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.