone skill.  We are teaching students to solve problems we don’t know exist.  You can use your professional development as a tool to help teach students how to solve their own problems.  Plus, consistently sharing your goal with students will help hold you accountable.

Take a moment to identify what area you’d like to improve.  Then, get the students involved in helping you do it!

Works Cited

  • Butler, D.L. (2003, August). Self-regulation and collaborative learning in teachers’ professional development. Paper presented at the bi- annual meetings of the European Association for Research in Learning and Instruction (EARLI). Padua, Italy.
  • Clement, Mieke, and Roland Vandenberghe. “Teachers’ Professional Development: A Solitary or Collegial (ad)venture?” Teaching and Teacher Education 16.1 (2000): 81-101. Web.
  • Desimone, L. M. “Improving Impact Studies of Teachers’ Professional Development: Toward Better Conceptualizations and Measures.”Educational Researcher 38.3 (2009): 181-99. Web.
  • Garet, M. S., A. C. Porter, L. Desimone, B. F. Birman, and K. S. Yoon. “What Makes Professional Development Effective? Results From a National Sample of Teachers.” American Educational Research Journal 38.4 (2001): 915-45. Web.





We are All Scientists

What is this?

My friend Gus exclaimed this question once.  We were excitedly discussing curiosity and the “purpose” of life.  He concluded it simply: to answer that question.  From the moment a human has consciousness, he is attempting to answer that question.  Watch a baby.  A toddler is better.  The curiosity is so easy to spot!

Sadly, many people lose their curiosity.  We can change that.  I have a simple solution and it is simply to ask a question over and over…

What happens if…?

This question guides our life without our knowing.  In social situations, we constantly test our ideas by talking.  In other words, we are asking, “What happens if I say this?”  If others respond nicely, then we will continue to talk about whatever it was we were talking about.  This explains why kittens are all over the internet.  Everyone loves kittens.  However, this also explains why we avoid topics such as politics and religion because those can steer us into a heated debate.

We also use this question in personal situations, such as how much our body can withstand.  Running the Bix 7 is an example.  Many people see if they can beat their old time.  So, they are asking, “What happens to my Bix 7 time if I train a little harder?”  I set little challenges quite often, such as biking 45 miles to my Dad’s house — the farthest I’ve biked before was around 15 miles.

By asking the question repeatedly, we can get our curiosity back.  And being curious is the first step to being a scientist.  Great.  You are a scientist.  So, what do you create as a scientist?

Models – The Products of Science

Above is the model of the solar system (credit: Nassam Haramein).  Scientists have continuously modified the model to better fit the collected data.  We’ve gone from Earth-centered to Sun-centered, to Sun-moving models of the solar system in order for it to better reflect reality.  Note the fact that it changed in order to better reflect reality.

We all have our own models of how the universe works.  We begin developing our model at an early age.  For example, we might conclude that rocks sink in water.  Or, the closer we get to a heat source, the warmer we are.  Also, we may learn to beware of strangers.  But, do our models reflect reality?

Do rocks always sink?  I was surprised to find a rock, which I believe is limestone, floating when I placed it in water.  Not until the gaps filled with water did it sink.

Is the temperature higher every time we are closer to a heat source?  Our winters occur when we are closest to the Sun — I live in the Northern Hemisphere.

Should we beware of strangers?  I’m not sure on this one.  I know I don’t pursue random conversations in part because of this piece of my model.  Though, when I do talk to random people I have always come away alive and well.

We should spend time evaluating our models of reality.  Like the model of the solar system has changed, our models will likely require changes to best reflect reality.  The one good thing about being a scientists is that it is okay to be wrong as long as you correct your model!

Make Time to Explore

“Exploration is really the essence of human spirit.”

Frank Borman

Frank Borman was one of the first humans to go around the moon.  He was able to live the common fantasy of many children.  And many adults too!

There is something about new experiences which is thrilling.  We have people like Felix Baumgartner who chase after the thrills.

We also have people with neophobia, which is a fear of trying new things.  For them, the thrill is just too much!

The majority of us enjoy new things, yet we get stuck in our routines.  We come home, have dinner, and then sit on the computer or watch TV.  Finding new thrills is not part of the routine.

Plan to Be Curious

We love surprises.  Let’s modify our environment to help get them.  One thing we can do is set aside time to pursue questions we have.  For example, I set aside two hours this week to explore any questions that came to mind.  Did you know Einstein and Bohr had debates over the validity of quantum theory?  Anyway, in order to get your mind in the frame of asking questions, act like Wondercat did by starting with, “I wonder…?”

I wonder...?

There are other types of surprises we can plan.  Buy a new food that looks interesting.  Abbie and I once bought a spikey-fruit for the sole reason it looked funny.  I forget its name, but I remember the fun experience.  And as you browse the aisles in the grocery story, say hello to a stranger.  Being talked to randomly is surprising.  If talking to someone is too terrifying, then begin by keeping eye contact with someone longer than they do with you.  Warning: this mini-game can become addicting.

Want a day of surprises?  Then break your routines and have a “No-electronics Day.”  See what happens when digital technology is off the table.

Enjoy the surprises!

Read Often

The Amazing Technology

How has being able to read helped your life?  We communicate daily with text messages.  Thank-you cards are written and, hopefully, received.  The Harry Potter fantasy world was gloriously entered time-after-time.  Plus, the significant other is impressed with all the new foods cooked thanks to the countless recipes on Pinterest.  Oh.  Sorry.  That was my life, not yours.

Well, how has reading benefited the greater civilization?  Violence has been reduced.  This is caused by better understanding of desires between people because reading and writing forced our languages to become standardized.  Also, political laws are easier to uphold when written and agreed upon.  Reading has also advanced technologies.  This was done by spreading knowledge across not just living people, but generations of people.  Our entertainment has benefited because novels, plays, movies, and shows are almost all written down.  Lastly, reading has been shown to benefit the well-being of people.

So, Reading Helped.  Why Should I Do It?

We love being creative.  Reading is a very creative past time.  For one, our minds create the setting and the characters — obviously the author helps a bit too.  Second, we modify or build our ideas about how the universe works by using ideas from the book.

We love feeling important and reading books can cause this feeling.  Finishing a book is satisfying.  I can’t describe the feeling wholly.  Moreover, a book does not progress unless we are engaging it.  This is the opposite of a movie which can be turned on and will play regardless if we are there to watch it or not.  Also, I’ve never experienced the Yes! feeling after finishing a movie.  Lastly, we become more important when we read to others.  This is something Abbie and I do on occasion — on car trips or before bed.

Reading Suggestions

Below is a list of books I encourage you to read.  If a link is present, then my personal reflection on the book will open.

Create Time to Create

Where does the time go?

We tend to get distracted quite easily.  For example, I just watched an episode of Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee which I didn’t have planned.  I just happened to see Jerry Seinfeld on an episode of The Daily Show.  Then there are the times when I start looking at Facebook and find myself continuously scrolling down absentmindedly.  Been there too?  This also occurs at our jobs.  Microsoft surveyed their workers and reported that 2 out of 5 days per week were unproductive.  Yet, we often times wonder why “there just isn’t enough time in the day.”

So where does our time go?  I encourage you to make a list of what you believe are your key distracting activities.  Then, spend two or three days tallying the number of times you do the distracting activity.  I think you’ll be amazed to see where the time goes.

Create Life Standards

Remember the easy days when parents controlled our life?  Just one cookie for dessert.  Just one hour of TV tonight.  We spent time complaining, sure, but we also did something amazing.  We did other things!

Look at the list of distracting activities you made.  Choose one activity and set a limit for how many times you can do it.  Maybe only check Facebook once per day.  Watch only one episode of The Big Bang Theory instead all six on TBS (yeah, that used to be something I did.  No wonder I didn’t keep that first job).

I decided to limit how many hours I spend playing video games per week.  I decided on limiting myself to 4 sessions and/or 5 hours, whichever comes first.  Here is the document I created to help myself keep track.  It is currently on our counter where I see it daily to help remind me.  As a side note, I noticed a benefit to limiting the activity: I allow myself to be fully immersed in it.  The internal nagging voice saying, “do something productive!” is no longer present.

But Now I’m Bored!

Good.  The purpose of this is to create time to do other things.  Let go of your crutches and security and start being the person you deeply want to be.  Being creative is challenging.  But, think about how good you will feel by living up to the image you truly want to be.  Let me know what you are starting to limit.  We can do this together.