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.





What difference do I want to make?

Here’s the second to last writing prompt for the Live Your Legend Blog Challenge.  The question is, What difference do I want to make?

My first answer is one that I would definitely make my students rewrite: I want to make the world better.  The question I would throw back at them is, How would you make it better?  As of late, I’ve been on a mission to Mars kick.  I would love to see people work together for the common goal of colonizing on Mars.  We would greatly benefit from having a backup settlement.  In fact, let’s go cliche on this.  Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.

The big question ends up being, how am I going to help support this goal.  What resources do I currently have access to?  What skills and/or opportunities do I have to support this goal?  What should I learn to help support this goal?  Let’s give quick answers to these questions.

What resources do I currently have access to that would help in colonizing Mars?  I have my thoughts and the internet with information about Mars.  I also have the minds of many students and a classroom to teach in.  I would also have this blog (or I could make a new one).  I feel like I have lots of resources available.

What skills and/or opportunities do I have to support this goal?  Opportunity number 1: summers off.  That gives me 2 months of time to do research, get internships, create lessons, and spread the word.  A related opportunity and skill is that I am a teacher and placed in front of students for the majority of the year.  That gives me the opportunity to show passion for this goal and model ways to pursue it.  I also have skills in working with computers.  I can at least build Google Sites to help spread the information.  I could also teach those skills to my students.

What should I learn to help support this goal?  I should be learning a lot about engineering, science, Mars missions, robotics, math, public speaking, teaching, and computer programming.  I could be way more specific with science.  I would need to learn a lot more about the field of Earth science.  Why does Earth have an atmosphere?  Why does Mars no longer have much of one?  Almost anything in physics would be beneficial, especially if robotics becomes an interest.

Here’s to making a difference.  One moment at a time…  We’re going to Mars!

Cold Calling – Teach Like a Champion

A low level student transforms much like a caterpillar to a butterfly before your eyes.  This is a sight every teacher would love to see.  We want to see our students grow and blossom.  But, this isn’t what I am experiencing.  Too many of my students seem to afraid to engage the challenges.  Too afraid to come out of their cocoon.

A technique called Cold Calling may help the students transform.  Cold calling plays off of two natural human tendencies.  One, we all love showing off.  Two, we fear dropping in social status.  When a teacher Cold Calls, he controls which students are responding.  There are no volunteers.  This encourages students to pay attention in order to not look silly in front of their peers.

I saw great things in the two days that I’ve used the technique.  I had far more students looking at me throughout the lesson.  Also, more students participated.  I heard from more students because I was able to choose instead of relying on the regular volunteers.  A third benefit was the increased pace of the lesson.  I think by not having to wait for volunteers, students felt as if the class was progressing.  When people feel progress, they are much less likely to disengage.

A good goal to add would be to videotape an example of me cold calling.  This will help keep it in the forefront of my mind.  Plus, if the students are aware of my videotaping my attempt at growing, then they will likely respect the class more.  Being a model of growth is something all educators should do for their students.

Building Rapport

There must be a way to turn relationships around.  This year I have run into a few very defiant students.  I’ve done quite a bit of disciplining: reminders of the class rules, asking them how they aren’t showing respect, and calls home.  Yet, behavior has not changed.  In fact, I almost feel like it is getting worse.  A possible case of anti-authority-itis.

Here’s my action plan for building rapport.  What I love about it is how simple it is.


One thing I realized is my current trouble students love their shoes.  I’m predicting that once I start taking an interest in their shoes and other belongings which they associate with themselves, then their behavior will begin to fit within my standards.

Here’s to the experiment!

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!